SansBlogue  
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
  Degrees of Presence II: the backstory
Begging Boy - Agra, India by gregor_y
Discussions on "distance education" (the term is often a misnomer since I have had students living or working closer to the on-site classroom than my home is ;) often get bogged down in primitive notions of "presence". The idea of distance skeptics seems to be that we are only "really" present to each other when in the same room. This is evident nonsense. If Barbara and I are in the same room but she is playing Facebook Scrabble I will be lucky to get a sensible reply to any question I ask. If I am reading a book she will get one of those male grunts that merely means "I think I heard that you said something - but I have no idea what." We are virtually non-present to each other, though in the same room. By contrast if we are talking on the phione about some concern over one of the children, even though in different cities we are highly mutually present.

So, I got thinking about degrees and sorts of "presence" in online education. I remember vividly a long "conversation" between two students in the first class in which I used a blog assignment. Student A began from the position that anyone who was poor was poor because they were lazy, shiftless or anti-social. Student B was living in Thailand. B wrote about his family, a young son who saw a boy his own age "selling" flowers as a sort of respectable begging, and his boy's sympathetic response on learning more about the situation. Gradually over a couple of weeks A's attitudes changed and mellowed. He'll never be a bleeding-heart liberal, but the two students impacted each others' lives and were evidently and richly mutually present.

That got me exploring the research literature on the subject... (which will come in part III: Research findings).



Karyn Traphagen has posted about her presentation Taking the Distance Out of Distance Education to the SBL session: 22-201 Academic Teaching and Biblical Studies: Distance Learning: How to teach traditional topics in a non-traditional format. Here is a link to my notes.

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