Technopoly – The Academic Course

Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. Vintage, 1993.

Another take-away from Technopoly is somewhat oddly-founded, as it is based on a bit of a tangent that Postman pursues as an example of technologies coming in disguise (in Chapter 8: Invisible Technologies). He discusses the idea of academic courses in the educational world.

A course is a technology for learning. I have “taught” about two hundred of them and do not know why each one lasts exactly fifteen weeks, or why each meeting lasts exactly one hour and fifty minutes. If the answer is that it is done for administrative convenience, then a course is a fraudulent technology. It is put forward as a desirable structure for learning when in fact it is only a structure for allocating space, for convenient record-keeping, and for control of faculty time. (138)

I do not cite this quote to attack the structure of collegiate administration or academic courses, nor do I wish to weigh-n too heavily on this potentially strained relationship beyond noting that I am unaware of a learning- or outcome-based reason for class length and course length. Rather, I want to address this seemingly abstract length of classes and courses in regard to the online video conversation (OVC). While course lengths and class period lengths vary to some degree depending on the college, the semester length (quarters vs. semesters) and also the calendar dates, the standard put forth by each school is relatively close to that that Postman lists.

Regardless of whether there is some pedagogical purpose behind these standards, it has been shown many times over that people have different attention spans, different learning styles, and even have certain preferences in how and when to receive information. In this way, it is clear that it is beneficial in offering learning options to students, such as courses being offered at various times in the day and in the year, offered online, and offered using different distance education methods: synchronous elements, email, video, group projects, etc.

[Note: the following section is more general (I’ve said it before) and is a slightly different tone, as it is repurposed from a comment I made in an online article last week. The article can be found here. I include the following section, as it is fitting with the above conversation.]

The OVC, in regard to the asynchronous online class, offers another option in how students can attend class. The videos are not offered as a replacement to the benefits of being IN the classroom, but rather as supplemental information to the more text-based delivery methods of the distance class. The videos allow students to see each other and the instructor and to carry on conversations. Additionally, they help students review material, study for exams, etc. In this distance education setting, the videos offer another way to receive information and one more level of personalization for the class above that offered by purely text-based distance learning.

I acknowledge that this will not work for all students, but no method does. That is why our age of new media is so useful in this regard: it is about offering options. The OVC has the potential to offer certain advantages, such as an added sense of social presence (over other distance learning methods). Granted, video (particularly asynchronous) cannot fully replace the social presence of a live person. However, it offers other benefits beyond the FtF classroom. In the FtF classroom, students do have the benefit of immediacy (asking a question as it arises), but when they leave the room they have only their own memory and any notes they’ve jotted down. Conversely, videos are archived in a set location, so students can review them as needed. Also, certain tools allow one to comment (with video or text) within a video to address a topic at a given point. In this way, a threaded conversation can ensue between many students (or others outside the class if the site is made public) and the instructor. There truly are many benefits of this delivery method including the fact that temporal and distance factors are not a concern, introverted individuals could potentially engage in class discussions in ways they may not have been previously able to do, etc.

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