Presentation Abstract

Virtual Class

This paper examines two inter-related questions:

1. How do teaching / learning environments used in online, or virtual, compostion classrooms extend and transform conventional composition classroom practices?

2. How are these changing practices altering the broader cultural functions of thescomposition classroom?

The presentation is essentially qualitative and strives to explore the processes through which online writing classrooms transform the boundaries that delimit the stylistic character of student writing. Essentially the paper argues that in the past these boundaries have defined a middle-class American norm. As compostition classes find it increasingly practical to write across cultural boundaries using email and other modes of internet communication, they transform and consequently serve to globalize students’ values both as writers and as citizens.

In addressing the first question, I draw on four years of teaching in and directing Chaminade University’s Distance Learning Pilot Project, which centers on writing and introductory literature courses taught via the world wide web and email. The presentation includes a brief description of the evolution of the program as well as the use that has been made of international collaborations that have taken place using online tools.

Additionally, the paper presents the results of a survey administered to online writing students. This survey aims to reveal students’ perceptions of their success in the online writing class versus a conventional face-to-face one. (At Chaminade, we have a two-semester freshman writing program and at present only the second semester is offered online; thus, our online writing students have all had the experience of a face-to-face composition course prior to the online one.)sThe survey results help describe how the online classroom is transforming student perceptions of classroom boundaries.

By way of illustration, the paper includes a description of the use of the CommonSpace writing environment, which has been used with both face-to-face, lab-based freshman writing students and online ones.

In approaching the second question, the paper explores the ways in which the online “virtual” writing classroom transforms the “enterprise” of freshman composition by altering boundaries -- in this case, not stylistic ones, but cultural ones --sthat have traditionally delimited the conventional face-to-face classroom. Lynn Z. Bloom’s “Freshman Composition as a Middle-Class Enterprise” (College English 58.6 (October, 1996): 654 - 675) serves as the basis for this part of the discussion. In her essay, Bloom describes “the middle-class pedagogical model” as the norm for the freshman composition class.

Finally, the presentation reviews several specific ways in which the presence of online classrooms might help to transform curriculum and policy. According to Bloom, this is an area in need of particular attention.

In sum, the paper argues that the online classroom offers opportunities to alter the boundaries of the conventional classroom and thus potentially transform the “enterprise” of the freshman composition, both in a stylistic sense and in a cultural one.

Author: James Kraus


Target Audience: Intermediate

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