Chaper VII

Explicit Reflexion/Implicit Devolution

It seems to me that we need to talk about what we think is important about the Inter- Course we taught together, when we combined your section of English 102 with my section of Educational Foundations. From my perspective, it seems that the experience took us (you and me as well as our students) "out" to continue our learning -- you found the work of Shotter and Clark, for instance; I found the work of Lather; we talked about Dewey; our students introduced Locke and Hobbes -- and we're still spinning those themes. So I think it's important to note that the class produced tangential or supplementary effects, and that in Derridian fashion these supplements/tangents might be right at the heart of the importance which we felt about what was happening at the time. In a way, we still pursue some of the tangents from the course such that we become an exemplary "answer" to the question we were asked at the Writing Across the Curriculum Conference in Charleston: "don't you need a different sort of time frame to talk about the effects you experienced?"

Yes, we need to have this conversation; we need to see where it leads. In answer to the WAC question, "where it leads" is actually the most important part of the conversational experience all of the time, not to begin with a goal in mind and then to end when that pre-stated goal is reached. Although, for example, we pre-stated goals for our class and we directed them to consider certain issues such as "who should have such evaluative authority in the classroom," their conversation bucked those pre-imposed constraints. 1

The most evident tangent to this whole experience, the one that really shines, is the one in which evaluation came into question as an abstraction. In other words, each person had their own interpretive spin on "evaluation" and its value, the authority which claims evaluative power. But, in conversational turn-taking, everyone had an opportunity to get a feel for how complex the issue really is. The conversational exchange de-simplified things. That's the only way liberalization can happen in my book. People always have their own ideas about what the abstract thing means, what value it carries; but, only through interaction can that idea be opened up to other possible meanings and values. What our classes found out is that the whole question is very complex, not nearly so simple as they thought in the first place. Then, in light of the revealed complexity, they were able to be more care-ful in their future dealings with evaluation and authority.

Another really interesting offshoot or tangent was the focus that developed on teacher evaluation. A lot of energy went into that. So much so that I ended up letting my students do a mid-semester evaluation with Professor Roskelly.2 I feel that it was critical to make sure that our students' conversation connect to some real effect in order that they see that words do indeed have power to move others to actions, that something could be made to happen by talking about it.

In any case, the conversation pretty much refused the constraints that we originally imposed. What was revealed through it was what happened to be important to the conversants. What was revealed was the ember of the real. And to open up one's pedagogical practice to that undirectable kind of change/exchange can be scary for a lot of teachers. I'd say it's less scary for compositionists since rhetoric is still the central focus no matter what topic students take up. That's less the case in a "content" course.

But, the life of the conversation is really in the tangents because the goal of conversation is mainly to keep conversation going. This means to me that tangents are absolutely essential. It's almost as if learning, growing, expanding the base of knowledge is a very positive side-effect of conversation. You don't really start with learning/knowledge in mind as a goal; it just happens because it's necessary in order to keep the conversation alive. The kind of "knowledge" that is the goal of conversation, then, is "understanding" -- a richer kind of knowing than is made available in monological models. When you come to see the complexity of issues, you "know" more than you did before.

This is interesting to me to think about the extent to which conversations "go where they will" and the extent to which they have tacit "goals." When two people talk, do you suppose there are always "goals" in play? I remember that when you and I first began our conversations in and about e-mail, which eventually led to our teaching collaboration, my goal was in a way to convince you that I was a worthy conversant.

Still trying to prove myself, I'll go on to say that maybe the bucking of constraints whenever we chose topics for our classes was, in addition to other things, bound up with the fact that our students were more concerned with proving themselves worthy conversants in the eyes of their peers as well as ours than they were concerned with the issue of authority, the issue of multiculturalism, and/or the issue of popular culture (our "assigned" topics). Your comment has made me think about the kinds of tangents different people took; invariably it seems to me they took those that would allow them to feel the nice feeling of having something to say, of having something to offer almost as if a gift. While I once interpreted their tangents in part as an inability to stay on topic, I am now thinking they might be better thought of as excursions that people took to areas with which they were familiar in order to bring back some "presents," or in order to "present themselves" as worthy to the group.

But I would agree in any case that the conversation bucked at whatever direction we supplied. I remember that one of my fears as a teacher was that the topic would just get swamped, would just disappear. That fear was one of the things that made my own learning real in the situation; I had to honestly consider if the thing was working, and that eventually led to my having to arrive at a coherent statement about our validity index. That really made me work, made me learn, made me articulate things which I hadn't before had a need to articulate.

