Computers and Writing . . . “The Achieved Utopia of the Networked Classroom” (5 stars). “The Politics of the Interface Power and Its Electronic Contact Zones” (4 stars).
I think one the the central questions in Faigley is the issue of authority in the networked classroom. The phrase he uses–borrows–is “decentering the subject.” He notes that students claimed to remember what was said but not by whom (191). In addition, the teacher’s authority in the classroom is ‘decentered.’ Faigley frames this positively, and I think he is right, mostly. But I am concerned that this reflects a devaluing of the teacher’s role in the classroom. Not everybody would see this as a negative, of course–“student-centered” classrooms are generally hurrahed. But in this example, where a teacher’s role in leading discussion is minimized, or even erased (except in choice of reading or general topic–which can, as we saw, be hijacked), is a teacher even necessary? Of what value is a teacher (or, at least, how is a teacher better than a computer), when students can collaboratively construct knowledge?
Back to the first issue, networked classrooms provide a collaborative space with relative anonymity. I agree with the idea that anonymity is supported by the speed of the synchronous, typed conversation. If only for efficiency’s sake, students focus on the content of the messages and not on the author. In some ways, I think this is great. I was a reluctant (past tense may be a little too generous here) class-participator; I think that the option to participate in a networked classroom might have been very useful to me. BUT, I would add–BUT, if the conversation got (my words) out of control, as it seemed to in the 1989 discussion, I would have felt unsafe to participate. To me, that is one advantage of a teacher-moderated classroom. Although, as Faigley puts it, and maybe rightly, “What the student did not always do was maintain bourgeois standards of politeness in classroom discussions . . . I would argue that electronic written discussion create disconsensus because they give voice to diversity” (190). Ultimately it comes down to how you understand / define a productive classroom discussion. Maybe great things were learned by students in the ’89 discussion. Imagining myself into the conversation, despite the ‘anonymity,’ I think that I would have felt a little powerless.
In addition, I question the assumption that race / gender / class (etc.) aren’t indicated within a typed conversation. (Yep. I am also in a linguistics class this term.) Or that students can’t surmise each other’s identities by syntactical patterns and habits, word choice, or even a particular brand of humor. We make identity assumptions about writers of texts ALL THE TIME. Why would we stop doing it in a networked class discussion? Plus, I feel like the elephant in the room in evaluations of networked class discussions is that highlighted when Faigley writes, “Interchange makes possible a utopian vision of class discussion where everyone with minimal keyboard skills can participate . . .” (185). This ‘everyone’ excludes those with limited English proficiency. Though typing might eliminate the accent of a fluent English speaker (as in Faigley’s class), it would not help (and might actually harm!) a student just learning English–who is likely better able to speak than write. And, who will be easily recognizable to their classmates through non-standard English forms. In a networked space where many students enjoy some degree of anonymity, would this students’ voice be heard? Ignored? Disparaged? Would it create a compounded sense of isolation / frustration for that student about their ability to participate fully in class?
The Selfe and Selfe article also raised a lot of questions for me. It made me giggle a little too. . . Electronic mail. . .he he. White mouse pointers = sign of racial / cultural hegemony. Is white paper a sign of it too, then? Hmmm. Their general suggestion of raising the awareness of the constructedness of the computer interface among teachers and students was a good one. I think that the culutral / hegemonic forces are probably less pernicious (and less deserving of attention) than other things one might find in the media or online. I also think that some of their concerns have been addressed, so their concerns seem small(er), less significant than they were. For the most part, their proposals read unrealistically–change the dominant computer language from English to . . . How about a kitchen counter, rather than a desktop? In some ways I feel like these ideas are misdirected–at the product, rather than the source–of disparity. And I also wondered if some of the inflammatory language the used / borrowed “tyranny” “devastating” “oppressive” and the like don’t exaggerate (and thus undermine) their points–making the writers seem hysterical and reactionary, rather than thoughtful. Still a lot to like here though–and there will be plenty to discuss in class between the two.