Virtualizing the Teacher: The Lived Experience of Teaching within Technology

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Whitesel, Cynthia Hoff
Hultgren, Francine H
This research seeks to heighten pedagogical understanding of the lived experience of teachers who teach online using computer technology. Philosophically based and grounded in hermeneutic phenomenology, it explores the question: What is the lived experience of teaching with/in technology? Using van Manen's Researching Lived Experience (2003) as guide, the researcher seeks to discover existential themes revealed through hermeneutic methodology, a pedagogically grounded research approach to human science research and writing with a focus on lived experience. This research is rendered phenomenological through philosophical texts by Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Emmanuel Levinas, Gaston Bachelard, Edward Casey, and Don Ihde. For a period of eight months in the fall of 2006 and spring of 2007, six teachers from different continents engaged in multiple, in-depth conversations with the researcher about their experiences as online teachers in multiple online programs. The conversations were text-based and took place in an online forum characterized as a discussion board. The conversational text, additional personal reflections, related literature, and philosophic writings intertwine to create a textual interpretation of this experience. Using the metaphor of knots, the researcher explores themes of presence in distance, presence in text, interface presence, teaching identity, the virtual classroom as place, and the role of imagination and flow in unraveling some of the paradoxes of teaching online. The research makes recommendations for preparing teachers for online teaching and for the development of policies relating to course design, interface design, and teaching practices. Pedagogical insights include the effects of teaching with technology on several aspects of online teaching: marginalization of contingent online teachers, technical interests related to virtual curricula, online text, teaching memory, and signature and interface pedagogies. A phenomenological rendering of Moore's (2007) theory of transactional distance explores teacher presence in distance. The researcher offers suggestions for future phenomenological research to explore the meaning of the experiences of contingent teachers, the "best practices" approach to teacher preparation programs, standardized course development models, and media/mediated and non-media/non-mediated teaching identities.