Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Better without the Stand-Up Comedy

Having recently completed my state-mandated Sexual Harassment Prevention Training, which was offered to U.C. Irvine employees online by Workplace Answers, I have a few observations, as someone who studies distance learning.

1) The two-hour program was limited in both vividness and interactivity: the scenarios were made more engaging only by illustrations with static cartoon characters and periodic online multiple choice quizzes. (See Steuer, "Defining Virtual Reality: Dimensions Determining Telepresence," 1996 for more on the "vividness"/"interactivity" matrix.) However, one could argue that this approach fosters the necessary Platonic rationalism that such courses promulgate, so that it follows that supervisors should be disembodied rather than embodied learners.

2) The viewpoint of the learner was always assumed to be heterosexual and often implicitly male, despite the obvious countering of gender stereotypes in some of the hypothetical cases and the presence of gay characters in others. What do I mean by that? Well, the role-playing never presented a supervisor (dean, department chair, lab supervisor, or office manager) who was homosexual; such people only appeared as actors in the conflict, never as decision-makers in the resolution. Also, in the vignettes about "inappropriate workplace attire," only women were depicted as offenders. The one-sided regulation of clothing as a way to control female sexuality from the position of a gawking male gaze appeared surprisingly uncontested to me, especially since men can wear inappropriately sexual or revealing clothing as well. As Barbara Ehrenreich points out in her recent book Bait and Switch, rules for attire are exclusionary measures in corporate America, since it is more difficult for women to comply with norms of dress.

3) The curriculum was considerably less challenging than the other form of large-scale state-mandated coursework aimed at remediation of behavior, which can now also be satisfied online, by which I obviously mean traffic school. You see, one can actually fail traffic school, if test performance is poor enough. But my attentiveness or success at achieving particular learning benchmarks did not appear to be monitored. Completion of two hours of clicking buttons, practically regardless of which ones I chose, seemed to be enough.

As with traffic school, mandated sexual harassment prevention instruction is generally provided by one of several niche businesses from the private sector. However, traffic school perhaps more obviously should use available vivid and interactive technology, particularly since 3D driving simulations can accurately represent guesswork about speed, distance, and legality.

(And now, a digression. One summer, when I was home from college, I actually worked at a traffic school, in a minimum-wage job manning the phones. This was in the nineteen-eighties, and "comedy" traffic schools had just become popular as acceptable forms of "live" instruction. By the time I actually had to attend traffic school myself, in the nineties, various gourmet traffic schools had appeared on the scene, which offered ice-cream or goodies for "choco-holics." Why is it that "live" traffic school must satisfy bodily appetites or physical sensations? I understand why there are no "stripper" traffic schools, but why are there no terror traffic schools or tearful traffic schools, because pity and fear might more effectively deter accidents?)

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Blogger Vivian Folkenflik said...


I took the same online Sexual Harassment Prevention Training course and while I did learn more about the legal responsibilities of supervisors, I too remember supervisors as mainly or implicitly heterosexual; any homosexual decision-makers (in the ombudsman's office? where?) are not part of the online cast. And although I did learn from the quizzes, I didn't like the framing of sexual harassment in comic mode, I suppose to appropriate or defuse the wannabe-comic responses the target audience might make: not a great strategy for either sexual harassment prevention or traffic schools. The exclusive dependency on a time requirement (I suppose parallel to in-person sessions) is silly: the cartoons become boring if one has to complete the two hours by re-screening them while getting other work done, and watching the red-and-green Too-Fast clock.

Interaction with e-mail or any other work (whatever it is) feels comparatively and increasingly vivid, the second time around. I am a devoted Platonist, but Plato would
not have had much time for this program.

8:53 PM  

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