Monday, June 30, 2008

The discourse(s) of conversation

I have been pondering the value of conversation lately. A collaborative group that I am involved in is currently reflecting on its future, and how it can operate productively. I won't mention the name of it here. There is no doubt at all that our efforts are worthwhile, but we are all very busy people, and we are too few, and there is just not enough time in each day. Late last year, we decided to do away with regular meetings, and instead communicate via email, until a clear purpose for a meeting arose. The work is still happening, in different ways, but it is the face-to-face conversations that I miss.
Don't get me wrong, most of the reflection into my teaching over the past five years has occurred through email conversations, but this isn't happening as much these days, and I don't think that the reason for this is that there is no longer a need for it. Blogging serves its purpose, but this is different again from how I write, and how openly I can write, when I am communicating directly with an audience that I trust. But I'm getting sidetracked...
What I am trying to say is that not even email is the same as face-to-face conversation. It just doesn't fill the same need, partly because it's not in 'real-time'. When I'm writing, the energy is in my fingertips, and it doesn't fill the whole room.
But it's more than this... it's not just 'face-to-face' conversation that matters, it's conversation with people who share similar philosophies. I get passionately involved in conversations during meetings at school, but that's partly because these meetings often feel like battlegrounds.
Really, it's about discourse. When I first started meeting with this group I often found myself struggling with the discourse- it was part of the everyday conversations of other people in the group but not of mine. Now, I miss it. I miss using the language that allows me to talk about education and writing in a richer, more nuanced way than I could otherwise. I miss having regular opportunities to speak with, and even more, to listen, to this language around a common table.


Nikki said...

Hi nb,
One of the points I am making in my thesis is that once educators have tasted the empowering effects of dialogical professional learning, most will not be willing/able to continue without it. Your post certainly illustrates this point.

The question of written conversation vs face-to-face dialogue is an interesting one. As a result of my experiences studying off campus for the past 2 and a half years, I tend to believe that email exchanges and online contact can be as meaningful and effective as "real" contact. I'm not sure though, maybe I just don't know what I'm missing out on in terms of face-to-face collaboration.

Thank you again for making me think, Nikki

nb said...

Hi Nikki,

I wouldn't want to leave the impression that I don't think online contact is as meaningful as face to face contact- I think it is- but in a different way. It's the speed of the exchange, the overlapping voices, in 'realtime' (and I guess this would be the similar for 'realtime online discussions- its just that I haven't done much of that) that is both the challenge and richness of face-to-face dialogue. At a meeting of this group, I can be bombarded with so many fresh ideas and find my ideas shifting, quite quickly, and then I need to go home and write and make sense of it all. So, what I'm saying is, in an ideal world I would want both! ;)

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that online communications allow one to stay connected in between meetings and face-to-face gatherings. When I do not hear as much as I once did from a colleague(with online interaction) then I see them we are less able to communicate as much as quickly - if that makes sense. I like people - online and in the flesh - and do not really value one type of interaction over another but see them as both good/positive/fun/useful. Each year we know more people, have more colleagues and more responsibilities. My colleagues (and friends) who can keep in touch online make our face-to-face interactions even better and we are all in the loop.

Scott said...

i hate the internet sometimes