Dangerous territory

I have been reflecting for some time now on the matter of ephemeral vs enduring comments and what the implications are for the online ‘teacher’. Clearly, in a f2f context much is said that is not meant, or at least the intended meaning is misinterpreted. By contrast in a f2f context, any misunderstandings are subject too the opportunity for immediate negotiation of meaning through feedback, questioning, dialogue, etc. In an online world negotiation of meaning is a qualitatively different process and there is far more scope for misunderstandings, breakdowns in communication, etc., as individuals are left to ‘ponder’ alone with fewer points of reference to help them establish a balanced point of view. This is well recognised and we attempt to mitigate it by the use of the ‘cardinal rule’ for online communities of always assuming good intent.

For the online teacher, this is a very exposing environment as their every word is available to be analysed in a way that would not be possible with ephemeral f2f conversations. One could argue that in knowing this the online teachers should take the greatest of care to compose their every ‘utterance’, but I would suggest that this both unsustainable from a workload point of view and perhaps more importantly detrimental to the type discourse we are trying to promote. That is discourse characterised by the modelling of critically reflective practice, creativity, risk taking, and, for some, a senses of humour! All this is done with the intention of moving learning towards the ‘delightful’ end of the experience continuum.

This is a very uneven field on which online teachers play with their students, as their every ‘movement’ can be dissected and analysed and ‘played back’ out of context. Clearly, the students’ utterances are also there for analysis by fellow students and online teachers alike. In the case of the online teacher, however, their professional approach should be supported in a community of colleagues to help them establish strong reference points about intent, meaning, and appropriate responses. The overriding aim of this being to help the student towards their chosen learning goals in a way that recognises a student centred approach to developing a critically reflective learner.

So is this a dangerous and professionally demanding territory for online teachers? I think the answer has to be yes, but one that is worth pursuing!

6 thoughts on “Dangerous territory

  1. Richard Millwood

    It is indeed a shark-infested water for many. One way of reducing the load may be to have tools for the independent inception of smaller learning sets to work together privately, with confidence, before embarking into a wider context.

  2. Stephen Powell

    Yes Ricahrd, if the trust is there, then misunderstandings, although they will occur will be, less likely to cause disharmony.

  3. Shirley

    To conflate elements of your posting and Richard’s response – when swimming with sharks, would it be sensible to assume good intent? I’ve often wondered if the “cardinal rule” is anything more than a placebo, it might be the equivalent when faced with a hungry shark of trying to avoid splashing. There are alternative tactics when swimming with sharks, such as going down in a cage or not getting in the water at all. It would be interesting to consider the online equivalents, though such comparisons have their own dangers.

  4. Stephen Powell

    Possibly so Shirley, I suppose that is partly what I was thinking about. It seems to be such a risky territory, so should we re-consider our rules of engagement? Personally I think that the answer would be OK, but we mustn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. If we were not careful, we could end up with a very antiseptic (safe, risk free, etc.) experience that was by comparison very shallow in the kind of learning it was enabling.

  5. Gina

    I would agree that being an online teacher has many more opportunities for misunderstanding – every single thing we say is under so much more scrutiny. It would be interesting to know how online students feel too. Maybe they feel more scrutinised too – I know it’s taken a long time for some people I work with to share their work online and not feel embarrassed.

    The key seems to be creating a ‘safe’ environment, much like in a classroom, but then we come back full circle to your point about the tnesions here – we can’t be cool and distant and careful all the time and still do this.

    I also think a key point to remember is that trying to create more ‘delightful’ and open space for learning, may require time to break down old ideas of student and teacher.

  6. Stephen Powell

    I think your last point is a good one Gina, we come together (‘students’ and ‘teachers’) with different values and beliefs and a whole load of baggage. It will take a long time to negotiate what this new relationship looks like.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s