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For many educators, the phrase from distance education to e-learning conjures up the view of an evolutionary progression that began with correspondence study and developed through ever more sophisticated technologies to its current identification with computers, internet, and the World Wide Web.
For others, particularly for those who are with little knowledge of the field of distance education or computer or ICT senseless, the e-learning represents a totally new phenomenon with the potential to transform traditional higher education. Here, both views reflect an implicit faith in expanded possibilities. However, the term currently used to denote these expanded possibilities - that is, e-learning - in fact represents a narrowing to rhetoric that has already resulted in conceptual confusion and could, over time, have specific implications for universities students and researchers. Even assuming that this change in terminology is inevitable at this point, it is important to emphasize elements of this expanding activity that, while not rea dily apparent in the term 'e-learning' itself, must be understood and included in theorizing about, planning for, and conducting research about the phenomenon.
This paper will discuss changes that have led to an increasingly circumscribed conceptualization of a broad area of educational practice; examine some implications of using blogs and portal as learning tools based on linguistic theory; offer a rationale for a more holistic approach; and suggest research considerations for the education practice referred to variously as distance education, online education, online learning, and e-learning. A short study has been done and the views discussed here are informed and shared by UPM university students.
Distance Education and Its Terminologies
According to Anderson and Elloumi (2004), that in the last 150 years distance education has 'evolved' through four generations, beginning with correspondence study, through those characterized by mass media (television and radio), synchronous technologies (video and audio-conferencing), and computer conferencing, to the emerging fifth generation, 'the education Semantic Web'. They further note that each new generation has been added to the succeeding ones, with the result that currently all five are operating in the overall educational context at the same time.
The changes occurring in the field of distance education have had a profound impact on its recognition and adoption by traditional education institutions. During the first three generations, distance education was a relatively minor, often marginalized, activity conducted and promoted by a small group of educators dedicated to broadening access to educational programming to unserved or under-served populations of students. These educators a variety of media and media combinations to offer programmes to the students who, because of physical barries of distance or personal circumstances, were unable to participate in educational programmes at traditional institutions. Within traditional institutions, serving non-traditional students was usually viewed as ancillary to the core institutional mission. The number of the students served by distance education programmes was small, and the institutional support and oversight given were proportionally limited and focused on ensuring that such programmes did not detract from the institution's reputation (Thomson and Irele, 2003)
But now, thanks to the power and reach of the WWW (world wide web), distance education has been 'discovered'. Recast first as 'online learning', then as 'e-learning', it has moved from the margins into the mainstream. No longer is it tolerated only as it conforms and defers to the 'real-thing'. No longer is it an alternative primarily for non-traditional students - indeed, it is rapidly being incorporated into programmes serving traditional campus-based students under its newest banner, 'blended learning' (Thompson and Irele, 2003).
Yet, even as distance education began to achieve long-deferred recognition for the benefit it has provided and continues to provide, this established field of practice and research was almost immediately threatened with re-marginalization. This threat has taken the form of an ahistorical attitude in the almost universal rejection of the term 'distance education' in favour of new terms coined to describe a type of education characterized not by 'distance', which was of little interest to all but a few people, but rather by the term 'electronic; (shortened to 'e'), which was of great interest to most people, and the failure of 'e-learning' researchers to build on earlier theories and studies of prior forms of distance delivery.
The term in 'distance learning' is equally important and equally out of favour with proponents of up-to-date terminology. In response to a perceived need to shift the focus from the instructor or the institution to the learner, new terms have been coined that effectively eliminate one half of the social interaction formally referred to as education. Whereas education is by definition a multi-faceted activity understood to involve varieties of players and activities- teachers and teaching, students and studying, information, knowledge and it is hoped, learning - e-learning is a term comprising one letter representing a physical property of technology (e for electronic) and the hoped-for outcome (learning) for one participation in the interaction. Although some might argue that the learning refers to an outcome for all participants, the ubiquitous use of the term 'learned-centred' as a quality indicator leaves little doubt as to whose learning is being designated.
"Weblogs can foster the development of a distinct, discriminating voice in the context of Internet materials related to particular subjects. â€¦Thus through weblog construction, students can gain a sense of empowerment and personal identity while learning how to interact with others online." (Oravec, 2002, p. 6)
Blogs and Portal as Teaching and Learning Tools
"As a practice, blogging is situated between a variety of different tensions - morality and textually, corporeality and spatiality, practice and artifact. In essence, blogging is a liminal practice that challenges other practices in the process of defining itself." (Boyd, 2005). The usage of blogs and portal in learning emphasizes collaboration as its core method of learning. When we want to renovate learning, one good strategy is to take a close look at already successful learning. A few interviews with successful university students in UPM resulted as they prefer the e-learning as it is also similar to CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning). E-learning has been associated with all kinds of learning activities involving information communication technology is used in the context of learning. The approaches of using blogs and portal are varied, which mainly include the laboratory-based instructed learning (situated in campus), distance learning under tutors or lecturers' instruction and online self-study. These tools can be used in different approaches as preferred by both parties the learners and the tutors or lecturers.
The Power of Language
Linguistics theory and research suggest that language is a social process that both reflects an already established reality and contributes to the construction of an ever-changing reality. In other words, 'it is necessary to examine not only the social determination of language use but also the linguistic determination of society (Fairclough, 1989). Issues of language are central to understanding work communities, including communities of educators.
The Invisible Teacher
A major determinant in the ultimate success of blogs and portal in learning will be strong commitment to teaching in this new environment. To date, a number of faculty lecturers in UPM have embraced online technologies and they reported (interviewed) benefits that make this new e-learning environment a satisfying addition or alternative face-to-face instruction.
Many have signaled resistance to participating in blogs and portal as the e-learning tools, and much of the resistance seems to be grounded in concern about the ability of these tools as e-learning tools experience to provide the personal and professional satisfaction people naturally seek in their vocations. Such concerns make the linguistic invisibility of the teaching function in the term e-learning particularly problematic.
Let us accept that blogs and portal as the e-learning tools are the current 'term of art' for an activity whose name belies its true complexity; a form of education characterized by multi-faceted, interactive system of structures, activities, responsibilities, and stakeholders that is networked to minimize physical and psychological distance.
What is currently being referred to as e-learning is part of a field of practice with a long tradition of theory building and research. Change in terminology is an inevitable aspect of social change; however, we must make sure that in making such changes we neither lose important meaning and knowledge associated with earlier practice nor limit our thinking by unnecessary circumscribed discourse.
Three things are really necessary to support a robust understanding of the activity currently labeled e-learning: conscious awareness of and focus on the distance inherent in the activity; consideration of the multidimensional aspects of education, which include but are hardly coterminous with 'learning'; and awareness of and appropriate connection to earlier research and practice that can inform current and future efforts.