“The thing with high-tech is that you always end up using scissors.”
--David Hockney, The Observer, 1994
Hawisher and Selfe in “The Rhetoric of Technology and the Electronic Writing Class,” note that despite hopes of shaping new student-centered pedagogy with computer technology, their use “simply reinforces those traditional notions of education that permeate our culture at it most basic level, teachers talk, students listen; teacher’s contributions are privileged; students respond in predictable, teacher pleasing ways” (35).
Looking back on the early hand wringing over the place and hope of computers to enact a more enlightened pedagogy doesn’t take us far from where many teachers are today. We still wonder if our classroom practices bear any resemblance to our professed theories of pedagogy, and technology in the classroom seems to activate this concern in a positive way for the most part. Hawisher and Selfe rightly point out where the goals of a student-centered pedagogy are thwarted by technology, I do wonder if many of these disjunctions between theory and practice are grounded in a deeper problem that is brought to light by the observing computers in the classroom. In any case, they make it clear that technology by itself will not enact any new regime. But then again, it might.
In terms of achieving a different classroom dynamic, Lester Faigley’s “The Achieved Utopia of the Networked Classroom, demonstrates the potential for student controlled electronic discussions to both uphold and disrupt teacher-centered approaches.
Faigley’s detailed account of synchronous discussions in his classes reminds me of being a distance degree student. I often found myself feeling like the only one who wanted to keep on topic, and there was little to no teacher input in many discussion forums. Most the discussions drifted off-topic, or lost relevance with postings done over weeks, most of it (I hate to admit) seemed a complete waste of time from my perspective. Some of the most productive uses of discussions had to do with the actual use of technology (how to use Dreamweaver).
To be fair, I do think that many of these early forums (like mine distance degree experience and especially Faigley’s account ) suffered from a lack of what I’ll provisionally call genre awareness, I mean, when computers come on the scene there was a lack of agreed use of public space. Think now of the specialized forums for hobbyists, and students like ourselves, who use these spaces for specific purposes and audiences. There are places for shooting the shit, so students seem less likely to take any forum as open for anything at all. I am still more likely to put a You Tube link in a blog, so while I’m still working with the genre potential there is always the technology offering these moments of disruption to the normal. In my own use of discussion forums, students seem savvy to the diverse uses and are not prone to the kinds of chat Faigley documents. Still, many discussion forums responses seemed canned and by rote, but I don’t know how much we can expect computers to influence the traditional schmoozing that some students find effective.