Distance Learning Essay 1

Nancy Lin, ILS 609, University of Michigan, Prof. Howard Besser

After all of Howard's warnings about possible technical problems that might occur, I had expected our first couple of sessions to be a bit more chaotic. However, I was surprised that the equipment worked so well - sound was clear, not too much lag time, camera operators did a good job. I felt that the technical capabilities of this equipment exceeded my expectations (with the exception of that annoying echo). I have never experienced any sort of video conferencing. After the first few minutes I thought to myself "wow, this distance learning thing really can work." So - distance learning is technically feasible; but how does it affect classroom dynamics? I had problems with this issue.

The main thing that struck me was the difference in classroom dynamics; I felt very uncomfortable with a close-up head shot of the person speaking. First, I think it caused a certain kind of pressure for the speaker. Secondly, I think it was hard to have a natural seminar-like conversation because the screen only displays the person speaking -- it is very hard to cut in, or make short side comments, things which I feel are crucial to a good discussion. Finally, people just spoke too long; this I feel is a result of having the camera pointed at you. The camera kind of waited for you to "finish" so speakers seemed to feel like they had to finish with some profound statement. However, in a regular seminar conversation, you can make a quick comment, cut in, look at everyone's facial/body expression. I miss that.

Another thought that I could not help feeling was -- "this feels like TV." And then from that thought I could not help thinking "this feels like Oprah, Ricki or Phil's shows. I am at a talk show!" Especially, when people got riled up over OJ, privacy, etc. I generally dislike conversations about these topics. I feel very ill equipped to make statements about these issues that I know very little about or have not thought through.

Also, I was a bit disappointed that the class was a disjointed, broad and general conversation. I had hoped that there would be a bit more lecture and discussion on specific issues. It was so rambling and I did not want to discuss OJ. I understand that it was clearly stated in the syllabus that this class was not going to be a run in the traditional manner. But maybe I am just conditioned to expect class to run a certain way. I kept thinking "what is this class about"? I do try to keep in mind that perhaps -- me sitting down and thinking about these things is what this class is about.

Finally, I firmly believe that you can learn just as much without speaking in class all time. Sure, you should not be totally reticent, but I agree with Shannon when she said sometimes you don't feel like speaking until you have thought things through a bit.

Well, all in all, I am very excited about the future of distance learning.