Willinsky, J. (In press). Qualities of Student-Adult Electronic Communication: Immediate, Pedagogical, Aberrant. International Journal of Educational Telecommunications.

 

Qualities of Student-Adult Electronic Communication:
Immediate, Pedagogical, Aberrant

 

John Willinsky

University of British Columbia

willinsk@unixg.ubc.ca

 

Abstract

 

This study of computer-mediated communication between 28 grade-eleven students and as many employees in a high-tech corporate setting examines the educational potential of electronic networks for building learning connections on a global basis. Using a critical analysis of excerpts from the electronic messages between the students and employees, three qualities of connection were identified. The exchanges exhibited strategies of immediacy, pedagogy, and, in one case, aberration. In the process of working on a journalism assignment using CMC, there also arose, for both students and employee, an element of responsibility in writing that might be thought to serve in the language development of both settings.


 

Qualities of Student-Adult Electronic Communication:

Immediate, Pedagogy, Aberrant

 

The Internet not only offers classrooms a wide range of educational resources but a whole new level of engagement with peers, professionals, and other sorts of experts. Inspired by the work done on situated learning, there is reason to be encouraged by this opportunity to engage students in new communities of practice and have them work with mentors in forms of authentic and integrated learning (Greeno, 1997). As students increasingly use the Internet to open a new world of educational resources, there is need for educators to consider what these add to their experience and learning. As part of that effort, this paper identifies the qualities that distinguished the computer mediated communication (CMC) between a class of high school students and a group of technology professionals. Their correspondence was intended to help the students learn more about the writing tasks which professionals faced and was structured around the students gathering sufficient information about the professionals to compose personal profiles of them for their corporate newsletter.

In analyzing the correspondence, three themes emerged — immediacy, pedagogy, aberration — that may help educators to focus on what is gained and risked by having students use this form of electronic communication to correspond with the larger world. Each of these themes raises questions about how literacy entails forms of responsibility over how one engages and one comes to represent those with whom is corresponding. The responsibility that comes of making connections has to do with the power of the word at such close range. The lessons for students in CMC were about the literacy as a form of social involvement, as Deborah Brandt (1990) has characterized it, and the responsibility that follows from that involvement.

 Previous research on CMC has pointed to its notable impact on interpersonal relations. In one of the new electronic journals, Interpersonal Computing and Technology, for example, Swanson (1993) reports how CMC tends to alter the organizational hierarchy in ways that frustrate managers and please subordinates as it opens far more direct channels of communication. Laboratory studies have established that electronic communication, when compared to face-to-face meetings, takes more time, while offering a greater sense of equality and encouraging the sharing of more ideas, if sometimes in the form of “flaming” (Sproull & Kiesler, 1991, p. 119). At the post-secondary levels Beadle (1996) and Anderson (1995) have both used CMC to create structures that enhance student communication and participation.

            The Writers in Electronic Residence program has allowed Canadian students from across the country to have their writing critiqued by a pool of established authors in an interaction which the students find inspires their writing (Owen, 1990). The Bread Loaf School of English in Vermont has long used CMC, for which William Wright (1992) describes a series of projects, including international reading groups, that bring together teachers and students on a national scale. Without offering a detailed analysis of the interactions, he argues for the sense of a real audience which the network provides and the sense of real purpose that comes of connecting to others beyond the classroom. The point is also made Barbara Sanchez and Judi Harris (1996) who are among those who have stressed the importance of having the communication between student and adult based clear purpose and topic, while also allowing for the role of developing friendships in the communication.

 

The Project

The study reported here was situated in a west-coast high school located in an urban and middle-class neighborhood. One of the school’s six Grade 10 English classes was volunteered by its teacher to correspond with the employees at Createch who had agreed to participate in the project. This class was made up of 13 boys and 15 girls, of which 24 had computers at home. For nine of the students in the class, English was a second language. Createch Inc. is a Canadian corporation that integrates technology systems for such clients as the airlines and the post office. The 28 employees who volunteered to participate in the project ranged from secretarial staff to senior executive, and in age from their early twenties to mid-forties.

