Communicating With Technologies Through Distance Education

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This paper presents a review of diverse studies and articles that discuss the increasing movement of distance education and online courses. Contained in the research, is a detailed look at the overwhelming trend of online learning and its visible improvement compared to a traditional classroom situation. As all our experiences demonstrate, with the positive also comes the negative. This is no different and these negatives are also shared and explored. In conjunction with this information, the advantages and disadvantages to taking online classes are fully examined, as well as, how teachers and students perceive education provided by both distance education and the traditional classroom environment. The dynamic of course does change, however with the changing technological world; these computer based courses can take their place in the rapid evolution of the educational family.

Online Learning

Twenty years ago, most educators could not have imagined an instructional environment comprised of distance learning and internet based courses. This technology enables education to be available to the masses and reach people who otherwise could not attend a traditional classroom. Distance education has exploded over the last couple of years and has progressed from a fringe idea of obtaining an advanced degree, with little or no economic or prestigious value, to a truly viable tool for advancing ones' educational career. In spite of its apparent recent popularity, distance education methods can be traced back more than a hundred years to the 19th century when improvements in postal services paved the way for correspondence courses (Clardy 2009).

Online learning approaches are often associated with collaborative constructivist views of learning. These initiatives have capitalized on the potential to connect people and rethink passive

pedagogical methods common to higher education( Garrison 2009).Those in online learning have made the case for collaborative learning processes, activities and assignments that go beyond content access and interaction. Garrison and Cleveland-Innes (2005) argued that interaction is not enough for students to take a deep and meaningful approach to learning online. The nature of the interaction must be more structured and systematic if a collaborative process of critical inquiry is to be initiated and sustained. Various interactions must be integrated in a coherent and purposeful manner that initiates and facilitates critical discourse and which purposefully moves toward meaning and understanding. This represents a qualitative and transformative shift in how we approach teaching and learning. From this we conclude that there are two fundamental approaches to online learning.

First, is to provide the tools and techniques for individuals to access and organize information to sustain existing distance education practices that maximize learner independence.

Second, is to use the full capabilities of online learning to create purposeful communities of inquiry that is currently transforming higher education based on collaborative constructivist principles. In essence, the first approach is to sustain current practices, while the second is to transform teaching and learning at a distance by fundamentally rethinking the collaborative nature of higher education (Garrison, 2009).

In The Intersection of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning with Online Course Design in Teacher Education, Online courses in teacher education have the added responsibility of modeling "best practices" in online design and online facilitation due to a substantial increase of online courses offered in K-12 schools (Lee, 2009).

The study employed a web-based survey investigating graduate students' perceptions of effectiveness of various learning activities in an online teacher education course designed to teach instructional strategies (Lee, 2009). The study found, in response to the open-ended survey question asking the students to identify the most effective learning activity, the field experience activities were rated among the highest. The field experience was perceived as the most valuable component of the course (Lee, 2009). In conjunction with students' suggestions for having fewer and more meaningful activities, decreasing the number of activities and integrating the course activities more closely with the field experience is warranted (Lee, 2009).

Distance learning, assists people, in diverse situations, to finish their education along with further developing avenues comprised of a wide range of technologies. This promotes a greater base of knowledge, since not only is the subject matter explored and learned, but also the delivery system that caries the information from the instructor to the student becomes a vital link in the success of the online class. If the online student is less than savvy, when operating a computer, it would be necessary for the learner to gain awareness of the system providing the class instruction.

While it seems incomprehensible some of the student population would lack basic computer skills, it is none the less a reality. Therefore, not only would the online student reap the benefits of the online experience, they would gain valuable understanding in computer skills and awareness.

Traditional (Face to Face) vs. Online

How do I learn best? Always questioning education, and what learning style works for you, many studies have been trying to answer this very same question. While studies comparing traditional versus other forms of distance education go back a number of years, there is been a consistent and growing body of research since the early 1980's that has addressed the fundamental questions about whether on-line education is as good as traditional, face-to-face instruction (Clardy, 2009).

