I resisted teaching Interpersonal Communication in an online-only environment for a long time. How can we call thistyping to each other, and reading instead of listening to a voice & watching a face – a mode of direct interaction?

In the Fall of 2002, I took a graduate level Communication course called The Social Impact of Information Technology. It was my first year of coursework toward a doctorate degree in social science, specifically in the discipline of Communication. A few years later, I recall some of the things I learned in that class for an Electronic Frontier Foundation competition – which I did not win (smile).

After I earned my Master’s Degree (in Social Justice Education), I taught for several years at a community college – both traditional (face-to-face) classes and online courses (when the program was very, very new). When I began teaching online, I tried to use the same strategies that worked for me in regular classes – investing a ton of energy, encouraging and eliciting emotional engagement so that the subject matter had personal relevance to each and every student. I realized quickly that I cannot transpose my in-class manner to the cyber situation: if students do not log in and actively participate, no matter what I do has no influence: not only do more students simply fail online classes, many of those who pass hardly learn a thing. Pay close attention! Certain students will fall off the map (generally those who underestimate the time commitment and/or fail to generate the self-discipline or motivation to invest as much as necessary – and others will excel. The difference is in who shows up!

How does one measure presence when the only medium you have to use are printed words? A very successful and smart blogger that I met some years ago in Amsterdam wrote about living relationships ~ Lilia says, “there is something about the nature of interaction that makes the difference.” As I imagine how to revise the curriculum for this second attempt at teaching Interpersonal Communication Online, I find her insight instructive:

the feeling of being connected is much stronger in the cases where the interaction is about something, but not that much for the sake of interaction.

In other words, I wonder what will be “the something” that binds us – students and teacher – together over these six weeks of study. Lilia suggests that the strongest connections come from doing together. I agree. The question is what is “the doing” that we will do? We have an obvious task – to learn about interpersonal communication. But this may not be the highest motivation for everyone: some of you may be taking this class only because it is required or meets a requirement; some of you may intend to invest as little as possible to pass; some of you may want to earn an A without having to work very much for it; some of you may actually care about the subject for reasons which may or may not be shared by others in the class. One thing we must agree on is how we will communicate with each other. I found an excellent guide for online writing – please do not worry that these are academic guidelines from a high school student – we need to recognize and accept (in order to use!) the literacy of young people with a wide variety of text-based communication (e.g., texting on cell phones and instant messaging on computers).

Instructions for Students (any/everyone else is free to participate as you wish):

  1. Before posting a reply, open your own WordPress weblog. If you have not already done this, please be sure to register an anonymous name so that you are not identifiable to your peers, family, or friends.
  2. Write your reply in a word processing program first, and save it. (More instructions about the Reply are posted in the Course Website.) Copy your entire response in preparation for pasting.
  3. Login to your own WordPress weblog. (By logging in to your own Weblog first, I will be able to ascertain who earns credit for doing this assignment.)
  4. Return to this post.
  5. Click on “Leave A Reply”
  6. Paste your reply into the reply/comment box.
  7. Click on “Submit Comment”
  8. If other classmates (or anyone else) has already replied, please feel free to respond to their comments too – but give credit by naming who said what!)

And now – the fun begins! 🙂

PS – if your comment does not appear within a few minutes, it means my weblog does not recognize you yet as a real commenter (instead of as computer-generated spam).  Be patient – I will moderate regularly and add you to the list.

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