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.
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.
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?
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.