27 October 2009

The Need for "Face-Work"

I recently received a post via a web course I am taking (MOODLE for Teachers) in which one of my classmates posted the following:
[testimonial concerning Paradox--so complimentary as to make me blush--deleted]. A million years ago, my ex-husband and I took one of those by-the-post courses in restaurant management (we owned a hybrid restaurant together, serving vegetarian food and food for carnivores too but with mostly natural, organic foods -- in 1979 no less!). We got through the first few books and tests and then, even with the two of us working on stuff together, got bored, distracted and never finished.
This is a common complaint for students taking distance and other online courses; there is too little "face-work". Notice here though, that the students had each other. What was missing?
The classmate continues:
I often thought part of the problem was that we didn't have a group of people around trying to do the same at-home/spare-time education to talk too about how to find time to fit things in, how to manage the stress of everyday and what passed for distance learning then.
This is a scenario that Paradox addresses; it is important that students have a study group (or team) that provides more support than students receive in online and other distance delivery systems. These study groups use online tools for interacting, but there is also a necessary face-to-face component to the support.

This helpful classmate also reports concerning a hybrid-delivery course she put together with her husband and other colleagues in several different countries "in which students at various sites in those countries got together with teachers who had downloaded materials; they worked through them, did the tasks assigned and then the teachers uploaded the assignments and we commented and back that went to the students."

This classmate continues by asserting that " the key thing for them was having these groups of folk also taking the same classes. No social networking like Ning were available to provide support, so the "nodes" as we called them were really important."

Now while I agree that the face-to-face was essential at that time, I would further posit that such "face-work" is an essential service in education that cannot be offset or replaced by social media. Social media should be explored as fully as possible in education, and it should not be ignored as an educational tool, but there is also a place for real-time, immediate contact where and when possible. Students will flourish with such attention.
These are my thoughts....What are yours?

BTW, the concept of "face-work" is adapted from Donald N. Larsons' (1984) book Barefoot Language Learning.

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