Lisa’s CCK08 Wordpress Blog

October 29, 2008

Control by Personality

Filed under: Week 8 — Lisa M Lane @ 7:57 pm
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I just got out of class, where we had a group discussion on Bernard of Angers’ Miracles of Saint Foy, from the 11th century. Eschewing the didactic configuration of desks in the room, I arranged the whole class in a large circle. I have noticed before that this decreases the perception of instructor control, and that’s what I wanted, so more students would participate. The document was handed out right then to be read, so there was no previous work needed to join; this also tends to be an equalizing tactic.

However, as the discussion increased and intensified (getting into interpretation of the document following reading it together and determining what it said), I noticed that personality played a great role in who “controlled” the discussion. Although it may be assumed that, as the teacher, I would automatically possess the authority, a number of students who were assertive in their ideas (and willing to interrupt each other) were able to express themselves forcefully. In delighted response, I (unfortunately) allowed myself to express my own personality more than I usually do when attempting to engender discussion. By the end of the period, I had to vocally reinforce the valuable contributions made by everyone who had participated, in a somewhat desperate attempt to ensure that I made my own points without insisting that I have the “last word”.

In other words, I did not necessarily want the power I had, and this power, already unavoidably present by virtue of my position, was exacerbated by my personality. In this morning’s Elluminate session we considered the possible justifications for asserting a learner’s individual power against a teacher’s authority (however well-intentioned or legitimized), and I was hoping to see some examples of this in class. Instead, I found myself in a position of experiencing the aspect of personality as a major factor in the assertion of power.

In an asynchronous online environment, the forcefulness of personality can be mitigated somewhat by the vagaries of the medium itself. As evidenced in the varying negative responses to Stephen’s e-mail blast of Moodle posts, one can always ignore, redirect, or filter communications through determined use (or non-use, as Jason Green notes) of the technology. In any synchronous environment (including a face-to-face class session, or an Elluminate meeting), sessions can be dominated by those whose personalities fit the medium. There are those whom for reasons of language, typing speed, or focus cannot participate quickly (as in Sia Vogel’s feeling of loneliness during an Elluminate session), and they are already at a disadvantage in a synchronous environment. Add a more reticent personality to that mix and you have a situation where one would feel powerless.

It seems to be the perception of power that is important, rather than the power or authority itself. Forceful people appear to have more power. I have a strong personality, tend to perceive power imbalances rapidly, and act quickly to equalize them. If I believe someone is trying to increase their power at the expense of my own, I respond by turning up the juice. Perhaps, to answer Stephen’s question of this morning, I think I have a right to personal empowerment by virtue of my being able to take control when necessary, or to relinquish it when required. If I perceive I am overpowering people (as I did in class this morning), I attempt to tone it down. That does not mean that I have actual power over anyone.

As with all affective aspects of learning, personality may be another overlooked element here in the discussion of ways we teach through connection.

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