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"Emotion online: Experiences of teaching in a virtual learning environment" is an article that shows the experience of delivering online seminars using chat-rooms, with an emphasis on emotions namely intimacy, play, and pride/shame. In addition to the transmission of those emotion categories, we need to take into considerations the absence of the body which leads to the paralingual features reduction and removal of physical socio-spatial indicators that have a serious influence on face-to-face classroom. However, the centering point of this article is on the emotional implications of virtual teaching rather than virtual learning. Thus, the article is an attempt to tackle that notion of convergence between virtuality and emotion via the delivery of small group tutorials using the online chat-room facility of WebCT used in e-learning.
The first part of this article is devoted to one of the key terms namely virtual classroom. The emphasis here is not on the idiosyncrasies between asynchronous and synchronous seminars, but their commonalities which rely on virtual presence of both students and teachers. The authors also mention that the reason that lies behind the absence of emotion in online learning is due to treating the latter in a way similar to off line learning, that is, teachers keep these rules and manners without changing them even though the context has been changed. This makes online emotions a significant topic to be conducted, and whether the non-presence of body in online interaction increases or decreases emotional life.
Being in the classroom in face-to-face education makes students closed to discussion, that is, anxiety and embarrassment play a negative role in the degree of openness between speakers. This notion of openness during discussions is high in comparison with traditional learning, because students are not physically present which increases closeness and openness. It is clearly stated in the conversation that is held among chatters (P.590) in which Shane (an online student) says that if some one tells something embarrassing, he will not be laughed at by others as he will not face them.
This article tackles the issue of openness from a specific angle which is emotional responses in online seminars, this attempt involves intimacy, play, pride/shame. What makes this article unique is taking into considerations emotions in teaching, as it has been neglected for a long time by teachers and academics. Up to now, only a countable number of research have been carried on this area so far.
If we substitute the term online teaching by online daily conversation, and try to see to what extent chatters are open compared to face-to-face conversation. It would be clear even for the lay man that people are highly open to discuss topics that they could not discuss in face-to-face conversation. As a case in point, one may hold a conversation about love with a girl, while he cannot look at her face if he meets her personally. This leads us to go a step further and make an effort to analyze the first category of emotion, intimacy, in this article and then move on to play and pride/shame.
Starting from traditional setting of students, it is obvious that their emotions are surrounded by their culture, their role, their background, and their position in the classroom, that is to say, they are in a circle that could not be crossed; otherwise, they will be looked at as strange to the others. But the question here is "are those norms respected in online learning?" A shift from the conventional way of learning to the virtual one calls for a change at the level of communication; for example, the absence of paralinguistic cues and those socio-spatial indicators that shows how to behave in the classroom. This is one of the flaws of this new way of learning, because the absence of bodily cues leads to messages misinterpretation in online conversation. But, what strikes the eyes in online seminars is that the gap and hierarchy between tutors and their students is clearly reduced. Having read the two conversations that are held (P.594), we may think that those people who are chatting are on the same rank, the topics that are discussed are similar to those between friends and their peers. Even the language used does not indicate any sign of hierarchy, since there is no reference for words like "sir" or "teacher", while the presence of informality is represented by many words such as "lol" and "hahaha".
Accordingly, online learning is, to an extent, to bridge the gap between students and teachers which goes back to tens of years ago. On the contrary, the relation between students and their teachers is like the relation between employees and their boss. To clarify this, there is still limits between them due to the fact that many topics are not allowed to be discussed with teachers, as most of traditional teachers think that having a close relation with their student will spoil them, and may make them lose their respect and personality; fortunately, this ways of thinking is blowing over according to the awareness of new teachers. Consequently, virtuality has heavily contributed to make a close relation between students and their teachers via heightening intimacy and dismantling hierarchy.
Now we turn to the second emotion category which is play. In online seminars, discussions are held in a way similar to a play, that is, each student has his own name on the chat room, and each one contributes to the flow of the conversation. As it was stated by the students themselves, online seminars make them feel free to say and express their ideas, which means that even shy students can participate in the discussion. The authors claimed that this is due to "the removal of the body and attendant social cues-by the virtuality of the medium itself- and by the reduction in embarrassment reported by the students when engaging online. As detailed in Appendix 1." It signifies that shifting away from traditional seminars to online ones gives the floor for more students to be part of the discussions, and the degree of self-disclosure becomes higher. What can be inferred from this difference of students' participation in online seminars in comparison with the traditional ones is that the psychology and the contribution of people is, no matter what the situation is, still shaped and influenced by the presence of the other, clearly speaking, human beings cannot freely say what they really want to say 100%, because they take into considerations the interlocutor, yet this obstacle is, not totally, bridged in online seminars.
One of the most important characteristics of online seminars is the inclusion of tease and banter between tutors and their students. This has a role in their discussions like "establishing connections with others, to catch up, to fill space and to break focus during seminars" (P.599) It can also be seen as a reduction of hierarchy and authority of the tutors, students feel at ease while conversing either with their peers or with their teachers. In other words, the online teacher is like an upgraded student with a low authority. Thus, it can be stated that "intimacy generated by the playful sharing of ideas, questions and thoughts" (P. 600).
The last point in this article deals with the third emotion category, namely pride and shame. In classroom discussions, students' abilities and skills usually seem vague due to avoiding participation and therefore avoiding being embarrassed, which forms a sense of shame that ends up by a small number of learners participating. This is also caused by some teachers who practice their authority on their students and make the gap go larger and larger, which illustrates that the personality of learners is belittled and, hence, leads them not to be part of the discussions inside the classroom. However, this situation is different in online seminars as both teachers and students have improved a close relation between each others which has increases the pride level and decreases the shame level in the learners. The virtual presence makes students feel free and at ease to participate and tackle many issues and topics without fearing embarrassment or feeling ashamed. Nevertheless, it cannot be claimed that face-to-face learning is always a place for embarrassment, but online learning allow students for more freedom and more reduction of embarrassment.
As a conclusion, conducting a research on this area of online learning, online seminars, has cleared the air for both teachers and students. The interaction that takes place in the conventional seminars is less than that in online ones, due to those reasons that have been mentioned above such as low hierarchy and the closeness between teachers and students. All this factors lead to "engage students and tutors in more creative, complex and/or critical thinking than would otherwise be evident in a classroom setting." (P.603). Moreover, the abrogation of embarrassment and hierarchy heavily contributed to heightening the emotional dimension for teachers and students. As a summary, virtuality is one of the most concrete solutions for making learning and teaching easier and enjoyable for learners and teachers, yet the traditional classroom is still of paramount importance.