Saturday, February 25, 2006

Teaching with Technology: plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose

In the past five years since I began teaching on the Internet, my struggles with creating engagement with my Distance Learning students have brought mixed results. It is easy enough (but very time consuming) to create community by the use of discussion boards and forcing students (i.e., issuing grades) to reply to each other’s posts, and barring technological difficulties, it is not too hard to get some pretty good, teacher-directed chat sessions going.

The funny thing about chat, however, is that students often wander far afield on their own, sort of, you might say, holding their own sidebars during the class/chat time. I cause my students who do not attend the “class” sessions to read the chat logs and present me with a summary, and sometime these summaries are a little bit snippy in that the offended students point out that a lot of the chat is off-topic. I’m not really opposed to this, and in fact, Marilyn Cooper and Cynthia Selfe say this is a good thing, because the computerized environment, in which the teacher is not totally in control, allows students to alter the power structure a little more in their own favor, where real learning might take place (857).

In fact, I enjoy the humor and the banter and the “poking [of] fun at the gravity with which the subject matter is treated in the classroom” (857). And I also enjoy the imperative that teaching with web-based technologies brings to the instructor to produce, as David Jaffee puts it, “some deep reflection about teaching, learning, and the respective roles of instructor and student” (233).

So I am a little annoyed with myself that now I have switched to Breeze as the platform to hold my Internet class sessions, my students seem more serious and attentive. Breeze, which I love because it frees me from typing and revealing in print to my students my terrible spelling and butchered syntax, has actually caused me to switch back to a lecture mode, in which I find myself doing most of the talking while my students listen attentively and politely.

That said, the response I’m getting from my students is very good. Because I can record the sessions and have those who can’t attend view the recording and write summaries, I’ve been able to monitor the feedback, which includes statements like “It’s really nice to hear your voice and view you as a real person.” Or, “You were really able to clarify some issues I haven’t otherwise been able to get my mind around.” Such anecdotes aren’t a formal study of course, but I’m sensing that even my Internet students appreciate what ever replication of the traditional classroom is possible. So, in a nutshell, hats off to Breeze.

I know that for myself, I’m much more comfortable in the visual and aural environment, where I can do little dog and pony shows with PPT and web pages in real time, without being tied to a keyboard, where my typing skills (just like my blackboard writing skills) are really atrocious. And the nifty little “polling” feature (much like classroom clickers) is a real crowd pleaser.

But I do find it amusing that as the technology advances, it is enabling me to revert to more traditional classroom practices. Apparently, as the French like to say, “Plus a change, plus se la mem chose.” Or, as we say somewhat less elegantly on this side of the Atlantic, “what goes ‘round comes ‘round.”

In any event, I’m looking forward to sending my students a little anonymous online survey at the end of the semester asking them what they think of the switch from chat to Breeze. Watch for the results in this space in early May.

Cooper, Marilyn, and Cynthia Selfe. “Computer Conferences and Learning: Authority, Resistance, and Internally Persuasive Discourse.” College English 52.8 (December 1990): 847-69.

Jaffee, David. “Virtual Transformation: Web-Based Technology and Pedagogical Change.” Teaching Sociology 31.2 (April 200): 227-36.


At 7:11 PM, Blogger Brittany said...

I enjoy the breeze sessions. I have noticed that we do stay on subject more because you are able to respond quicker. This is not always good though. I felt that when we wondered off more, we were able to see a glimpse of each other's personalities, opinions, and sense of humor. Being able to see your computer screen in the breeze session was especially helpful when I was having trouble with my web page. The technology is amazing.

At 5:13 PM, Blogger danostlund said...

Yeah, I agree with Brittany. Although, I have not been able to attend any of these Breeze sessions, I agree that the technology is quite amazing. The ability to carry such classroom discussions over the internet is almost mind blowing.


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