Selecting Distance Education Technologies

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Talking about distance education is talking about communication. All teaching is about the teacher communicating knowledge to the learners, and they in their return communicating their questions to be able to learn more. How that communication take place, depends on the content of the course, where the course take place and the teacher’s knowledge about all the different ways of communication.

In the early days of distance education, the communication was through the written word being sent back and forth with the post delivery system between instructor and learner (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012, p.37). Today we use the Internet and suddenly we have a vast variety to choose from to be able to communicate.  We can choose one-way communication or two-way communication. We can choose between asynchronous or synchronous communication. The best part is we can use all of it in the same course. As Simonson et al (2012, p.115) puts it; “The key to success in an online classroom is not which technologies are used, but how they are used and what information is communicated using the technologies”.

In this assignment, we could choose between three different scenarios and then we are going to suggest what technologies the scenario could use. I choose a scenario about collaborative training environment. The scenario is about an implementation of training workshops for an automated staff information system, and since the staff is located in different offices they cannot meet at the same time and in the same location. However, the staff members should still share information (screen captures and documents) and participate in ongoing collaboration.

Reading this scenario made me directly think of Wikis. A wiki is a webpage (or several) where anyone can contribute with content. Therefore, it is an “excellent tool for collaborative online writing assignments and group activity” (Simonson et.al. 2012, p.129). In many CMS, you can find this feature included. If it is not included there are wiki applications that can be installed in a server at the company or education institution.  Most Wikis are free to download, like MediaWiki or TikiWiki (“Top Ten Wiki Engines”, 2013), but if you want to you can pay to be part of someone else solutions. Like, for example, Zoho (“Zoho”, 2013) that I found when searching the Internet.  Using a Wiki could be difficult in the beginning, especially for completely new users. Make sure there are good help pages that explain in easy ways how to add content.

I am using a wiki in my course about Web design where I let the students add links to good web sites about HTML, CSS, accessibility, design, and tools to use. Many of my students have added a lot of good examples. So for the scenario mentioned above, a wiki could easily be a place to share information and even documents and in that way they are collaborating.

Another tool that might be so obvious that we do not need to mention it is a discussion forum. Forum could be used in so many different ways, for Q & A, to discuss particular problems, to discuss anything, and to collaborate around various subjects. This is an asynchronous way of communicating (as is a wiki), but considering that the staff in the scenario could not meet at the same time asynchronous communication is the only answer.

 

References

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Top Ten Wiki Engines. (2013). Retrieved from http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?TopTenWikiEngines

Zoho. (2013). Retrieved from https://www.zoho.com/

 

Defining Distance Learning

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My first meeting with a distance course was a correspondence course in mathematic. I wanted to brush up my knowledge before my University study started. I got the material, read and solved the math-problems, sent it in and got it back corrected and with the next part to do. It worked alright to study like this, but I was left on my own. Sure I could contact the instructors to get help, but I never did.

Four years later I had taken my Bachelor in Software Engineering, and before I had a chance to search a programmer job I was asked to come back to the department at the University, to assist in the newly made distance education program in Software Engineering. No one of my formerly teacher, now colleagues had any experience, but we started three education programs anyway. That was 2004, and we used Moodle as a LMS. These first years the distance courses had text telling what to read in the course book, some pdf with extra material, and assignments to do and upload. There were also forum for questions. It was rather simple but well organized, and the students liked it.

I remained at the department and became a regular teacher, and we continued to have distance program at the same time as we had campus program. We all were interested in the technology that turned up as well as trying them out. When we added lessons on film to a course, students demanded it on every other course we had. Today, almost 9 years later our courses are very different from when we started. And there is still so much more to understand  and learn in order to develop the courses even better.

So, my definition of distance learning is that it is about education where students and teacher are not in the same place, and the material/resources can be everything from written text to real-time lessons. We use technology in different ways to present the resources in a pedagogical way, but it is still the students’ responsibility to learn, to do, to plan their time and work. Unfortunately, many people still believe that distance learning is easy, you do not have to work as much as if you are at campus. They believe that the flexibility of distance learning mean doing the course whenever they want, however they want, and preferable as little as possible.

After reading the course literature for this first week at the course Distance Learning at Walden, I can see that my definition is not far off from others. The new thing in the definition was that it should be institutionally based (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012), although that felt obvious.

One comment in the course book (Teaching and Learning at a Distance) is about the talk about a virtual school as something quasi or pseudo, something that is not real. Any of us that have done distance study know it is real, very real. Simonson et al.(2012) writes “Some are advocating for the field of distance education to find better words that virtual to describe the process of educating using technology without the need for the instructor and the learner to be in the same location, or for them to communicating at the same time”. At our department, we usually talk about net based learning, and not so much about where the students are. We use the same technology for the online students as for the campus students. Most of my lessons are held at the campus,  and they are streamed through Adobe Connect. I also record them through Adobe Connect and post them afterwards for all students to watch afterwards. We use Moodle for all resources and all students (online and campus) will get them through that classroom and upload their assignments there.

I think that, in the future, we will see a greater variety of online courses. Everything from courses similar to correspondence courses to courses where you have to be in place at your computer to follow lectures being streamed.  We see some of it already now, like MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) with thousands of students taking the course at the same time, and courses that you can start whenever you want.

 

Making mindmaps is something I find difficult to do, but I give it a try. It shows my definition of distance learning, and I added some of the way I work with it.

Distance Learning

 

 

 

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.