Distance Education Defined

3 Must-Knows on Distance Ed by Joel Shapiro

This article was a good summary of the complexities of the distance education experience.  Distance education (DE) spans the spectrum from synchronous to asynchronous, active learning to more passive learning and structured to more open, less organized, approaches.  Contrary to the popular view, DE allows for a variety of teaching and learning styles while generally increasing flexibility and expanding access to education.  In the future the question may be less about whether we will engage in the DE experience and instead be about what type of DE model works best for your learning style.

One of the more interesting statements in the article is: “No serious distance educator would ever suggest that distance education fully supplants the benefits of a live in-person experience. Rather, we argue that the loss of face-to-face benefits in a classroom can be mitigated in a distance learning environment if students achieve the intended learning outcomes while benefiting from convenience and increased access to higher education.”   I do wonder about the importance of the social experience in the educational environment.  In DE it is often just replaced by a different type of social experience, at least among the less passive types.  One of the main questions in considering this issue is whether we are achieving the desired outcomes and is the social experience one of the desired outcomes?  In today’s marketplace, you’d certainly expect a level of social competency that may be lost in a DE environment.  There are things like synchronous and asynchronous video that approximate the social experience – but is it enough or even necessary?  As DE evolves and the marketplace evolves with it, will it be necessary then?


Blogging and the educational process

Educational Blogging by Stephen Downes

This is my first entry in fulfillment of an assignment for our class entitled, “Technology in Distance Education and e-learning.”  I figured a good place to start was to look at the use of blogging to the educational process.  One of my favorite bloggers to follow, educational researcher Stephen Downes, just happened to have the perfect article to start the ball rolling!   One reason he started his blog was an effort to organize his bookmarks of important material.  This was my thinking as well, as someone who often finds articles worthy of saving for another day.  In the attached article, he explains the benefits of educational blogging.  Teachers use it as a class webpage, as a link to material relevant to course material, to organize in-class discussions and readings, and to encourage students to write and think critically.  Downes sums it up by explaining that blogging “…is about engaging with the content and with the authors of what you have read—reflecting, criticizing, questioning, reacting” and doing so in a way that connects with others on the topic – with the outside community.  This is what makes it different from simply keeping a journal.

These are all excellent reasons to blog.  Another good reason is that you can easily map out, in real time, the evolution of your thought on an issue.  It is no longer a question of, “how did I get here?”  Through the blog, you can see how your thoughts progressed.  That is a nice aspect of learning that typically gets lost in our attempts to understand the world.

One more point that I found interesting – in the comments section of Downes’ blog, one poster states that blogging has become another form of spamming. It’s an interesting idea in that I can see how it could be used that way and I am sure it sometimes is. At the same time, I think there is great utility in linking to quality content and critically analyzing the material. I think it is an additive process.