Distance Learning Essay

by Brent Hall

The distance learning aspect of Library and Information Studies 296a presents us students with many new challenges that would never have arisen in a "normal" classroom environment. The unique video-conferencing aspect, used to connect the classroom at the University of Michigan, with the one at the University of California, provides many benefits. However, distance learning also brings with it many drawbacks that will have to be dealt with.

The advantages that video conferencing provides the classroom are obvious. This new technology allows distance to be transcended, allowing classrooms three thousand miles apart to operate almost simultaneously as one. Resources can be combined and shared, such as the guest speakers in Michigan that the Berkeley students will also get to hear. It also allows for different perspectives which are already being evidenced between the students. However, it is very difficult to get used to.

Growing up with traditional forms of media such as radio and television, this new form of communication is difficult for me to get used to. Most all of us are used to one-way interaction with the video screen. Watching a television show, one watches these pre-produced images which do not demand a response. One does not have to be responsible to the screen for his actions or thoughts. Video conferencing does not allow for this. As well as interpreting the messages from the screen, now my reactions to it will be interpreted by others. Suddenly one must be aware of the two-way television screen where you watch others watching you. It is difficult to acknowledge the live existence of others on a screen. The delay in transmission also serves to decrease the reality of the situation. There is no instant reaction to comments, jokes, or motions. Perhaps in the future the technology will be more realistic and lifelike. However, right now the video conferencing technology is still far enough removed from reality for us to be negatively affected by it.

It seems that the trend of communications mediums is towards this type of "virtual reality." My feeling is that no matter how sophisticated technology progresses, reality will never be accurately created. Right now the technology is still relatively primitive when it comes to distance learning. In the future I'm sure the technical flaws will have been eliminated. I do not believe though, that this will solve the most pressing problem about these new technologies. What is missing is the human interaction, the intangible element that cannot be replicated by computers. For this reason, technology will be a good complement to reality, but will never be a substitute for it. There is something to be said for this element of personal contact that will never be replaced by machines, no matter how technologically advanced they become.