Are we there yet? Are we THERE YET!!? Don’s Reflection on Module 2

You know those commercials with the attractive executive sitting on a beach somewhere with her smart phone  and a big umbrella-drink, taking business  calls while pretending to be at the office? I think somewhere in the back of my mind that is how I expected this summer’s  online learning to proceed.

I mean, I am always interested in improving my pedagogy, but an eight week course? Over the summer? I could be writing another article or learning Arabic or just spending time with my family. Yet, here I am in a minivan packed to the gills with four young kids on a three day road trip trying to focus on responding to scholar blogs while someone is throwing popcorn all over the place, someone else is yelling about getting hit in the head with popcorn, and the effort of reading while my wife drives is making me carsick anyway.

But enough about me. I think my point is that aside from whatever pedagogical goals we may have, I would guess that I am not entirely alone is thinking that a primary motivation is the need to supplement my relatively meager salary and participate in the illusion of freedom that always seems to accompany new technologies before we realize how much our lives need to change in order to accommodate and maintain them.

Freedom is the real promise of online learning, for both students and instructors, and I would rather not hide that behind some grandiose vision of how much better our learning outcomes will be. Maybe they will, but at the end of the day, some student who needs to hold down a job over the summer will be able to take this course in a way that wouldn’t be as feasible if they had to spend the day going back and forth to Emory campus; just as I may be able to go away with my family or get some research done off campus while still hopefully making ends meet. I would be interested to know how online learning is being used in more lucrative academic professions like law or medicine where the impulse to find ways to double task is not so pressing.

For me, at any rate, this initial introduction has shown me that in order to do this well I won’t be sitting on a beach someplace because this kind of teaching takes real work and focus–maybe more than traditional teaching, or maybe that will diminish as my learning curve hits plateau.

Ideally, I would like my online teaching to enhance students’ sense of themselves as participants in the educational process and not just consumers–people who can be involved in the production of knowledge themselves. But I’ll settle for a little additional freedom, if I can master the technology, because that’s really the truth of why I am here.



About Don Seeman PhD

Don Seeman is Associate Professor in the Department of Religion and the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory. He is a social anthropologist (PhD Harvard 1997) specializing in medical and phenomenological anthropology, ethnography of religion and Jewish thought.

3 thoughts on “Are we there yet? Are we THERE YET!!? Don’s Reflection on Module 2

  1. Your comments about online learning and its learner-consumer really resonate with me, Don. When I have found myself scoffing at online education in the past (primarily because of its lack of in-person communication), I always have to remind myself that a lot of students who pursue online degrees do so for economic reasons. They either can’t afford a traditional 4-year college or have to hold down a full-time job while pursuing their degree, or both. It might be the only way they can go to college and they should be applauded for that effort. Very few online learners are in the same position as the Emory students who will be enrolled in our classes next summer, many of whom hold down summer jobs or internships out of interest but not out of necessity. Furthermore, very few faculty members who teach online courses work for universities that offer them an incentive to learn about the process and the pedagogical philosophies behind it like we do. In other words, money does play a significant role in online education but in a very different way than we are used to.

    1. Thanks Michael, your points are well-taken. It is true that we teach at a privileged institution and many of our students have resources at their disposal. But we should remember that this is not true of all. Some do struggle. As for faculty, I suppose that is a topic for a longer conversation. I am happy that we are compensate to put the time in to learning these skills and aware that this is not true everywhere. But it also reminds me how difficult it can be at Emory to get basic research or conference funding in any other way. Our department was reviewed recently and colleagues were really surprised how little funding there is given the university’s mission to be known as a Research 1 facility. In any case, my purpose here is not really to gripe but just to remember the material context of all of this work we are doing.

  2. I second all motions, Don. All of them. Especially the material substratum, and the desire to learn Arabic. Kudos for articulating it so clearly. Thanks.

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