As a child growing up near the “snow belt” in northeastern Ohio, I loved snow days. Whenever my favorite meteorologist (Dick Goddard – look him up) would say, “get out your yard stick, this one will be a doozie,” I would anxiously watch the cancellations scroll across the bottom of the TV hoping to see my school’s name pop up. That’s why I had mixed feelings when I heard that one Ohio school district – Mississinawa Valley – has decided that instead of cancelling school entirely on snow days, they will hold “e-days” to prevent pushing the school year into June (McCord). First, I thought, “Outrageous! How will the kids perfect their death defying sledding in temperatures that could cause frostbite?” Once nostalgia calmed down, I began to think – hey, snow is cold, I would probably play on my computer if I had a snow day now (Mississinawa Valley argued that students would play on the computer anyway during snow days), and maybe this isn’t such a bad idea.
Okay, so what does this have to do with a blog about rhetoric? Well, for one thing we just conducted our own distant learning exercise by holding our Monday’s class via a Dim Dim webinar, and, to my surprise, I actually enjoyed it. Albeit the craziness that ensued at times, and the constant barrage of ideas, I felt a sense of freedom in the different rhetorical context. That is, the chat forum was better equipped to handle my incomplete ideas, to advance several conversations at once, and to feed into our, sometimes, tangential thinking. I found myself more apt to participate and less apprehensive to throw out ideas; it felt collaborative and comfortable.
By entering the Dim Dim virtual space, we created a rhetorical context that I – and it seemed many of my classmates – approached with different rules. For example, we cracked jokes while maintaining scholarly focus and directed our comments directly at certain people – which we have only begun to do in our traditional classroom. It seemed Dim Dim may have alleviated the awkward interrupting that can happen in live conversation and decreased the “teacher as authority” power construct (at times). Granted, a webinar class isn’t everyone’s style, and if you’re a slower typist, it can be downright frustrating. I wouldn’t want a totally virtual class, but these types of interactions -and “e-days” – may prove an effective cost saving tool, and, potentially, a supplementary forum that creates new ways to interact in a relaxed yet educationally focused space.
The “e-days” article, Dim Dim webinar, and Composition in the University, have me thinking about the composition classroom – I have students who abhor the laptop classroom, even writing brilliant papers calling for technology to be removed from the composition classroom. Would students who grew up with “e-days” embrace technology in the classroom and these new rhetorical contexts more? What exactly can we learn from “e-days”? I know several composition instructors who have virtual office hours (even the Miami University librarian has virtual office hours), use instant messaging to communicate with students, and integrate other rhetorical spaces into their classrooms (i.e., Google docs, YouTube, blogs – ahem, RhetHistoria – and so on).
Not to mention that universities (and some high schools) across the country are now offering distance learning, and as Crowley proposes, “…there is a place for composition in the university, and that place does not depend upon Freshmen English” (265). Perhaps the “e-days” are an example of where we need to take the composition classroom or a sign of how strong the distance learning trend has become (maybe a foreboding Angel in the Snow?). These programs may have even cut down on some of the elitist barriers that Crowley outlines by eliminating location as a factor in admission (222). Despite the mixed feelings and data regarding distant learning, I think many “e-days” may be ahead of us as a way to reduce cost. We need to explore these venues with an open mind as potentially useful supplements to create new rhetorical contexts for our students. Well, at the very least, some kids in the Mississinawa Valley School District may defrost while working on their virtual lessons.
Crowley, Sharon. Composition in the University: Historical and Polemical Essays. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh Press, 1998. Print.
McCord, Emily. “For Some Ohio Students, Less Play on Snow Days.” NPR.org. NPR, 22 November 2010.Web. 22 November 2010.