Gone are the days when professors interacted with students only in the classroom. Today, many use the Internet or the campus computer network to augment class discussion and office-hour conversations.
Professor of English Nick Jones, for example, uses electronic mail to keep up with advisees, reminding them of deadlines and conducting some preconference advising. "It's much easier than playing phone tag and faster than notes in campus mail," he said. He also uses e-mail to conduct class business between classes, such as giving feedback on group presentations.
Savvy users of the Alpha, Oberlin's large central computer, know how to find out who else is using the computer when they are. Jan Cooper, John Charles Reid Associate Professor of Expository Writing, finds that her students send her short questions by e-mail when they see that she's logged on. Cooper said she enjoys these interchanges and thinks they "help keep students' anxiety from building up." Cooper also has established electronic discussion groups for her classes and said the online discussions clear up many problems and questions so that classroom time can be devoted to weightier issues.
Professor of Politics Eve Sandberg also uses bulletin boards to continue or initiate discussions that relate to class readings. Recently she found material on the World Wide Web about foreign aid, a subject one of her classes was studying. She posted the file--a speech by a U.S. foreign-aid administrator--on an electronic bulletin board she had established for the class. Students who read the file attached their own electronic notes to it, expressing their concerns, hopes, and evaluations.
Some professors devise complex Web sites for their courses. Associate Professor of History Gary Kornblith has developed an online syllabus for students taking his class American History to 1877. His site is an electronic resource rich in hyperlinks, including those to outlines of his lectures, a virtual tour of the Plimouth Plantation, and the Covenant of the Oberlin Colony.
Another World Wide Web site to watch is http://www.thomson.com/rcenters/kendall1/kendall1.html. Here, Assistant Professor of Sociology Daphne John, a consultant for a publishing company, is developing a web site for one of the publisher's introductory sociology textbooks. The site allows students from several campuses to communicate with one another about the text and about issues related to the courses they are taking that use the book. John oversees the discussion and prompts students with questions and topics. She has prepared online exercises for the book, and has posted exemplary student work on the site.
Despite eager anticipation, some projects don't succeed. Last semester Professor of English Robert Longsworth established an electronic bulletin board on which students could post examples of local linguistic usage. Longsworth and his classes have long been famous for compiling current student slang. Past lists were compiled "simply by asking students to submit slips of paper," said Longsworth.
"I thought that the bulletin board would be preferable because it would allow all students in the class to see everything that had been posted," Longsworth said. But he was disappointed by the results. "The number of submissions was relatively low, and only a few students participated."
Pat Day, associate professor of English, requires students to post on the class electronic bulletin board one statement and several responses to other students' statements related to course work during the semester. Day said he insists that his students use the bulletin board "even if they see it as venturing into the enemy's camp." People interested in language and the arts need to deal with all forms of writing, and bulletin boards will be around for some time, he said. "The forms will change, but it's important to understand the history of them."
--Linda K. Grashoff
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