Message to ODU Faculty

Dear faculty,

The ODU Writes a Book project begins next week, on Tuesday, 2/11, and I’m writing you now to remind you about it in time so that you’ve still got an opportunity to mention it to your students in class if you’re on either a TR or MWF schedule.

We’ll have a project launch event at 12:30 on Tuesday in the Learning Commons, and then writing will commence. Participants will be able to start their own chapters in new documents on the Google Drive, or simply jump into chapters already in progress. Contributions may be scholarly, informal, or creative writing—or video, photoessays, spoken word performance, or any other sort of engagement with the theme, “You are (w)here: How knowledge is related to virtual and physical place.” We’ll wrap up writing 24 hours later at 1:00 on Wednesday, 2/12, and then we’ll have a closing event, in which we’ll present some of the results and reflect on the experiment, at 12:30 on Thursday, 2/13.

We’re very excited about the event, and hope that you can help drum up further interest, excitement, and involvement by presenting it to your students, and possibly mentioning the theme’s relevance to your course or your field. We understand WVEC will be coming by to film the launch, that the event will be up on the front page of shortly, and that President Broderick will be speaking at the closing event on Thursday. This is a unique experiment and, if successful, may be of national or international interest.

Thanks for your interest and support. We hope to see great turnout from students—but we hope that faculty members will be well represented as well. Please consider whether you’ll be able to make some time during these 24 hours to drop in physically or virtually, see what’s going on, and contribute!


Dylan Wittkower

Virtual and Physical Spaces in Synchronous Courses

I am a PhD student in the English department here at ODU. We have a large distance component. Something that differentiates our program is that nearly all the courses offered at a distance are synchronous and facilitated from the main Norfolk campus via a teleconferencing platform like Jabber or WebEx. In other words, students – whether categorically “onsite” or “distance” students – are essentially face to face in a digitally mediated environment that uses a specified platform to create this synchronous experience. Instructors typically hold class meetings in a classroom on campus, and it has always seemed to me that this classroom space functions as the “recognized” physical space for the course, as this is the space where the instructor is typically located; also, the web-based meeting technologies are usually affiliated with a department or university account or chosen technology.

As someone who is technically an onsite student who occasionally opts to login from home, I mostly consider myself part of a hybrid learning environment. I’m interested in this notion of space and knowledge creation as it concerns defining who is “onsite” and in the “physical” space of campus when everyone in class inhabits her or his own physical space when participating in the synchronous class experience. As pertains to knowledge creation, I am interested in these broad and rough-hewn questions:

1) If all students whether on campus or at a distance are experiencing course instruction and discussion in a digitally mediated environment, how are those experiences differentiated? How are they similar?

2) In terms of how these spaces impact knowledge creation, what are the advantages and disadvantages of being a distance student? An onsite student?

3) When taking a synchronous course of this nature, how are the physical and virtual spaces blurred and how might this impede or promote the collaborative generation of knowledge amongst students?

4) How are students and instructors collapsing the boundaries between the virtual and physical, the digital and material in productive ways that encourage collaborative knowledge making and sharing? What do we need to do to improve?

Project Updates

Recently, an ODU student inquired, “Why is this event so important to ODU?” Dr. Dylan Wittkower, one of the project coordinators and participants responded:

Our educational environment today is excessively assessment-driven—most notably, in the testing culture exemplified by No Child Left Behind. We have reduced the scope of what counts as “learning” to what is empirically verifiable through standardized assessment, and the meaning and value of education has been greatly impoverished thereby. This is an important project for our University, and for our educational culture as a nation, because it represents a conscious and conscientious break with this pattern and the version of “learning” that it implies. We intend to come together as a community and write and edit as a community, and, in so doing, to recapture the idea that writing and scholarship are about an interchange of ideas and a concretization of experience into knowledge—not about memorization, hierarchical authority, cramming and recall, or performing rigid tasks to pre-set standards. This is an important project because it aims to create a pop-up community of knowledge creators that keeps faith with the fundamental goals of education as discovery–discovery of ourselves, of each other, and of the world–conducted among parters in knowing.