Sunday, November 21, 2010

Long Distance Learning

Some say that the best learning is a boy at one end of a log and a teacher at the other end of the log.  The symbolism is that an adult can teach a child important things one on one.  Over the years I've daydreamed about this image of one on one.  Can we make the log longer?  How far away can a teacher be and still be effective?  I've already told you that I enrolled in a University of Michigan course on Abnormal Psychology in which I read a textbook, did assignments after looking at subject (fellow band members) who may have had those characteristics discussed in that chapter.  Then I would send in my assignment and someone at U of M would read, correct, and send it back to me.  Those assignments kept me sane in an insane world at that time.  

Perhaps it was that course that got me interested in "distant education."  Why do we have to always put students together in a room to learn?   Quite frankly, it is economics--it's cheaper to do it that way.  But the evidence is out there.  People by themselves can learn many things.  We don't always need a classroom.  If we can believe Doris Kern Goodwin, the historian, Abraham Lincoln learned much of his law degree from books reading at night.  Seems feasible to me.  And so given the above data, I have been interested in how we can use "Distant Learning" to assist those that want to learn.  

First, a caveat. There are those that don't want to go to the effort to learn but want the degree and so they "buy" them.  We had a mail house college in this state and I'm glad to say that it was investigated and shut down but not before a number of rather important people bought a degree from them.   Accreditation becomes an important part in this study of distance learning.  There are some sites on the Internet that can recommend universities and colleges that have accredited plans of study....a few stay in touch with this blog and perhaps they will leave a comment as to their web address.

My first experience with distant learning was with a college class dealing with instructional media (films, overhead projection, 35 mm slides, realia, sound recordings, television, etc.).  However, a local commercial television station wanted to air a university course and so I decided to teach my class in Instructional Media in the university's rather small at that time television studio.  I would teach like I always did in front of the classroom, use the media like I always did but the only difference would be two rather large studio television cameras which would roll about the room videoing me and the students in the class. That and some faces looking down at us from a "control" room.  Although the course was scheduled in the catalog as a three hour evening class for ten weeks, I decided to break each evening into two parts thereby presenting the television station with two one hour tapes which they could play as they so wish.  They would play the tapes twice a week, I suspect, at a slow hour.  I then told the class that after the first week they need not come to class but could watch the class on their television station.  They would be required to attend the final exam.

The first weeks class went off pretty much without a problem.  I demo'd some equipment, some learning stuff and the class sat there and watched.  I asked questions and got less then normal responses.  And the student didn't ask questions....why would they?  As soon as they raised a hand, one camera or the other would slowly roll and focus on them.  They could see the monitors around the room--they were on TV!  It was not conducive for teacher/student interaction.

The next week (in which they could have stay home and watched) most of the class returned to the studio classroom.....better dressed.  Although this was the height of the hippy era, some had put aside the acceptable student dress and had chosen more acceptable social dress that adults were wearing.  Interesting.

But like a coach I watched the first two tapes and noted something fascinating.  While I was lecturing or showing something to the class, the director in the booth would have the camera people get "shots" on how the students were reacting to what I was saying.  And nine out of ten of those shots were female students in my class--where were the guys?  So for the second week I demanded that the television camera personnel be female.  As I suspected when viewing the second weeks tapes I found almost the opposite.  More guys were "shot" reacting then the gals.  I had found a problem with my "gate keepers" with the visuals.  I had then to educate the director up in the booth that we had to have equal shots of guys and gals.

But the other interesting thing was that the class continued to "dress up" and even when I challenged them on this subject, they said they weren't dressing up for the class.  

We did ten weeks of video recording of that class and very few, perhaps maybe two, elected to view the course on their television monitor at home. But sometimes they came to class as well.   Course work that the students had to turn in remain fairly high--equally as good as my other section which was not being televised.  Final test grades were also similar.  One thing that I didn't measure was if a person came to class AND then also watched the class on television.

So I concluded that the students in this section of the Instructional Media course (3 credits) learned as much as those in a non-televised sectioned.  But I had to conclude that offering this class as "distant learning" didn't seem to work.  The students kept coming to class when they had the option to stay home.  But there was another interesting piece of data that came to light.

I quite often had my classes evaluate me and the class.  This was done just before the final examination.  These evaluations were not seen by me until the following quarter so that there would be no possible influence on the students' grades.  This time the evaluation was in the cellar.  They didn't like the class, they didn't like me, they thought it was a waste of time....believe me I wouldn't have gotten a pay raise based on this class' evaluations.  It remained to the end of my career the lowest evaluation I ever received.

But there is a strange twist to all of this.  Students who took that course seemed to remember more of what I said and did and to the best of my knowledge "used" the learning in their other classes.  Also, over time I would visit some schools and a teacher would say "they had been in my televised course on media."  They still remembered it.  

My evaluation of the evaluation is that the students really didn't like the television cameras zooming in on them all the time and they really disliked it when I would ask them a question or an opinion.  Damn, here comes that camera again.  But it did keep the class more at attention.  There was no sleeping in this class and no chatting in the back rows.  You stayed alert because you never knew when that camera would catch you.  By the way the ratings at the station were also low although I did receive one letter from up in British Columbia that said I continually mispronounced a word.  Since I don't speak Canadian, I'm sure the letter writer is correct.

I'll write about "forced attention" in a later blog.  And I have more "distant learning" experiences to share with you.  It is, in my opinion, a viable learning opportunity.

If you have had a distant learning class in your background, let me know.  I'd like to hear from you.

I'd like to thank all those teachers who now communicate learning from their computers and their smart phones.  What a task.  Nice going.  Have you thanked a teacher today?

1 comment:


    Are you at the ABD destination in your program?

    There are two types of Ph.D. candidates that fall into this category:

    1) The "just arrived" and anxious to move forward.

    2) The "been there for awhile" and think they will never move forward.

    While both types might require help to move on, it is the latter that is likely to derive the most benefit from this article and become motivated to complete, perhaps, the most important event in their life.

    You are intelligent enough to have come this far, there is no reason (from an academic stand point) to linger in the "ABD Zone." The longer you are there, the more difficult it becomes to pick up the pieces and move forward.

    Many Ph.D. candidates seem to hit a brick wall and feel disarmed when called upon to work on the "methods" and "results" section of their dissertation. This is the point where many students diligently search for help calling on their mentor, peers, university assistance and even Google. This is also the time when the student may ask themselves the question "HOW MUCH HELP IS TOO MUCH"?

    For complete article: