Musings about academe in haphazard fashion.
I know that I’m in a new age when I am actually writing this blog driving in my car and using voice to text controls on my iPhone 4 S to make it happen (and to not be stopped by the police and fined for texting while driving). I also know that this is a whole new era for academia because if I, as a professor of a undisclosed age, am using mobile technology to create a blog on the Internet with an academic theme, then imagine what my much more technologically savvy students must be doing in the same internet world. The possibilities for academic success for professors using the latest technology are really immeasurable, but they also lead to some serious problems and abuses by students and extra work for faculty members if not carefully thought out to the fullest extent. I’ll give a “for instance” true story as an example.
I taught an online undergraduate US history survey last summer. I should have thought a bit more carefully about how I was going to handle online interaction with students. At the time, I was trying to be as flexible with the technology and give my virtual students as much time as possible to connect with me on the internet in lieu of physical office hours; I envisioned them as being students from Fort Gordon military base, parents occupied with children on summer break, or working students juggling classes. I told students that I would be available multiple times per day on Facebook chat, through AOL Instant Messenger, through Yahoo Instant Messenger, and through the official University email. But, I had not clearly stated the actual “when” that I would be available. Some students, I quickly learned, tended to be very egotistical and found an opportunity to abuse this open ended system.
Certain students believed that, if they saw that I was online on Facebook chat or any other venues, this meant I was constantly available to them, consequently they would send messages at any time of day or night. In reality, I often was not online at all or even near my computer. I had simply left the push notifications on and my iPhone made it appear as if I was really there. The noise of an incoming instant message chime from Facebook, particularly, woke me many a 2 and 3am. I also had some students who sent multiple emails every single day of every single week of the entirety of the course. It became a issue of volume as I could not seem to get through each and every message what with regular communication from my Department, colleagues, professional listservs, pending consolidation/merger emails, and more. In some ways there was too much information it was being passed back and forth in short, numerous, electronic communications that really should have been handled in a single office visit. Faculty members need to treat virtual office hours as the same as regular office hours and set time limits that are a reasonable balance of work and student need. And, students need to realize that Ph.D. is not the same as 24-hour on call M.D. and we’d be happy to show our salaries as proof.
Shortly after the Summer 2012 experience, I had an email conversation with my former mentor Dr. Ralph Lee Woodward, Jr., Professor Emeritus of Tulane University. I brought up this issue of online communication and students with my ultimate assessment that the online environment actually causes extra workload and service requirements. And Lee was in agreement and acknowledged that things had been very very different in the years prior to the advent of, especially, email. Pre-2000, students really only came to a Professor’s office hours if there was a real need for face-to-face interaction and not simply for small quick questions back-and-forth. What used to be time for serious questions, relationship development with professors for future letters of reference, questions about classes a professor taught, concerns about grades, has become largely email-inspired busywork. Just today I have had three separate emails of one-sentence-questions from a student who, I finally had to suggest, should be asking her fellow peers on the online Discussion open forum for her class, on her class’ Facebook page, or, even better, reading her Style and Content Guide for the course.
Just so I do not come across as hating online teaching or not understanding students in the virtual world, I will leave you with this cartoon. Look for the positive side of
“The Mobile Academic–Part 2” to come soon!