            In the first year of the study, we set up informal links among employee and students to begin conversations about the nature of work in the corporate world, and while the students formed a few links toward the end of the school year, it became apparent that teacher and employees felt a need for more structure to the connection. For the next round of exchange, the students were asked to compose a profile of an employee, through e-mail interviews and consultations, to be published in the branch newsletter, Createch Pacific News. Students examined a series of personality profiles drawn from The New York Times, Forbes, Rolling Stone, and Thrasher (a skateboard magazine) as models for creating their sketch of life in “the corporate fast-lane.” The educational goals for this unit included demonstrating the potential of CMC for developing communication and literacy skills, as well as increasing career awareness. Students were encouraged to consider a blend of imaginative and expository writing styles that would take them into the realm of literary non-fiction and the New Journalism (Wolfe, 1982). Once they were connected, the distinguishing aspects of this collaboration between students and adults demonstrated (a) immediacy, in quickly achieving a engaging degree of engagement, (b) pedagogy, in implicitly and explicitly teaching each other through their exchanges, and finally (c) aberration, in one case of a student running unquestionably askew in their communication, suggesting, in its own way, the extent of the responsibility entailed in operating this powerful medium.

 

Immediacy

The initial inquiry sent out by the students to the employees at Createch was marked by the degree of assumed connection, of immediate and direct communication, that can be struck up between virtual strangers with only a linked computer between them. The students recognized that this act of connecting was the first challenge in working on this phase of the project, and they came at it from a number of different angles, including a take-off on the new-age restaurant waiter that is open about the need to break the ice: “Hello, my name is Anne and I will be your interviewer. Let me start by introducing myself to you so as to make this a little less awkward!” (A. Barlow, 9 Nov).

Others found their point of connection in objecting to the assignment, as a way of sharing their burden of connection, while at the same time finding, by this slight of hand, the means of overcoming it, as student and employee could be said to share responsibility for working on the assignment in this case:

 

I’ve never really done anything like this, so it feels a bit strange. I guess I’m just not used to communicating with someone that I’ve never met or even seen before... Are you married? Do you have a family? ( I feel really nosey asking all of these questions, but it’s what I’m supposed to be doing!) (T. Sears, 9 Nov)

 

I mean how do I communicate with somebody without the slightest idea what they are. This is ridiculous, I’ve never had such a ridiculous assignment and they call it technology? I’m so glad that I wasn’t born any later then 1976. (P. Chin, 9 Nov)

 

The tone of equality and immediacy that infuses the students’ communication with the employees of Createch is afforded by both the medium, which equalizes their physical presence, screen-to-seen, and the assignment, which acts as a bond between them, creating at least initially what we might term as screen-equals. The students rarely work with an assignment for English class that drew them into this sort of contact with a “subject.”

            Another form which this directness took was the focused request, from student to employee, for assistance with the assignment. Again there appears to be an absence here of more formal protocol, as if to say that here’s what I need to get this task done and I know that you can help me. In sending an early draft copy of the profile to Jason at Createch, Susan included parenthetical questions that struck me as taking an refreshingly direct and at times imperative tone, as one might expect from a collaborator on a corporate proposal:

 

As Jason Davis, dressed in his trendy suit and tie, gets off the elevator on the 27th floor, he enters the familiar environment of his workplace.... Createch. (what does the office look like when you get in every morning, is it really busy or slow) Jason who was born twenty-four years ago in far away Winnipeg would not be getting off that elevator almost every morning each week if his family hadn’t decided to move to Vancouver when Jason was eight years old.

            (Right here I need some thing to say about the dreams you had in your childhood!) As his high school years finally came to an end, Jason decided to enroll in a computer systems program at Douglas College... (S. Taylor, 25 Nov 92, emphasis added)

 

There is something of both the collegial and collaborative spirit in these inquiries, along with the doggedness of a determined reporter after a story. Taking his cue from Susan, Jason responded to a later draft with his own inserts, pointing out what he felt were “factual errors” in Susan’s story that he would like to see corrected (“I wasn’t really ‘an aspiring basketball player,’ I just played it and other sports sometimes”).

