Second Distance Learning Essay

Feb. 24, 1995

There are several impressions of the class that I want to delve into with this paper, and with them hopefully expand on some of the statements made in my first. As should be expected, my comments boil down to technology at hand, and itís good, bad, and ugly implications.

Let me start with the bad. Basically, I see my one overarching complaint as a lack of good, interactive communication. There is little along the lines of the usual classroom debates where one, two or a collection of students will take up a particular cause and battle over it; talking over each other with passion. Here in LIS 296A conversation is sometimes seemingly limited to a collection of stand-along statements. There must be millions of dynamics which make this the case, everything from the lighting in the room to the amount of lie-in time I get on Friday mornings, but perhaps the most relevant can be seen as: one, the limits of the technology, two, the style of conversation, and three, the techno-babble battles of the students. Let me expand.

The technology is limited in bandwidth and organization (e.g. insufficient, manual video cameras and lock-out microphones) such that focus can only be on one student on one campus at a time. Where is the room for heated debate if only one person can, by the very logistics of the class, have attention at one time? On top of this limitation, or perhaps as a consequence of it, the discussion seems to be structured with one student making a comment, then a comment (albeit small) from the Professor, then to a different studentís comment, then back to the Professor, and so on. The third factor, which Iíll admit could just be paranoia, is the way in which the discussion seems to be full of techno-babble. I have never before been in a class where the students have so much sophisticated cyber-speak, and intellectual expression to throw around. Pretentious could come to mind--although maybe thatís not being fair. I think that a simpler account is more probable. That is, because your face and voice are being broadcast halfway across the country to want to look like you know what youíre talking about, hence the flashy language. This language can put some distance between people, however, and I think, contributes to my feelings of poor communication.

Now for the good. This is, even after all my communication woes, one of the most interesting classes I have seen in my fifteen years as a professional, and rather critical student. The subject matter is great and well presented, and, looking over the communication factors, the technology (of the WWW, homepages and newsgroups) helps me keep a close connection with the topics at hand. Aside from that, I should make the strong point that although I feel that classroom discussion is weak, this no where near the worst communication environment I have been subjected to in a classroom. I have had classes where there were only fifteen students to one teacher--a teacher who was in the flesh--which had far less worthwhile discussion. I suppose then, part of my frustrations and criticism focus around the potential that this class could have. The Professor is great, the students are diverse and intelligent, the subject matter and technology are simulating--all the ingredients are there, but somewhere there needs to be improvement, and perhaps that lies in communication.

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