I understand the romantic notion of clutching a book to breast — some clutch their laptops with the same passion but one can also embrace electronic revisions of writing in the same way. Scholars need to be vigilant in protecting their process of creation and thought and that means saving revisions and first versions so future generations can track the mind process of those who marked paths first. Imagine our scholar’s website that not only catalogues a C.V. and Bibliography, but also every nuance of every correction made in each published article or book.

Publishing on the web generates an enormous wealth of goodwill because our scholar’s verifiable thought patterns become accessible to anyone with the impetus to make the discovery and the thinking process is no longer limited to those who live within human reach of the scholar’s in-class voice. Learning how to use a computer begs the same curve of learning for those who moved from horse to car: Change or get left behind and it is the job of everyone to make sure equal access to information is a right and not a privilege.

Technology encourages revision and rewriting more than ever and the preservation of the process needs to be honored. I’m sure someone can always print out hardcopy of the early revisions of our scholar’s work for those who prefer breast-clutching.

We may be careening into a modified Monitorial system of education where brilliant icons in academe appear live on videotape across national classrooms while gangs of Ph.D. folk roam the rooms to do the follow-up tutoring. A provocative scholar might wonder if there a difference between learning via reading and learning via watching and listening if the information is the same and does not change in universal distribution?

Recorded virtual teaching may be the first uneasy step into a theory of “universal education” because, for the first time, the information will be equalized across cultures and classes and even the illiterate can be included because they can at least watch and listen. Current university pedagogy is live theatre.

Virtual teaching, via CD or DVD or videotape is the movies. Theatre is always changing and is never the same experience twice. Film is, frame by frame, exactly the same each time it is shown. I prefer the theatre, but film is more dependable and more democratic. Technology is always bending time and compressing spaces.

The history of the world has been to get faster, not slower, and those who long for “what used to be” instead of what needs to happen run the great risk of being left behind with black and white television and the telegraph and the card catalogue while the rest of us are doing blazing Lexis-Nexis web searches for meaning in the next online-only Opus.

17 Comments

  1. I think web classes are the way to go. You can still have community and interaction over the web and who wouldn’t want to earn a Harvard degree from home in their jammies?

  2. Hi Christie!
    Your point cuts to the core of the issue. The question about getting your Harvard degree in your jammies makes one wonder if the strict admissions standards at major universities will remain the same or relax a bit for economic gain? Will a diploma earned online look and feel and operate precisely as an “in person” diploma or will the version earned online be hamstrung in some way? One day all diplomas will be earned virtually so the online pioneers of today need to be carefully considered in their alumnus role tomorrow.

  3. Well, if I had the time to physically go to a class I would but alas, I’m not wealthy enough to just go to school AND pay my bills. I think courses online might in essence be more difficult than being in class because you have nobody to ask a question right then and there especially if you’re doing something that has a time restraint. One of my online courses I had to be paired up with someone to do a project, needless to say I ended up doing the entire thing because I couldn’t get a hold of this person. So that is one of the drawbacks.
    I personally am glad there are online courses though because otherwise I would not be able to get my degree.

  4. Hi hterry —
    Distance Learning is an art and if you have a bad instructor you will not have a good time and you will not do well.
    I do a lot of Distance Learning teaching where I never see my students in person. Everything is done online. The key is to always be available and to have interactive online group work that brings students together in a common task where everyone is accountable. I realize there are risks as you mention but a good instructor can ride you through that storm.

  5. I know for myself that I’ve found a great outlet for my writing by starting my blog. However the perfectionist in me still wants to avoid posting multiple drafts – including those “shitty first drafts” as Anne Lamott calls them – for fear of someone plain out saying, “You suck!”
    Also, I’ve read that posting writing on the web counts as publishing, therefore avoiding the possibility of giving a publisher first rights when putting a book/story/poem in print. So I’ve stayed guarded in that respect.
    I’ve thought about taking online writing courses, but there are a lot out there. Some – well, maybe a lot – are out of my price range, but I’m concerned that the ones that are affordable might not be as good.

  6. Hi Carla!
    Yes, posting multiple drafts can be cumbersome but preserving them can be a great learning tool and help demonstrate the pathways of your mind for those who choose to study you in your death. Here’s an example:
    The great William Kloefkorn, Nebraska State Poet is an old family friend and he taught a great summer of poetry writing at UNL with Charles Stubblefield. Bill was a magical poet and every day he would read a new work to us. One day he handed out photocopies of a poem he had revised. His original typing was covered in cross-outs and ink notes and other corrections. It was fascinating to see even the great Nebraska poet was not a perfect writer and he had to revise and that the secret to good writing really is revision. We could see how and why he chose certain words. We could see how moving a word here over there and that sentence there up along there made all the difference. In an electronic age we need to find a way to preserve that roadmap to an end result.
    Yes, I would keep anything you hope to sell offline.
    I would use only established, noteworthy, colleges and universities for taking online classes. You are smart to be wary.

  7. Very interesting and well thought out article. I wonder how much we can learn by merely watching the process of creation, however. A word disappears to be replaced by another – can we see why? A sentence is re-constructed – can we understand what thoughts persuaded the writer to do it? I’m not sure. It is an interesting thought, however.

  8. David,
    I tend to agree, my writing is better when I write a first draft and then let it stew for a few hours. I also like to actually write with a pen and paper and type later. I know this is old fashion of me, but I think better with paper.
    As for on-line education. I earned a certificate in Human Performance Technology on line at the University of West Florida and I found the experience about like my Masters, except for all the stand-up presentations that you give in a real classroom.
    I also think that on-line classes are good a refreshing knowledge or moving to related areas that you may already know. But I agree with you that it is the future and sense that since we have the technology; why can’t we all learn from the best and brightest minds via the net and be tutored by those freshly minted PhDs as they learn their trade? Seems obvious to me and I think that corporate “universities” are going something like that already.
    On my NKO (Navy Knowledge Online),I can already pull down classes from Harvard Business School (Non-credit, of course), but that is just the beginning. As knowledge becomes a commodity, some of those traditional educational bastions will find it hard to compete. I would suggest that they look at their core competencies and work from there. They will need to carve out their market niche, that will be the only way to survive, in the future.
    Just a few thoughts,
    Kev

  9. Gone — A prime advantage for teaching by showing is, even though it is one-way and not two-way, it can help provide equal access for the poor and for those who cannot afford to leave their neighborhoods to seek out a higher education. Yes, watching is not as good as dialogue, but when the other choice is to be stuck in the mist of the dark, I would choose the option to at least watch.
    Kev! — If a person is self-motivated, and you certainly are, great success can be found in online learning. You can go as fast as you wish and when I teach, all my assignments are immediately available, which means a student can work as far ahead as they like without my direct intervention. The motivated students love that method of self-realization. I agree the smaller schools will eventually be squeezed out of the education market as the Big Guns saunter in to virtually educate the rest of us and they will do it because they will have the digital rights to the best faculty lectures and if you want to learn from the best you are going to pay to pay through the nose. 🙂 As a graduate of Columbia University, I can take free online Columbia seminars to help keep my still finger in vibrant waters.