Re: Experience with Distance Learning Courses

Subject: Re: Experience with Distance Learning Courses
From: Roger Renteria <roger -dot- renteria -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Thu, 30 Aug 2012 12:36:48 -0600

Thank you to everyone who responded to my questions earlier this month. I
greatly appreciate your comments so far! I should have an article about
Distance Learning on TechWhirl in September.


Roger Renteria

On Tue, Aug 21, 2012 at 4:07 AM, sphilip <2551phil -at- gmail -dot- com> wrote:

> Interesting experience Gregory, though it seems you're talking exclusively
> about webinars, whereas online learning need not be about live,
> simultaneous participation. Indeed, I'm just completing my MA in Tech Comm
> delivered online by Sheffield Hallam University in the UK. The course
> didn't' have any webinar sessions, but was instead built around
> asynchronous discussions board/forum participation (via Blackboard). There
> was also some group activities using wikis and Wordpress blogs, Diigo, and
> LinkedIn. Interestingly, we did a module on social networking and its use
> in professional communication (and my thesis is also on online technical
> support communities).
> - How do you feel about the online environment vs. traditional lecture
> As a student, I personally like the onine environment. Not only is that
> because (at least in my course) it is largely text-based communication
> (which I'm more comfortable with) but also because it doesn't require
> travel or particular times to 'attend'. The flexibility is a huge bonus. I
> also enjoy the traditional lecture format so long as certain basic
> requirements are met - a comfortable environment, clear audio and visual
> facilities, structured content and appropriate duration. One thing I like
> about the lecture format is the fact that it is non-participatory. Nothing
> makes me head for the door faster than when I go to a lecture and the
> speakers starts saying things like, "OK, please turn to your partner
> and….". That said, the ideal lecture format should include a reasonable
> time for Q&A afterwards, one of the strengths of the few webinars
> presentations that I've been involved in.
> - What are your advantages or disadvantages with DL courses?
> From a student POV:
> DL Pros: flexibility of time and location; ability to explore topics fully
> on discussion boards both with other students and (depending on the tutor)
> the tutor.
> DL Cons: in my course the only con resulted from some tutors that didn't
> engage in the discussion boards and/or who basically set up a course and
> left the students to participate on their own. There are all sorts of
> reasons why this is bad, both pedagogically and psychologically, but I'll
> leave you to draw your own conclusions.
> From an institutional POV
> DL Pros: market expansion. Obviously, if enrolment in an institution is
> not restricted by proximity and physical presence, this opens up huge
> markets for institutions to sell their expertise. Overheads are also, of
> course, vastly reduced. While I think quality courses still need to
> restrict numbers to ensure sufficient feedback and interaction with tutors,
> the fact that the students are providing their own learning space including
> seat, lighting, power, air-conditioning etc is a huge saving for
> institutions.
> DL Cons: Doing it right requires investment in both people and resources
> at startup. One of the biggest problems I think for institutions to take
> advantage of this expanding market is realising that staff who are great
> 'on the ground' might not be either equipped or proficient at teaching
> online. There's a shortage of online educational specialists, it seems to
> me, and institutions that try to set these courses up with the attitude
> that 'anyone can do it' risk harming their brand and providing poor-quality
> education service to students.
> - Do you feel it's worth taking DL courses?
> Yes, certainly, and I think they're only going to become more widely
> available going forward. The pros outweigh the cons. I think from a
> student's POV you have to be a bit more of an independent learner, a bit
> more self-disciplined, and bit more responsible and a bit more
> self-confident to reach out (either to other students or staff) when you
> feel isolated or need help. For these reasons, I think DL courses, as they
> increase, will see a lot of dissatisfaction - partly from poorly designed
> courses, partly staff who are not expert at teaching through the medium (or
> resent having to teach that way), and students who are not ideally suited
> to independent home study.
> - Do you still get the same kind of instructor to student interaction
> attending courses online?
> That's a 'yes and no' kind of question! Yes, in the sense that you have
> more direct access to tutors; the text-based medium makes it easier to
> approach them and to be forthright with one's queries/problems. On the
> other hand, if someone just ignores your posts/emails, there's no way you
> can go hunt them down such as by stand outside their office and so on!
> - Would you like to share any positive or negative experiences with your
> courses?
> Well, I did have some negative experiences which I won't share the details
> of here, but suffice to say they revolved around a particular tutor and his
> lack of professionalism. However, that could just as easily occur in a
> traditional course as an online course. I certainly did get the feeling
> that some of the tutors - who presumably were also teaching traditional
> lectures at the university - didn't put in enough effort to the discussion
> boards. I felt - but have no evidence - that some of the tutors may have
> seen teaching an online module as of secondary importance to their 'real'
> classes. What motivational pull do the needs of a disembodied, distal
> audience have on a harried tutor who's always got a several dozen or more
> 'real' students to deal with in the lecture hall or seminar group after
> lunch? I think these kind of problems really need to be addressed at the
> institutional level, rather than seen as faults of the individual tutors
> concerned. We all place proximal stressors higher up the priority list than
> distal ones.
> As for positive experiences, yes. My particular course was led by a very
> committed, very experienced online educator who was expert in both
> motivating students with appropriately structured and timed activities and
> ameliorating the problems that can arise from online study. All in all, I
> would say DL studying method suits me better than the traditional format,
> but much depends on how well the course is put together and how
> committed/trained all the tutors involved are at handling students through
> a text-based medium.
> Hope this helps.
> Best
> Phil

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Experience with Distance Learning Courses: From: Roger Renteria
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