Martha Pinto
February 3, 1995
Distance Learning Essay


Impressions of Distance Learning and ILS 609 This essay will relate my thoughts and observations on the distance learning experience in ILS 609. It is based on two weeks of the shared experience with the Berkeley half of the class.

I'll start with a side note. Last week's class, January 27th, was the first time I brought my laptop computer to any class and used it to take notes. It changed my behavior in class and in turn the way I experienced the class. Probably the biggest change in behavior is that I actuallytook notes. I am a notoriously bad note taker. My notes are generally incomplete, unreadable, and never reviewed later. Last week with the laptop, I took fairly thorough and comprehensive notes that I actually printed out and read. Using the laptop, however, significantly changed my visual view of the class because my eyes were focused on the note taking activity for a collectively longer period of time than would have been the case with pen and paper. As a result, I was listening to the class more than viewing the class. I would look up to see who was talking and then often turn my eyes back downward again. I did this with the students in Ann Arbor as well as in Berkeley. In hindsight, this change in behavior removed many of the distance related distractions to the communication. The audio from Berkeley was as good and often better than the unassisted audio of the Ann Arbor students. Basically, it was easier to listen and understand the amplified conversation from Berkeley than a student who was sitting in front and facing away from me.

During the first half of the class period, I noticed Berkeley had a little trouble getting in the flow of the conversation. This is likely due to there being no instructor physically in the room to orchestrate the flow of interaction. We experienced that in Ann Arbor the week before. Because the instructor who is controlling the flow of the class and the camera operator who is controlling the flow of the video are two different people, there is often a disconnect or gap in the flow of the conversation. I'm beginning to understand the important role a director plays in a television talk show. Makes me wonder if we'll need course directors soon.

Dr. Besser brought a new dimension to the Ann Arbor class last week by his presence. It's either human nature or I've been programmed to focus my attention to the front of the class and the instructor. During the first half of the class as he was working harder to get Berkeley involved, his eyes were focused on the cameras in the back of the room a lot. I found this distracting. I have trouble trying to engage in conversation where the other person is not making eye contact. It makes me feel my role is not appreciated. This is true for me in any context, one on one, group, or long distance.

During the break, the attempts at free form conversation between Ann Arbor and Berkeley was difficult. There was too much competition from unrelated discussions in room. This may change later when our groups are more defined and we know the Berkeley students a little better. I can envision a time later in the semester when the different groups are battling each other for the opportunity to use the good videoconferencing environment have mini-group discussions with Berkeley. You have to admit, CU See Me doesn't hold a candle to the classroom facilities!

For some reason after the break, the conversation began to flow much better. Maybe it was the change of topics to current events. There was a much wider variety of participation than earlier. During the first half, the conversation from Berkeley was dominated by a small minority of students.

A final note. This class is using a number of technologies to facilitate the distance learning. A major one of them is the Internet. This past week here in Ann Arbor, there have been some major fileserver problems affecting a small minority of student IFS accounts. I am one of that small minority of UM students is essentially without an account. In many respects, this seems to have reduced my status to that of a non-student and has had a very adverse impact on my ability to participate in all of my classes. It is not just that I don't have a working account, but that most people do have one. If we were all down, I would not be experiencing the same level of isolation and disfunctionality. What strikes me about this problem with respect to ILS 609, is this is probably the one piece of technology that was least expected to be an issue in the delivery of the course.