Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Teacher as Presence: Online and Onground

I've been going to Humanities and Communication classes to talk about the Art Grant.  I also went to a colleague's class to give an orientation type talk that our Associate Dean used to give, back when we had associate deans.

It's a class that all first quarter students are supposed to take, so I talk about all the ways that their academic careers can go wrong.  I talk about when to drop a class and when to stick it out, about incremental completion rates, about academic warnings and terminations.  It sounds gloomy, but I try to make it interesting.

My colleague told me that I had quite a presence in the classroom, so I'm calling it a success.

Beyond the compliment, I started thinking about the online classroom.  Some of the skills that make me a compelling presence in the onground classroom--do they translate online?

I don't yet know.  Right now, I'm not utilizing video in the online class, so my compelling presence relies on my words.  That works well for some students.  I do suspect that online discussions and e-mails are easier to ignore than a roaming presence in the onground classroom.  And it's harder for me to perceive who's getting left behind in the online world.  Onground, I can tell who's zoning out and who has drifted off to sleep.  I can tell people to look away from their distractions and stand over them until they do.

I can't always do that with my online students.  But I'm delighting in some aspects of my online classes.  For example, I've been having an e-mail exchange with a student who loved the Flannery O'Connor short story, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find."  She's fascinated by O'Connor's giving characters several different choices in the world she creates and following the consequences of those decisions.  She asked if I know of any novelists who explore human nature and the consequences of decisions.

Now I could make the argument that the roots of most conflicts in fiction are rooted precisely there.  But instead, I listed some of my favorite contemporary artists and books that are most suited to her quest; I included people like Gail Godwin and Barbara Kingsolver.

We've been having an ongoing discussion about these novelists and O'Connor and the possibilities for the paper that she needs to write for the class.  What a joy.

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