Rethinking The Academy:

The Future of Virtual Departments

Who can say what the future will bring? I remember when using the Internet in teaching meant e-mail and not the web not more than three or four years ago; when Daedalus was brand new and text-based, not graphically based as it is now; when word processing was new to most of my students and I had to teach them not to add hard returns to the end of lines, to let the program do the work.

One thing is certain - much of the administrative work of the department can and should be done in electronic environments. There is, for instance, no reason that a memo could be distributed far more efficiently via a listserv than it can via paper copies which have to be both produced and put into individual mailboxes.

Faculty and committee meetings, especially at multi-campus institutions, can certainly be held in a MOO space, or on an interactive web page with a program like HyperNews. People ought not to have to come together to make decisions - for many matters, a discussion can be held in cyberspace, saving time and travel funds.

In the same way, many of the tasks necessary to teaching - distribution of syllabi and assignments - can be moved to cyberspace; the web has already become the home of many syllawebs, as teachers begin to play with the possibility of including texts and software programs via hot link saving students a trip to the bookstore and money.

And web papers can be as expressive and rigorous a form as the traditional term paper - classes can teach both and both linear and web texts can be delivered to the other students and the teacher electronically.

In sum, teaching in electronic environments can allow those who might otherwise be silenced the opportunity to speak - and sometimes silence those who might be very vocal in traditional classroom discussions, itself a potential learning experience for students who have learned to be comfortable and to produce in the traditional classroom. We will need to conceptualize and research the differences between scholarship and teaching in these new environments as we begin to build the virtual department.

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Last Modified: August 2, 1996

Copyright 1996 by Keith Dorwick