Third Distance Learning Reaction Paper
Randy Horton

Since much of my recent research has been on groupware, the thoughts expressed in this essay will reflect ideas expressed in the groupware literature.

Groupware technologies are designed to enhance group communication and collaboration across both time and distance. The social processes involved in implemented these tools often pose tougher problems than the technological issues. This became very evident to students in ILS 609 over the semester.

One of the goals of the course was for students to collaborate across campuses. Wanda Orlikowski points out in her research on office implementation of Lotus Notes that people need incentives to use new collaborative technologies. Just because people are given the ability to cooperate does not necessarily mean that they will immediately readjust their entire institutional process to do so. Likewise, students in Berkeley and Ann Arbor were not given any concrete incentive to collaborate, or even communicate, to enhance their learning experiences. For future incarnations of this course, it might be helpful to assign students projects which require the use of USENET, CU See Me, HyperNews, or other tools.

Another point which is made in the literature of many fields, including groupware, is that the design of a good system is never over. Once a new system is introduced, its designers must seek out feedback from its users, examining their ideas, listening to their problems, and incorporating their suggestions. The last few course meetings have reflected this type of iterative design process. This student has been much more satisfied with the class meetings since student suggestions were incorporated into the class structure. For future classes, this type of evaluation should begin much sooner in the semester.

Side note on guest speakers

This student has been very pleased with the guest speakers who have "come" to class. One of the greatest potentials for distance learning is to be able to bring in the best speaker anywhere, not just who is in the city where the class is located. The panel on Pirate Radio, although cut short, was a great example of how this technology can be used well.