Introduction

Is there a value added from distance learning? Does a student in Ann Arbor gain from being able to discuss issues in class simultaneously with students in Ann Arbor and Berkeley? If yes, does this justify the cost necessary today to support that kind of learning? These are the major issues I intend to explore during the semester.

This paper is a series of observations on distance learning. The points are related, but not intended to make an overall argument.

The Camera

In one videoconferenced class and one remote office hour meeting, only one event has made a serious impact on me. At one point during class last week, discussion was taking place in Berkeley. Two hands were raised in Ann Arbor, another student's and mine. Dori called on the other student to speak, but the camera was focused on me. To avoid wasting time, I spoke first and then the other student spoke.

What struck me was that although the proxy authority in the room had chosen another person to be the center of attention, in many ways, the floor belonged to me. I had the attention of the camera. Professor Besser, the students in Berkeley, and even some of the students in Ann Arbor were paying attention to me because my face was on the TV screen. The lesson to be learned: With videoconferencing, immediate power in the remote classroom rests with the on site camera operator, and secondarily with the professor at the other end of the fiber.

Comfort with Distance Learning Technology

I was surprised at how quickly I became comfortable with the technologies used in the classroom. I was constantly conscious that the cameras mediated discussion between students in the two classrooms. However, at times I was able to forget that Professor Besser was not conducting discussion in Ann Arbor. At one point, Professor Besser addressed the camera to make a comment. His face occupied most of the screen in Ann Arbor. Instinctively thinking that he was looking at me personally, I made a shrugging response to his face on the screen. After I made the gesture, I realized that I was responding to a television.

Camera Shots

Several people made the same comment after class last week. It bothered us that all the Berkeley students could not be seen on our screen at once. To close the distance gap, we wanted a sense of what was going on at Berkeley. By showing us only two thirds of the room, the camera was not giving this to us.

Final Comments

One of my most positive experiences in graduate school has been taking classes with diverse and talented groups of people. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I invite anyone in Berkeley (or Ann Arbor) who wants to start a discussion with me to contact me via. e-mail at

groucho@umich.edu

.