The study by Dellana, Collins and West (2000) is illustrative of the typical research paradigm used. Two sections of the same quantitatively oriented management science course were compared. This course, typically taken by junior level students, was taught by the same instructor, and covered the same content with approximately equal class size and instructional approach. The traditional version was taught in a lecture format with Power Point visuals, while the on-line course presented the same material online to students who could not or wished to avoid attending the classroom lecture. The on-line portion of the course included lecture material with Power Point format along with a discussion room and e-mail. There was a total of 221 participating students (70 in the traditional course format); 7% of students in the traditional course dropped out vs. 11% in the online version. All exams for both sections were given in an on-campus classroom. There was no statistically significant difference between the traditional and the online versions on average scores (Clardy, 2009). The "no significant difference" finding indicated that the online instruction was as effective as in-class instruction (Clardy, 2009).

Online Advantages

As a mother of a small child and a full time teacher, I completely understand and embrace the advantages of online classes. The flexibility of setting my own schedule and working at my own pace promotes a much simpler and effective scheduling arrangement. At this time it would not be possible for me to attend a standard face to face class, but what I discovered was by taking the online classes I have developed a more innovative and independent self evaluation of myself as a learner.

As stated in the article Leading Leadership Preparatio: 21st Centry Designs, a large numbers of graduate students are seeking quality leadership preparation programs that provide both learning flexibility and convenience at a reasonable price. Asynchronous online courses provide students with schedule flexibility, decreased travel expenses and decreased travel time commitments. These online courses are particularly attractive to working professionals, students with parental responsibilities and students residing in remote geographic areas (Farmer, 2010).

Another advantage about online classes, is my course materials are available to me at all times. With my classes I have the capability to read and re-read instructions, discussions, explanations, and comments, before I produce the end product. Time and again when you are in a traditional classroom the spoken material may be lost due to a number of disruptions, missed classes, exhaustion, or even a lack of interest in the actual class.

Online classes have enabled me to complete my masters at a much faster pace in comparison with the option of traditional classroom study. Such opportunities encouraged students who might have been more reluctant to participate in face-to-face instructional settings to actively and effectively participate (Farmer, 2010). Based on the results of the study in Online Versus In-Class Courses: An Examination of Differences in Learning Outcomes, the evidence suggests that there are similar learning outcomes whether students are in a traditional or online class (Kirtman, 2009). With online classes becoming more of a demand, it is easier for full time workers to pursue their academic dreams. With this high demand universities are making more classes assessable online for more people to attend.

Online Disadvantages

The major disadvantages of online classes, is the lack of personal interaction with your professor. The rapport and connection you establish can be an extremely important building block in your educational development. The discussion board allows written communication with fellow classmates, but it is not the equivalent of actually having an individual, one on one, class discussion. You get the information but lose the personality. In graduate classes, communication with your professor is an important part of the equation, but this valuable interaction often takes longer and may create an issue with time management.

In a traditional face-to-face instructional delivery system, the instructor can visually monitor students who are not verbally participating in class discussion yet may be mentally engaged and deeply reflecting. Such subjective monitoring of student participation by the instructor is more difficult in an online format (Farmer, 2010). It can be slightly difficult at times, when an assignment is made and your interpretation differs from the intent of the instructor.

Study groups were not likely to be formed with the online students because of issues of proximity. Moreover, for traditional students, when one student asked a question, all students heard the answer, and the material was reinforced through question and answer sessions. Although questions and answers were posted on the discussion board for the online classes, students would have had to take the initiative and read through the discussion board postings to receive the information. There was no guarantee that this occurred. Furthermore, although there were attempts to vary the instructional methods used, most of the online sessions were best suited for visual learners. In addition, for students in the traditional setting, a minimum of 3 hours (one class session) was spent on each topic. For the online students, there was no way to know exactly how much time (more or less) was spent on each of the course topics. Some online students may have just completed enough work to complete the online assignments but may not have gone beyond those tasks (Kirtman, 2009).

