Pedagogy and Policy in the Age of the Wired Professor

By Benson, Angela; Wright, Elizabeth | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), November 1999 | Go to article overview

Pedagogy and Policy in the Age of the Wired Professor


Benson, Angela, Wright, Elizabeth, T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


Can online reading, writing and research enrich the classroom experience and improve the level of interaction between students and instructors, as well as among students? With this goal in mind, the authors initiated a collaboration designed to create and deliver a distance learning module that would help students improve their skills in writing and reading Spanish. Online activities and assignments supplemented textbook readings, class discussions and activities in twice weekly course meetings. Specifically, a WebCT (Worldwide Web Course Tools) module incorporated articles from the Internet, writing assignments, and research projects.

At the course midpoint, the authors asked the students to report on their learning progress. The results highlight an array of benefits -- some anticipated, others unexpected -- and a host of challenges that face universities and educational institutions as they harness the Internet revolution for teaching purposes. Sixty percent of the course participants reported that, as we expected, they improved their writing through this process. A significant minority of just over twenty percent, however, reported problems with access to computers and the Internet that hindered their completion of the assignments. In particular, the results identified a technology gap, where students without their own computers and the latest versions of Web browsers finished assignments with greater difficulty.

The Pedagogy of Reading and Writing Spanish Online

This Spanish course, which fuses traditional classroom activities and assigned textbook readings, typifies the trend towards increased use of online teaching at colleges and universities across the United States. In particular, the WebCT program used to design this course's online dimension belongs to a family of distance learning programs that enjoy increasing use around the world. Experience with this technology in a Spanish Conversation and Composition course during the spring semester of 1999 presents issues relevant to a wide array of educational applications for the Internet.

This course focuses on helping students to improve their oral and written communication through a program that integrates Spanish language lessons with discussions and readings about Hispanic culture. To meet these goals, the WebCT module combines some elements readers will recognize from a traditional university language class and others unique to courses delivered online. Class discussions and textbook readings, naturally, remain quite similar to traditional foreign language classrooms, though the Internet supplements readings and conversations with related Web-based materials.

Where this course changes the traditional university classroom experience comes in the areas of course administration and organization, as well as the approach to writing exercises and student research activities. Our survey of student learning experiences measures outcomes related to the first and second of these -- course administration/organization plus student writing activities. Both, as we will discuss, highlight opportunities and challenges to the increasing numbers of instructors and institutions that wish to make the Internet a staple of teaching.

Successes and Benefits of Online Instruction

Goals for the use of technology pivot on making online work a required element of the course, rather than its more common place in foreign language courses -- solely as a source of supplementary material. To this end, the authors designed a course Web site that interfaces with all areas of the class: a student who calls up the course home page finds the entire course laid out at his or her fingertips. A Calendar component shows assignments on the due date and leads students to hyperlinked readings found on the World Wide Web, or in the case of textbook requirements, shows the required page numbers. The Writing Workshop, Final Essay and Web Research Project components allow students to call up the assignments that, taken together, comprise the graded course work. …

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