            This quickly achieved immediacy also took place, not surprisingly, outside of the task at hand, as the conversations between students and employees explored aspects of each others interests and lives. As one employee commented to her student, “For some reason, it seems easier to talk about myself through e-mail. Interesting . . .” (Fleck, 13 Nov). Here I want to point out that what at first seemed to be digressions were, to a degree, contributing to the project. Before tracing one exchange in more detail, I offer this excerpt from one of the students in the first two weeks of correspondence. It points to how literacy in this situation is not only articulating of your position, but of learning more about the thinking of the one you are addressing:

 

You hurt me. I think Madonna is rad. I agree that maybe she is lonely but as a christian you shouldn’t be putting anyone down whether or not you agree with their values. I don’t really think that the way she portrays herself is really what she is like. I think it is a front cause in hollywood it’s not smart to let anyone know who you really are.

            So how did the big date go. I am sorta seeing this guy who is to me wonderful although he is often a jerk!! His name is Julian. (A. Barlow, 23 Nov)

 

The camaraderie and directness in this student’s response to the employee indicates she has stumbled onto an important aspect of the workplace, as this sort of connection can make for successful collaboration on the job.

            In communicating across school and corporate worlds, the power of connection seemed capable of overcoming barriers that keep a distance between people which added to responsibilities for the relationships that are acted out on the screen. The exchange between student Lynn and employee Steve began shakily enough with Steve failing to respond (“I am way behind because I missed a class before and would really, really appreciate it if you replied”), and grew in a few weeks to a mutual exchange of biographical information:

 

As to my appearance I’m chinese and very short 5’2, or 5’3 actually. Obviously I have long black hair parted down the middle and brown eyes. I have chapped lips and a lot of tiny moles on one side of my face. Hardly noticeable, though. Um.. I weigh 109lb to be exact and love vintage clothing and cool shirts. I don’t have any dimples but I have three holes in my left ear (for earings). (L. Wong, 24 Nov)

 

As part of the remarkable sensitivity which she brings to this correspondence, Lynn speaks of her reluctance to actually meet Steve through the class’s planned field trip to Createch: “They say we might meet you people at Createch one day and I don’t know if I want to do that. I don’t know why.” Literacy, within this medium, is about exercising a power over how you are perceived, how you present yourself as you would have others see you, not necessarily dishonestly, but on your own terms, where blemishes are “hardly noticeable though.” Here, she is in control and connected in a way that she cannot imagine happening between an adult and herself in person. Here the machinery appears to isolate the other variables that speak to impossible differences. This electronic medium allows for a degree of control and connection that would otherwise be broken be disturbed by who they are in the actual rather than the virtual world.

            The finished profile includes a biographical introduction to Steve and a concluding interview that deals far more with the humanity of the hi-tech corporate employee than the nature of his work at Createch. But what is most striking about the profile is how it dramatically captures the spirit of their correspondence, as the reporter in this is made fully present in the reporting. In the process of creating this piece, Lynn transposes and projects their electronic meeting into a piece of a real and adult world:

 

            Around 6 pm I was sitting casually in the dark atmosphere of Naam, a vegetarian establishment, at a candlelit table. Steve had mentioned that he was a junk food person and after chatting on the phone a while I thought he would appreciate healthy food if he tried it so I suggested this place. The door opened letting in a cool breeze and an extremely tall man entered and looked quizzically around, probably searching for a particularly small, oriental girl.

            I stuck my hand up hesitantly and relaxed when I noticed he was wearing faded blue jeans and a rugby shirt, what he said he would be wearing. He walked tentatively between the small spaces of the tables and reached my table safely.

            “Lynn?”

            “Yep, and you must be Steve.”

