Distance Learning Essay 3

Now we see them, now we don't......

The last two class sessions have been very disconcerting because of the technical difficulties that we experienced with the connections to Berkeley. I would almost believe that Howard had planned to have these kind of technical problems so that it would spark discussion and incite reactions. I personally didn't enjoy the lack of visual connection to Berkeley on the 17th nor did I enjoy the slowness and break-up of the screen from last week's class session. Its me and my obsession with knowing who's talking and "what's your name?"

On the 17th, we could not make the visual connection to Berkeley for about an hour. A couple of times the audio came up broken and staticky and finally we resorted to using a speaker phone. I found that I was trying to figure out who's voice it was each time someone from Berkeley spoke. There seemed to be a lot less response from their side also. I've said it in previous papers and so far it seems to hold true, that there is less input from the side that doesn't have Howard moderating. I think that having a 'real live person' in the room to mediate and encourage discussion helps facilitate the interaction and interest of the class. I remember thinking that it was a very odd feeling to have, but that I was relieved and happy when we finally got a visual link with the Berkeley students. I find that I rely on body language and visual clues to indicate mood and context much more than I would have imagined. I also like to see who has input to different topics. With a class of our size (combined) it is difficult to get everyone's input on every issue. I do like to know who wants to respond though. It helps to really guage interest levels of the various subjects that we cover. I mean, we all know that Tim and Cathy have critical input and express themselves well, but I'm just as interested to see Karen or Ishmael's hands go up and know that they have input too. I feel the same way about people in my own 'room' that rarely speak like Chantel or Ryan, but I feel that I can read their opinions better because I'm in the same room with them and may catch a mutter or shake of their head that the camera doesn't allow me to notice. (Please I intend NO offense to anyone mentioned.) With the speaker phone there was an added level of distortion that added to my turmoil. I concentrated less on the content than on the voice pattern of the person speaking.

On the 24th, when we had the speakers, Stephen Dunifer and Karen Ellis, it was also an odd session. We again had connection problems. This time it seemed like it was partly the providers fault for shutting off one of the lines that we normally have running. I don't really understand the technical aspect of the connection that we use, but I really could see the difference between having four working 'channels' instead of six. I think we only had two when the link first came up. It was like watching some nasty supernatural/sci-fi horror film where people had parts missing but they were still moving and talking. Weird!, and talk about warp speed-- is there such a thing as anti-warp speed? It was really an interesting visual because of the pixels being missing and then breaking up and forming into some resemblance of an image. We never were able to get six channels working so we had the slower connection for the whole class session. That bothered me less so than the absence of picture of the previous week's lesson. The feedback during this session was also dreadful. We kept getting the sound of our voices coming back through the mics on the Berkeley end so our technician would shut off the sound when they weren't talking. This was annoying because we missed interjected comments and the beginnings of the "B" students' statements. This again felt as if we were losing a dimension of the class that helps to judge mood and tone. Just being able to hear muttered uh-huhs or na-uhs lets you know the general consensus or lack thereof.

Thinking about the class in general I've been wondering if the distance learning aspect is useful for this particular group. I think that distance learning might be more useful for a classroom that brought several groups from many different places together to discuss a specific area of common interest. It would especially be valuable for schools that have students with esoteric interests, but can't justify having a class on that subject for so few students. Distance learning could bring together several small groups of students with a specialist to lecture in that subject area. Our course seems too general and more discussion oriented than lecture-type. Between the two classes there are too many students to insure that everyone voices an opinion. I do like the fact that we were able to meet the 'B' students and have their input but I think that it really IS an experimental session and the learning comes more from the experience than the material covered.


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