Sunday, February 13, 2005

Talking Out Of School

This online grad school thing is going pretty well, I suppose.

It's been a few weeks now. Long enough that I feel I can start to make a few comments on the on-line learning environment. I'll probably write more about the process, in the weeks to come.

One thing that I do miss is the face to face interaction that you get in a live seminar. That, and the way that a seminar discussion evolves around a conference table.

In the online class that I'm taking this Spring, the discussion area is multi-threaded. So, instead of one discussion growing organically and people contributing to its growth and shape, what we end up with is a sort of cocktail party situation where you wander around from group to group, looking for an opening. You say something pithy, or just nod. Then you move on.

The result is a series of incoherent ramblings that never really pull themselves together. So, I think that a better approach would be to not allow each student to create a new thread for each unit. That approach might encourage greater depth in the conversation.

One of the great advantages to the way the class is constructed is that the discussions are not in real-time. So, people can work through the units and the discussions whenever it is most convenient for them (like 2:00am at the kitchen table or at their desk on their lunch hour). As I have a rather unpredictable schedule, this suits me quite well. So, I am grateful that there is not a set class meeting for a real-time conversation.

Another advantage is that it gives a student time to read, research and formulate a coherent response. (Not that they always take advantage of the opportunity to do so. But it's there.) And I can see how that would be a great help to a student who is not outspoken in a face-to-face situation.

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