ILS 609: Final Comments

Final Comments on Distance Learning
April 7, 1995
Tom Turner

All semester long, I've been telling people about this class. Everyone reacts with some shock and amazement at the technology and strangeness of the idea of having classes so far apart work together. What surprises me is how quickly the technology has been normalized. The increasing problems with technologies have not seemed as strange or annoying as the initial well-working technology seemed. Among others things, the class seems to have grown accustomed to dealing with a whole new set of social conventions around speaking. As the technologies break up and cause problems, these social conventions come into more active involvement in ways of helping the class to progress.

There are some things that I have become more attuned to as the semester has gone on. In particular, I have noticed the new importance that the attention of the instructor plays in this environment. Students in the classroom with the instructor speak more often than students in the classroom without the instructor. This is largely due to the fact that the instructor's attention is drawn to the class in front of him or her. Students in the remote classroom become more remote and are acknowledged far less often. In this environment, which requires more formality and politeness than traditional classrooms, waiting to be ackowledged becomes more important. When one classroom is not recognized for an extended period of time (as often happens), students tend not to attempt to speak. The parlimentary language I am using is significant here. Interactions in this environment become somewhat more rigid than they might under other circumstances.

We might find, with the use of distance learning technology, that a new pedagogy is needed. For larger classes, a more structured (almost lecture) format might be more appropriate since students will inevitably be excluded from the conversation. For smaller classes, tighter camera angles and more attempts to have students speak by presenting issues may work more effectively. I am really struck by the impact that teaching methods have on the experience of distance learning.

Some of the interactions in the classroom have changed over the course of the semester. As most people have learned the names of the students who speak often, it has become far less common for students to identify themselves as they speak. When the technology causes problems, students are more accepting or amused by the problems rather than disturbed by them. What has changed the most however is the understnading of social conventions and interactions in this environment.