When you say that the de-simplification process led to adding new levels of complexity to issues which, in turn, led to liberalization, I have to agree. The "turn- taking," as you put it, did exactly what you describe. Their struggle with the authority question was real, and that added intensity. One of the things I remember most about that conversation on authority was the tangent about trust that spun out of it. When it got personal, it really heated up; some people really got incensed that their peers did not trust them to evaluate fairly. This was not an abstract thing; they were actually in the authority apparatus, and this provided some spice I think. But anyway, I was taken with the discussion of trust that grew out of the one on authority. And I completely agree with you that we could have said "be care-ful in your dealings with evaluation and authority" in a thousand different ways, with the most eloquent of textual representations and what not, and it wouldn't have touched the effect that they saw for themselves when they began to experience the complexity which you are writing about here.

The conversational tangent that evolved around the issue of teacher evaluation was another interesting example. This one because they were able to have that conversation with us present. They were grousing about a topic that I would bet is most usually only aired at bike racks and in dorm rooms and in other mutterings as the course evaluation forms are passed out in class. You, in effect, extended the reality effect by allowing your students a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to directly relay their feelings to your authority figure, your doctoral chairperson and teaching supervisor.

Indeed, the goal of conversation is conversation. Realizing this saves me from falling into a hole I seem to love to dig for myself -- the question put to me when I say I'm in favor of interaction is always "any kind of interaction?" I, too, am interested in any kind that leads to "richer knowledge than was available on monological models" as you say. Conversational interaction allows this kind of knowledge to emerge along with content knowledge.

I don't think we can too strongly stress the importance of conversational goals (the goal is to keep talking, to keep us in relationship with one another). Really, when you think about it, can you imagine what it would be like if we had the ultimate conversation and at the end of it we "solved" everything, we came up with a once-and- for-all consensual answer? There would be no more need to relate! Ideally, the goal of conversation is not just to solve a problem, but to keep people in relationship with one another. Thus tangents are necessary. Like I said, "knowledge" and learning are nice by-products to relating. So, your comment about trying to be a worthy conversant is apropos; it's an acceptance into the conversational fold that we're all looking for. We want not only to hear, but to be heard and to be taken seriously. We all need that "nice feeling of having something to say," to offer a gift that will be received and reciprocated. The natural place to turn for those "somethings" is personal experience, and this is what we saw evidence of over and over again in the course transcript. There was so much narrative. So much telling of stories.

But there seem to have been places where the conversation went to the very edges of language such that sometimes there was no longer any need to relate in words. I remember when we pictured the Japura-against-the-liberals story in which Japura held forth that homosexuality was just plain wrong while others marshaled more liberal arguments. All of the participants "de-simplified" the issue for one another, but at the edge of their talk, they "closed" with a metaphorical handshake (tolerance vs. acceptance). We maybe missed the part about that being a non-verbal communication. So maybe, we are also looking via conversation to get to the edge of the ceaseless buzzing of language and into other terrain?

Yes, that is interesting. These two sides reached a point where they saw self in other and other in self to some degree. They shared a non-verbal handshake which I suppose in this instance was a deep kind of relating beyond words. The area beyond the "ceaseless buzzing of language" is that space at the border between self and other, I think.

This same example also serves to illustrate how important it is for the political to be personal. Until people can insert themselves personally into an issue it can remain "simple" for them and thus "solvable if only everyone would straighten up and see things my way." Although one could get busy and try to "straighten up" those who see things differently, there's not enough heat to get "busy-ness" going. One can just sit back feeling comfortable, self-righteous, or disinterested altogether. In this case, Japura and his colleagues in dialogue each felt to some degree incensed to find their positions contested, but the contestation forced them to re-visit their positions interactively with those who disagreed such that in the long run they were all "liberalized" -- they all came to see the issue as having more complexity than they'd originally assumed.

The goal of conversation as the languaged social life of humans is to "keep it going," to not finish. Wherever we finish, we lay relationship to rest which is contrary to basic human desire. It's no wonder to me that so many people, even those in college, are outside the loop of academic, scholarly writing. It's just too difficult to experience that kind of writing as conversation, as a living relationship in which the personal and political blend, except in the most remote of metaphorical senses. Take us, for example. Haven't we been through the wildest of textual gyrations to not finish? What's the point in finishing?

