Embodiment and virtual relationships

1. The particular class I have been asked to teach on-line is a new DMin program in which our students will not be in residence here at Emory. They are practitioners who are working full-time while enrolled in this degree program. The on-line format enabled them to continue their education, so it feels like a privilege to support them in their hope to hone skills, enhance their knowledge, and learn from other professionals – their peers in the class – as well as the instructor. Because they will be able to contribute to the class from their context in Kansas City, Boston, rural south Georgia, or a suburban setting in the Midwest, our shared learning has the potential to be richer than when we share the same context.
2. I have yet to discover ways I will be effective. I have experience of accompanying and guiding students through real communities and in relationships with those on the margins when we’re sitting in the same room or walking the same streets, but how I can translate these skills and acquire new ones that work well on-line will be a discovery for me. More often than not my courses involve standing on the same street corner with my students listening to a local resident talk about the history of his or community, when that is a neighborhood in Atlanta or on the U.S-Mexico border. The tone of voice, the condition of the homes, the activity in the background, the signs of life and health, struggle and decline, are vital to the analysis and learning. That is, the context becomes the text, and to a great extent, must be shared. Photographing or video-taping people often changes their responses and always decreases the kind of observations (smells, sounds, sights, feelings/impressions, emerging relationships) that co-exist simultaneously and inform one another as they inform the students about the whole, complex reality of a situation.
3. I have several concerns, not the least of which is the lack of technical savvy. I also prefer to have my fingers in the dirt, in bread dough, or on my guitar than on a computer keyboard. I am also easily distracted. I have learned to manage those distractions when face-to-face with students, but find myself whirling around when in an on-line classroom, easily losing focus, reacting to technical glitches or noises off stage.



Skip to comment form

  1. David, I think this post is a beautiful description of what will be lost in the online environment for this particular class. there are some things that cannot be done online, and you are right that photographing or videotaping someone really alters the interaction in important ways.

    You could ask your students to be aware of the smells, sounds, sights, feelings/impressions, etc that they are encountering as they interact with their communities and to try to convey that in as much rich detail as possible. Perhaps that could be done with something like VT. But I think it might be useful for 2-3 students to get together online and discuss what they’ve encountered (via skype or some other video conferencing), much like they might do in a traditional classroom where they would not all be together in the community anyway (or maybe I’m wrong about that). They wouldn’t necessarily do this in a whole classroom because the distraction factor would be too much I think. But 2-3 of them together would force them to pay more attention. You could assign them something to do based on what they hear from the others.

    Speaking of distracted, EVERYONE IS THESE DAYS!!! It’s probably good that you are in some ways, so that you can relate to your students and better design your discussions and activities with that distraction in mind.

    One more thing — I too prefer to have my hands in dirt or on a guitar than on a computer. I find the dominance of screens to be sad and it makes me want to scream. On that happy note…

      • David Jenkins on July 8, 2014 at 9:27 am
      • Reply

      Erin, thanks for your response. I have been mulling over how the limitations of on-line courses might help students (and teachers) strengthen other skills. For instance, when an on-line course is unable to capture the smell, for instance, of a place (the curry from an Indian street market, the roasting chilies in norther New Mexico in October, the smell of human bodies from a hard day’s work in the field or coal mine), how could we enhance our capacities to describe with words those smells? When a group of students share the same emotional response to a neighborhood resident or local politician, when they have intuitions or anxiety about what to do next in a community meeting, how could they capture that experience with words (symbols? analogies?) that would strengthen their verbal communication skills? This certainly happens on Story Corps (NPR) for me when I am deeply touched by the tone of a voice as someone shares an intimate, transformative experience. There might be other tools and resources for assisting us of which I’m unaware.
      David J.

  2. Erin – these are some excellent suggestions to David.

    David – in addition to Erin’s ideas, you may want to consider planning ahead for what will be lost. For example, if you think that learners will leave important details out, like the smells, sights, and sounds, perhaps create a rubric that reminds them to include those things. In addition to that, perhaps you could provide an example of what is expected. Finally (and if it is an option), you could keep the delivery method of assignments/project open. Learners that want to do video could do so, while learners more comfortable with a paper could complete that (in addition to a multitude of other approaches).

    I think you already have a really good thing going for you, and that is your desire to capture the “life” of the course. As you progress through this course, think about what might work in your own course and keep those ideas handy.

    Keep us in the loop with your progress! I am interested to hear how it goes!

      • David Jenkins on July 8, 2014 at 9:36 am
      • Reply

      Thanks for this wisdom. The fundamental notion that students learn in different ways can help me not only create varied forms for delivering information and knowledge (e.g. practical wisdom), but also inspire me to create a variety of options for students for their projects. We know that some learn best by having to write a paper. This helps them organize, integrate, and synthesize knowledge while formulating their own thoughts and arguments. Yet other students might need to involve the rest of their bodies in the learning process (videos, web project, three-dimensional public art, dance), or participate in a group project so their learning is a communal activity. This is obviously more work for the teachers, but if our goal is the students’ learning, particularly long-term retention and application, then this is our good work to do.
      David J.

  3. This is such an excellent thread of discussion – job well done, David, Erin and Stephanie.

    I really enjoyed the ideas shared by Erin and Stephanie and agree that the lost to the screen issue is a real issue … myself included. I do try to garden quite a bit and create something that includes not being on the keyboard. It’s essential to balance.

    What I am hearing, myself, is the possibility of creating and/or having learners create digital stories. There are many ways to go about this, and yes, it does include recording video, audio and taking photographs, but there is such art involved – and digital stories are considered reflective and usually from the 1st person experience, so it’s very personal and engaging.

    We can discuss this more, David, if you’re interested and you’ll see some ideas in the coming weeks.

    Be well,

      • David Jenkins on July 8, 2014 at 9:42 am
      • Reply

      Yes, no question I would like to learn more about students’ creation of stories. As I noted in a reply to Erin, the NPR StoryCorps series is a powerful experience for me. How to couple stories with the visual will be good learning for me. I also realize that sometimes I actually prefer not to see the faces of the StoryCorps narrators, but appreciate just being able (forced) to listen. Careful listening is a dying art with so much attention to screens, video games, fast-paced and high-energy visual multi-tasking. Perhaps one of the learning goals with my students can be encouragement to foster careful listening in communities. David J

  4. Yes, another great conversation. As you expressed “I have several concerns, not the least of which is the lack of technical savvy. I also prefer to have my fingers in the dirt, in bread dough, or on my guitar than on a computer keyboard. I am also easily distracted. I have learned to manage those distractions when face-to-face with students, but find myself whirling around when in an on-line classroom, easily losing focus, reacting to technical glitches or noises off stage”, I think we are learning an entirely new skill, and I think we may feel eventually that we really have our hands in the dirt with online instruction, too. For example, I am so much enjoying these discussions and conversations! Would they have occurred in a F2F environment? we have time to ponder and reflect and respond. And reveal.

  5. Hi David, Erin, Leah and Stephanie – I really enjoyed and appreciated this discussion. Every time I send an email (or receive one), I wonder about the real meaning from the person who is sending it. My children seem to understand this – my 14-year-old is pretty appalled by some of my posts and lack of responses on fb. I’m wondering if one solution is a hybrid class? I also am thinking that Zaption or Adobe connect meetings might be a way around this, as Leah mentioned. While I like the idea of face to face via these tools, it is a little daunting to think that they represent one more thing to manage.
    Thank you all – Ann

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.