            He smiled and sat down opposite me, peeling off his jacket in the same motion. Silence followed as we peered at each other through the flickering light. Steve was obviously tall, about 6’, and had brown hair which was speckled modestly with grey on the front and sides. He had clear brown eyes and sported a sweet dimple in his chin. We laughed as we realized that we both knew what the other was doing.

            He asked what was good to eat and I recommended the french fries with miso gravy and the salads. We ordered our food, him, the french fries and Thai noodles, and me, the Caesar salad and soup of the day.

            I nestled myself into the chair and brought out my notepad and a pencil which I stuck it behind my ear for the interviewer effect. I took a sip of my juice.

            “Now let’s get down to business shall we?” I started off. I had already asked him the serious things so it was easy writing from there.

            “Sure but I want to ask you some stuff later, okay?”

 

The article then slips into interview format, breaking back into narrative as the food comes to the table, only to have the conversation interrupted by the inevitable beep of his pager:

 

“Hey, I have to go and dial in on the ol’ laptop to fix a problem. This can be a real drag sometimes. It’s been great meeting you though and I hope I helped with your project. Toodles!” We shook hands and with that he swept out the door and disappeared. I sat at my table and sipped the last drops of my juice and then left homebound to finish my article” (L. Wong, 30 Nov).

 

The whole piece reflects Lynn’s control over the writing process, part of taking advantage of the connections which she has made to create a better, more engaging, story for the newsletter, as part of the journalist’s primary responsibility. This is an exploration in literacy, in a correspondence that has allowed her to explore far more of the reporter’s life in an adult work world than she might otherwise have achieved in visiting offices or meeting in restaurants. The lesson here is also about how much the assignment, the external impetus to connect, sustained a relationship which the electronic medium sped up in the first instance. The correspondence between Lynn and Steve, as well as between the others in the project, produced some exceptional journalism helped by the immediacy of the connections achieved through CMC.

 

Pedagogy

The connections achieved in this project also proved rich in pedagogical opportunities for both students and adults. That is, beyond from the students needed to learn about Createch, both sides used CMC as an instructional medium, with some excellent lessons on how to ensure effective and well-received communication. We had built into the project a time for the student to submit a draft of their work to the employee for fact-checking and other editorial assistance.

In this first instance, the employee Jennifer, who is responsible at Createch for “typing huge and small documents,” as well as “editing” them, brings a series of nuanced suggestions to the student’s profile of her, reflecting a level of sensitivity to the demands of literate language:

 

- “soon to be born” could be “soon-to-be-born”

- “her co-worker Christine discuss” could be “her co-worker, Christine, discuss”

- after the “T.V. that flickers” you could put in a comma

- “parents which live a few blocks away” should be “parents who live a few blocks away”

- “hope to one day get married” should be “hopes one day to get married” (J. Hawson, 9 Dec)

 

It became apparent to the student that not only English teachers fuss about hyphenation and split infinitives, as the student’s collaborating editor moves from “could be” to an imperative “should be” in her suggestions. The learning process, however, proved to be a two-way street, as the people at Createch discovered how it is that teaching is, as someone once said, learning twice. In reflecting on the process after the project, Jennifer commented that she “learned about other people here and how to communicate better — instead of correcting and returning, I was explaining to her why to change” (11 Jan).

            A number of the employees, when they were later asked to reflect on the profile writing process, concurred with this sense that in communicating with the young, for whom very little technical knowledge could be presumed, as one had to assume responsibility for assisting one’s audience. Our initial promotion of the project to Createch had been on the grounds that this self-consciousness over clarity of expression formed its own learning connection which would cause the employees to experiment more with the means of explanation, from metaphor to analogy. Here are a series of the responses, in the truncated phrasing of experienced e-mailers, to our question about the challenges which the employees felt they faced in explaining their job to a student:

 

Terms were hard to explain — maybe because there is no good explanation — only when you talk to an outsider do you realize how many there are. (K. Huang)

 

