...and speaking of Coca Cola, how about the abundance of ways one can get a coke? I mean, there are stores, restaurants, your friend’s fridge, as well as vending machines, Cokes with your name already on them, and now, there’s this thing which makes Coke in the comfort of your own kitchen! Convenience, man. Convenience is king! And it should be! We want products and services to be readily available and easy to access. When I’m thirsty, I look for immediate gratification in an icy, bubbly Coke! I’m just not sure I want the same thing to be true about the content I deliver in my online comp courses.
Those of us contributing to this blog have consistently pointed to pedagogies and practices for creating “engaging and empowering content” that scaffold, center, and make sacred the student’s responsibility to construct her own understandings of and within written texts. We have also grated against certain practices and technologies that interfere with/limit the degree of engagement our online content provokes and supports. What I hear in these rich discussions is that we are “accustomed to student-centered courses” and eager to see the attention in the classroom shift “away from us and on the student,” and that while we want our courses to be accessible to all students we don’t want to extend so many bridges that we take the complexities and the rigor out of the reading and writing process (Warnock 29). In other words, we want to present our online students with the tools and support to navigate rhetorical and academic writing situations successfully on their own. We don’t want our modalities and content undermined or limited by bureaucratic policies, and we don’t want to build simple pathways of convenience.
It’s this issue of simple convenience that I’d like to take up by describing one of the technologies I use to promote student-centeredness online: the webinar. The synchronous interactivity of the webinar apparatus allows me to migrate the kind of socratic activities that work so well in my onsite classes. The technology is easy to use after a quick tutorial, and it’s multimodal interfaces and many builtin resources assist accessibility (such as the option to request closed captioning). It is however somewhat inconvenient to students because these webinar meetings require each student to
change their evening plans for 3 days during the semester and log in at 7pm
actively participate in the chat discussion about readings/instruction as well as contribute parts of a draft to a google doc and offer feedback
prepare beforehand by reading, outlining draft ideas, and anticipating opportunities to ask questions about current, relevant projects
interact with an archived version of the meeting afterwards if they want to review or cannot attend
These meetings ask students for an investment of their time and efforts. This is seen initially as an “inconvenience.” Even some of my colleagues respond with initial reluctance when I share that I require synchronous meetings: Online students are busy. They don’t have time for meetings. That’s why they’re online. Who’s going to show up anyway? The assumption I perceive in all of these reactions is also expressed in the advertisement campaigns of for-profit, online institutions: “We know that your life doesn’t stop just because school starts. That’s why we make taking classes convenient...etc.” The assumption here is that the college is a service, education a product, and the student our customer. Make the customer happy. I don’t offer products to my students in these meetings; instead I present them with the tasks and tools that compel them to dig into the work of analysis, thinking, and writing: work that--I say--empowers them to produce rhetorical products of real-world significance themselves.
I agree with Warnock’s distinction between teaching modalities that simply “deliver information” and those that reflect “writing intensive, student-centered paradigms” (29). This distinction draws the difference between student centeredness and student services. So, as I choose technologies, build my content, and format digital accessibility, I have in mind the reality of what I teach: writing requires hard work, and when I offer conveniences that mitigate the work of reading, thinking, and writing, I remove my students by degrees from the center of their learning experience.