There are several possibilities for real oppression in the move to electronic environments for teaching and scholarship - while several of them have been mentioned in the course of this text, I would like to highlight some of the dangers that I see.
One is certainly access issues; mostly, I have addressed access from the point of view of the student. But faculty and staff also need to be able to use decent, fast machines that support e-mail, the Web, and other networked applications. And they should not have to pay for them themselves. Instead, computer equipment and instructional technology should be part of a teacher's work conditions in exactly the same way as a desk in an office with a phone and access to photocopiers should be the norm for work conditions. (I write this knowing that many faculty, especially those who are adjuncts, often do not have desks, phones, or reimbursement for work-related copying.)
Too, faculty and staff past certification or post-hire ought to be compensated for training: while many of us have trained ourselves on our own equipment, the use of electronic environments ought to be part of training programs including secondary education certification and the Ph.D. process. Those who are assigned to working in electronic environments, say as directors of writing labs, ought to receive fair and just compensation in course load and in research and scholarship requirements, in just the way that writing program administrators are calling for reductions in course load and specialized training paid by the department where appropriate.
Finally, both administrators and faculty need to be aware of and to resist the lure of technology to drive costs down while tuition continues to rise. These new technologies do allow us to teach classes that are literally unlimited in size, to develop the equivalent of lectures to be distributed by e-mail to hundreds or thousands of students and to grade them by forms on the WWW. Such structures which are themselves pedagogically unsound are also very inexpensive for the institution, especially as it cuts down the number of tenure and tenure-track faculty and replaces them with adjunct faculty and teaching assistants, traditionally sources of low-cost labor. Indeed, the use of listserv and web technology allows the possibility of reducing faculty size without any replacements whatsoever.
Faculty have already allowed themselves to be put into lecture/discussion formats in which they lecture two times a week and teaching assistants lead a discussion once a week, answer student questions, and do the reading and grading of papers. This structure is clearly driven by the need to keep costs down at any price (and the burning need to publish), but does so at the expense of the students who do not form any kind of community.
The use of computers in the teaching process is an unprecedented opportunity to open up the classroom to students and to give them more power, but it also can be a way of further eroding student power and choice, to deliver course materials - but not teaching - to more students electronically, and to move grading to objective and computer-scored tests as the sizes of classes increase, often without a concomitant increase in compensation.
This too must be resisted.
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Last Modified: August 2, 1996
Copyright © 1996 by Keith Dorwick