Student-as-Instructor Contributions to the l996 Experience

David Wiles, Eaps 760

    It must be stated at the outset that the fifteen students who participated in the Fall l996 "distance" experience were not distinctively different from the seventeen that participated in the Albany "non distance" 760 experience a year earlier. In terms of admission to the doctoral program, there was no difference in academic potential between the two groups.


Comparing Distance and Non Distance Students

     There was also little difference in the personal sacrifice some individual students had to make to be part of the Eaps experience. In Fall l995 four of the students who were in the 760 post masters class commuted more than an hour and a half each Thursday. The Fall l996 experience had four distance commuters to the Oswego/Phoenix site and one of the Albany cohort that spent equivalent time on the road.

     In Fall 1995, ten of the seventeen 760 students were working full time(58%). In Fall l996, eight of the fifteen (53%) were working full time while taking their doctoral program. In both years the rest of the students were on department assistantships or fellowships.

     In actual graded performance the two groups were similar. In Fall l995 the participants in the Eaps 760 class registered four A, seven -A and six incompletes. A year later, there has been three completed, two receiving A- and one B. It is unlikely all the remaining three will complete the class assignments. Twelve of the Fall l995 class have taken the Department comprehensive examinations. None of the l995 class have failed the "management section."

     The Fall l996 "distance" 760 students registered five A, two -A, three B+ and five incompletes. The four members of the Oswego cohort mirrored the Albany grade spread across all four categories. Three of the Albany 760 studen t plan to take the comprehensives in Winter 1997 and seven more plan to take the comprehensives in Fall l997.

     In summary, given the same instructor , basic course texts (Shafritz and Hyde, Zuboff), and, given the equivalency of the "pool" of doctoral students in l995 and l996, the "non distance" and "distance" results does not seem to have registered great difference on the graded outcomes of post masters student productivity. This is a tentative conclusion until the l996 participants take the comprehensives, but the grade di stribution and ratio of students completing the 760 work within the semester seems approximate.

     It is clear that the 760 course work for both l995 and l996 borders on being too much for a semester experience. At the end of the Fall l995 semester six of the seventeen 760 students (35%) took incomplete to finish course as signments "over the holidays;" in Fall l996 five of the fifteen students (33%) made a similar request. The problem may be the back-to-back experience of taking educational management (Eaps 760) from 4 to 7 pm followed by social analysis (Eaps 701) from 7 to 10 pm each week throughout the fall semester. The multiple course taking arrangement, instituted to satisfy a modified residency requirement for students working full time, may be too much. The safety valve is to allow incompletes without late pena lty.

     For those concerned about high grade inflation, it must be remembered that Eaps 760 is a required post masters graduate seminar And that participation is limited to students in the doctoral program. Receiving an average or C grade does not exhibit much promise for the comprehensives. It seems clear that a number of students opting to take an incomplete do so to insure they will receive an A or B final grade.


A Decidedly Different Learning Context and Instructor Role

     Although the group similarities and grade production create the impression of little difference, there is no denial that the settings for learning and the curricular formats between the l995 and l996 experiences were as differe nt as day and night. Although students in both years had four major papers to complete along with an integrated group assignment, the l995 "non distant" experience took place within a conventional classroom as a traditional graduate seminar. In contras t, the l996 "distant" experience took place within an Albany studio and remote receiving site (Oswego/Phoenix) as an "interactive classroom" format.

     The 1996 setting influenced the instructor style of presentation dramatically when compared to l995. Further, the scope and sequence of curricular content presented in the interactive classroom relied on both world wide web a ccess and e-mail exchanges in l996.

    It is the instructor's contention that the l996 Eaps 760 experience would not have been equivalent in overall student productivity measures except for the exemplary contributions of certain students. It was the actions of these students that acted as a necessary compensation to the dramatic changes to instruction in the "distance" experiment. Ted Smith, the student assigned to provide technical help to the 760 class , and Gina Giuliano acted as "reconnaissance scouts" into the unfamiliar technology terrain faced by other class members during Fall l996. Kelli Buchanan and Pat Richards acted as "Marco Polos" with their visits to the other remote site during the course of the semester. Finally, Connie Spohn contributed as "e-ma il personalizer," by facilitating a "let's learn more about one another" exchange. While Jeff Capuano and Ron Hochmuth would probably not identify their classroom role as instructor, they were instrumental in facilitating the technical logistics of instr uction within and between the remote sites.

     It might be argued that such individual student efforts would not have happened without the urgency and emergencies caused by the "distance" effort. Certainly, within the student group the previous year there were student le aders who would have likely exhibited such activities if they were put into such an "experiment." The point is, however, that the five students discussed below did undertake compensatory actions that strengthened the instructor role and helped the supple ment "distance" format immeasurably.

Ted and Gina

     Ted Smith was the doctoral student assigned as technical support to the interactive class aspects of Eaps 760 and the companion course 701. While he was a paid consultant to the course his actual participation in class events far exceeded technical advice. Ted believed in the "distance" effort at graduate education and worked very hard at making other students in the post masters course become familiar and comfortable with the technology. This was especially needed in the fi rst beginning classes when students were very upset at not being told of the "technology pilot." Ted is fervently "PC" and has a familiar disdain for Macintosh users. Yet, he was most helpful to the instructor ( a Mac user at the office and a Compaq "PC -er" at home) and two other students who used Macintosh. Ted also coordinated the set up of AOL accounts for university reimbursements.

