Overview | Preliminary Comments | Pedagogical Choices | Moving On | Conclusion | Bibliography



Until we have worked with a new technology, we can't fully understand its strengths or its weaknesses. Two-way interactive video conferencing is not the method of teaching English that I am arguing for. What I am saying is that my experience teaching in an interactive video format convinces me that some of my students needed this experience. Seeing reluctant learners move from passivity to engagement reinforced my conviction that a semblance of face-to-face interaction is critical for these learners. But not all of my students needed the challenge of spoken conversation. Many of my students would have done exceedingly well in a totally online course. 

Instead of wanting to push others toward interactive videoconferencing as a mode of distance education, I am stressing the need to offer courses that meet the needs of the local curriculum, that tap the available technology, and--most importantly--courses that serve the needs of the  students. Starr Roxanne Hilz has also argued for tailoring technology and pedagogy to  student need. In her experience, "The use of any medium for teaching interacts with characteristics of the students, the institutional context, and the subject matter." In a recent study of the value of combining video (in the form of tapes or satellite broadcast) to supplement asynchronous interaction, she writes: 

  • [R]esults for NJIT may not be generalizable to different contexts. The majority of NJIT's students are "first generation" college students, who must work while attending school and who commute rather than live on campus. They are faced with overcrowded classes with sections that fill up early and then become closed (due to budget cuts that reduced staff and raised class sizes). They are also faced with degree programs that because of their technological nature, have extensive sequences of courses that build on one another and must be taken in order. If a student is closed out of a course one semester or must withdraw, he or she might lose a whole semester waiting for another opportunity to take this course which is a pre-requisite for subsequent courses. ("Impacts")

Courses at New Jersey Institute of Technology are offered at a slower pace than similar courses at more prestigious institutions where students are better prepared. But the combination of virtual learning and video works well for their students--far better than large lecture sections. 

In The Dialogic Classroom (NCTE, in press), I argue that, in the face of large-scale distance education programs that are rapidly changing the educational terrain, it is time to develop arguments for saving the small, dialogic classroom setting in the university. That same argument holds for virtual universities. The degree requirements for distance learning programs should take students' learning needs into account: by offering a mix of  course types--some totally virtual classrooms with synchronous and asynchronous conferences; some small, interactive, video-conferencing courses; some video + interactive synchrounous conferencing; and some Web-based courses.  Moreover, universities need to develop ways of matching students with course types so that students who need visual and oral interactivity are not placed in inappropriate courses 

Ultimately, it may be that overall campus ecology--the size and number of interactive courses across the general studies program or in the major--will determine the type of course a student should take. In other words, if a student is a strong writer and if the overall degree program includes interactivity in many courses, it may be that an online English course would be acceptable. If, on the other hand, prospective students are first-generation college students who have had little exposure to dialogical, face-to-face insrtuction, then a class that includes a mix of face-to-face activities--videoconferencing or occasional class meetings--may provide students with a more appropriate mix of composition and communication activities. 

  Overview | Preliminary Comments | Pedagogical Choices | Moving On | Conclusion | Bibliography