Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Distance Learning: the meaning of meaningless bits of flair

I recently opened a Facebook account. My daughter has, consistently, refused to allow me to do so. She thinks its a pathetic act for a woman of my age and stature. More fundamentally, I would be invading the turf and domain of another generation: hers. Its the modern day version of "you're not going to wear that. Mom?" Middle school, six years on.

I researched it, carefully, and the balance of student expectations seems to be shifting. As near as I can tell, there are more students in favor of faculty Facebook presence than against. But my consistent pet peeve is the way we treat students as a monolithic category. Anthropologists have no business making vast pronouncements about "students today". It is the sloppiest kind of scholarship, never to be tolerated in refereed journals but freely tossed about on the Internet. So, I expect some, like my daughter, will continue to find it lame while others will "friend me" enthusiastically. I admit to being thrilled to discover an old and dear friend from High School and to easily be able to stay in touch with former students. Being at a two year school means they are quickly lost to me (at least the successful ones) and I yearn for the sense of meaning in my life that comes from seeing them grow and succeed.

And, so, I have jumped aboard the Facebook train and begun the process of accessorization. Its a train ride in the sense that I am forced to go forward by the template through tunnels and mountain passes and, yet, I can rock the bling all I want. I am a fan of Karl Marx, Meyer Fortes, Evans-Pritchard, Emile Durkhem, Melville Herskovits (Go, you, NU), Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Buc-ees--home of the largest collection of beaver jokes, dried dead animals, and clean restrooms in the Lone Star State. It was Archeology (without the "a") that taught me that through process comes meaning, so, I have joined the Lewis Binford group. And in a nod to the beautiful mountains that were the home to my anthropological rite of passage, that overwhelmingly, embarrassingly arrogant "thing" we call fieldwork, I have joined the travellers to Morogoro group. I am made anew, born again, defined and redefined through point and click. My fingers are tired.

And I am contemplating the meaning of participation; what we faculty often pose as "you don't get credit for showing up". Because, I think, more and more students do. And I think this is more and more evident in Web 2.0 worlds and in classes where students (of all levels of accessorization, those with flair and those without) are Distantly Learning. I have an online student who has been emailing back and forth and back and forth about her grade. We submitted final grades on Monday and she did not like hers. Seems she has had hours and hours of Distance Learning courses, earning all As and Bs. She is frustrated by her C. Embarrassed to submit it to her employer for reimbursement and, personally, frustrated with me for not recognizing her well-travelled existence, she has fought valiantly and politely with me through two weeks of emails.

I have gleaned this from our correspondence: she has been through course after course where she had been given credit for participation. And she participates. She has, actually, shocked the bejeesus out of me with her level of participation. She has posted everywhere--responding to every single Discussion Board posting of other students, giving shout-out on top of shout-out. And she has worn me out, correcting and re-directing her. Because she just doesn't "get" anthropology. Born in Scandinavia and living in Latin America, she has travelled extensively. She posted pictures of the Sami, pontificated on Susto, and cheerfully contributed in her final post (long past the whole cultural relativism discussion) that the Maasai depicted in a Tanzanian hip hop video (the video that was posted here for Blog Action Day) had barbaric (her word) cultural practices.

She was like a run away toddler, I couldn't catch. In a face-to-face class, I would have shut her down in the first week. Cut her off, moved away from her, avoided eye contact; suggested disapproval of her conclusions in strong and monkey brain-stem ways. Online, I could only chase after her hours after she ran into the street. I, actually, started worrying about the cars that might hit her. She was so BIG, posting so much--the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man, lurching like a toddler but deadly sticky. Would other students read her conclusion, pontifications, and pronouncements and get the wrong impression, learn the wrong thing, be impressed by all the travel bling, the bits of Sami flair? They couldn't know that her quiz average grade was a D. She didn't even "know" this.

Participation-A; Content Mastery-D. I am glad it was a C, so I don't have to "face" her another semester. She wore me out.

You can find, point, and click; fan this, friend that, post, upload, interact but if you are only a vacation traveller, a tourist on the Net, shallow is what you will remain. We still need to look for the deep immersion in content: for the process is not the learning of technology, it is the learning.

And in the great (narcissistic) minds think alike category, you must check out this blog post on "students today" and Teen Narcissism by Mark Bauerlein at the Chronicle of Higher Education for the psychological underpinnings of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow student. But then, that is only my opinion, perhaps yours is better, cause after all its yours. Just don't ask me for extra points for having it because it might be WRONG, idiot. (Sorry, the pent-up hostility escaped again.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

o man...i had that exact same student in my tutorial last term...interested in the topic, opinionated, participating...and totally wrong. So hard to deal with!