Monday, January 21, 2008
PoMo o' that Messy Discourse
As a teacher and administrator in the computer lab, I experience the most frustration in trying to hold the attention of twenty-some students who have the internet, various games and software programs, and preference menus to play with on the computer as I talk. I have barely introduced myself and there are two people in the corner checking their email, three people off to the side checking facebook, and a guy right next to me is adjusting the background of the computer while playing chess on a sidebar widget. Part of me just wants to scream, “Alright, everybody! Just turn off your computers and look at me!” But that is just not how it works in a computer-based classroom. Faigley, Hawisher and Selfe, and Cooper are right to note that we must be attentive to the post-modern structure of the electronic space. If the electronic space is the beginning of a student-centered space for a classroom, I (as an instructor) have to come to terms with relinquishing the power previously held in lecture-based classroom when guiding a classroom in a electronic discussion.
When Cooper defines postmodernity as “a response to our increased awareness of the great diversity of human cultures,” she notes both the need to confront issues of power dynamics and also an awareness of the cacophony of cultures and symbols we encounter on a consistent basis (142).
When I see students enter into the computer interface, I see that they experience the space as a liberated and free space for them to express themselves without constraint. Besides what the class has already discussed regarding Foucault and the disciplinary functions that computers can employ in users (and I don’t want to dismiss this alternative caution towards the invisible supervisor; I just want to dwell on the apparent positives for the time being), a computer interface does allow students to escape a visible authority figure. In the transcripts from Faigley’s article, we see that the students are actively engaging with each other and with ideas rather than just appeasing the instructor. And though the dangers are that conversations can get off topic, Coopers suggestion of guiding students towards being consciously aware of how their voice is affective in social situations seems to optimistically suggest that a “teaching moment” could arise out of any train wreck of a classroom experience.
This liberated space is a fragmented space. Even while I write this blog, I have done the following:
• gone into iTunes to adjust my playlist to songs that will fit my current mood
• Checked my email twice
• Responded to one email.
• Checked the scores of a few Pac-10 games on ESPN.com
• Shuffled a few files on my desktop into a folder because I was thinking my desktop was too cluttered
• Adjusted the size of my word processing window three times.
I’m not looking for distractions either: that is just the nature of the space. I mean, electronic conversations can take place and be quite enriching while the users are concurrently playing games, checking email, conversing on other chat spaces, etc. The space is fragmented. But is this multiaccentuality or is it really lack of attention? Can this lack of attention get in the way of people seeing the power structures apparent in electronic spaces?