Distance Learning Essay #2: Reflections and Ramblings
By Alex Sutton


Note: This paper was written at the end of the course to replace my original second essay which was lost by yours truly somewhere in the ether.


Why is it that some people speak much more than others, and seem more comfortable in the medium? Is it any different than any other class, where some people lurk in the back of the room and don't contribute to the discussion? Does the camera make a difference? I hate looking a myself on screen and did not look straight at the camera, and thus at the monitor. I wonder if this was noticeable on the Michigan and if it made a difference in how I was perceived.

Come to think of it, I wonder how I was perceived. A classroom of students was never able to meet me in person, see what I really look like, and hear what I really sound like. Again, in a large "regular" class, chances are that I never "meet" most of the people there anyway, but they are able to form a different impression of me. Instead, I see myself as being seen at Michigan as the guy with long hair tied back who sits at the front side of the Berkeley room, who Howard talks to directly occasionally, and who makes comments of technical and economic nature. One of those "Berkeley Business School students". Is this really me?

For this class, we are known for our electronic persona. I am asutton@haas.berkeley.edu or asutton@sils.umich.edu. I am http://haas.berkeley.edu:8090 or http://sils.umich.edu/~asutton/. I post to the virtual communities newsgroup. My writings are turned in and published on-line.

The students in Berkeley see me. Do they know more about me? I have become friends with a few of them, and we can easily meet up for lunch or coffee. Can this shared experience be translated on-line? I believe it can, as evidence by systems such as the WELL. But it takes work to communicate, and an environment which fosters communication. We have newsgroups for the class, but very little conversation. That is partially a function of USENET, and partially a function of having so many discussion groups. It is hard to keep up with all of them. Email might work as a more direct form of communication, in the form of a listserv or group alias, but it lacks easy threading and a ready memory or history. Perhaps a BBS or pico/caucus system like the WELL uses would work better for a class like this. It is designed for conversation. Everyone would gather in the same conference/forum and all discussions would branch out from there. Another way to try this would be with one newsgroup for the class, and all discussions starting there. It would be interesting to also try this solely on the Web. Netscape handles news pretty well, IMHO. But the conferencing software is not there yet. HotWired's is horrible, but the new SF Gate system is worth checking out.