Early Reactions to Distance Learning

Alex Sutton
2/3/95


What sticks in my mind the most about the distance learning experience are technical issues related to the process.

First and foremost, I really don't like looking at myself on the screen. I like having the picture-in-picture so I can see what image of the class is being sent to Michigan, but I really don't like it when I can see myself. And I am especially uncomfortable about close-ups. Overall, I don't like looking in mirrors and seeing pictures of myself, so this is not that unusual. I think I feel that what I see is not really me. I want to get a haircut :-) and maybe that will help.

The second issue that stands out in my mind is how important the operator/technician is. In a class of this size and the width of the room we're in, when Howard is in Michigan, he can not see everyone at once. It is then up to the camera operator to pay attention to which students are raising their hands, and pan the camera in their direction so that they will be noticed and called on to speak. One result of this is that speakers tend to follow other speakers from their side of the room. It also means that the operator must play an active role in the class and in guiding the discussion.

One artifact of the camera which bothers me is how people's heads pop in and out of the picture. This is distracting as it is difficult to focus in on the speaker, but unavoidable unless there was a camera for each participant.

It is interesting to see how some behavior norms have developed for the class. We seem to be going out of our way to be polite to each other (not that there is any reason why anyone would be anything but civil), and are taking turns speaking by alternating every other comment between Berkeley to Michigan. Very infrequently have two students from the same school spoken consecutively.

This experience is still a novelty to me, and I feel to the class. Developing behavior standards shows that we are progressing and adapting to the new medium, but it is still not natural. Perhaps video conferencing will never be in that the quality of the interaction between students is different. But once we build a rapport and comfort, a cohesion should develop more akin to a traditional class.

I wonder though if there will be a different set of boundaries, perhaps looser than normal because the interaction is not face-to-face. Or can the barrier of talking to a screen ever be removed.