Impressions of Distance Learning

This was an experience I was looking forward to, perhaps with some apprehension. I found the initial experience very enlightening and enjoyed seeing how the students from Berkeley and Ann Arbor interacted. However, I also found the initial experience to be distracting for several reasons. I expect that with time the novelty will become less distracting and be a positive contribution to the exchange of information.

The visual images interfered with my concentration on the content of the discussion. There is something about the presence of a screen in a room that compels human beings to look at it. We had four screens (two in the front of the room and two in the back.) How many times have you had the experience of holding a conversation with a person while the television is on, even without the sound, and felt compelled to periodically glance at the screen? Even when Michael Joyce was here talking to us, I spent more time watching his image on the screen than looking at the real person. Part of this was curiosity about what the students in Berkeley were seeing, but there is no doubt that a lit screen has an overwhelming, might I even say hypnotic, attraction for the human eye.

I found myself watching students here on the monitor just because I could. I tried to locate myself on the screen to evaluate what impression, if any, my image made. I was inhibited from talking partly by the knowledge that as soon as I got the floor my face would flash on the screen in front of me. I think Tom Turner's observation is excellent: that this is like unexpectedly coming upon your image in a mirror in a place where you don't expect it. The experience is not so much distracting because of what others see as having to see myself, like unexpectedly coming across your doppelganger.

Many visual cues between the instructor/speaker are also lost. In class, it's much easier for the teacher to catch small cues that someone is interested in speaking. With distance learning the student has to be much more aggressive to make a point. The consequence was that when Howard was leading the discussion in Berkeley, the Berkeley students spoke more. However, when Michael Joyce was speaking here in Ann Arbor, our side was more likely to contribute.