Final Distance Learning Essay.

Well, I have to say that this was one of the most interesting classes that I've yet to take here at Berkeley. I really enjoyed having the chance to participate in a class with students from another University. I know I said something to this effect in one of my earlier essays, but I didn't realize how used to what I can only describe as a Berkeley mind set I'd become. With half the class in Ann Arbor,I almost felt as if I was participating in a summer abroad type of course - the kind where you get to interact with people from all over the world...well obviously that's a bit broad..but sometimes I really did get the feeling that I was actually *in* Michigan experiencing the differences and similarities in the way that different people see themselves and the world. Of course, right about the time my reverie was becoming almost believable, there would be some sort of tech glitch, a momentary video lock,or a loud electronic screech and the illusion would escape and I would find myself in the throes of a left brain attack, analyzing everything and everyone to my own detriment.

For those of us who are unable to experience taking a semester abroad or whatever, a distance learning set-up like the one we're using seems to me to be the next best thing. What I would really like to see happen is to have this technology used to link classrooms from all over the world. For example, I think it would be a great way to integrate language studies by having english speakers and French speakers get to practice/tutor one that would be wild.

I've given a lot of thought to whether this type of dislocated learning is going to eventually get lumped in with the likes of Americanized commercial television and other forms of the electronic spectacle, and while I'm not prepared to wholly endorse it, I do think that digital bandwidth is only going to increase and that people will continue to find new ways to incorporate the new into the old - let's face it, people have been talking about live 2-way video/audio classroom settings since the sixties...The idea is old even if the technology is somewhat new.

If these technologies are going to alienate us( as many assert) further from some essential nature of ourselves, then I think that is what is going to happen, and there isn't much that we can do to prevent it *if* we stay ensconced in the vortex of our collective seduction with technology as a replacement for the real. To put things another way, technology, ie: computers, high bandwidth networks, interactive media etc. can and should be used to help us to imagine or view a particular experience, but I don't think we should rush headlong into a world where they become a total substitute for the experience itself. I think most people, if given the opportunity, would prefer to do their own flying rather than climb into a noisy coffin of a machine and go roaring off into the clouds. Machines are great when they help us do what we can't already do ourselves. If they are to become a replacement for something, than I want/expect/demand that they be *so* real that I need never return to performing the act that they are designed to simulate.

If we look at the experience of reading a book as another example, I think the dynamic can be articulated with an additional degree of clarity. Neither a 150mhz work station with a 25" monitor nor a lap top on the deck of my boat in the Caribbean coupled to a satellite in geosynchronous orbit can yet replace the experience of holding a book in my hands and reading. They can allow me to read a book, and perhaps one day in the very near future I will be able to update my library on that boat with a verbal command. But they aren't yet a substitute for the intensely personal experience that one has while reading a book. Lap tops really don't lend themselves to long lazy sessions under an umbrella in 95 degree heat and 98% humidity, someday perhaps..but not yet. Since reading and print doesn't really constitute an evolution over a prior technology in this respect( I reject the idea that reading builds upon oral story telling or theater, since these are not solitary activities and are often quite interactive, social, and dynamic... yes a book is made of printed words which are themselves symbols of spoken languages...but the printed words on the pages of the book are petrified remnants of the living language which stopped long enough to be captured like some fly alighting on prehistoric tree sap), it is hard to draw parallels between pre and post literate cultural changes in relation to how these new forms of media are changing the way we interact with our brains and the media and with each other. We just don't have enough empirical data yet to begin to predict how these technologies are changing us.

So to get back to Distance Learning...From a technical aspect, I think things went really well. I didn't feel weird about using a television screen as an interface between myself and other members of the class. I didn't really mind the few technical glitches, I *really* liked having the newspaper articles up on the web site instead of having paper handouts every day or(heaven forbid) a big ole fat use-once-and-then- discard- reader from kinko's Copy for $65+. I was a little discouraged by the regimented nature of the discussions, but this seemed to be the only available way to allow for any coherent discussion to occur without losing what little interaction was available within the confines of the current system. All in all, I think the class was a great experience and I would recommend it to anyone.

Go back to my home page