A challenge communicating in layman’s terms — easy to slip onto technical jargon — big step backwards to explain my job to a 16 year old and to try to keep notes humourous / entertaining / not boring poor girl. (L. Andre)

 

Challenge explaining to those I work with! — he didn’t understand what I did. This is a general challenge in our job — no different in this case. (M. Shields)

 

It’s all very abstract, I find. It’s hard to explain to anyone what we do here, if they are not in the business (does that mean I’m a poor communicator?). (T. Kennedy)

 

Challenging to express on paper, in writing, what you do — watching how you word something — pay careful attention to your message — easily misquoted — but it got better — “handy skill.” (R. Wilson)

 

In the last instance, Wilson’s sense of needing to “pay careful attention to your message,” of being “easily misquoted,” also came up more than once in my discussions with the employees. They were surprised, not only by the students taking imaginative liberties with their materials, as we saw above when Jason corrected his student about being “an aspiring basketball player,” but by how easily one is misunderstood and misread. It called for a much greater effort at making explicit what was intended, and in checking that this intention had been communicated, all of which added to the theme of responsibility that emerged from the lessons on writing fostered by the project. The distance that sometimes has to be bridged in communicating is something which corresponding with these students brought vividly to all of our minds, or as Dave put it, describing his interactions with his student:

 

I felt like I was from another planet - he’d say “You do what?” or I’d say “Do you understand?”, he’d say “No, not really”. But he did say at the end: Boy it’s tough out here, I’m going to have to work. (D. Smith)

 

            It appeared that both employees and students were learning to think about audience in a new way. For the employees, it was taking full responsibility for explaining in the simplest language possible the nature of the work, while collaborating with the students to ensure they were fairly and clearly represented in their work and lives. The students learned about being responsible to the subject of their writing, which in turn was linked to their subject’s sense of responsibility to the wider audience of the newsletter, their co-workers and superiors. When Craig, for example, wrote in his profile that Amy “started out at Createch as a developer and has worked her way up to managing,” Amy was quick to respond to him that “this sounds as if I have managed a large project on my own. I have been part of the management team on a large project, not the project manager. Please fix this.” Similarly, when he went on to say about her job that, “although she enjoys it she would really like to go to Australia and Europe before she starts a family,” Amy corrected, “You don’t need to say ‘Although she enjoys it’ as this sounds as if I would prefer to travel over my career, this is not true.” The sense she insisted on, of both teamwork and commitment to the job, is part of a sensitivity to the form of expression, to the subtle use of a word such as “managing” and the placement of an “although.” These are fine-grained lessons in representation and responsibility that arise not so much from the medium, per se, but from the connections that it affords between writer and subject in ways that might not otherwise arise in these students’ educational experience.

            What proved an added bonus among the lessons learned in this project, within the context of the students’ English class, were the exchanges over literature, prompted typically by questions about favorite books. The most extended instance of this literary interest arose over The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, which the employee Tracy explained to her student Steph that she “went home last night and dug out” in order to inform her discussion of her favorite book. Tracy explained that “Omar Khayyam is the ‘The Astronomer-Poet of Persia,’” while going on to quote that “he was born in ‘the latter half of our Eleventh, and died within the First Quarter of our Twelfth Century.’” Then, rather remarkably, she transcribes three different translations of the famous “A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread - and Thou” verse from Fitzgerald’s 1859, 1868, 1872 editions of the poem, adding at the end:

 

Like I said, looks like Fitzgerald was obsessive compulsive. Can you imagine retranslating the same works 5 times? Didn’t he have anything better to do? But I do appreciate Omar Khayyam’s works, whichever translation you read. (T. Dish, 30 Nov.)

