Martha Pinto
Friday, January 27, 1995
ILS 609

DISTANCE LEARNING ESSAY #1

Impressions of Distance Learning and ILS 609

Background:

To date, I have participated in one videoconferenced (is that a word?) class session (1/20/95) and one CU See Me office hour session with Dr. Besser (1/19/95). My comments here will be related to these two events.

Videoconferenced Class Session:

There were two monitors in the front of the room. One carried a live shot of the Ann Arbor class section from a frontal position. The other monitor carried alternately, a shot of Dr. Besser, Dr. Besser's slides, or a shot of the Berkeley class section. The camera would zoom in on individual students at various times as they made comments.

The first thing that struck me as odd (not uncomfortable, but odd), was the monitor carrying the live shot of the Ann Arbor section. It is a viewpoint, that as a student, I am not used to experiencing. This camera angle puts me in the position of the instructor. A student is used to looking at the back of heads or turning around in the chair to see a partial front view of students sitting behind them. In retrospect, I'm much more interested in seeing a shot of the Berkeley classroom than I am of the one in Ann Arbor. I can see the Ann Arbor class with out the add of technology.

The Berkeley classroom looked very big on camera. When the camera attempted to capture the entire class in one shot, the images of the students were small and difficult to identify. Maybe an attempt should be made to sit closer together the next time around. On the other hand, the close up shots of students was very good. In fact, these shots were quite powerful. They tended to capture my attention to a degree greater than if the person and their contributions were being made in the same physical room with me.

The use of close up shots, however, highlighted the need for the camera operator to be on the same thought wave as the instructor. The instructor is obviously reacting to a set of raised hands in the same physical room. The chosen student may not be sitting near to the one upon which the camera is focused, leaving the student on camera free to take over. This happened on more than one occasion and eventually lead Michael Joyce, our guest speaker, to comment as to who controls the flow of conversation, the instructor or the camera?

The video monitors are quite compelling and did capture the majority of my attention, to the exclusion of my physical classmates. However, toward the end of the class, when Michael Joyce took over in the traditional location of the classroom instructor, I found I my attention focused on him rather than on video displays. Unless someone from Berkeley was commenting, I started to become unaware of their presence.

As far as the sense of feeling like a single class, there is none for me at this point. However, this assessment is unfair at this point and not reflective of the technology being used. I have come to know the majority of the Ann Arbor students over the course of the past semester. Many are in my other courses and we see each other in and about the West Engineering Building. Every classmate in Berkeley is a complete stranger. Not unlike Michigan SILS students were to me last August. How we develop into a class as opposed to a weekly Nightline Town Meeting program, will be of interest over the coming months.

CU See Me Office Hour:

I liked this. Actually, I'm looking forward to the day when the quality will be much better. There are numerous times when I would have liked to have this facility when I was working.

In the meeting I participated in, I was not the only Ann Arbor student participating in the call. This was difficult and distracting in two ways. First, the camera angle was such that it was difficult to include more than one person in the shot. At times it seemed like we were bobbing back and forth. Other people entered the room at times who could not be seen by Dr. Besser. Second, and probably the most distracting thing was the telephone. It allowed only one person at a time to hear and to be heard. It completely eliminated all benefits of a group meeting. The CU See Me room here definitely needs a speaker phone!

I'm looking forward to meetings with Berkeley students using this technology. Since they will often be group meetings, it will be necessary to work on the audio for these meetings to be successful. It will be the informal status of these meetings, just like in the physical world, that will allow Ann Arbor and Berkeley students to become a real class.

Overall Impressions of ILS 609:

The opportunity to participate in the use of these technologies in the delivery of a course is very exciting and one I feel will provide me with the proper perspective as to when, where and how they should be used in course delivery. Outside of SILS, I am working with another University in development of courses which will make use of many of these technologies to facilitate delivery throughout the state. It will be beneficial for me to be on the receiving as well as delivering end of the process.

As for the non-technology aspects of this course, it is still too soon to tell.....


mjpinto@umich.edu