[Air-l] Drefus redux

Charles Ess cmess at lib.drury.edu
Fri Mar 15 11:25:48 PST 2002


Colleagues:

I've received some interesting e-mail in response to my recent mini-review
of Dreyfus' book, _On the Internet_ - one more negative than not.

Fair enough - indeed, what such a list is for!  I've replied to the critic
privately in what were intended to be appreciative and gentle tones.  Part
of my reply, I think, is worth posting here - not so much for its quality
(come on - it's e-mail!), but because I would appreciate responses to
especially my more general claims from folk on this list who will certainly
know better than I.

[One caveat: I do not sketch out or more fully characterize Dreyfus'
analysis below.  I'm still working through my notes, etc., - if I get a good
summary that might be useful, I'll pass it along.]

...I find his analysis of what happens on the Internet to be relatively
complete and well-informed.  Indeed, some of his claims are supported by
such Gurus as Andrew Lippman, co-founder of the MIT Media Lab (see the
February, 2002, issue of Syllabus, p. 13) as well as by a fair body of
research on CMC, online communities, etc.  (In particular, see "Comparing
Conceptual and Technique Learning Performance in Place-based and ALN
Format," Journal Of Asynchronous Learning Networks (5: 2 - September 2001).
<http://www.aln.org/alnweb/journal/Vol5_issue2/Parker/ParkerGemino.htm>,
including their conclusion that "Students taking the virtual seminar scored
significantly lower on the technique section of the final exam than
place-based students," - which is consistent with what Dreyfus _does_ see as
the limitations of distance learning).

None of this is to say that I dispute your abilities or your experience
teaching online.  I've been using hypertext and CMC technologies in my
teaching for more than a decade, and there's no question that - especially
in the hands of an enthusiastic and skilled instructor - some great things
can be accomplished, and in some ways, better than in a place-based setting.

But so far as I know, the evidence on the strengths and limits of distance
learning is still emerging.  Indeed, I've seen a remarkable turn from the
hype of five or six years ago - distance learning will make bricks and
mortar universities obsolete - to a much more balanced view, including
greater use of "blended" courses that make use of both place-based and
distance teaching.  One of the reasons I find Dreyfus worth working through
is that his analysis of how we learn as _embodied_ creatures helps explain a
good portion of the research I've seen that suggests, indeed, some things we
learn much better in a face-to-face situation.

O.k. - my shields are up; fire away!

Cheerfully,

Charles Ess
Director, Interdisciplinary Studies Center
Drury University
900 N. Benton Ave.                          Voice: 417-873-7230
Springfield, MO  65802  USA            FAX: 417-873-7435
Home page:  http://www.drury.edu/ess/ess.html
Co-chair, CATaC 2002: http://www.it.murdoch.edu.au/~sudweeks/catac02/
"...to be non-violent, we must not wish for anything on this earth which the
meanest and lowest of human beings cannot have." -- Gandhi





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