Distance learning essay 2

And so what do I think the second time around...

Distance acts as a filter in the communications between people. it can completely occlude discourse between people who cannot physically communicate because they are not close together, or it can force them to communicate through alternate mediums, such as the written word, and voice transmission. Each has its own inherent shortfalls and limitations. Video conferencing seeks to be an attempt to overcome the filtering mechanism that distance calls into play, but it also introduces others of its own. One of those filtering mechanism I am noticing in class is the role of the mediator. A class like 609 is a discussion class - the students interact with one another through dialogue and discourse. The assumption is that, by the time someone gets to this level of education, you have something to contribute to class that is worthwhile and positive for the rest of the class to hear and discuss, and the role of the professor as an entity of central authority , who's job it is to lecture the students and keep a tight reign on the nature of discourse is greatly reduced. It seems that the video conferencing technology we are using has resuscitated the need for that central authority to become a stringent filtering mechanism. Because of the limited audio capabilities, Howard must dictate who will speak, and only one person may speak at a time. I have noticed that, where the shape and nature of the discussion in a class where all the students were physically present might be dependent to a large extent upon the students themselves, in this course Howard seems to feel the need to constantly steer the conversation where he feels it should go. This is not to say that Howard is not very suited to determine where it should go, but I think that it is important for the people involved in discussion to have a say in where things lead. It is ironic that a technology that is supposed to make us freer, more able to speak with people that we normally would not have a chance to speak with, also limits what we can and cannot speak about. I guess I have to say that, while it is "neat" to be able to have class with Berkeley, I am not convinced that it is better. That is not under-representing the potential that they have to offer me, but it is saying that I don;t know that I have access to enough of that potential to make this worth my while. The quality of discussion is fairly poor, I think, and I believe that this has a lot to do with the inordinate amount of time setting up all of the technology, as well as the limitations it places on the discussion itself. it feels more like a slide show or a lecture, rather than any meaningful group discourse is going on. Perhaps in time things will settle in.

Ryan Wolfe Intel inc@i.imap.itd.umich.edu