What’s your approach to fostering student-student interaction? How will you invite students to bring themselves into the course and to see each other as real human beings (e.g. portraying yourself as real, enabling risk-free expression, encouraging collaboration)?
Now we’d like to prompt you to take that one step further.
How will you connect that social presence with cognitive presence to create an online community of inquiry and learning (e.g exchanging ideas, sharing personal meaning, focusing discussions, connecting ideas)? In other words, how will you integrate student-student interaction with the core content of your course (for example, a Criminal Justice icebreaker that asks students what movies they watched that got them into that major)?
My basic stance regarding online education owes something to Michel Houellebecq’s dystopian novel The Possibility of an Island, which tells the story of a ruined futureworld sparsely populated by human clones who live barren lives of social isolation.
From this perspective, fostering online community feels like gallows humor. Attempting to humanize the sterile corridors of cyberspace resembles an effort to soften the lighting of a surgical theater with a piece of peach-colored gauze.
Why not then, as famed corporate technocrat Sheryl Sandberg might say, lean in to the fundamentally alienating affect of Youtube State University? Why not tell students to embrace their isolation and turn inward, directing any frustrated sociality or libidinal energy into careful reading and quiet reflection? In an age when higher education has decayed into vocational training, why not encourage students’ solitary engagement with the Humanities? It could be that they will discover that the discipline’s most redeeming characteristic lies precisely with its purported uselessness: its compensatory function.
That said, I intend to have my students mail me postcards stating their current progress at several points during the semester. It’s my hope that requiring they send a tangible object inscribed with their handwritten words through physical space will suggest that beyond the suffocating weightlessness of Online there is world where their thoughts and feelings are real.