Because this is an advertisement for telephone service, we're lead to believe that the telephone brought the "human touch," making communication more intimate and useful. Even though the mother and son cannot see one another, they are made more comfortable through their voices. I must ask: Does this mediation - the telephone - increase the humanity of the situation, though? Does "hearing" someone make them seem more real.
This question is particularly important for online courses. In "The Human Touch," Steve Kolowich argues that using audio and video in online courses, specifically faculty creating streaming lectures, comments, and taking office hours virtually, increases student retention because the students feel more "connected" to the professor, as if they were in a face-to-face class. If the online class is to mimic the face-to-face class, it is through these virtual, spoken lectures and conversations that it happens. In "One Class, 36,000 Students," Elliot Holt describes to us the sensation of watching Al Filreis's discussions with graduate students that were taped for a MOOC on Modern Poetry.
In the videos—there is one for each poem on the syllabus—Filreis and his band of TAs sit around a seminar table in the Kelly Writers House at Penn and read each poem closely. I’m not in the room with them, but I feel like I am.The experience of watching these videos was enough to make Holt "feel" like a student in the classroom.
I admit, I am not currently using recorded lectures nor am I holding office hours in Skype or through Google Chat's video streaming. Instead, my interaction with my students is through text - discussion boards, emails, typed and posted lectures and notes, GChat.
The strange thing is, at times, I feel like I know some of my online students better than I know students I see in class everyday. They seem more willing to share personal experiences, for instance, and in a course about race and gender, they seem to be more willing to talk about those issues freely. Rather than feel like I have lost "touch" with my students, I feel connected to them through the letter. I reflect on the importance of mail and letters throughout the last three hundred years, as literacy grew and mail service (in all of its guises) was important.
This connection, however, is lost to me in the environment of the MOOC. I participate in discussion boards, I watched the Google Hangout from week one, and plan on doing so this week. But, like Holt, who explained "There is so much I want to add to this conversation...but the truth is, the online forums don’t satisfy me the way a live discussion would." Moreover, "the rapidly multiplying emails—they arrive at all hours—make me resentful and reluctant to join a discussion forum again. This is the drawback of online education: on the one hand, you can fit the coursework into whatever space you have in your life; on the other hand, the course will follow you into all the other spaces, so you never really have a break."
I too made the mistake of not unclicking the box that says "email me when a new comment is added" in my first reply, and I still receive dozens of emails a day. The course wants to take over my inbox.
For those who teach online courses without audio-visual material of yourself - Do you feel you have lost "human touch" with your students? If you are a student, is that aspect of visual and sound important to maintaining a connection with the faculty and other students? Do you wish you could connect in that way?