Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How Hopeful. How Naive.

As I was deleting tons of old documents off an old hard drive this morning, I found this short piece I wrote for a student newspaper where I was teaching in the 90s. It appears to be from late 93 or early 94.


E-mail and its Usefulness in Education
This duck is sure
to make everything better!

We are all somewhere along the learning curve as it relates to electronic mail, computer networking, computer-aided instruction, and the Internet, but recently I’ve been encouraged to put some of these concepts to test as they relate to the teaching of writing and literature.

I became interested in the idea last semester when Barbara Bookshelves at the library took me for a quick spin on the university's Internet hook up. (Our Uni has access to the vast information computer network - known as the Internet - via a connection through Other  Nearby Uni.)

Barbara showed me how I could send instant electronic mail (or e-mail)
to colleagues and students on campus, at other campuses, or indeed
anyone in the world with a computer and a modem. I was convinced there
was a way to use the technology to help me teach. Then when Dean Diddley
began the Internet Utilization Committee, I thought it was time to become actively
involved. I began talking to students about e-mail and was surprised
at how many (roughly 30% of my classes) knew substantial amounts about
Internet technology.

I made a joke one day in class early this semester to a student who
was going to miss a class. ‘‘You can still turn in your assignment
by electronic mail, though, right?’’ And she did.

So many of our writers and students are working on computer already,
the idea of me seeing their document on my own screen just makes my
job of helping them revise their work easier and faster. They type
it on a computer. They send it over phone lines to my computer. I
edit it and make suggestions and send it back. It doesn’t take a week
or a day. It takes five minutes.

This concept is a perfect fit for education, especially in the humanities.
I’m giving out my address to all my students now. I hope to be able
to deal with essays in this way, take-home tests, assignments, and
even final exams, eventually. There are flaws in any new development,
and we will find them and deal with them. It’s impossible, however,
to ignore the benefits that will come by embracing what e-mail can
do for teachers and students.

In addition to my experiments with e-mail, I’m considering doing some
tests with the real-time chat function on the Internet (known as IRC)
or with any of the chat channels on the commercial servers (America
Online, CompuServe, Prodigy and Delphi, for example). This chat capability
enables you to conference and/or workshop with students and writers
in virtually the same way as in class. By letting students know when
I’m online, I can make myself available to them over a much wider
space of time. Oftentimes we can’t all be in the same place, but if
I’m at home or on my computer at school, and they are with their own
hookup (either campus, work or home), we can connect and deal with
whatever concerns need addressing. It’s a vast and convenient extension
of office hours, making me far more accessible to my students than
I’ve ever been in ten years of teaching.

All of this is just an experiment for me right now, because I can’t
assure that each of my students can have his/her own access. But once
the school gets completely wired (like many colleges and universities
nationwide), our students are going to have the most immediate access
to professors possible. We have to be prepared for the exciting onslaught
of new challenges and new discoveries. I’m very excited about being
a part of this new cyber-education. It can’t do anything but help.


  1. Considering how well this describes my job teaching online, I'd say you're a bloody clairvoyant. They do submit online, and it does take me about 5 minutes to grade/comment on their work. You stared down the future, Cal.

    Until the very last line: "it can't do anything but help." Oh, how cute. We were all so bright-eyed back then.

  2. The Internet: "It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand, those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material."

    1. Or as Urban Dictionary now puts it, "A vast array of pornography and advertisements"

  3. At least the wide-eyed notion hasn't occurred to him that the Internet might be used by students to send requests for help to hundreds of top researchers in the field. As Neil Postman observed, that's just what those top researchers were wanting: every kid in American sending them e-mail demanding they do their homework for them, and instantly, to boot. It never did seem to occur to anyone who had this idea: of what benefit would this be to the researchers?

    I am glad that teachers appear to have outgrown encouraging their students to do this. Every now and then, though, I still do get e-mail from high-school students who think I have nothing to do but drop everything and attend their every need. And of course, they're never interested in attending my university.

    1. Perhaps this was a leftover plot to bring scientific research in the US to a grinding halt, perpetrated by some isolated KGB cell that hadn't yet heard of the fall of the Soviet Union? We'll have to ask Strelnikov.

      To be fair, there's also a temptation to have students interview their professors, to which I (and other writing-program colleagues) have succumbed on occasion, with the main effect apparently being a flood of complaints to the program director (mostly because our students ignored our instructions). These days, I tell my students that it's only polite to have read a researcher's published work on a subject before approaching the person to talk about the subject. That cuts down on the desire to interview professors considerably (as does the news that talking to someone about his/her research =/= the student's "doing original research.")

  4. Ah, innocence. In the mid-90s, I was still putting my home (landline, of course) phone number on my syllabi, so as to be as available as possible. That stopped when I got an irate, vaguely threatening early-morning phone call from the father of a student I had just turned in for plagiarism, and realized that he could easily find my home address. Email does have its advantages.

  5. I was the same way, although later than the mid 90s. So hopeful, so open to sharing all of my contacts. None of it got used except as outlets for students to explain why they couldn't do the work.

  6. That gave me the best belly laugh I've had in a while.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.