Separated by distance, connected through a screen – online education.

My experience with distance education has been fairly minimal. This is my fourth online class as a graduate student and I took one as an undergrad way back in 2007…or 2006. Although the classes are online, I have never really consider them to be included as distance education. I guess that’s because I live in the same city that the courses are being offered, but just because I live in the same city the courses are being offered doesn’t mean they aren’t distance education courses. They are exactly that. Tony Bates describes what distance education looks like:

Students can study in their own time, at the place of their choice (home, work or learning centre), and without face-to-face contact with a teacher.

Photo Credit: MyTudut Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: MyTudut Flickr via Compfight cc

Obviously technology and the internet play a huge role in this process. I think it’s important to discuss the different ways that these courses can take place. Our courses are synchronous meaning that they happen at the same time for everyone. There is a specific time and place that we need to be online to participate in the class each week. Another way the course can be presented is asynchronously  in which participants work at their own pace completing modules or learning tasks by a specific date. And the last way a course can be offered is through a blended method. A blended classroom offers both online and face-to-face components.

There are advantages and disadvantages to all methods of learning online. I have found that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages by far. The biggest advantage for me has been the convenience of being able to work from home. Working as a teacher and having two toddlers at home makes this method ideal for me. I also appreciate the collaboration and network that is created within the class through the media we use. A disadvantage for me is that I find it harder to stay focused during class as well as be productive outside of class. This goes back to a previous post of mine discussing the internet and productivity. 

I don’t know that I would enjoy an asynchronous method because I feel like I need the ability to connect with others. Luke did a really good job discussing the importance of making the connections and establishing networks while we learn. This is something that we need to consider when we are looking at how courses are delivered. If I had to base the course offering method solely on how students are able to connect obviously I would put synchronous first, followed by blended and then asynchronous. However, this order would change depending on what factor we are looking at. For example, asynchronous might be best for those people who have busy schedule that would be better suited by the flexibility of the course.

Photo Credit: Janitors Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Janitors Flickr via Compfight cc

Like many of my classmates have already mentioned, zoom is a great tool to use for an online class. Stephanie talks about the user friendly aspect of zoom as well as the social aspect and I would have to agree that they are both positives in my mind as well. Since most of us in class are familiar with zoom I won’t go into too many details about the usefulness of the platform but I will take some time to talk about Google Hangouts because I was just introduced to it this weekend at an SBTA meeting. At our meeting we were trying to find a more user friendly way to collaborate and meet rather than having some people travel from 2+ hours away to have these monthly meetings. I had suggested Zoom because I am familiar with it and another teacher mentioned Google Hangouts (learn more here). Both tools can be used for free with certain restrictions on the free accounts.

Photo Credit: Piyushgiri Revagar Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Piyushgiri Revagar Flickr via Compfight cc

As Elizabeth mentioned in her blog, it’s great that we are trying to create more online learning opportunities through videos or online content, but we have to remember that adding a computer to stream content is not too different than us teaching the content at the front of the class. I strongly encourage you to read Audrey Watters take on online education. Audrey makes it very clear that providing content using the web doesn’t change how we are teaching it or the way students are learning the materials. The web allows us to do so much more than simply read, write and listen. We are able to connect and collaborate with others from great distances. We can choose what we learn and how we want to learn the material. We need to remember that many of the platforms we use online control a lot of what we do by using templates and algorithms creating these “template selves”.  Online education will not reach it’s full potential until we can break free from these templates and create our own information, our own learning experience and share our own thoughts.

Regardless of the learning method used online I feel very strongly that there needs to be a social and emotional connection between the learners as well as the teacher in the class. Zoom allows us to connect with each other in ways that we may not be able to in a face to face class. It allows communication to always be flowing through discussion in the chat and allows us to share resources using links. Having said all of this I haven’t taken a blended or asynchronous course before, have you? What did you find were the advantages and disadvantages? Do you feel that we need to have a social connection within our learning environment to learn? Can we have those same connections through a chat or email? Or does that make it more difficult? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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9 thoughts on “Separated by distance, connected through a screen – online education.

  1. Good thoughts Ashley. I took the CPR/First Aid as a blended learning course and I really enjoyed learning the information online at my own pace and then going to the session where we did the practical part. I’m not sure how that would look in a classroom setting but maybe somewhat similar to a flipped classroom? Something to think about for sure.

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    • I like the sounds of that. I think that working at your own pace is a huge advantage and I think that students would thrive from this as well. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  2. Hey Ashley! Great post! The standardized version of online courses, particularly the asynchronous ones, are doing a disservice to the potential of online courses. There is so much opportunity for incredible growth, but like you said, it needs to be personalized with our own teaching methods and lessons. I’m just not sure how to do that yet!

    Now I have never used Google hangouts. How is it in comparison to Zoom?

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    • Google Hangouts seemed to be really similar to zoom, you can video chat, text chat and share screens. There was only 3 of us who tried it out so I don’t know what the limit is for people in a group, but when I was looking into it more yesterday I came across a site that said you can only have up to 10 people in the group. I’m not sure if the source was reliable, but if that is the case, the free version of zoom might be better. I personally love zoom and really like that we can use it for our small groups to meet outside of class without having to get together in person. Anytime I can save myself a trip to the university and I’m all for it! Thanks for reading Liz.

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  3. Great post Ashley! I may be the odd one out but I actually e joy asynchronous classes and feel like I learn a lot from them. I like the fact that you work at your own pace. We still had opportunities to connect through discussion posts, but there was definitely no traditional teaching. I liked that I could.take as much or little time as I needed learning the content. I also tend to be an introvert, and I work with people all day. So it is nice for me to be on my own in the evenings. I sometimes find face-to-face courses completely draining. However, I do appreciate Alec’s format using zoom as well and like all the opportunities there are to learn from my peers.

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    • That’s great to hear Naomi! It’s nice that there are different options for people so that they can find something that works for them. I do think I would like the idea of working at my own pace too, but I fear I would procrastinate and make things more difficult for myself than they need to be haha. I hear you on the introvert part as well so I can see that being a draw to an asynchronous format. Alec’s classes have definitely made me step out of my comfort zone though so I am thankful for that. Thanks for commenting!

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  4. I love this bit …

    “Audrey Watters take on online education. Audrey makes it very clear that providing content using the web doesn’t change how we are teaching it or the way students are learning the materials. The web allows us to do so much more than simply read, write and listen. We are able to connect and collaborate with others from great distances. We can choose what we learn and how we want to learn the material. We need to remember that many of the platforms we use online control a lot of what we do by using templates and algorithms creating these “template selves”. Online education will not reach it’s full potential until we can break free from these templates and create our own information, our own learning experience and share our own thoughts.”

    I hope that this will be one of the key take-aways from the course – that the tools we choose really truly affect our learning experience – and what does this mean for both the developers of these tools and for the educators and institutions that adopt these tools. What does it mean for what types of learning are valued?

    Great post – also, love your continued reference to your classmates!

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  5. I also struggle with maintaining focus in an online class…and I don’t have 2 toddlers at home! Although the course is somewhat “face-to-face”, I find my mind wanders and I have a harder time holding myself accountable when not in a room with others. With that being said, the convenience and flexibility of an online course is really appreciated and is a nice change of pace amongst other classes that are only offered at the university.

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