The Pedagogy is the Medium is the Message
Only in retrospect did we fully understand the integrated relationship between the course content and shared forum space. Theoretically, this activity could be used to discuss any of the common freshman composition topics. However, by participating in this online discussion about the purpose and meaning of the university, the students were beginning to enact the very university they were discussing. One of the themes for the semester was applying Kenneth Burke’s (1941, pp. 110-111) famous parlor metaphor to the experience of education, and as students engaged famous thinkers past and present, they joined other students in a unique manifestation of the interminable conversation of history. Because the final posts stressed connections over conclusions, many of the threads never reached a decisive answer about the issues under discussion. In their final papers, which often acknowledged aspects of the forums, many students revealed that they had more questions than answers about the university and that it was a subject they would continue to explore. Most students seemed to understand this conversation would continue long after the forum space disappeared, that the purpose of the university is always under discussion as it adapts and changes with the culture around it.
As instructors, we also noticed that the course ideology tended toward a civic model of the university and away from more Platonic, Kantian, or German models. The semester set up these competing/converging models for students to identify and debate, but the structure of the forums inherently favored a civic, communal approach over an idea of the university as knowledge transmission or individual transcendence. Their discussions of the university already positioned them within a model that favored community interactions and socially determined epistemology. These discussions were sometimes dynamic, sometimes agonistic, sometimes meandering, but always focused on networked relations. For future implementations of this course, we are still trying to determine how forthcoming to be about this ideology, but savvy students may have picked it up.