Your argument makes "the personal is the political" more than just a slogan we toss around in the academy. Reading your comments against my thinking about education as a cultural phenomenon, I can say that the insertion of the personal becomes, in a way, the technology of complexity in that through this fairly simple inclusion/insertion many other things are made possible. This is pretty much what Dewey had in mind; he felt that if schools were like societies, complete unto themselves and without exclusions, then the education would more or less take care of itself without much worry. Adults/teachers were still necessary for guidance, as they are in any society, but need not be the central figures at all times. By removing the personal/social from school, a situation is set up wherein a lot of things have to be technologized. The personal has to be ventriloquized. This reminds me of how I spent my undergraduate years figuring out how I could produce myself through reading novels, philosophy, psychology. If I had just been conversing with others, I think I would have gotten much further along, both in terms of growing up and in terms of learning about literature, philosophy, and psychology, etc. By disallowing the insertion of the personal, a disallowance that is structured in almost all institutional practices, text practices, and so forth, we in effect consign school to being fairly simple, and thus promote "simple solutions."

This is a long way of saying that I agree with you. I think the conversational pedagogy we used did allow the insertion of the personal, and in a way that's all we had to do other than HANG ON since it's a different kind of ride once the complexity cat is out of the bag.

Maybe it's just me, but it's not been good enough for me to just nod my head when someone says "the personal is the political," understanding it only on an abstract kind of level. In the conversation as we look back on it, you can see again how when the abstraction is enacted, the ember of the real glows more brightly. The ventriloquization of self, the removal of the personal from the political and vice versa, that happens in traditional education does, as you suggest, require us to "throw our voices" into ossified forms (writing monologues, memorizing facts, mastering material, taking tests, giving the "correct" response) in order to create the illusion that the dummy talks while we remain dumb. There seems to be a great deal more effort going into the production of illusion in the academy than into authentic learning. I'm not saying that conversing alone will do. One still has to read, write, follow assignments, listen to lectures, etc., yet the conversation, if it is allowed to become a central focus, makes the reading, etc., become more necessary because the experiences one brings from the reading or from the lesson back to the talk serves a real communicative purpose. Thus, I'd say that education and learning would be worlds easier and more enjoyable if we weren't institutionally ventriloquized.

But one of the problems with inviting students to really reinsert the personal into the political and vice versa is that it causes a lot of fear. I think that what is feared most is that our "simple solutions" will necessarily be dismissed. Genuine liberalization can be a scary process for educators as well because, in its truest sense, it means that they themselves have to be open to the changes the process may bring about in their own world views.

Yes, in this kind of model, educators themselves have to be willing to be intoxicated by the process, willing to lose some control, willing to lose their/our ground in order to move to higher ground.

And I suppose that Dewey would say that this fear is completely understandable when you think of education as the kind of cultural phenomenon put into place precisely for transmitting the past as static, tried-and-true knowledge.

Part of my excitement about computers is that they can do what Dewey couldn't. No amount of Deweyan convincing could ever get people over those fears you speak of, but the computer can and does because it operates at the level of viscera, not argument. In other words, much of what is locked up in the "tried and true" is a mass-industrial approach. Dewey had impossible odds because he operated in the heart of the industrial era. Our odds are much better. The computer has finally made Dewey hearable/bearable. But he's now being "heard" at the level of sub-vocal speech. For example, the Internet replaces content with connection, which old-school folks really hate (the complaint I hear most often is about the proliferation of "junk" on the e-wires), but which makes a great deal of sense in a de-academicized environment. Maybe the point becomes the ecstasy of connection, not truth -- or maybe the point becomes truth-as-ecstasy. If McLuhan's theory of technology is right, we have at this point almost rendered logical thinking peripheral through technologizing it. This leaves us with what? If we no longer have to think logically all the time, we can now think mystically; we can focus on connecting: to ourselves, each other, and the planet/god/goddess. True to our tool-using second natures, we are doing this via technology.

Maybe what the Internet makes explicit is the fact that we're now in a model that requires that we construct or make meaning one way or another. If the Net is clogged with junk, we have no one to thank but ourselves. Better get busy.

