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 Student Reactions to Conferencing
Photo of ClassOne of the happiest moments in teaching the Core Course came the first time that I read anonymous student evaluations. Something interesting had taken place; more than a few students remarked that the class was more difficult than other sections because they were always on their feet--they had to read every book because the online work made it impossible to hide ignorance of the texts. One respondent, who admitted to missing class because "I like to sleep," also noted that Core was stimulating because "[the instructor] left the discussions open-ended for students." Another who enjoyed the class punned about me, "he was hard core." And to those readers who may suspect that students' interest in computer technology is more mythical than real, I offer this response, one of several like it, that stated "The fact that we used computers made [Core] interesting. I felt like I had to read each and every book." Normally, I would not expect students to praise a class for which they had to do lots of work; the evaluations are not empirical proof of success, but they encouraged me to use conferencing again.

One year we discussed this in class after the winter holidays, before plunging back in to read ten more books. Students claimed that little or no bluffing was possible when others were doing the reading and were discussing it, all the while leaving a glittering trail of photons, rife with textual citations, to mark the way. In the two years, only one student of 36 was so angered by the extra work involved in the use of technology that he took action, writing a letter of complaint to the Director of the Core Course. I can never be certain, since the identity of this student was not revealed to me, but I suspect that this was the same student who admitted in class and out of it that he never read the books.

Positive reactions to the use of technology in my section, and good reports from other sections with asynchronous newsgroups or e-mail lists, contributed to the development of the Rousseau Hypertext. This "reading lab" uses on The Discourse on Inequality, a text now read by all Core sections early in the first semester. Several Core teachers, past and present, developed this project and are pursuing a second project, a hypertext lab for Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals, now read near the start of the second semester. This hypertext project goes beyond close reading of the primary text to the synthesis, and antithesis, of themes between Nietzsche's text and others read during the first semester.

Most teachers will not choose to teach Core in a computer lab. When I return to teach the course, my section will only meet once per week in the lab, in order to hold the conferences. By holding my other classes in a standard classroom, I hope to show colleagues that the pedagogy of the networked classroom can work in a traditional environment (we will use newsgroups and a class Web page outside of class). Faculty are gradually starting to use the Web for course development, and even if they do not choose to use a lab we can support their work via the campus Web server. We now have Web development experience and technical support to link the reading labs to Web-based synchronous conferences, newsgroups, or mailing lists for any teacher's section of Core. Finally, a colleague in Modern Languages and Literature, the director of the department's multimedia lab, recently volunteered to teach Core. He will use synchronous conferences in class and a newsgroup outside it.

Conclusion: Getting Past the End of the Book