07 February 2010

On on-line frustration and anger and the learning experience...

An odd coincidence. As I was walking the dog this morning, I was trying to reconstruct what I was doing this time last year, and thinking about a short on-line course I had undertaken on on-line tutoring. In particular I thought about how frustrated I had been by the process, and how petulant I rapidly became as a result, and how I became a tutor's worst nightmare. I blogged my reflections; they are mostly to be found here (start at the bottom of the page, of course).

And then I checked the blog feeds--and there was the linked post, which described a very similar experience to my own of a year ago, although the context was slightly different.

It occurred to me that "setting ground rules"--the exercise which so annoyed Jim--was perhaps necessary precisely because of the frustrating lack of capacity of this limited-channel medium of on-line discussion to which people can so readily respond with the kind of adolescent tantrum I barely managed to contain but which Jim handled so much more elegantly. We have all doubtless encountered examples of immoderate on-line offence and defensive rage, which flare up so much more readily in this strictly mediated environment than they do (in my experience, at least) in real life.

I have every sympathy with his notion of a "social gift" offering a superior approach to the maintenance of order*, but... I can't remember whether my on-line course we covered ground-rules. I've just looked at the (conspicuously useless) recommended text to check and they do not appear in the index at least. I do address them on the teaching site.
  • But... Contextualise. Both our on-line learning sessions were ultimately about us doing to others what was now being done to us. Both were based on the premise that "this present group is mature and civilised and won't need much external 'control'", alongside, "that will not always be the case." That seems fair enough, on the basis of experience.
  • So: on the on-line course;

      Task oriented communication is "privileged".
      Process communication is more difficult to manage. Instant spontaneous feedback about how an intervention is "taken" is not possible; nuanced feedback (the lift of an eyebrow signifying "did you really mean to say what I just heard you say?") takes ages and is almost always misunderstood.  
      Reduced to impoverished communication, it does make sense to be explicit about the rules; as long as the reasons are clear. Yes, it is second best, but compared with tenth-best, that's good...  
* On re-reading his original post I find the source of his quotation is what I had cited, viz. For the past year or so I have been dipping into and savouring at leisure, Lewis Hyde's The Gift (Edinburgh; Canongate, 2007. ISBN 978 1 84195 993 1. Originally published in the USA by Random House in 1983. It's a wonderful meditation on giving, receiving, exchanging. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks James,
    Perhaps I'm mistaken - perhaps it's only a semantic problem and nothing more, but despite your salient reflections above, I still believe there's something very subtle being eroded here. The idea that one needs to institute regulatory measures, no matter how nuanced, seems to me to be both retrogressive and antithetical to the true nature of high-quality education. Education should aim to instil the very best in people which means that education itself should uphold the very best principles. If we choose to employ impoverished ad hoc solutions like ground rules then what underlying message are we promoting ultimately? I'm all for guidelines as a genuine second-best but ground rules are certainly the tenth best you mention and a very insidious and damaging tenth at that.
    I too have written a more lengthy post on the subject which attempts to clarify my position:
    I'd certainly welcome your thoughts.




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