Teaching Behind a Curtain – Part 2

Previously, I discussed how the ancient Greek Philosopher Pythagoras taught his students while speaking from behind a curtain, thus creating the concept of the acousmatic voice. In this post, I want to consider one twenty-first century equivalent of the Pythagorean curtain: online appointments.

Pythagoras

In our center, we use Writing Center Online appointment software. WC Online (that is what the cool kids call it) allows students to choose to work with a tutor in-person at the center or online. While WC Online supports audio and video streaming, technological limitations do not allow us to use these features. Instead of seeing and chatting with a tutor in a manner similar to a Skype chat, students upload a document and chat with their tutor in a window next to their document.

While online appointments allow students and tutors to collaborate on a piece of writing without being in the same room, these mediated appointments are not without their limitations. Naturally, breaking down the nuances of the dreaded comma splice or brainstorming ideas for a research paper is slightly trickier online than it is when two people are in the same room together.

However, Pythagoras’s curtain asks us to consider if online appointments run the risk of changing writing instruction in a more fundamental way. Like Pythagoras, my team and I speak from behind a curtain. While this curtain is digital and much snazzier than that of our Greek predecessor, it operates in a similar way by obscuring identity  and privileging particular modes of learning.

Without the aid of audio and visual software, online appointments have the potential to make a piece of writing appear as a whole, discrete entity. When tutors and students communicate through the online “chat” window, they are acousmatic voices, discussing a text through text.

My current media research project will give me the chance to continue to think about how “chatting” through the online curtain may complicate the process of helping students discover and develop their unique voices.

One thought on “Teaching Behind a Curtain – Part 2

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  1. I think another important point to consider is the way online appointments also obscures the identity of the student. For students who are still finding their individual voices – let along an authorial voice – an online appointment may be particularly daunting. Online interactions like this create a wonderful opportunity for student engagement, but it is a medium with unique challenges.

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