Distance Learning Impressions 2

John Powell

School of Information and Library Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109


The purpose of this "page" is to discuss my impressions of Howard Besser's Distance Learning Class held on Fridays from 1 - 4 pm EST in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Berkeley, California. This is the second paper in a series of three.

I would like to begin this paper, much like the last. Again, I want to stress the importance of having equipment that meets the needs of the class. First, the television monitors. The television monitors are too small. We need to have a large screen television to see more clearly our colleagues in Berkeley. It is difficult to really learn who is "on the other side" when it is very difficult to see them. I personally feel that I can recognize the voices of those who speak at Berkeley. However, as we move into the discussion groups and various projects, it would be nice to put names, faces, and voices together.

I understand the need to have a bright classroom for video purposes. However, it would be nice if the televisions could be angled in such a way that would reduce the glare upon the monitors. After leaving class on Friday, January 27, my eyes were tired from looking through the glare on the monitor.

As the novelty of the technology began to wear off, I began focusing on some of the more important issues that make a class, a class. What do I mean by this? Well, let's see. There are several issues that have come up that I'd like to comment upon. First of all, our seating is quite compact. We sit close together. For the most part, we all fit on the camera's wide view. This is good because it gives a sense of who is in the classroom. Addition, it takes less time for the camera to focus on a speaker which in turn reduces the distance the camera must travel. By having a lesser distance to travel, our colleagues in Berkeley don't see as much distortion. However, I have noticed that the Berkeley class is more spread out. It's difficult to tell just how many people are in the class. If the Berkeley class could sit more towards the middle of the room, we might be better able to carry on discussions. It is very difficult for Howard to see who has comments from the other side if they don't sit in the middle of the class. Along the same lines, the people in charge of the camera really need to pay attention to what they are focusing on. The person speaking should have a camera on them. When they are through the camera shot should widen or move on to the next person. Leaving the camera focused on one person while someone else is speaking is extremely frustrating in a class like this. It is difficult enough trying to learn your classmates names and their ideas around you, but even more difficult from the "other side" when the camera is focused on someone who is not speaking.

One point of frustration I have experienced and I know others have as well, is when a conversation gets going, Howard seems to always have a way of responding to every point. Now, don't get me wrong, I think this is good but to a limited degree. In a class like this, when a discussion gets going it needs to keep going. In my opinion, jumping in and re-directing the discussion only leads to frustration among students. Before Howard jumps in, I think at least a few students should be able to respond. I think this falls in line with my comments on last weeks discussion, that the "side" without a speaker is quiet or not as active in discussions as the "side" with the speaker. Perhaps what should be done is to allow someone to speak from either "side" after a comment. This would allow equal participation on both sides. I'm not sure that would work but at least we could add a bit of structure to discussions.

Another issue that I would like to discuss is that of clothing. In order not to embarrass students, I think we might discuss what is "good" and "bad" clothing to wear during this class. During our first meeting in ISR, I was told when I arrived that I should not have worn a stripped shirt. If I had know this, I would have been more careful. I don't think we need a lecture during class about what is "good" clothing to wear. That could have easily been discussed via the World Wide Web documents for this class.

Other procedural types of comments I have are, we really need Internet access during the discussions and class presentations. It would be nice to see the speakers' homepage or something about the speaker as they are talking. This would help us learn who's who. On a related subject, it's nice to see the newspaper articles that we will be discussing in class during the class. However, we need to be able to read these articles before we get to class. Without having time to read and think about these articles, it is often times difficult to form cohesive thoughts and opinions.

Again, I would like to say, I am very much interested in this class and how we can make distance learning more acceptable and feasible.

Submitted by John Powell on Thursday, February 2, 1995