Saturday, February 7, 2009

How online is our online teaching?

As part of my responsibilities at my university. I teach one online course per term. I started doing this very early, before the Internet, much less Web 2.0, really evolved, I am wondering if my complaints below are not so much inadequacies of my students but residues of the involuntary text-centeredness of online pedagogy's early years.


Several people in my current class have reported that they were not able to get the assigned textbooks on time through the bookstore, and I pointed out that all the early stories were in the public domain and easily available as e-texts (I provided several links), often with helpful and useful commentary. But they are not reading these e-texts, they are waiting for the book to arrive, and so falling behind their colleagues. My students do not seem acclimated to reading e-texts (I noticed this in my Greek drama course in fall 2008 as well where often I would post e-texts of alternate translations, vital for understanding the idea of literature in translation--David Grene's, Richmomd Lattimore's, David Slavitt's Sophocles all being so different, and all three different from Victorian translations). Nor do they appear particularly interested in the video clips and images I go to great lengths to post. I also post scholarly articles; these I do not expect most of them to look at, but they are also a possibility afforded by the Web that they seem reluctant to embrace. I wonder if I should make an assignment involving these mandatory, or make it mandatory that they read the e-texts? I wonder if from now on I should not just assign any print books of anything available as an e-text?

In short, their viewpoint is very text-centered. They do very well within that compass, but the online environment offers such a more multimedia experience, such a chance to be at home in the Internet rather than simply use it as a venue for a prepackaged course. I feel a lot of the potential innovation and creativity of the Internet is being left by the wayside. Perhaps a longer course time would address this issue, make it more possible to use more modes. Or perhaps I just need to incorporate the multimedia structure within my assignment frame and apparatus.

Part of the problem may be that my institution uses Blackboard and not a Facebook-like software such as DruPal, but I am not sure a change in platform alone would reshape the underlying syndrome.

part of my puzzlement is that I look at YouTube for fun, and basically read scholarly articles for fun, and I mean by adding them to the course to create fun extras; my students, though, seem to perceive them as supernumerary add-ons, and even burdens. Perhaps it is I who need the readjustment.

5 comments:

Phil said...

I admit that I'm probably an exception to the rule, but I for one love that stuff. Hell, just the other night I was up ridiculously late because I kept poking around in JStor and reading Ms. boyd's dissertation. I'm also constantly reading as far as I can into the free previews of various interesting things on Google books. I never thought of this as being an issue of hard texts vs. internet texts, but I suppose it makes sense--I do have a history of playing around with interactive fiction and hypertexts from a young age, and I still keep abreast of that community in the hopes that a game-changing work will appear. As far as college students in general go, though, I think that academia is not exempt from arguments about institutional control; anything a student perceives as a "requirement" is much more likely to be seen as a burden than as an opportunity. One person whose work I love to read on the intersection of teaching at the college level and new media is Dennis Jerz--check out his weblog here: http://jerz.setonhill.edu/weblog/

Nicholas said...

See, I think everyone of your generation should have this facility, not necessarily with your assiduity and verve, but at least to the extent of tooling around YouTube--some have it, I can think of a couple of students from last term, but not that many....

WIll look at Jerz, if he is as interesting as Boyd he should be interesting indeed.

Jacob said...

I have a few thoughts on the "ancillary" reading: if one is to prevent the eventuality of students viewing the extra reading, resources, etc., it may become more practical (and perhaps you're already doing this) to post them all at once, with the primary text reading for that week. I know that my teacher here in London, Clare Pettitt, makes use of lots of different media in a given week, but it's always presented paratactically, and all at once. I think it's a trick of the mind, really, wherein a student budgets a certain amount of time for their given assignment, but if the professor "adds on to that" during the week, indeed, it is often perceived as a burden rather than further enrichment. I think a professor can anticipate this mentality (and for undergraduate students, I think it's nearly universal) by assigning the entire group of "texts" at once, and by encouraging students to treat each (to read each) as a text, and not as tangential. This may or may not be helpful, but I think your effort here is to check your own methods and pedagogy against students' expectations and psyches.

Nicholas Birns said...

Do you mean paratactically as opposed to at the beginning of the course? if so that is how I do it, largely because I post then as I discover them, rather ad hoc and randomly, in the course of preparing my own contribution tot he course...in a way I am wondering if students want a more top-down, prescriptive, hypotactic approach, with everything on the syllabus, assigned from the beginning, and clearly organized as part of the academic material,rather than as a kind of hyperflow into potential fun and games....

Dennis G. Jerz said...

When I used to teach technical writing, students who were new to the subject often complained, "If you had told me not to do that, I wouldn't have done it, and I wouldn't have lost points." So every semester I would add a list of mistakes that students made the previous term, and suggestions for how to avoid those mistakes. The result was that every assignment was introduced along with five pages of dense notes (not all were warnings -- some were helpful tips, some were examples). Students were overwhelmed, didn't read those tips, lots points anyway, and were frustrated when I pointed out, "See, here, item 3.3.2.4 warned you not to do that!"

I switched a just-in-time teaching philosophy. I give the students an overview of the course from day 1, and most of the readings, but I post links to handouts and specific helpful supplemental readings as the need arises, rather than all at once at the beginning of the course.

Sometimes I construct the handout during class... I sroject a blank word processor page, say "What do we know about subject X?", and compile their answers (editing slightly and grouping on the fly). Then I say, "What did we have trouble with in the last assignment?" and "What do we need to know in order to do better?" Then, if there's time, I fill in the handout with links, or I'll do it on my own time and e-mail them when I've posted it.

High school learning plans are so carefully structured for "read the summary and bold keywords and spit back the correct answsers on a quiz" that students need a lot of assistance understanding the shift to constructing academic knowledge. We who already know the academic method can intuit how well it meshes with social networking and web 2.0, but most of my students, many of whom are first-generation college students, are completely unfamiliar with using social networking in a classroom setting, since their high schools completely banned cell phone use and blocked Facebook.

I don't know that the organization needs to be presciptive, but certainly students do appreciate being able to budget their time, and the risk-averse grade-conscious students get nervous when the assignment expects them to try something, learn from the results (which might be failure), and try something new. (I have to be very explicit about that -- I am trying to teach my new media journalism English majors a method for understanding media tools, rather than teaching them to be experts in a specific application.)