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.
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.
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.
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.