First off, I think that this subject is a “new media” issue, which means that it’s about how we blend, merge, and cooperate through some sort of technos.
I just sent a message to my intro to lit students praising them for their “insights” into Raymond Carver on the Introduction to Literature computer conference. The online course uses a forum to emulate classroom discussion in the onground environment, but what I’m seeing (i.e., understanding) is that this style of interaction goes far beyond emulation and highlights the strengths and limitations of the “coincidental” manifestations of modern education: the school and the classroom. The school and classroom are designed spaces for learning modeled on “mentative possibility.” (Def: how it is possible to think and learn given various designed circumstances.)
Paradoxically, learning spaces manifest both strengths and weaknesses in their very construction. Deconstructively, as learning spaces, they destroy as well as create learning opportunities: they decapitate as well as strengthen the head. Simply speaking, people “know” or “are told” what they are supposed to be doing in a classroom, which “can” ruin genuine insight: go read this story and learn something. (For me the analogy that really helps to define modern schooling is prison). This process runs counter to making your way to a camping spot deep in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico in January and finding that you forgot both the tequila and the matches. Both of these are “learning” situations. We know that people learn “by nature.”
In a way, some kinds of online education undermine mainstream definitions of education. The school is a “mainstream” definition of education. English happens at 11 to 12 on Monday and Wednesday in this room–school influences how time is structured (Carnegie Units and all that). We will sit at these desks–school influences how and where we sit. Then comes homework. Come back next Monday and we’ll talk non-commutative geometry and hopefully you will have been thinking about it and doing some practice problems (of course, if children don’t do their homework because they want to play Pac Man, then their parents will be labelled criminals).
Students in the Intro to Lit course break the time and the space barrier by speaking and sharing over a “greater period” of time and within a space that they themselves shape physically. For them the idea of the classroom as bounded by mainstream definitions no longer works. I could claim that this idea is “taught” by the online environment. Learning can be other than the square, the clock, and the billion dollar “unnatural” procedures of “No Child Left Behind.”
Just a thought.