Distance Learning III

As the class winds to a close I find myself looking back at the previous distance learning opinion pieces. The overwhelming indication is that many of the problems noticed early on have not gone away; we have all just become used to them and learned to ignore them. I'm not sure what that means. Adaptability is good, it's a survival trait. But does it mean that distance learning is a "good" technology just because we can adapt to it? I lean the other way. People are awful good at accepting less than they previously had. We eat junk food, don't we? Sure it's fast (usually) and edible (usually), but the main reason for it is that it's cheap to make, deliver and store.

However, one problem which has definitely been overcome is fear of the technology, specifically of being on camera. Some have thrived on the attention, others ignore it, and a few have disassociated from it. Compare the first day of class when everyone was present, sitting up front, wearing video-friendly clothing, not eating, staying awake and politely holding their hands in the air. Now I notice all sorts of fashions, eight people in the backrow (which only seats six), one person in the front row (because they came in late), all sorts of lunches, talking out of turn, and closed eyes.

Does this mean that we have achieved a more ordinary class? Have we accepted the technology? Probably not. Sure I know some of the names at Berkeley (because they talk a lot), but I don't really feel I know them. I've never seen them walk, complain about professors, moan about lost sleep, drink a beer, or do anything else outside of class. Sorry distant classmates, I don't feel a sense of community. That is something I'm more inclined to feel here at SILS.

I think there's a lot that a distance learning setup needs to even approach the atmosphere of a single-room class. More cameras (with smart tracking features), more screens (that are less tiring to the eye), binaural sound, individual mikes (with mutes) and while I'm at it, holography, sensorama and cerebro-cortical hook-ups. And we thought this class was expensive.

What is interesting to consider is that maybe the traditional single-room classroom *should* be superceded. We know it's not a perfect medium for teaching or learning. Why not invent something new? One thing distance learning technologies seem to allow is face -to-face communication between individuals at a distance. This even functions locally as students look at the screen to address their classmates rather than turn around in their seats. Does this aid in learning? I don't know, but it's certainly interesting.

- Drin Gyuk