Distance Learning: Initial Thoughts

By Jack B Huynh

When video conferencing becomes more widely used and accepted, "guinea pigs" like me will look back and comment on how it "used to be". Being the "first" to use a tool such as distance learning has its advantages and disadvantages.

The first thing I noticed when I enter the room was the unusual set up of the classroom. In consideration to the limit of the cameras, the room had to be optimally set up so that everyone could captured by the camera. I don't think this sort of set up could accomadate much more than the current class size without sacrificing efficiency. At any rate, I found the classroom set up to be acceptable except for the fact that I couldn't simultaneously keep my eye in front of the TV screens and the instructor. If I could simultaneously keep my eye on the professor and the screen, I would be more incline to pay closer attention to the professor than just watching the Ann Arbor students. For me, instructor eye contact is important in order for me to really digest what he/she is saying. In effect, the technological novelty was a distraction to my learning process. On the other hand, when the professor was in Ann Arbor and I could pay attention to him and the TV, I didn't feel like I was digesting his discussion as much I could be when I am actively listening to a professor in a regular classroom setting.

The scrutiny of the camera definitely had an effect on how I interact with my classmates. I am usually more talkative in a regular classroom setting, but I feel awkward in this environment. I really think it is simply the novelty of this technology that is holding me back from speaking in class. Over time, I should be more comfortable and thus speak more freely.

In addition, I think there is much less interaction between the people on the same side of the camera in video conferencing. People have the tendency to look at the TV and address the people on the other side of the TV. Naturally, as part of the novelty, people are more likely to "interact" with the TV rather then the people in the room.

Overall, I think video conferencing is nice for "guest" speakers, but as an everyday learning tool, I think the technology could be distracting and intimidating. It is possible that I am so use to the conventional learning classroom and that I am naturally reacting against the new and different learning style. I guess only time will tell how it effects me in the long run.