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Online Interviews

Assignment Summary

The instructor must begin by setting up small groups of two students each, in some kind of communication software that offers synchronous communication. I've used the Daedalus Integrated Writing Environment (DIWE) and Blackboard. Since Blackboard is the more widely available, I will refer to it for the present example. Again, it is very important to limit the number of students to each chat room to two. If you have an odd student out, she or he can interview the instructor. Once all students have joined the appropriate chat room, they should introduce themselves and begin asking questions. I would recommend leaving at least 30 minutes for the chat sessions, since it takes a while for each student to ask and receive feedback for five questions. Moreover, they are going to want to ask follow-up questions, and THIS is the beauty of this assignment! For more on this, see the "Instructor Comments" section. Once students are finished with the interview, they should turn to the archive of the session to remind themselves of the exchange of ideas. They should be encouraged to use copy, paste, and searching tools while generating their essays. When they have finished drafts, I like for them to mail it to the student they interviewed, so that they can receive feedback before turning it in. Finally, I have them post it in a public, read-only section of the class web site. Not only is their work "published," the process begins to build a sense of community among students in the class.


Instructor's Comments

Why (you must be asking) not conduct these interviews face-to-face? Students open up when they're typing into a computer, where they often freeze up in face-to-face, question-and-answer contexts. And unlike an email or discussion-board context, the real-time chat encourages follow-up questions. In a sense, synchronous online communication (i.e., chat rooms) offers the best of both worlds: you get a transcript of the entire discussion, students get to think about their replies, and interviewers have the chance to probe their subjects with follow-up questions. People who don't use chat rooms often lament the loss of gesture and facial expression, but most of my students possess an impressive range of online expression. What looks like gimmicky jargon to me, I've discovered, actually communicates a lot about a person's attitude, tastes, and personality. Best of all, I ENJOY reading the interview essays that my students write. They show much more variety and character than they ever did before; I NEVER see the perfunctory "he said... then I said..." formula that seemed so common before; and students show more willingness to speculate about their subject.

genre profile
course WRT 101
activity type one-on-one discussion, interviewing
skills voice, generative writing, community building, interpersonal communication
duration 2-3 classes
networked computer classroom, DIWE software or Blackboard web site
handouts: none
author: Justin Brent