Friday, February 1, 2008

Kremers, "Sharing Authority on a Synchronous Network"

Kremers, Marshall. "Sharing Authority on a Synchronous Network: The Case for Riding the Beast." Computers and Composition 7 (April 1990; Special issue): 33-44. <>

Kremers examines different manners of teacher-presence in synchronous chats using ENFI (Electronic Networks For Interaction), an early multi-user LAN messaging client. How can the live chatroom interchanges bolstering student interest in the other writing they are asked to do in their writing courses? He is also interested in the risky, experimental side of the technology as it allows him to more radically vary assertions of teacherly authority: "The teaching model I am trying to develop is a networked writing class in which authority is shared, decentralized, distributed, even communal; a class in which teachers sometimes participate directly in the discussion and at other times stay out of things, letting their students take control of their own dialogues; a class in which students compete among themselves for influence in the group through the force of their language and the clarity of their arguments" (para. 2). He offers examples of the chat transcripts that best illustrate two primary approaches to pedagogy using the ENFI system: a teacher intervention model and a non-intervention model.

The teacher intervention model presumes a teacher-centered classroom or, at least, a scene in which the teacher's presence in the conversation actively moderates the dialogue. After framing his pedagogy as student-centered (following Knoblauch and Brannon's articulation of this model) Kremer explains that he prefers to use the chat room (during certain class sessions; not all of them) because he "want[s] to write with them rather than talk with them" (para. 9). What is gained by writing with? Positive aspects of this approach include a sense of ownership felt by students who, after they mature beyond a mutinous stage, stand to realize the advantages such interactions have for concept formation, inquiry, and invention. Even while using the intervention approach, Kremers says he does so to act as a guide (one who asks questions and collaborations) rather than as a dominating force of authority. He explains that the path of the conversation is unpredictable, that it is "more spontaneous, more organic" than in many of the more traditional activities they engage with in a writing class.

The non-intervention model, on the other hand, embraces precepts from Elbow's Writing Without Teachers: Kremers might leave the room or observe their interactions without getting directly involved. Later, he observed the chat transcripts to see what transpired. His example suggests a surprising turn, in which a role-playing activity around the issue of rain forest preservation resulted in the off-ing of one of the made-up participants (Pat Tree). Out of this, Kremers devised prompts for subsequent classes, and he found that the students grew still more enthusiastic about what they were being asked to do. The non-intervention transcript functioned as a catalyst for other writing.

Kremers mentions in his conclusion that "[f]or the most part...the students I have worked with so far have not taken up the offer of partnership as readily as I have wished" (para 22). The final section, "Authority Sharing in the Future," speculates that long-standing traditions of teacher-dominated classrooms affect the expectations of everyone, students and teachers alike, who gather in that scene. Kremers is optimistic about the promise of "networked co-authoring" for getting at some of the currents that run beneath the more decorously-ordered classroom.

There is an unmistakable parallel here between the creative and expressive dimensions of the LAN chat room and the more formal writing occasions served by these activities. The references to student-centeredness from Knoblauch and Brannon, the mention of Elbow, and Kremers' own appeals to the sparking of student interest in narrative ("So, by not intervening, I let the students set their own direction for their writing" (para. 19)), all seem to be lorded over by some under-represented force--the serious1 variety of academic writing. This is, then, an early example of "networked authoring," one that was promising because it is a relay in service of something more substantive.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at February 1, 2008 9:10 PM to Networks,Underlife