“Sending Messages to a Machine”

This article was extremely qualitative, describing a case study of one professor in particular (with references to a couple others who were not the “highlight”).  It was interesting, however, to read this discussion of online teaching as “the ultimate disorienting dilemma in higher education (Campbell-Gibson, 2000)” (p. 89).

The featured professor is referred to by the pseudonym “Seb.”  He is a professor who sees himself as “The Performer.” As McShane explains, “In Seb’s view, physical proximity in teaching and learning is natural, normal and real; online teaching is mechanical, text-based, and emotionless” (p. 93). The “fidelity” which Graham describes as one of four dimensions in face-to-face versus distributed learning environments, is critical for Seb, for whom “the physicality–indeed the sensuality–of face-to-face teaching” (p. 94) is important.

In addition to teaching “local” students face-to-face, Seb also teaches distance students.  He wrote:

[before we meet f2f]…they could be sending telegrams to the Queen, almost, y’know?…It’s almost as if you’re an entity but you’re not necessarily human like they are; I mean they could be just sending messages to a machine. (p. 94)

This article references Dreyfus (2001), which I have downloaded to read.  Here is McShane’s description of Dreyfus’s argument:

Dreyfus (2001) has drawn attention to the spontaneity and risk involved in physical proximity. Like Seb, he privileges face-to-face learning, arguing that learning as expertise is best developed with a teacher and best acquired in proximate contexts where teachers and students speak, share moods and take risks – including the risk of being challenged, asked a question, being ‘put on the spot’ … (p. 95)

It is interesting that Dreyfus apparently argues that “learning as expertise is best developed with a teacher and best acquired in proximate contexts.”  This is similar to our thoughts, though I would say “learning as becoming is best developed with a teacher and best acquired in proximate contexts.”  I would guess that “learning as expertise” is more about knowledge and skills than about becoming.


McShane, K. (2006). ‘Sending Messages to a Machine’: articulating ethe-real selves in blended teaching (and learning). E-Learning and Digital Media, 3(1): 88–99. http://www.wwwords.co.uk/pdf/validate.asp?j=elea&vol=3&issue=1&year=2006&article=9_McShane_ELEA_3_1_web.


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