     Gina Giuliano was the most knowledgeable and experienced of the Eaps 760 students because she helps as a "computer troubleshooter" for SUNY Central personnel. Perhaps her greatest strength was the ability to bridge the expert- novice gulf in giving help to other students without appearing overbearing or arrogant. In the highly competitive and individualistic world of doctoral students a superior attitude (even if deserved) among those uncertain about their technology capabili ty could have been most destructive.

     After reading her technology journal, I believe Gina's gift for communicating technology to those in 760 starting out comes from her "e-family" relationships. Gina has a well developed and continuing e-mail relationship with an extended family of relatives and friends; her sister, grandmother in the hospital, grandfather and others. This network of technology exchange is natural and analogous to the olden days of letter writing. When 760 students had problems with file tran sfer, balky modems, or whatever they came to know Gina had solutions. The nicest part of this "recon scout" role was that it was never formalized or promoted; it just evolved in the course of the semester.

Kelli and Pat

     Kelli was part of the Albany group while Pat was part of the Oswego cohort. During the course of the semester both had a chance on different occasions to attend the 760 class at their respective "remote" site. Rather than jus t sitting in, Kelli became the Albany "Marco Polo" to the Oswego site and Pat carried out the same role when she came to Albany. Marco Polo meant the individual student came with the "gifts" of many new impressions and insights to be shared personally. It was the personal contact within a situation that precluded real interpersonal exchange ( read the first third of the class link) that carried the most effect. Kelli and Pat acted as informal "ambassadors" and evaluators of the "remote" situation which they visited.

     While at Oswego, Kelli was particularly upset with the Albany microphone problems and the large gaps in hearing. She reinforced the fact that Oswego students were getting severely shortchanged in class conversations. She also confirmed the fact that Oswego participants were reluctant to speak up because to was perceived as a disruption to the flow of Albany talk ( especially instructor centered).

     Pat noted that the instructor tendency to "play for" and monitor the television screen for the remote site audience reaction was not just an Oswego phenomenon. In the early part of the semester the 760 instructor had traveled to Oswego to give the class from that site. One of the concerns was the preoccupation with talking and focusing on the Albany class "back home." when visiting with the Albany cohort she noted the same instructor tendency in reverse.

Connie

     Connie used the e-mail to communicate directly with other 760 students in two innovative manners. First, feeling the stress of her own "information overload," Connie sent a survey to other class members asking them to commiser ate in her suffering. It was a positive "release valve" for at least six students who were feeling very much stressed and overloaded in mid semester.

     Her second e-mail use was even more effective in personalizing the 760 class to one another. Frustrated with the extent of depersonalization and continuing glitches in the interactive classroom exchanges Connie sent an opening "let's get to know one another" e-mail volunteering personal and professional information about herself. It was risky in the sense that Connie did not know if her effort would be perceived as "stupid or a waste of time." Within two days Kelli, Gina and Yong from Albany and Pat, Frank and Dan from Oswego had responded with short biographies. Within a week April, Bill, Undrakh, Jeff, Cheryl and Ron from the Albany cohort had also responded. The short excerpts were witty and the right blend of personal and professional background to make Connie's effort at establishing a base of "shared, one group" information successful.

Jeff and Ron

     Jeff and Ron handled the technical camera control features of the CLI set up at Albany and Oswego sites. There was little formal instruction in the use of the control panel so many of the detailed zoom in shots or pre placement of camera positions had to be "learned by doing." It took approximately half the semester for both to become very skilled in the use of the panel. I consider the student as technican imperative for the use of the CLI interactive classroom in remote and home sites. In Albany, the on going instruction and use of the document cam dominated my attention so it was Jeff that actually framed what was seen by way of cameras to Oswego. At the Oswego site, the students could only been seen with prepositioned cl ose up shots of each individual. Ron provided such technical modifications without being asked.

Speculation

     The challenge of the "distance" experience to the conventional features of instructor role as teacher allowed the opportunity for individual students to "step forward" and exercise unconventional leadership initiatives. Certai nly the overall pressure and implicit threat of the multiple technology uses in Eaps 760 bonded the students in both cohorts. but as the semester progressed there was more developed than elaborate versions of postmaster's "paper chase," "survival by coll ective group grope," and the numbing "shock of the new." There was a slow realization that curriculum content was more analogous to a library of continuing resource links than another semester worth of readings. Getting ready for the "comps" was more k nowing where to return to intellectual leads and synthesis than reading the favorite book. Along with that intellectual transformation was the on-going development of e-mail linkages and web searches that needed no instructor to guide exchanges. As gro up communication evolved so did the expanded meanings of student-as-instructor. It is interesting that this phenomenon was never discussed openly, perhaps because the professor of a doctoral seminar carries the symbolic artifacts of conventional role (i. e., l995) despite the seachange in pragmatic operations. Thankfully, implications for the expanded meaning of instruction was noted in almost all individual student journals. It is my guess that this learning will be remembered by the 1996 cohort long after the details of David Lilenthal's "TVA democracy" or Shoshana Zuboff's "panoptican" fade.