Analyzing the codes used in the University of Arizonas Natural Science On-line Class Attendance Policy, a genre emerges disparaging the traditional view that knowledge is sharpened through the exchange of ideas. To make the class more appealing to non-traditional students the University has designed an attendance policy which does not eliminate traditional forms of interaction, but instead devalues them subversively thus discounting their necessity. Connotations
within the policy divert the unsuspecting student into a particular learning mode. This mode, unappreciative of the insights a typical class would normally culture, does not encourage the student to be "present" mentally, an imperative aspect of becoming educated in a cyber class. Therefore by establishing the existence of these de-prioritizing codes, and the extent to which they must inevitably shape the interpretation of the text, we can clarify the level of interaction the policy genuinely intends. We see then the probability of students relating to the individualistic tone of the policy and discounting the requirements to attend to and with others.
A rhetorical perspective emphasizing specifically the mechanisms of language utilized in the policy allows a less biased examination of it. The author initiates the use of codes, which manipulate aspects of communication and direct the reader subconsciously to an underlying agenda. Simply he guides
students responses through style and implication. The author is deliberate, yet subtle in approach. He recognizes some students' have reasons for opting to take such a course, so he gears the policy towards generic commonality- he wrote to the student who desired convenience rather than human contact. Thus whether they fuel pre-existing notions or they coerce the reader into following the policy's understated design, these codes ultimately dehumanize the classroom for perspective students. Codes in this policy echo
the contemporary craving for isolation even as it appears to suggest attending sites and connections with other students.
The particulars surrounding the relatively new cyber space attendance have been left vague, and there lacks clarification and guidelines. Clear boundaries and expectations have been omitted deliberately. The author uses this device to infuse a sense of individualism into the policy. For example, he does require his students to "fully participate in this class by making connections with other instructors and students through e-mail and threaded discussions on the Internet," [3, Course Description], but he does not stipulate the extent to which these connections be made. Some form of communication is considered valuable, but the amount has been left to student discretion. The tone itself reinforces the discrepancy between the form of the document and its function. The form sets a trajectory towards independence, while the function should be offering a standard for participation and attendance in the course. Also the key adjective "threaded," in relation to Internet discussions, is not defined. In its place any definitive word could have been used. Threaded could mean anything from daily to monthly to occasional conversations, and we get the impression the author realized this and chose because it lacked precision. A "filler" word, it can be subjectively analyzed by each student.
Because the theme of the on-line class has an air of self destiny, no adequate definition has been attempted to explain the amount of time required in contact with other members of the course, and what should be done to make such time worth while. For instance, the policy states, " you must have good study habits and be able to discipline yourself to put enough time into the program to master the topics" [3, Course Description]. Again, the lack of structure presents an obstacle and we are not sure what qualifies as "enough time" to put in. "Good study habits" and "self discipline" rationally provide foundations for all educational instruction and are individual tasks that should not need qualification. They add to the policy's composition of vagueness by appearing to reach some imperative point. But theses two recommendations do not offer clues as to how long one must be "present" at the sites in order to succeed, nor do they fully stipulate what measure of person to person communication must be obtained to improve the class. The prime substance of the policy does not determine either the quality or quantity of time necessary for on-line attendance and participation.
The style of the policy illustrates a genre incapable of placing high priority on communication, and thus it encourages a depersonalization and lack of attendance. This policy assumes that convenient education comes at the price of diminishing or eliminating interaction among students. It allows readers to determine that classroom rhetoric is an unrealistic ideal in a technologically advanced class. In fact the policy catalogues what students should do to properly attend the course stating the "must use the CD-ROM, the textbook, the lecture notes, and visit the reference sites on the internet in order to gather all of the information . . . to get the highest possible marks" [3, Course description]. Not only does the policy prioritize what is most useful, but it does not mention the necessity for exchanging ideas. In order then to get "the highest possible marks" and "gather all information" students need not interact, rather they should buy discs, books, and lecture notes. Dissecting the policy to this level we see that it advocates the idea of purchasing, not achieving an education. It contradicts the initial demand that students "connect" with others, and devalues the influence other perspectives carry. Startlingly we see the policy imply that new ideas are not possible, and thus interaction among the students of this course would lack purpose. Attendance then seems to lack purpose.
Interaction, according to the facets of this policy, has become an optional part of educational institutions. Logic would have us believe that the student can not be connected to a class without some exchange of ideas, they can not attend the class without being a part of, or going somewhere that fosters communication. Left up to the same individual, who chose the class because it did not have an excess of physical contact, is the choice to go and create discourse. Is such a student going to search out intercourse on his own without motivation or even suggestion? The answer looks us blatantly in the face- a product of our times. No. We are fast becoming a society desirous to crunch time and space, to replace people with innovation. Therefor it is of little wonder that a policy written by a university professor would lack definitive boundaries concerning attendance in an on-line class.
"To Attend." Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. 10th ed. 1993.
University of Arizona. ed. Nats 104. By Nutrition Food and You Course Instructors. CD-ROM. Arizona: Arizona Board of Regents, Fall 1999.