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Volume 9, Number 1: September 20, 2002

Book Review
The Digital University: Building a Learning Community

Reza Hazemi and Stephen Hailes, Eds.
Springer Verlag (2002), 2nd edition

Reviewed by Patricia Ploetz,
Instructional Technology/Multimedia Coordinator
UW-Stevens Point


The Digital University: Building a Learning Community offers a compendium of articles on current topics in electronic teaching and learning. A few of those topics include online course dynamics, the value of classroom video archives, Lotus Notes, and managing distance learning. To limit the scope of this review, I selected three of the sixteen articles from the broad range of topics represented. All of the articles are good and have individually and collectively added to my knowledge base, while voicing some of my often incoherent thoughts about technology and education.

"eClass" by Jason A Brotherton and Gregory D. Abowd

Of the titles and introductions to the various articles, the following sentence caught my attention: "The eClass project was an attempt to show how automated capture of live lectures for later access by students and teachers can impact the teaching and learning experience" (p. 71). My initial interest ("Wow, no more note-taking!") was immediately followed by "hmm ... a justification for the talking-head streaming video?" I began to wonder how eClass affected teaching. I could understand the possible impact to student learning but could not envision how eClass would impact teaching.

What is eClass? eClass is a research project started by researchers in the Future Computing Environments Group at the College of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Its goal was to eliminate or alleviate the students need to take notes. A burden that the authors felt left the students, "drowning in information because the tools they have [pen and paper] cannot adequately capture the richness of a modern classroom lecture" (p. 71). In other words, they are too busy writing everything down to pay attention. eClass attempted to create a classroom environment in which everything, including notes written by either the student or teacher could be preserved. The class would be automatically captured and archived for later playback or searching, "letting computers do what they do best--record an event in order to free humans to do what they do best; attend to, synthesize and understand what is happening around them, with full confidence that specific details will be available for later perusal" (p.75).

The researchers concluded that 1) eClass did not encourage students to skip class, 2) students found eClass worthwhile 3) faculty who prefer the face to face environment can continue in that environment, while making their entire classroom experience available online.

While I have many questions about the project, I think this is one of those "ideas" that eventually leads to new approaches in teaching and learning in both the face to face and electronic environments.

"Universities, Dearing and the Future" by Reza Hazemi and Stephen Hailes

Hazemi and Hailes discuss the need for a comprehensive approach to asynchronous collaboration in the academic environment. While their frame of reference is the United Kingdom, their message crosses all academic boundaries. The authors examine the need for asynchronous collaborative technologies in four different areas within the university: teaching, research, systems support, and administration. Two statements ring especially true. First, they write, "there is a lack of coherence in the automated systems in a university and it is often the case that data is transferred on paper only to be re-entered elsewhere in a different form" (p. 14). And second: "The adaptation of collaborative technologies requires appropriate technology, adequate resources and staff development, success depends upon the effective management of change" (p. 18). It's clear the authors understand the problems of academic collaborative communication from both a business and educational perspective.

Utilizing the 1997 Dearing Report (National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education chaired by Sir Ron Dearing), they lay out a rationale for asynchronous collaboration in the academic environment. Although the report was written in 1997, what the authors have included in the article is clearly pertinent today. Hazemi and Hailes have successfully identified the problem -- the lack of a comprehensive collaboration mechanism, -- explored the barriers, and made a case for future collaborative needs. However, I would have liked a proposed solution to the problem. Perhaps, they will do a follow-up article?

"Managing Distance Learning: New Challenges for Faculty" by Lisa Kimball

Kimball begins her article by asking "What does the concept of 'wait time' mean for faculty teaching students at a distance? How does one pull up a virtual chair into a circle for creative dialogue?" (p. 27). Ultimately, she articulates the "need for faculty to learn to manage the critical dimensions of the new environment in which their courses are taking place" (p. 27). As Kimball sees them, these dimensions include metaphors, meaning, culture, roles, time, awareness, and collaboration. Through example and clear explanations, she provides practical and realistic tactics for managing the new electronic teaching/learning environment. For example, she writes that "the lack of familiar time frames, such as a class that meets on a certain day every week, makes it hard for students to manage the educational experience" (p. 35). Here Kimball encourages us to set schedules within the course and create time-based guideposts to give the group a feeling of making progress and moving forward.

Managing the ideas of a new educational framework, Kimball maintains, requires a new management mindset. Instructors need to move from the linear approach that is "one-way, centralized and broadcast oriented" to a new mindset, in which teaching and learning is an "ongoing process rather than a program with a fixed starting and ending point, a place where learners participate in the design of their own learning" (p.29). She adds, "The new framework for managing distance learning should be about managing the learning process rather than managing courses" (p. 38). I wholeheartedly agree with Kimball's comments and think those who read her article will find the time well spent.


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