It's not that computers can do what Dewey couldn't; it's just that it enables the doing of what he advocated in a very immediate way. It's like the difference between us doing our work on cuneiform tablets and our using a typewriter. And, argument is visceral. Always. It's just that the way we've been teaching argument and communication has so far objectified the experience that it's almost impossible to feel the visceral, connection to real others. So, I would caution against saying that what goes on here is entirely new. It is, however, entirely "faster," and thus gives us the capability of returning to fundamental levels of experience.

The Internet, to me, provides both connection and content, and that's why we like it. It's the same argument I was making before about what knowledge actually is. Increasing the connection means increasing the content.

Indeed. I think we are explorers in the truest sense; we may be right on the edge of where we need to go in terms of energizing the kinds of desires that make people want to stay alive; and in a cultural sense I think that may be the only hope for saving the planet and ourselves. Lecturing won't do it, at least not alone.

As for the "focus" of the Inter-Course, that's difficult. We could say in order to catch the reflexivity that was a part of our work in the fall of 1994, that "focus" was part of the "focus" of the class. Questions we kept to the fore were "what should we be looking at; how should we be looking (together, singly), what are the limits to this approach to learning." To have this conversation about the Inter-Course conversation, we begin a journey to a place where everything was in motion. We are/were in it. It is/was reflexive. It is/was about learning. It is/was about communicating. It's the conversation itself that ends up keeping the journey smooth.

Along these lines, part of what Dewey was contemplating was a major shift toward dynamic foundations, a move away from the time-honored thought-picture of knowledge as a fixed, anchored building with static foundations and towards imaging stability and knowledge more on a psychological/biological model where stability often involves flexibility, mobility, etc. In a way the shift is from anatomical/architectural metaphors to physiological/biological metaphors (i.e., stability in biological systems is related to interactions, relationships, adaptive abilities, change and growth). Conversation energizes this shift.

I think that almost all of the students in this class rose to the challenge of operating in a condition of dynamic foundations or moving pictures. There was a lot of complaining, especially in the beginning, and mostly about having to deal with computer technology, but everyone seemed willing to give it a try. In looking back, I wonder how much of this is simply another example of "doing what the teacher expects" in a relatively uncritical way. What's your take on that?

I think the conversational model creates an inside/outside complexity. It think it's unavoidable that students will figure out what the game is and then play it. No matter what we do as teachers, we can't get outside of the fact that this is an institution which is in effect set up to encourage students to do what the teacher expects. But at the same time, the conversational approach puts the personal into the mix; something more is at stake when people are being public with their rhetoric and thoughts. So no matter what might be done by students, they are still inside the process; their participation, or their lack of participation, or their cynical participation, is very revealing of who they are and what they really think.

What can, and for me did, get exciting was that we were able to feed some of this personal complexity back into the system/conversation, such that towards the end of the course there were times in class when students weren't allowing other students to hide, weren't allowing students to disavow their own rhetoric. My sense was that by the end of the course we were for the most part interacting as people, i.e., as people who also happened to be students or also happened to be teachers, but as people who were a whole lot more than either of those two roles. The conversational model not only mirrors real life, but is real life. It just happens to be taking place in school (again, just as Dewey would have it). So again, it's inside/outside.

The conversational model becomes more than a mere exercise not only because the people become available to one another through the evidence of the rhetorical expressions, but also because the rules of the game become available to critique as part of the conversation when the conversation itself is foregrounded. In traditional model, monological model education, topics are placed in the center and parts of the conversation, such as the rules of the games, are redlined, placed out of bounds, backgrounded, in order to make sure the topics are covered.

By foregrounding conversation, topics are covered (I think we experienced this approach as an effective and thorough means of addressing topics) and the rules of the games, and central tangents and connections are also uncovered. For example, I think we experienced conversation spilling out into a healthy questioning of institutional power arrangements without having to prompt it. Your class did that unanticipated mid-term course evaluation in part because the students uncovered a particular up-close-and- personal question of institutional politics which intersected with our more general conversation about evaluative authority. In other word, things grew out of the conversational model which were unerringly pertinent to the topics being addressed, and in that sense the model promoted both the covering and the uncovering of topics and discursive parameters/rules. Inside/outside.

A couple of points here. First, Bob, I think that your pointing out that we created an inside/outside complexity is very apropos. Specifically, I felt that students had a hard time getting "inside" the issue (grading/authority) by having to do it instead of hear about it as in a traditional lecture class. The complexity of the displaced, unique, learning space of "inside" made it seem not like learning, but like administrative activity instead. I recall some students complaining because they felt they were being asked to take care of "details" that you and I should have had worked out before the semester began as if "details" are not somehow the subject of a "from the outside," traditional class. In our class, they had to enact the details from the inside.

