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Teaching and Technology: What I Do On-Line

Teaching and Technology: What I Do On-Line

Notes for Faculty Panel on Technology
Bryn Mawr College
Anne Dalke
May 5, 2008

Syllabi: linking, updating, archiving

Course Forums: weekly student commentary and conversation
site for the shy: "illusion of anonymity" on the net
   synchronous vs. asynchronous conversation/not
   inclass--> out/class(ed): commentary from outside

Papers Posted:

Paper Commentary:

Student Blogging and Performances

My Own Blogging, and That of Colleagues...

Bryn Mawr Now: Publishing Student Work on the World Wide Web

Education as Conversation


Anne Dalke's picture

room for everyone

I'm grateful to Laura for writing about the panel, and especially for her characterization of our project as being about opening the classroom up to learning. That panel was a very interesting place to be on Monday, and I was also grateful to participate in it. Reading Laura's summary, and ruminating over what I learned, both from preparing for and participating in the panel, I had three further thoughts, in order of increasing profundity (really!).

The first has to do with the difference between presentations made virtually and those taking place in what I've just learned to call "meatspace." That term that calls attention to the fleshiness of operating in the physical world, as opposed to the untetheredness of virtual work; what I want to emphasize is a slightly different dimension: the limited time that is meatspace, vs. the endless space that is the virtual world.

What I realized, in the course of the panel, is how frustrated I was to have prepared carefully for what I wanted to say, and then to feel so *squeezed* for time, rushed, talking too quickly, unable to get in all I'd wanted to. That never happens to me in this space that is virtual:  I can take all the time I want to say all I'm thinking; I can go back and add notes like this one, taking the time to revise my thoughts as they arise. This is a space that has more time--that actually has no time limits on it, and this difference is huge.

My second thought is not about the differences between virtual space and meatspace, but about the intersection between them: in particular, between student on-line postings and our follow-up conversations in the classroom. One of the things I didn't get a chance to talk about on Monday afternoon was how much care I take in shaping and organizing my students' on-line comments in order to find a productive place for starting off each class session: I spend a lot of time reading through what they wrote, finding threads among them, or--usually more productively--spots where their comments don't quite jive, or push against one another, etc. (My class notes are full of examples; for one see "Monkeys Picking Fleas.") Then I use those spots of disjuncture to kick off each class session. This lets the studnets know that I'm attending to what they say, of course, and that it matters: it's useful for further conversation among us all.

The downside of this is precisely identical to the upside: they realize that what they say matters, that it's useful for further conversation among us all. But then what can happen--what often does happen--is that they get self-conscious. They notice--and are pleased--if their comments are used in class; they notice--and are disappointed, and say so--if they are not. They realize that what they say will have consequences--that they might be asked to elaborate further on what they thought when they posted, to think further, in conversation with others, perhaps to re-think or change what they were thinking. And then the postings might drop off; the class forum might come to seem less of a free space, less a spot for untethered ruminating, more a place that has consequences in real life. And then the ruminations become less productive. (A catch 22 if I ever saw one.)

This leads into my third and biggest thought. There's a conversation going on our campus now, about something called "stereotype threat." Joshua Aronson is here to talk, in a series of meetings with faculty yesterday and today, about the phenomenon of students thinking that--because of their ethnicity--faculty may have low expectations of their performance. Which (presumably?) engenders performance anxiety, which (actually?) lowers task performance....

I find myself of two very different minds about this initiative. On the one hand, anything that gets faculty to attend to struggling students, to think about and try to address their vulnerabilities, is a great thing, and I want to facilitate that process. On the other hand, there's something pretty absurd about realizing that the point spread we're talking about here is-- due to the compression that is grade inflation--just tiny (from 3.12 to 3.37). I also have doubts about the wisdom of trying to help kids, who aren't flourishing, to meet long-standing cultural standards of performance, rather than thinking harder about what it is we are requiring them to do, re-working the rubrics we use to measure it, questioning the whole matter of measurement...turning (for example, and now we loop back to point #1) time into space, quantitative measurements that judge them against one another (and so place some lower on an ascending ladder that doesn't have room for everybody) into qualitative judgments, or something more important: a recognition that there's space for everyone to contribute to the on-going conversation that is this ever-enlarging intellectual life. There really is room for everyone here.

Laura's picture

Blogged most of the panel.

Blogged most of the panel. Had to stop before I rambled on for too long. A really inspiring presentation. Thanks.

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