Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Is Distance Learning All We Hope It Might Be?

I've been thinking about expanding my involvement as a teacher in distance education lately. While I am enthusiastic about all the things I've been able to learn using Internet resources, I am ambivalent about on-line classes for college credit. On one hand, people in places like Pocahontas County have few post-secondary education opportunities locally, and distance education classes expand their possibilities. On the other hand, Internet classes cost just as much as on-campus classes, and I'm not sure they deliver good value to the students, especially in science and math classes. That's why I've been reading on the topic. Here are a couple of articles I found interesting.

  • Assessing Critical Thinking in a New Approach to Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) Transcripts by Peter K. Oriogun.
    Critical thinking involves analysis, critique and some evaluation of the information gathered in order to make a reflective and well founded conclusion from the same. It is therefore very important to understand that critical thinking ultimately affects all forms of communication, including speaking, writing, listening and reading. Critical thinking in online communication is particularly challenging as it puts emphasis on students' comprehension and knowledge of elements of an argument, as such, interacting with different ideas and one another. In this article, the author assesses critical thinking in a new semi-structured approach to computer-mediated communication, the SQUAD approach (Oriogun, 2003; Oriogun, Ravenscroft and Cook, 2005) using the practical inquiry (PI) model (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001) as a framework.
  • Lampel, J., and Bhalla, A. (2007). The role of status seeking in online communities: Giving the gift of experience. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(2), article 5.
    This article examines online gift giving in the form of opinion, information, and advice that individuals post on websites. Research has highlighted altruism and reciprocity as the key motives behind such gift giving. We argue that informational gift giving is also strongly driven by status and status seeking, and that status sentiments are more likely to sustain virtual communities....in online communities the recounting of consumption experience is often part and parcel of virtual identity formation. Given the social dynamics of modern society, this identity formation is often shaped by status seeking. Within the relative safety of online experience (compared to real settings), individuals can project identities that are closer to their ideal self. Inevitably this process elicits powerful emotions on the part of those who engage in the process. These emotions are central to the motivation that sustains online participation in conditions where freely-given information does not necessarily result in tangible benefits to those who labor to provide them.


martin saffer said...

I believe the "distance" in internet education separates and depersonalizes the educational process which should ideally include inspiration. As I look back on my education, the courses I enjoyed most were those taught by teathers and professors who were seen by me as mentors. Also, I fear we are becoming a depersonalized society in which our value is as a concummer and producer and education is seen only as a tool to obtain work not as a way to understand the world and our fleeting lives.

Brett said...

I teach online (distance) classes at Arizona State. The dynamic of an online classroom is definitely different from an in-person class. But the technology is really quite something these days. For example, for one of the classes I currently teach, the enrollment is 100. But online, I have divided the students into small, 10-person groups. They do their discussing and interacting online with this small group. So, a class that would have precluded discussion because of its size has now become a small discussion-size class.
I have also found that non-traditional students are much more able to take online classes. This means that the tenor of the class is often different--fewer teenagers straight out of their parents' house and more older students who have children, jobs, etc. Since they can access the class when it is convenient for them, they can maintain their different commitments.
With all this said, I'm not completely convinced by online education. The immediacy of reaction is completely lost, I can't read how well they are understanding the subject material without testing them, and a lot of the extra "stuff" that an in-person class includes is lost (e.g., the fascinating "rabbit trail" discussions, the facial expressions, the togetherness).