Distance Learning Essay #1

In my first experience with distance learning... I had some likes, one of which was the gee- whiz nature of the technology involved. There is something very intriguing about being able to interact with a group of people, in real time, utilizing video and sound, that just feels different. Different is good, in and of itself, because it is not what we are used to. The distance learning was different, something I had never experienced before, and that made it good. I have to take a step back, however, and attempt to ascertain whether the experiential act of being intrigued translates into an effective and efficient communications medium. There is a tendency in most people to value the new and innovative simply because they are new and innovative which provides the impetus for a lot of technological advancement (or at least the acceptance by prevailing culture of certain advances in technology). Technology is merely the underlying constructive knowledge that is used in the creation of a tool. Technology has been around for a long time, but when we say "technology", we are generally referring to the new. Technological advancement, generally a positive statement, is the replacement of old technology with new technology, a supposed positive net result. The technologies used in our class to allow us to interact with another class several thousand miles away is fairly advanced technology. But what did I think about the application of these technologies to my classroom learning experience? I thought that the delay time on the video was excessively long. I don't think we were transmitting through ISDN lines, which probably had a lot to do with this. The time delay involved caused a lot of delays in class, and transfer of information between people on opposite sides of the data link, through the dialogue process, was significantly slowed. There also seemed to be an inordinate amount of time spent on discourse about the fucntioning of the technologies that were supposed to be promoting discourse in and between the classes. What I mean is that a lot of time was taken up talking about the functioning of the communications technology itself - the lines, the cameras, different technical aspects - and this took away time and attention from other, possibly more relevant topics. On the other hand, maybe it is good to see the dirty parts of the technology we use. It helps us keep perspective. In either case, this technology was far from "invisible". All in all, I don't know that I can pass a judgment after just one class. I don;t think that it facilitated dialogue-in fact, I think that it hampered it for many people. I know that I did not raise my hand to make any statements, something I would normally have done in another class. I think other people were the same way. perhaps this medium will favor those who are more comfortable seeing themselves talk on TV, and people who normally have to make an effort to interact and not be shy will be put at a further disadvantage. This medium, if it sees widespread usage, could end up favoring the genes of people who are loud and narcissistic, thereby losing the sensibilities gained through quiet contemplation and introspection. Anyway, I'm holding my judgment for a couple more turns of the ol" distance learning wheel.
Ryan Wolfe inte linc@i.imap.itd.umich.edu