Monday, January 26, 2009

The Swell Information Super-College!

Okay, so for a rhetoric hoohaw, we're supposed to read this because the professor who wrote it will be coming by on Thursday. That's right: coming by. Face-to-face. If you didn't take the whole time to read this address to students, ah, that's too bad, but here's my summary of it:

"Hey kids, I want you to know that education is the yo-diggity and learning should be on the sweet world wide web instead of in dopey ol' classrooms! Peace out!"

That's reductive, I know, but the tone is roughly correct; the same tone that teachers used in high school when they reminded us that we should come to the activity because "there will be pizza!" In fact, we called this "the pizza effect." The pizza effect is that painful, trying-to-be-cool thing that teachers do when they assume that kids are some how cool. (We're not cool--we're mostly a little dorky.)

Not that I disagree: yes, technology is a great boon for students. I felt weird walking up to campus today without my iPod because I usually take that time to listen to the news or Classic Tales on podcasts. Two night ago, after watching Amadaus, I looked up on Wikipedia to see what about that movie had been factual. Watching YouTube was my primary research source for choreographing a Isadora Duncan-esque dance last semester. I'm always trying to get my students to use the Blackboard discussion forums. And heaven knows I have no compunction against spouting my opinions into the blogosphere through "Mary Versus the Trumpeting Legions..."

In fact, many of the things this professor suggests are just educationally-neutral: facebook and google. If you're a smart person, you use these tools like a smart person. If you're a dumb person...well, you understand. The fact is that most students aren't particularly thrilled with the tools they already have at their disposal and it's unlikely that our inticing them to use techology for education will result in any long-term changes in how they use that techology. People who like to gossip will gossip by Facebook, people who like to view pornography will view pornography by searching Google, and people who like to learn will learn through whatever technologies they're comfortable using. Using the technology itself doesn't necessarily make a person more academically-minded.

But let me reiterate what I said in the beginning of the post: this particular professor is coming to our rhetoric club to speak to us. We're not just all posting on his blog; we're not subscribing to his podcast. No matter how great technology is a tool, there's still something, probably something deeper than I understand, that makes face-to-face conversation still the most effective method of communication and education. Maybe it's the real-time interaction. Maybe it's the psychological evaluation of non-verbal cues. But there's a reason why, over thousands of years, education keeps going back to a teacher. Talking. To students. Technology can do a lot to supplement that. Still, whether it's a formal teaching situation or just chatting with friends over a lovely mega-salad (thank you, KjE), education still depends on the personal, old-fashioned method of talk.


J Rock said...


As you know, I work for a company that makes Internet language courses and I just started cataloging students' responses to a survey. One thing that keeps popping up over and over again are variations on, "The class was good, but it's still much easier with an actual teacher in a classroom."

Chris said...

I love pizza day. Best day of the week.

Jon Ogden said...

Keen analysis of tone, Mary. His post does feel aimed at freshmen (young ones at that), not grad students. And the whole "pizza effect" comment is spot on.

But he's not saying that we should do away with, or even cut back on, face-to-face interaction. I think that the central argument is that open access/online educational resources are more useful than traditional resources. And I agree with this, especially in humanities departments. I've used Silva Rhetoricae literally hundreds of times as a college student, and still haven't found the drive to seek out most of the stuff that other professors here have published. I realize that the intended audience for both publications are much different here, but I appreciate scholarship that is useful and free, scholarship that has a broad audience in mind instead of a few (occasionally pompous) scholars. I also appreciate celebration of free ideas.

Jana Chapman said...

I am currently in the field of Instructional Technology, learning ways to use technology in the classroom or any instructional event. I still have not been able to articulate exactly what it is that makes face-to-face interaction so much better except that there is a greater sense of reality to it. But I enjoyed your thoughts on the matter.

Lobbie said...

If they can teach dance, singing, and acting on-line, my people are finished.
Word up kids!