Virginia S. Little

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Outcomes and Observations Following the First Year of the Creative Writers on the Net program

The following list outlines the strengths and complementary drawbacks gleaned from research on the first year of  the Creative Writers on the Net program:

A.  Not everyone acclimates well to the on-line environment;  Those who do are afforded freedom and flexibility in choosing how and when to engage.  Participants have the space to pause and reflect before responding.

B.  Students are responsible for, and must take ownership of, their own learning;  Some students are unaccustomed to self-directed learning and levels of participation vary.  Students who do not engage are  invisible.  Students who are offline for a few days are able to review all archived classroom communications, unlike students who are absent from regular classrooms, miss the day's interactions, and can only complete "make-up work"

C. External pressures are minimized on-line and students feel safe disclosing, especially normally shy students who find face-to-face classroom interactions intimidating;  Some students may find it difficult to trust those they cannot physically "see".

D. Students on-line receive a myriad of responses to their work from an authentic audience instead of relying solely on the teacher for assessment and feedback;  Some are initially hesitant to post their work knowing "everyone" will read it.

E.  Text-based medium necessitates daily reading and writing. This fosters attentiveness to clarity, creative composition, and audience. Writing well carries prestige in on-line communities;  Potential for miscommunications may initially be high as users acclimate to the absence of "body language" and other physical softeners.

F.  Students get to know peers from the inside without traditional barriers of age, race, class, and geographic locations;  Students miss physical connectors such as hugs, eye-contact, and laughter.

G.  Classroom distractions, such as bells and disruptive behavior are eliminated;  Loss of  "spontaneous" learning catalyzed by energetic classroom interactions.

H. On-line learning fosters improvement of literacy, computer and communication skills; Technological glitches may overwhelm and cause intermittently high levels of frustration or anxiety.

I.  On-line environment provides an infinite and generative resource;  Medium can be overwhelming to some, especially those with erratic levels of participation.  Few teachers have experienced the power of the Internet for enhancing regular classroom learning environments. School resources are severely limited and technology costs prohibitive.

J.  As we demonstrate positive educational applications, it prompts schools to upgrade their systems and to "connect" students to the resources of the Internet.  Equity of access issues continue to deny equal educational opportunities for all students.  Students accessing only from school are at a disadvantage to those with home systems. The gap continues to widen between privileged and marginalized populations.

K. On-line communications are time intensive;  Rewards are multi-faceted.

L. On-line interactive technologies provide students with an innovative experience, exploring the "unknown";  Politics and school systems who "fear" change can thwart possibilities for educational reform.

M. Curriculum may be co-created between students and teachers in a democratic fashion. In these kinds of classrooms, much of the curriculum is emergent, requiring a tolerance for ambiguity. Traditional teachers will translate former paradigms to on-line learning environments stressing skill and drill formats, or  transmission versus transactional models of teaching.  On-line learning environments necessitate new ways of thinking about the ways we engage with our students.

N. Teachers and authors with experience in on-line communications are rare;  Students often have expertise which surpasses that of their elders.  This provides excellent opportunities for students to teach teachers.  There is a need for schools to train on-line teachers, or in the least,  include technology and on-line communications as part of the core curriculum in teacher-education programs.

O. Students and teachers become co-learners in the on-line environment with the expertise of students often surpassing that of the teacher;  some teachers resist relinquishing their authority as classroom "expert". Variations in skill levels makes learning more difficult for some. Technical training and support are a necessity.

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