Second, in regards to the conversational model, you say that something more is at stake when people are having to air their views in public. Now, let's look for how that airing was different in our class than it is in a good "discussion" class. There's plenty of airing views publicly in a lot of classes. The thing I see as a difference was that our airing was in text so that we could really look at what we said and what others said in a much more critical fashion. I called this the exercise of meta-rhetorical skills.

But we're so trapped into mere exercise educational models that we don't have good indices of validity for what happens in the conversational classroom. What's the long term value of all the foregrounding and making available of people and rhetorical expression? It was fun; but was it "worth it?" Would you say that more was learned because of the "uncovering" we did? A teacher in a single semester in a traditional class could not cover a topic with the same degree of complexity and comprehensiveness as we did in this conversational class. But, I still want to know whether or not the students saw it as learning by the end of the semester, or did it sink in later on (or not at all).

What you say here speaks to me of the fact that all of education is driven by assessment. Whether this is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse is something we probably need to talk about. In part, my inclination is to say that the kinds of things we saw and participated in during our Inter-Course ought to be the measure by which other pedagogical models are judged. But it may be that as long as there is a strong imperative to assess or measure (which means in part to assess or measure individuals), we will have to deal with it. In one sense monological educational forms are perhaps necessary in a system that requires that individuals be assessed individually. The deep point in this hermeneutic is the cultural idea, much taken for granted, that salvation is an individual affair. Even for people in our culture who are only nominally religious, it seems to me the pull of monologism is strong enough to cause the move to write dialogically to be felt as a sort of low vibration rattling the entire cultural edifice, based as that edifice is on a singular God, individual rather than group salvation, and salvation based upon received rather than socially constructed truth.

I believe it's possible to assess dialogical writing and dialogical learning. But, one must be looking at the process more than at the product, relying somewhat on faith that when students engage authentically in process, in dialogue, that the quality of the product will naturally follow along. One of the interesting things I did in my class the semester following Inter-Course was to not give grades. I did, however, do extensive assessing. I read my students' dialogues and their monologues (essays) and I commented on them in depth. I just didn't give grades. Curiously, not one single student ever even asked about or fretted about grades. No one came forward to ask "what's my grade." One reason for this, I think, is that they were so involved in the ongoing textual conversation, the process. And, in many ways, my assessment comments must surely have implied what grade I'd have given them if called to the task.

To make a short story long, I think it's possible to engage in dialogism and still assess students. It's just that what gets assessed is their commitment to the process. It would be a very interesting project to teach ENG101 using a pedagogy of conversation, displacing the essay as centerpiece of the course, then follow up those same students in a traditional ENG102 class to see if they were any more or any less "traditionally" competent than their traditionally taught peers. Now here's a grant to write!

I think that there are some genuine religio-philosophical underpinnings to the general issue of assessment/evaluation in our culture as well. Martin Buber speaks to this issue, too, when he delineates the "attitudes of men" as falling into a "We-Them" orientation. We, the right (teachers and students who earn the good grades) -- Them, the wrong (students who fail to make good grades). We, the saved -- Them, the condemned. The sheep and the goats. This We-Them orientation is precisely the orientation of monologic texts no matter how much lip-service we give to text-as-dialogue. It's not possible to grasp that as a metaphor if we don't let it live somehow in reality. What we as teachers in classes with traditional curricula end up doing is forcing students into the We-Them stance so that we can grade and evaluate their products -- tests, essays, etc. -- and then we let this sum up the learning experience.

Maybe the fix on grades goes both ways: students and teachers both need to be unhooked from the emphasis on product. Postponing grading, if that works (as it does according to the mores and lore of the practitioner community), constitutes a good. Creating environments in which the focus on product seems to be subverted, if that works, is also good.

It makes sense to me to assess students' commitment to the process because if it's evident that there is no commitment present, then there is an opening to meaningful conversation around the question "well, then, why are you here" rather than around some pretense or some meaningless question about whether or not that student who is obviously not interested will be able to "pull a C." Because schools, even colleges, are coercive environments in the sense that students often feel that they have to be here, a focus on process at least allows the possibility that some students will conclude that they do not have to be here -- at least not now; they can always come back later.

