DigitalWAC and Asynchronic Learning

It seems that a prominent feature on every syllabus I write is a stringent, punitive attendance policy that grants students a limited number of “free” absences, after which they lose points on their final course grade. This strict attendance policy is partly dictated by the school and department; and I have justified the policy to myself because I teach theatre—a collaborative art form that requires everyone to be present and participating. However, the longer that I teach, the more I have come to believe that such an attendance policy is problematic. Especially at an intuition like CUNY, where many students have outside obligations to support their families and/or long commutes complicated by inclement weather and the unpredictable service of the MTA, I believe we need to rethink our classroom practices to accommodate the everyday lives of our students.

The strict attendance policy is based on an antiquated system of education in which students had to be present in the same room with the professor at the same time in order to receive the knowledge that the professor had to impart. This notion is problematic in two senses:

  1. It encourages what Paulo Freire has termed the “Banking Model” of education. This model sees the student as an empty vessel waiting to be filled with knowledge by the “expert” professor. While the “Banking Model” is successful in some instances, it limits the student’s educational horizon to what the professor knows, which is necessarily limited. The student becomes dependent on the professor for the expansion of knowledge. Our mission as professors should be to provide our students with the skills to become their own professor—to ask questions and find solutions on their own.
  1. A strict attendance policy that requires students to gather within the same four walls during a given period of time ignores advances in digital technologies that allow students to participate in class discussion and projects from remote locations and on their own time.

Blended classroom environments that combine face-to-face class meetings with online components help provide a solution to these problems. They allow students to pose their own questions and work together using internet resources to find solutions—under the supervision of the professor who acts as a guide rather than ultimate authority. Blended classrooms also allow students to work in an asynchronic atmosphere—each working within their own time schedules—to complete tasks and work collaboratively.

At the same time, blended classrooms present their own challenges and may not be right for every classroom. They require that students have a certain level of maturity and willingness to complete the tasks on their own time. They also require that all students have equal access to the digital tools necessary for the course. Additionally, Professors must rethink how they deliver content and develop effective digital assignments that engage students in their own explorations of the course content.

Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) is uniquely situated to help our City Tech classrooms explore Blended Classroom options. Asynchonic digital learning will, by its very nature, require students to complete a variety of low-stakes and formal writing assignments from blogs to collaboratively written Wikis. Therefore, I am excited to announce that over the course of the next couple months I will be developing a new section of our WAC website devoted to applying digital tools for writing in City Tech courses.

I would love to hear from our City Tech community regarding the use of digital tools as I develop this resource. Do you have questions or concerns about the use of digital tools in your course? Have you used digital tools and assignments that you have found effective? Please feel free to contact me (jpike@gradcenter.cuny.edu) with any thoughts you have that will improve this new resource.

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