Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Virtual forgetting

In my blogging class today, several students made a curious claim. Online assignments, they said, are much easier to forget than paper ones. That is, if a professor asks them to write a paper response for the next class, they'll remember that. But if she asks that they go online and post to a discussion board before the next class, they're more likely to forget.

Hmmm. One person suggested that the reason for this forgetting is that needing to write a paper is something that stays on your mind, so you remember it. Going online, though, seems like something that can be done quickly, so it gets put in the back of the mind, where it's more easily lost.

Curious. And perhaps explains why, while some in the class are blogging quite regularly, others seem to be, well, forgetting. Even though that's, um, all we do in class.

And there was the comment, early on, from a student who said she kept forgetting that the class even exists. That's a little (no, more than a little) disconcerting.

Why is online work so forgettable? John: you're the memory expert. Can you help me out here? Or anyone?


senioritis said...

I'm guessing that the materiality of paper has something to do with it.

Shaun said...

I think Senioritis is right. Based on my research, I've come to believe our habits of material mediation play a big role in the way we structure activity.

My hunch is that some of your students' work methods are still paper-based. When (and if) they get around to thinking about what's due next class period, they go through their backpack/notebook/class folder. No paper? No work.

You could try handing out an assignment sheet. Or, if their work method is web-based but has to be induced, you could create an automoted email reminder every time a posting is due.

John Walter said...

The materiality of paper, maybe, though I suspect that materiality would be more tied to how the assignment is assigned rather than the medium in which the work gets done (after all, a good number of people don't draft with paper and pen any more).

The forgetting problem may come from the interface. You fire up your web browser and you've got email in your inbox(es), you've got an indicator telling you which of your friends is available to IM, you've got your RSS feeds, you've got questions to google....

In other words, while we open up our word processor to write, we open up our web browsers to do many, many things (and many of those things have a push component to them). Think about the number of times you've gone online with the intent of looking someone up, only to realize a few hours later that you never looked it up, but did X, Y, and Z as well. It happens to me regularly. My relationship with Firefox is strongly rooted in body memory: I do my regular activities more or less by autopilot.

John Walter said...

Hmmm...I should have written habit-memory rather than body memory. There's overlap, like when you can't remember if you did lock your door on the way out, but they're not the same thing. In my case, though, I know it's a bit of both.

xhalabar said...

I agree with all of those things. I think it's probably a combination of several or all of them. In my own case, often forget web-related homework because I think somewhere along the line I was trained into creating a paper-homework "folder"--if you will--in my brain, and during school, I'm waiting to put things in my paper-homework folder. I didn't start doing web-homework on a regular basis until, well, until I'd been in college for a couple years, so it kind of goes along with that back-of-the-brain thing.

gvcarter said...

Yep, I find that students often forget their once a wk blog responsibility that they self-assign pts. for every Thursday.

Here I think its the combination of out-of-sight-out-of-mind AND assigning their own pt. value that leads to some difficulties.

VTmtngrrl said...

Wow. This is really interesting to me, as I've been on the other end of it in terms of reading, grading, responding to online assignments that my students have done. Last semester was my first semester having students posting assignments via software like Blackboard or WebCT. I found myself getting insanely backed-up on grading because, as John describes, there were times (days even) when, by the time I got done checking everything else online (things I'd done for much longer than this new course component), I'd have forgotten to check my students' work. If I had a paper pile in front of me, I always manage(d) to respond to that, but the online thing evaded me much of the time. This semester I'm doing less of the online component, but I'm not satisfied that is quite the answer either.