Home > Educational Technology, Teaching & Learning > The Classroom Is ‘Distance Learning’; the Web Is Connected Learning

The Classroom Is ‘Distance Learning’; the Web Is Connected Learning

By Trent Batson

Some lament the isolating or distancing affects of the Web; yet, for educators, the Web can actually reconnect us with the natural, holistic process of learning. The Web, in fact, brings us closer to how humans learned for millennia before the five-century-long print disruption that truly was isolating and distancing.

From the first bits of clothing and the first sharpened stones, humans have augmented their capabilities with technologies. Our civilization now is so built-out that we literally live within our technologies: our homes, clothing, cars, infrastructure, even our human-developed language. These technologies mediate our reality: keeping us warmer or cooler than the atmosphere but also mediating between each other, as language does. We think of language as a way to connect, but it can also be a way to distance, to carefully avoid physical combat through negotiation, and even to separate us from each other. Considering all of the technologies humans live with or within, it is easy to understand the power of the simple phrase “what we make, makes us.”

Continued at: http://campustechnology.com/articles/2011/05/18/the-classroom-is-distance-learning-while-the-web-is-connected-learning.aspx

  1. May 22, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Distance Education Begins at Twelve Feet

    Most people think that distance education requires instructor and students to be physically separated by time, distance or both. I would like to offer a new definition that permits instructors and students to be in the same room at the same time. Under my definition, in addition to being separated in time and space, the separation may also include psychological separation, also known as cognitive distance. I have indicated this by suggesting that this psychological separation can typically begin at twelve feet. Why twelve feet? Twelve feet is the usual distance between the teacher’s station and the second row of seats in a typical lecture style classroom with tablet-arm chairs. Many instructors find it difficult to generate and keep cognitive connection with students outside the front row of a class. Most instructors have found that if a class has “open seating, without assigned seats,” the students who sit in the front row are usually very interested in the class. Students who are less interested will tend to sit further back in the classroom. This means instructors will have to work harder to keep those students connected, interested and learning in the class.
    Most surveys of faculty and students indicate that the lecture modality is the most used course delivery system today. There are other modalities, such as discussion, seminar classes and blended modalities that are gaining in popularity, but lectures are still number 1. In the 1970’s, surveys of students and faculty suggested that in as many as 90% of all courses, the predominant teaching mode was the lecture. Even with the emphases of the 1990’s on active learning and using teaching styles geared to student learning styles, as late as 2000, surveys of students and faculty were showing that still in approximately 75% of all courses, the dominant teaching mode was the lecture.
    A straight lecture modality can be characterized as a “jug and mugs” approach. In such an approach, the instructor brings a jug that is full of ideas or content to the classroom and has the students hold out their individual mugs, and the instructor fills them up from the big jug. It has derisively been described as the transfers of knowledge from the instructor’s notes to the students’ notes without touching the minds of either. If we really consider the operational aspects of this approach, there is no necessity for the instructor to be physically present. Why have faculty remained loyal to the lecture? I believe the lecture is the most popular modality because instructors are most comfortable with this style. It was the way they were taught and the way they learned. They are just modeling what their instructors and mentors did. Plus, there are few rewards to experiment with different modalities. Instructors have little or no access to developmental resources to do something different. Short of no preparation, where the instructor goes into class and “wings it,” the lecture is the easiest modality for which to prepare and to use. It is hard work trying to come up with learning artifacts or objects to engage students in compelling problems that direct their learning in other ways toward the desired goal of learning specific things or ideas.
    The “jug and mugs” pedagogy grows out of a “tabula rasa” or “blank slate” approach to teaching, where the teacher has all of the knowledge and the students possess blank slates that the teacher then writes on. This model of education is not congruent with the best of today’s or even yesterday’s theories of learning. From brain and learning theory research, we know that students are more apt to remember and understand things in which they have a real interest and things of which they have had some experience. We have to link new knowledge to current knowledge and we need a reason to do so. Brain research also suggests that we are more able to make connections if we perform activities related to the item or idea. Confucius knew this 2500 years ago when he said, “If I read or hear something, I forget it, if I see it, I remember it. If I do it, I understand it.” Current research with well-functioning adults has found that after three months, these adults retain only 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, 50 % of what they see and hear, and 70% of what they say or write. These are great rules of thumb to use in the preparation of lesson plans and presentations. If you can involve the audience in the topic, they will have a much greater chance of remembering what you were trying to say. However, the research goes on to show that these adults will retain more than 90% of what they say while doing something that illustrates it. This should become our guiding force in the preparation of learning assignments.
    Dr. William Pfohl, former president of the National Association of School Psychologists in discussing how adults and children learn has said, “The best process to ensure learning take places is to guarantee the individual sees it, hears it, and then gets some experience using it. And that way it’s most likely to stick.”
    If distance learning begins at twelve feet because it is difficult to connect with students in the second row when they are in the same room, then wouldn’t that suggest that distance learning via other means is impossible? I don’t think so. There is a whole body of literature that speaks to engaging students via distance learning technologies. Conversely, if we can engage students that are hundreds of miles away, why can’t we engage students, that are physically in our presence in the same classroom? We can and must do a better job in both venues.

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