In traditional classes versus those receiving online instruction "known" minimum amount of time spent on the subject matter per week is a known fact. In traditional classes, instructors can be assured that students are exposed to the material for three hours per week. With the online learning method, students are self-directed and they determined how much time is spent on exploring the assigned subject matter. One assumption may be that the more time spent online in the course site, the higher the grade. The site used for online courses does not measure actual time spent in the site by each student but it does measure hits. Time and hits not the same but one could assume that someone who entered the site (hits) more than someone who did not may have spent more time working with the course material (Kirtman, 2009).

Faculty Side of Online Education

Online learning has had an impacted on how higher education redefines teaching as universities understand the importance and move towards the elevated standards of online teaching and learning. The development of a learning community culture among higher education faculty is paramount when moving toward online learning environments (Farmer, 2010).

In Perceptions of Online Instruction, a survey performed wanted to see how comfortable teachers where with online classes. The survey showed that the majority of faculty with good online teaching experiences responded favorably with regards to online instruction positively influencing student learning outcomes. Most participants surveyed within this subgroup believed the following: (a) learning outcomes from online courses are potentially equivalent to traditional courses within their area of specializations, (b) most students within their area of specialization benefit from online teaching and learning, (c) online teaching complements adult learning theory, (d) most students prefer online instruction and (e) online instruction enhances the ability to effectively serve students (Fish, Gill, 2009). The survey also showed that some teachers did not feel the same way. Faculty with no online teaching experience responded less favorably than their colleagues with positive experiences (Fish, Gill, 2009).

Faculty development is one way that leadership preparation programs can shape the impact of online learning and thereby ensure that quality accompanies convenience (Farmer, 2010). Providing faculty with the tools to efficiently create and publish online learning materials is an important part of the instructional delivery system transformation process (Farmer, 2010).

In Attitudes Affecting Online Learning Implementation, found that although faculty and administrators may have questions about the benefits of online learning they are open to participating in making it more effective and want to take a stronger role in its implementation (Mitchell, Geva-May, 2009). In the end, this work illustrates that instructors need to be open to change ( Kirtman, 2009).

Distance and online education is increasing in importance in the offerings of many universities. As this occurs, instructors are developing ways to use new media to support traditional teaching practices. This is an important effort, as online education is still viewed with a degree of skepticism by some. By successfully transferring accepted teaching practice into online education, instructors are helping to demonstrate that online education can be of high quality. Some instructors are also developing different teaching practices to take advantage of the new media. This too is important, because the technologies of online education may support learning strategies that are not feasible in traditional teaching modes (Newberry, 2001).

Like with any kind of teaching, learning new ways of reaching students can be stressful. One way to elevate the stress is to grow and cultivate the technology, making a path to enable new students to experience a learning atmosphere in their familiar surrounding. From all appearances colleges and universities worldwide understand the importance of supplying online courses to a diverse student body.

Conclusion

While they will never do away with traditional classroom universities, it's easy to see why a growing number of students are participating in classes online. Whether it is convenience, quality, or flexibility, all can be influential to contribute to the magnetism of this way of learning. In the current culture of connectivity, the relevance of distance education may well be dependent upon developing and communicating a coherent theory that can accommodate transformational developments reflected in OLL innovations. Unfortunately, in recent years, theory development has been the exception in both distance and online learning research (Garrison, 2009).

Online learning has become the growth product in the educational realm. Given all its apparent attractiveness, particularly the convenience it offers to students and its potential revenue enhancing capabilities at minimal investment cost, on-line learning acts as a powerful magnet in curricular design. The evidence for online education is not dismissive but is rather supportive. Yet the potential for weakening educational quality through online learning seems as great as its potential for improving it. In order to move forward, more secure footing is needed; identifying how to make distance education as consistently effective as possible is no doubt the essential next step (Clardy, 2009).

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