I had one such conversation with a student this past semester. I basically said that it seemed to me there was little evidence that she was involved in the process of the class. Instead of stringing the situation out, she told me that she preferred courses with more structure by way of explaining her lack of involvement. This gave me the opportunity to say that it was most important that she got what the course had to offer in a way that she could appreciate it and take it in. So, she dropped, and I think for both of us, and for the class, this was a very positive outcome (product). What I am getting at here is that maybe we create a false dilemma when we contrast process and product overmuch. Maybe it's better to talk about how the product(s) we are aiming at are different, and about how monologistic processes are processes all the same, but not ones that allow us to produce the particular products we desire to produce. We're not saying that we don't have a concern with product; we are saying that we don't think grading constitutes a good product -- defined as a product which fairly sums up learning. We are saying that dialogical methods produce good products -- defined as products which are open-ended and non-reductive.

The problem heretofore with Dewey is that there just weren't enough Deweys to carry out the kinds of ideas he promoted. And again, it's here that the computer steps into the breach; the textual conversation which electronic media now makes possible does enable a kind of recording and managing and/or evaluating of conversational interactivity that is somewhat less daunting that trying to be another Dewey without technological help.

Otherwise, I think many teachers beg off what you are arguing because 1) their students won't pass the end of year test if they "do Dewey" (this is the K-12 cop out), or 2) they can't afford the class time for Deweyan discussion (this is the higher ed. cop out). Well, the lowly computer doesn't allow either cop out because kids can learn to read, write, and all sorts of other things as they converse using computers. And older kids can hone academic skills as well as socialize outside of traditional class time now quite early if instructors set up electronic conferences to allow for it.

In other places, you have written about how much of academia is defined by "the essay." In my interpretation, you argue that the imperative to write essays in effect drives much of what goes on in the academy, practically and politically. What I'm saying is that your focus on the essay might find a good counterpart here in a focus on the computer. There is a curious play here: the subjective essay becomes an object; the objective computer becomes (as in "that dress becomes you) a subject. You could argue that the computer is replacing the essay as the technology of choice, the central technology of academe. What Dewey perhaps couldn't defeat, after all, was the technology of the essay. In other words, that measly thing which drives all of the other things he seems to despise although he probably didn't see it as his central obstacle. Anyway, it seems that people, traditional academics, are about to be blindsided by the use of computers as much as Dewey was by the use of the essay. This again calls attention to the need for an adequate theory of technology in curriculum/educational theorizing.

That process of theorizing is obviously now being played out even as we speak. We both know that there are great theoretical differences, for example, between people who welcome technology into the classroom, writing about it with great enthusiasm and zeal, and those who fear it, arguing that in the long run technology will do nothing but drive us into further isolation from one another as human beings. In both cases, and in all those that lie between, some kind of theory is, of course, already at play. People are making decisions and are putting practices into play in the classroom based upon their theories of what will work, what will fail, and what the long term implications of both will have on themselves and their students. Whether or not these theories are well-articulated or even well-supported by evidence is another thing altogether.

As in all else, I have to go on my own willingness to try new things and then to base further decisions on experience. Based on experience, then, my "theory" is that electronic communication will not drive us into further human isolation but will afford us new opportunities for connection, community, and responsible interaction. We both know just from this one class that disembodied talk can lead to embodied relationship -- our students from time to time actually did decide to meet, to socialize face-to-face. These are people who otherwise would not have met. I've experienced the same thing in my own personal dealings with others on the net. At this year's CCCCs conference, I shared lodging with a woman I'd met on the net, participated in a forum with people I met and worked with on the net, and socialized with a number of others I'd met the same way. So, from my own experience, I have to say that electronic communication has great potential for bringing us closer together. The implication for the classroom is that we won't be creating solipsistic monsters who avoid all human contact.

But beyond theorizing about what won't happen, I want to theorize about what will happen. And what will happen is that communication, and writing in particular, will come to have greater real (meaning "practical") significance in the lives of our students. Through this medium, they will come to experience that which heretofore we've only been able to teach theoretically. And, I see a real qualitative difference between what we can get students to know intellectually or theoretically and what we can get them to know experientially.

In the long run, I would say that I entered into the technological "experiment" with a theory based upon personal experience and that this "experiment" bore out that theory. As practitioner inquiry, the project was a success. Because the practical results were so positive, I would not hesitate to use similar pedagogical approaches in future classes (as I indeed have done). As a matter of fact, I can hardly imagine teaching writing again using the traditional, monological approach.

