on the classroom and technology

Tuesday, December 9th, 2003

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.


5 responses to “on the classroom and technology”

  1. Christopher says:

    I know that my son learns new things every day and he has not yet been boxed into the rigid structure of classroom learning.

    I have classes in both the traditional classroom and the online classroom and now expand out further into the forums of Garmhos.

    By thinking that you can only learn in one method you are imposing limitations on your own ability to take in information.

    The world is our classroom, let us learn.

  2. susan says:

    I wondered why we hadn’t in fact used the WEB CT site for Contempory Fiction–it indeed is listed.

    Online education does create opportunity to involve oneself more readily in the lessons, discussions when one is primed for it–rather than being tied to a 10 am class, or “cued to cleverness.” I did find that Philosophy in particular, even with a chat room facility, would have been perhaps better served by in-classroom debates and discussion, and this would hold true for any subject that counts heated debate as a necessary element. But the combination of in-class plus online would seem to be the best all around method for teaching and learning when considering the different types of personalities and the manner in which each learn most effectively.

  3. Maureen says:

    This is a good topic… Steve mentioned “space”… That gets me to thinking about how the classroom is constructed. The professor/Teacher is at the head and all the students sit in front of him/her… Right from the start, authority or hierarchy is set…The Professor lectures and the students listen..and occassionally offer their insight…

    The online classroom breaks all that down… There is more fluidity as to who is in control…A student may post more messages than the professor..Thereby taking over control of the classroom or discussion…

    Also, the online classroom allows more time for contemplation and more in-depth answers… You can take your time and look up a quote in a book before you post… The traditional classroom “boxes” one in by the very fact that there is only so many hours per week [About 1 hour, 3 times a week] where a student has a chance to “shine”…

    Time definitely works against the student and the professor in the traditiona classroom.

    I have found that many “shy” students open up more readily online… I don’t know why that is, but it is true…

    Most Graciously,

    Maureen

  4. ersinghaus says:

    For me, hybrid–using both onground and online techniques–is the best counter. We didn’t use hybrid in this case because of time contraints on my part.

    Both points are taken by both you and Christopher.

  5. ersinghaus says:

    Maureen writes:

    “Also, the online classroom allows more time for contemplation and more in-depth answers… You can take your time and look up a quote in a book before you post… The traditional classroom “boxes” one in by the very fact that there is only so many hours per week [About 1 hour, 3 times a week] where a student has a chance to “shine”…”

    This is correct and also illustrative. This is one of online eds flaws (note that both extremes are paradoxical): the online situation “doesn’t” teach one how to think on their feet.