 

She goes on to cite a few more verses. Steph responds by commenting favorably on the line, “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, / Moves on,” and reporting on her search for the book:

 

I can’t find the Rubaiyat in our school library. I think I looked for it and the original copyright was date in the 1800’s ( I think). That’s pretty old! I guess too old for our library. But I’d really like to read some of it, so I will look for it the public libraries. (S. Nelson, 3 Dec)

 

When Steph came to write her profile for the newsletter, Tracy’s poetic interests do not appear, although her interests in learning and teaching do come through:

 

Starting off as a lowly key-punch operator, Tracy “Jay” Kennedy quickly became interested in computers [. . . .] Known under intimidating titles such as Senior System Analyst and CEM (Career and Education Management program) Coordinator, Tracy is actually “a jack of many trades,” teacher, facilitator, organizer, and motivator [. . . .] She is part of helping clients learn how to manoeuvre through the twists and turns of today’s technology [. . . .] Only knowing Tracy through the email system, she shines through as an outgoing and lively personality — a person of many interests.

 

As Tracy worked with Steph’s draft, she corrected her simplification of the job that Tracy was doing, while encouraging her experiments in literary style in another show of her interests in the poetic touch: “I really like your alliterations (all the “t”s at the beginning of those words, it’s great imagery to me — twists and turns and tongue twisters!!).”

Student and professional also came to collaborate on turning the assignment into a pedagogical projects, resulting in “The Du & Stevens Method to Success in the Corporate World” for the newsletter. The article included a guide to “the definitions of words that are a must for success” in order “to dazzle your co-workers with your impressive knowledge of corporate speech,” complete with its own self-scoring quiz:

 

6. The Channel is          (a) Y[outh]TV

                                    (b) the marketing process from supplier to customer

                                    (c) the cologne

 

This glossary-and-quiz pedagogy represented a different sort of profile of the professional at Createch, suggesting, perhaps, that one is only as good as the one’s language skills and know-how. The lessons that took place around language and communication were varied, if rarely so explicitly handled as in this final case. The medium was seen to be part of a learning environment, and in a short period, the professionals assumed responsibility not only for teaching, but also for learning from this interaction. One advantage to bringing adult mentors in connection with students is opening this two-way street of teaching and learning, which can occur in the course of simply working together on a writing project. That these lessons occurred speaks to the quality of educational experience engendered from within the connections that were struck during the short period of this phase of the project.

 

Aberration

For all of the immediacy and pedagogy achieved, there was bound to be less favorable results, at times, from a class of 28 lively students. Some of the mis-uses of the e-mail system amounted to little more than the passing of electronic notes in class among the students in the project. A few, inadvertently sent to the research file, covered the events leading up to, and consequences of, a teacher apprehending two students marijuana smoking, while another illicit message consisted of a love poem that suggested how new mediums end up carrying forward traditional forms.

Of a far more serious nature was what I took to be a troubled student, Chris, who managed to put the employee, Pam, with whom he was corresponding into an awkward and uncomfortable position. Chris begins his correspondence with the immediacy that I was quick enough to praise above, but that in his hands reveals a certain twist: “My name is chris kende, I’m about sixteen years old and my neighbor next to me loves life. I however do not. I don’t understand life, so there” (C. Kende, 9 Nov).

While Pam was a little taken aback by this introduction to her student, she was to take up his initial message in the spirit of what we both originally thought might be a slightly odd sense of humour.

 

Well, given the options of Life or Death, I’d have to choose Life. I don’t understand it either, but then again neither do I understand Death. But if I were dead, I don’t think I’d be capable of understanding anything. So there! What don’t you understand about it? I am told that some of my co-workers offer after-hours psychiatric evaluations for a small fee. Interested? (P. Veitch, 12 Nov)

 

Chris continued in his original vein, while making inquiries about where she lived, at which point Pam contacted us. His teacher spoke to the student about sticking to his responsibilities in completing the profile, while at the same time Pam handled it from her end with a message to the student about another sort of lesson on life in the business realm:

 

Chris, I can appreciate the fact that you have a wild imagination, but the purpose of the Learning Connections Project is to communicate with someone in the corporate world. Well, in the corporate world, we don’t appreciate time-wasters, and that is what the substance of your emails have become. I am a very busy person right now, and I don’t have time to answer emails about dead cats and chopping trees. Can we communicate on topics that deal with your assignment and the corporate world?