I see the net as having a set of educational potentials and I'm convinced that we got a good taste of what's possible there when we taught the Inter-Course. But, to be honest with you, I'm more excited by the social potentials of the net, and particularly for the potential for people to have choices in what kinds of conversations they engage in to educate themselves. You could, for example, choose to spend time having conversations on chat lines in which the purpose of the talk is to get in touch with your own self; that would be a completely different kind of conversation than one you would have about the meanings of texts. Not that the latter is bad. Rather that it has pretty much monopolized the market on what it means to have a serious conversation. It has monopolized because academic institutions are so rooted in the mono-logic that we challenged in our course. Mono-logic is still the organizational principle, even when pedagogy is dialogical; but this, I think will have to change.

I personally think that there are good dialogical ways in which to talk about texts but they will involve having to abandon our control of knowledge as a pre-formed product that we can pass on from ourselves to our students. We can control, for example, the fact that we're going to study Frankenstein. But we can no longer control what people will end up "knowing" about that text at the end of the course. Our own "knowledge" must be made subject to question and to change.

I do agree, however, that things are pretty much still organized around the monlogical model. The ultimate display of proficiency is the monological text. This will, I believe, change. I think people like you and me are taking some responsibility for that change every time we write dialogically or invite our students to write dialogically.

Schools will either have to hunker down and become conservatories (for example, what has happened with music) or they will have to get with being, at least in large part, net mediated. I can only imagine that IRCs3 will become much more important during the coming decade. Maybe they'll eventually take over some of the space when dorms are no longer functional because students can more easily academi-commute.

The net will still be a writing based medium, though, even when pictures, sound, and video become common, so this is good news for people such as yourself who are good at helping people with developing their writing, communication, and reasoning skills. It's just that schools will have to acquire a new concept of how much they can control content in society, just as we had to on a smaller scale as teachers in our own classroom and just as you allude to when you say that we can control what is studied but not what is "known."

Working with electronic technology in our teaching clearly did not turn us or our students into machine-assisted solipsists. Our experience showed us, to the contrary, that computers can be social tools. Not that there aren't some other, perhaps unanticipated problematics to be attended to such as showing people how to integrate electronically mediated experience with face-to-face experience. It may be that what we set up also helped people establish skills in something like large scale integrations (i.e., rhetorical self/face-to-face self), or at least pointed to the need for that kind of skills teaching. We may see, again good news for you, that rhetoric re-acquires its place at the center of the whole academic endeavor in whatever shape the academy has.

I'm pretty comfortable with your visionary speculations, but I realize that this is precisely the kind of thing that really scares administrators and traditionalists of all sorts. Even those who would be receptive to technology in the classroom may be scared off by the kind of prophetic talk about radically different ways of organizing institutional and social life. I don't think I'm the hopeless ostrich with its head in the ground in this respect, but I'm perfectly happy to limit my theorizing and enthusiastic promotion of technology to the area with which I'm familiar: teaching writing. Of course, as an "institution of education" scholar, you'd have different agendas. I think it makes perfect sense, considering the different disciplines in which we were schooled (me in English rhetoric and composition and you in educational leadership and cultural foundations) that we each find different things about electronic communication exciting. In either case, it's good to be excited about these things and to have the courage to put our theories and enthusiasms into practice.

And, for us rhetoricians the news is indeed good. Since we are languaged beings and since the electronic medium is text dependent, I predict that our discipline will be considerably strengthened by ensuing shifts to conversational, multilogical communication.

I think it's good that we don't all put our enthusiams in the same place, good that some of us work outside the walls, others inside the walls, still others working the walls themselves -- taking some down, building other ones. Inside/outside.

Precisely. And I think work in all of those areas is inevitable because the technology is here and its increasing use is also inevitable. So, change will not come only from inside or outside or within the walls themselves. Change will come through the concerted efforts of those working each in their own place and through the connections that some of those people are able to make with each other as they pioneer this new frontier.


1 In this chapter, Bob's conversational turn appears in regular typeface; my conversational turn appears indented and boldfaced.
2 Professor Roskelly was the Director of Composition during this semester and as such was my direct supervisor, the person to whom I was directly accountable for my classroom practice.
3 Departments of instructional research and computing.

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