Important Yet Painful Lessons

It’s the final week of classes, and if I thought I’d make it through this semester without some sort of blog eruption then, well, I guess I was being too hopeful (read that, naive). Tempers flared and spirits were wounded over the weekend as our “great experiment,” the bloggers’ fieldtrip,nearly burst into flames–

Of course, this is not the first time disagreements have threatened my course blogs. I can remember a couple of arts writing courses back when two visiting experts grew so exasperated with one another–on the blog in front of the students no less– that one exited the blog altogether for some time until the other expert apologized. Last fall students blamed the blog for any and all course-related anxiety–some hated the blog, so much so, that one clever student, in his final project, did a take-off on the blog having an identity crisis in the wake of the constant criticism. And Héctor responded by pointing out the generalized anxiety people feel in the face of technology, saying:

I find the description of the blog both interesting and classic! Since the dropping of the atom bomb, historically, critically, and philosophically (culturally), we Americans, have had the tendency of “talking about” technology as if it were an entity outside ourselves; as if it exists “doing something” to us; as if it’s reliant and existent without our doing.

This is the tone and character of the description. A blog — or a weblog — is merely a tool. What in fact you’re talking about–the feeling and “anxiety” that comes across–is about technology in general.

How frustrating it is to suddenly be thrust upon what at first blush appear to be disparate realities: the new College; the new cyber-college. What do we make of this?

Our American reality is such that we’ve created a speed-frenetic-overwhelming (sometimes), beautiful, ridiculous, over the top, and imposing culture-and arguably world–that we’re seeking to have others join. It is, indeed, a globabization of more than just goods, services, and technologies; it is a globalization of attitude, of process, of morals and ideals.

What are our choices?

Two–only.

Be driven by it or drive it yourself.

Like Frost, who has chosen the road less traveled, I too chose this one–which is to drive myself.

What side are you guys on? In order to drive, one needs to know; to know is to work–and many times, most often, through frustrations.

Do you wanna work? Work can be play.

This time, the students are feeling the effects of blogging without thinking through the ramifications of their charged words being put out there in indelible blogtype in the public sphere. First they felt the challenge of writing about the artists within their community. Now it’s the field trip. Responses to art in the world turned personal as patience frayed and frustrations were unleashed.

It took a face-to-face discussion in class to make it possible for the community to regain its footing. And this is where the blog is magnificent (and why, I think, it really must be used in concert with f2f class meetings)–it shows us where and how we go right and wrong immediately. It both gives us the space to say anything we want, and then by its public nature, make us face the consequences.

Some might wonder where I’ve been in all this–why I didn’t jump onto the blog at the first sign of trouble and mediate, direct, or plain old shut it down. Isn’t that what a teacher does? Isn’t that the teaching moment? And believe me, I drafted a couple of posts and nearly hit the SAVE button. But I resisted that urge and let them, one by one, wrestle with the quagmire. If I am a teacher who hands the blog and the course to the students, I have to let them work out the lessons for as long as I can. (If you hand them the blog, they’ll give you the boot.) I have to watch –at least for a while– lurking but not commenting as they figure out the range of writing, and how far they can go and what happens when bloggers misread one another.

But it’s in class, when we’re all together that I can do a little orchestrating by pointing out what I have observed–projecting the blog right up there on the big screen, and then letting them have their say. We can point to actual moments on the blog when commentary works and where it has broken down. And the students are commenting about how we really have two classes–f2f and e2e, and how they are learning quite different lessons in each realm.

They also see how their five-minute responses to the Picasso prompt –(five-minute!) exemplifies good writing about art- focused, energetic, and interesting. How is it that they had something to say and could assemble the words and some pretty elegant sentences in no time at all, and then fell apart outside of class? The sprawling, messy blog allows us to experience a rich array of writing, both good and bad, and learn about finding the rules, looking for the patterns and the urgency, the reasons for writing, for having something to say before we put the words out there in the world. And they see it.

Valuable lessons learned, even in this, the last week, of class.
Go blog go.

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One Response

  1. ah….ah….how wonderful! I’m reminded of John Barth’s Giles Goat Boy: the closer to the heart of the machine he gets, the closer to extinction, to “the dissolve.” Yes, it’s true. The machines–servers, data base(s), dig media–can swallow us entirely–everything.

    But most important of all: the machine swallows perspective.

    Why?

    Because the blogging experience is, indeed, a solitary one; it’s the machine and me–that’s it. We imagine a world out there, reading; we imagine our classmates reading–we’re intimidated, we want to “affect” them, we charge.

    But the act of blogging or, better, of working in and with technology, inside the tools, changing, streching, editing, and so on, is solitary–even in a lab filled with classmates.

    The interiority of computing is not too often spoken about; however, this is why blogging is so much a part of our American culture. What better tool for a self-reliant philosophy? Or are we now a solipsistic culture? Either way, blogging fits this, and all too well.

    Add to this the stress of the semester, anxiety over the aesthetics of it all–well, you have a map, here, that lays out tremendous amount of tension.

    We don’t often say it–or is it that we don’t say it often enough: we’re at the beginning of this! The very beginning. “Dress me slowly, I’m in a hurry,” said Napoleon. Too much ice cream and you get fat. Slow is best, easy does it.

    Not only do we yet not know how these shoes will fit, we yet don’t even have the beginnings of a dialectic on teaching with technology. What we have are a lot of props; we’re bouncing off them, on the live stage.

    You’ve done a wonderful job! And you’re a wonderful teacher–among the bloggers that read you, I can surely say that because, well, I can “see” you f2f and e2e–a luxury.

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