Call Center Education vs. “the Living Voice, the Breathing Form, the Expressive Countenance”

As I was beginning this posting, one of my students came to me with a question. He had posted a draft paper on line, about which one of my written comments was that “your organization is a bit creaky.” I had not expected that comment to be precisely gettable, but I did expect it to spark a discussion, which is what it just did. In that discussion, following his question, I could tailor my remarks to his understanding, and he could then start to remedy the paper’s defect.

In such small matters (as well as large!) can we discern the difference between close learning and distance learning—online learning—call center education—whatever you want to name it. It is no accident that the desiderata quoted in the title of this posting come to us from John Henry Newman, James Joyce’s choice for best writer in English of the 19th Century, and an eminently able defender of liberal education. It is also no accident that corporate boards of directors still meet in person, that masses of people expert in the same things tend to congregate (finance: New York; IT: Silicon Valley; entertainment: Los Angeles), and that the best schools in the U.S. tend to be functional communities.

In a community, people see themselves as capable of communicating in a rich and precise way, tailored, as it were, to their particular concerns as expressed in sessions of question-and-answer or conversation. By contrast, what do people see themselves capable of doing or of getting when they direct questions to call centers? About as much as they would feel able to do in online courses “staffed” by “facilitators” instead of conducted by teachers.

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