Friday, February 25, 2005

Seizing The Virtual Teachable Moment 

Having had quite enough of watching poor literacy and adolescent mindsets make a total hash of their online discussion folder while no other teacher in the school seizes the teaching opportunity, after years of tidbit-here, one-line there niggling at the edges of guiding the conversation in General Student Discussion, our school's intranet free-for-all space, I finally decided to step up as de facto teacher for the virtual space as classroom today.

Below, the cut-and-paste that marks my formal acceptance of the virtual gauntlet, including the exchange that, for me, was the ultimate last straw.


Student A on Thursday, February 24, 2005 at 6:20 PM -0500 wrote:
What if, say, political discussion was banned in GSD... forever. What would you all do with your time instead?


To which Student B writes:
Ok you complain about how you don't like political discussions, so don't read them. This isn't complicated, no one is forcing you to read. If you don't like it don't read it, or start a new thread. But don't complain about how you don't like it, its more annoying than the discussions that you complain about.
My response:
Interesting. I hope A and B don't mind being a teaching example for a moment.

What you see above is a prime example of how things get so out of hand so often on SWIS. One person says something, without explaining his context or reasons for saying so...and then another, "hearing" that text played out in his own head, ascribes context and tone TO that something BASED ON HIS OWN UNDERSTANDING of why or how HE would have said that something....and then goes on to confront the original author for a tone, context, or reason for writing which may be entirely imagined by that respondent.

Of course, then we all make the same mistake, and jump in quick with the same silliness. This makes us all defensive, and confused.

In this case, I myself am making assumptions about Student B's reasons for writing -- although I believe his tone makes those assumptions pretty obvious. However, I am writing because I want to point out that Student A did not in any way suggest what Student B is saying he did. Student A didn't say "Political discussion should be banned," or even "political discussion in GSD is annoying," or "it is annoying that GSD often devolves so quickly when we're discussing politics..." (In this case, in fact, I can see someone writing exactly what Student A did merely in response to how much TIME people seem to be spending on political discussion when they should by rights have far too much homework to do.)

B instead used A as a straw man. He took away Student A's ability to let his question speak for himself, and made it imposible for someone not to write in and say "hyy, wait a minute," as I am doing now.

And we all do it.

I'm doing it now.

So don't think I'm singling out Student B, here.

One of the things that has always fascinated me about virtual and digital communication is the way in which we accept e-speech as equivalent to actual speech, though one in which tonality is replaced by textography...despite the fact that text is not the same kind of carrier of tone as normal speech is. In other words, it is endemic to the medium that we develop habits like the ones which Student B both decries AND exemplifies...and which Student A may or may not have been thinking of when he wrote his perfectly innocent, theoretical question.

Unless, of course, we teach ourselves new habits.

Which is what I am advocating for by writing this.

I mentioned a day or two ago that it was long past time to begin spending my political capital now that I'm due to leave at the end of the year.

Welcome to the new me, kids. If you learn anything at all, I win. Here's hoping that another teacher will be willing to pick up the glove when I'm gone.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:52 AM |

Comments:
Yea, but do you think A or B will get any of this?
 
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