            I do enjoy communicating with you, but I don’t like where it is going. Let’s get back on track.

            Pam. (P. Veitch, 4 Dec)

 

            This worked to the degree and Chris went on to produce a profile that set Pam’s life within a fictionalized episode of industrial espionage, secret-selling, and murder that went beyond what Pam could live with in a newsletter distributed to offices throughout this international company. It was not published and the reasons explained to Chris. He still reported finding the project interesting, but took it as “kind of offensive” that his piece was not published, suggesting that our explanations of why it was rejected were only partially accepted.

It was another lesson in responsibility and writing that arose directly out of the student’s work with his subject, although not without some direct intervention on the teacher’s and the subject’s part. In the first year of the project, we had discussed with the students how participation in this network community depended upon a form of responsible citizenship, given the power and autonomy which their computer accounts afforded the students. We had seen little abuse, and Chris’ case of dead cats and trees served as a reminder that it still fell upon those in charge of such programs to be vigilant in what amounts to an extended field trip in time and space.

 

Conclusions

When students were asked to reflect on their impressions of the Createch Pacific News project, in relation to typical English lessons, the responses were uniformly positive. Qualifications were added by a few students about the technical problems they experienced and, or as one student politely put it, the “experiment was a little rough around the edges.” The 26 employees working at Createch who completed the project (with 2 transferred to other locations) expressed support for the project, accompanied by a few reservations mainly on the difficulty which the students had in grasping what the nature of this work, with only one expressing some concern over a student’s abilities in English as her second language. The employees sense was that the learning connection proved more helpful from a vocational point of view, as it helped “students to learn about workforce and corporate life,” as one employee put it, or as another put it, “Wish I could have done it in Grade 11 — maybe I wouldn’t be in computers.” They also judged the project was more beneficial for the students than for themselves, although they seemed to appreciate the chance, as one put it, “to feel like a peer and help someone out.”

            The quality of learning and connection arising from the project remains, however, in the profiles which the students produced for the newsletter. There were, in addition to Lynn’s fictionalized interview and Du and Steven’s quiz, a number of experiments in literary non-fiction, as well as more traditional encapsulated biographies. In the two years of the project, and amid a number of focused exercises that included interests groups, response to literature exercises, and poetry writing sessions, the newsletter profiles prove among the most productive activities undertaken.

We do not want to minimize the amount of effort it currently takes to connect to the world in this fashion. Yet just as the technology continues to develop, so, too, have the partnerships between business and school, as an expression of corporate responsibility to the community. We need to track the educational qualities of this extended communication system, so that we might keep to the forefront why it is that we seek to deploy these new systems, what it is that they add to the students’ powers to connect, as well as the lessons which it can teach us and them about this larger process of communication.

This project extended the students’ reach and the learning connections it affords, even if frustrations and aberrations are bound to occur. The school’s participation in the Internet can not only create a bridge between school and workplace, as well to other cultures and countries, but can contribute to a greater sense of responsibility in the writing process, a responsibility to the subject one is writing about, to those to whom one is writing for and to those whom one is trying to help and learn from. The benefits of this responsible writing, which have became apparent in this CMC project, can extend to other forms of writing and communication, as well as to other sorts of projects involving this communication technology. While the Internet is just another technological device with educational potential, and not the next great revolution in learning, it appears to have value, judging by this instance, comes of how it can lead us to think again about important qualities of learning and connection that have always been at the heart of the educational enterprise.


Notes

The author wishes to acknowledge with gratitude the contribution to this work of Debbie Begoray, Jim Greenlaw, Mike Paterson, Janice Penner, Ross Penner, and Gary Rasberry, as well as the staff and students, represented in this piece by pseudonyms, who kindly participated in the project. Anne Hawson and Sandra Hoenle provided critical readings of earlier drafts of this paper. The work represented here is conceptually underwritten through the collaboration of Lorri Neilsen and John Willinsky, and is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, as well as IBM and BC Ministry of Education.

 

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