October 1, 2004

From Gerald R. Lucas

Online Literature?

With the growing notion that college is just another business, a place where education should be as quick and painless as possible, many administrators are pushing the for more distance education classes. Part of the popularity of these courses ó at least as far as I can make out at Macon State -- stems from the influx of the non-traditional student, one who has been in the private sector her adult life and now wishes to return to college. With other considerations, like a family to care for, many of these students would prefer their education be offered solely online to accommodate their busy schedules. As a technologically efficient English Professor, I'm growing increasingly concerned with the ethical implications of offering humanistic courses, especially literature, in an on-line venue. So begins my thoughts and research into the ethics of distance learning for a CCCC project. The paper will address my experiences with teaching a world literature course online, considers the efficacy of offering courses like this solely online, and posits alternatives that might maintain student/faculty communities in our increasingly computer-oriented universities.

I have been involved with online teaching for a number of years, as I've outlined elsewhere. For any number of reasons, perhaps the most significant being the fact that they do not have to attend class and can work at their own pace, my online courses fill up quickly and keep me busy answering the phone during registration: "No, I'm sorry, I cannot add you to the course." If I added every student that called with their entire story about why I should add them, I would have a 50 student overload each semester. Not only do the students call, but other advisors that want to add "strong" students to the course, even against my wishes. I always begin the semester with a full class, yet the attrition rate is always one-half to two-thirds, pretty appalling in my estimation.

Perhaps we should reevaluate the whole registration process, yet anything that we come up with seems to increase my workload during registration four-fold, like making an entrance interview mandatory, even before they are allowed to register. During this interview, I would inform each prospective student that she would need to be responsible and extremely self-motivated, keeping up with the reading schedule, reading and researching secondary sources to compensate for missed lectures, posting to the bulletin board, writing journal responses, and contributing to the wiki. This represents quite a bit of work, more than most students seem capable of handling on their own; i.e., without the weekly supervision of a professor quizzing and lecturing and making the students keep up. Perhaps a dose of reality before the undertaking would make many think twice, yet how many interviews would I have to do?

One colleague suggested a web site that outlined the above, but how could we make prospective students look at it when many can't be bothered to find my own web site via the MSC homepage? This same colleague has a voice mail message that attempts to answer questions; this seems to provide her with a buffer, if they even bother to listen to the three-plus minute message. I have resolved to try something like that, at least pointing to LitMUSE and my syllabus so they can see the amount of work that will be required of them, and letting them know beforehand that I cannot add anyone to the course if it is closed.

I will continue to think about this...