Piping Up, Down Again

I don’t know if it’s narrowly analogous to my experience developing and teaching online courses since the fall of ’01, but the technophilic pied piper of computer-mediated distance ed–who
fluted for distance initiatives through glowing positivisms–in the late 90’s, has yielded to
a symphony of vastly more critical, responsible pedagogies, mindful of the barbs
described in Hara
and Kling’s article
.  Computer-mediated distance ed programs have grown
up in the five years since the article was published; they’ve been (and continue
to be) shaped by theoretical currents in technology and media, by laborious,
ongoing revisions guided by new experiences and best practices.  They
continue to take seriously the frustrations expressed by students–frustrations
about tech speed, about confusing explanations of assignments, about feedback
time and engagement.  And attrition rates continue to be a question–or,
perhaps, only part of a broader question about what’s bound up in the pursuit of
excellence, the sort of excellence that lives on tireless exertion, dialectic
reflection and conversation on ways to make the programs better.  A recent
faculty survey where I teach asked instructors, "why do students withdraw
from your online courses?"  My responses were speculative; the knowledgeable
answers are harder to produce than a summary of the rants and rumblings of
students who endured the term of study then posted wry comments on the
instructor evaluation form.  So many of our distance learning students are
full-time military who work and travel, who have families and heaps of other commitments;
they tend to be realistic about their workloads and planned TDY excursions, and,
when confronted with an unusually rigorous stint in composition or the
introductory humanities survey, I think many students opt out because the
promises made in the syllabus are clear–perhaps daunting.  By what other
terms can eight-week online course work?

I brought this back to my blog rather than commenting over at Palimpsest and

Dennis Jerz’s Literacy Weblog
because I often get the feeling that I have my head in the
sand about ways that computer-mediated distance education is done at other
institutions.  I honestly don’t know much about how it works
elsewhere.  When the subject of computer-mediated distance learning comes
up, I falter, succumb to my doubts about all that I don’t know about how it’s
handled anywhere else. (are you on Blackboad? WebCT? VCampus? hybrid or mixed-mode?
meeting in person occasionally or always via computer? supplemented by video or
live chat? are your face-to-face curricula migrated for online delivery for
outcomes comparisons? vice versa?  are faculty who teach online also
required to teach on in bricks-n-mortar spaces? must instructors encode (HTML
the content) their own courses? are the courses peer reviewed? how is faculty
training and mentoring handled?). 

I’ve given half a thought to starting a blog for distance ed instructors in
comp/rhet, including the 15 or so instructors who teach the classes I’m familiar
with.  And perhaps it would work better if it was wide open to instructors
from various institutions, except that cross-talk can be tougher to negotiate
when we set out from considerably inconstant curricular and ideological frames.  But to the extent
instructors are geographically spread out; I wonder how widely they are
pedagogically spread out, too–to what degree my sense of best practices jibes
with my peers’ understandings of best practices in computer-mediated distance
ed (esp. as it ties to essayism, close reading, discourse analysis).  What better way to reconcile it than by a blog–a blog for overlaps in computer mediated distance ed and on-site ed folded together under tech/comp/rhet. Anyone know of a listserv or other forum where this is already going on?


  1. I’ve got a bit to learn about how it’s done at Seton Hill… we do have a content management system, JWeb, but I don’t like using it — I’d rather use a combination of blogs, web pages, and e-mail. JWeb is so slow — every time you ask it to do something it sits there and chugs away. It does have its benefits, but….

  2. We’ve been bearing the yoke (or yoking the bear?!) of VCampus for the past several years. It just went to bid, and I was assured I would know the new CMS vendor by February 25. What day is today? I still don’t know which platform we’re migrating courses into for the summer, but I hope to know soon.  I haven’t been entirely satisfied with VCampus.  Its use requires several open windows at once (something like four).  It also slows on Sunday evening when droves of students are finishing last minute coursework.  I hope to continue the conversations about computer-mediated distance ed.  I just signed up for the DEOS-L list through Penn State today when another distance learning instructor at my University emailed me to say she’d heard about weblogs and their potential for enabling working communities among distance learning instructors.  Many exciting possibilities remain untested in the mix of weblogs and higher ed. 

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