Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Building a Rapport With Other Online Graduate Students

What is it like to develop a rapport with a fellow graduate student in the M.A. in Media Studies program through the online medium? The classes and class discussions are the same classes taught on campus at The New School for many years. The cyber class discussions are held in a very similar manner as traditional classes except there is more depth to the online discussions. Students have more time to get their bearings, really think about the discussion topic, and post a thoughtful reply. In a traditional classroom, there isn't as much time to really think about what you want to say. At least in my experience, this has been the case. I was also busily writing everything down so I wouldn't "forget" what was discussed and I would sometimes miss what other students have said in class because I was either busy writing or I didn't hear what was said. These issues are nonexistent in an online classroom at The New School.

Definitely there will be more to discussions to follow regarding the differences between a traditional classroom and a "cyber" classroom, and I will go in depth on my thoughts as well as what information I've garnered from other Media Studies graduate studies who have experienced both. More on this in another post...

Going back to my topic on building a rapport, it starts in class with your colleagues. This happens easiest with students who contribute and therefore post frequently, and also to students who make it a point to thoughtfully respond to comments made by other students. This is inevitable and required in most, if not all, class discussions. I recall one conversation that really stands out in my mind. It was about 10:30 p.m. Californiatime and I was busily posting in a class thread. When I went back to clear my cache, I discovered another student had just posted, a colleague, Jedd, who at the time resided in San Diego. I was in San Francisco so I said hello and replied to his post. I wrote something smart and thought-provoking, relevant to the class discussion. He was glad to have a fellow classmate on the same time schedule and we volleyed a few more times regarding the class topic. Had this been in a traditional classroom, the same scenario would likely have occurred outside before entering the classroom, as a conversation while waiting for class to start, as a quiet aside during class (though less likely), or after class. The greatest part is we were able to do it real time in cyberspace as part of the class, but removed from it while NYC slept.

Sometimes I'll have similar conversations with students during my lunch hour at work, or at home in the wee hours of the morning. It can happen at any time of the day or night. The discussions can become even more insightful and thought-provoking when other students chime in and thoughts are taken to other tangents where we end up in great discussions about other issues and possibilities, much like a brainstorming session. Other times students do not chime in but I do know they read the conversations as we've had many discussions on whether or not a student is "participating" when just reading posts and not responding. We decided in one class that it is a form of participation where the student is actively engaged but not actually physically participating. I disagreed with the validity of this argument at first until I had this great discussion with another student, Shannon, who helped to change my mind. Such multiple perspectives coupled with the permanence of the online discussions, help to inscribe and inspire new ideas in all our online classes. And they are instrumental to helping you build rapport with other graduate students.


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