It was the new, new kid, self-sure and savvy as it advanced into the classroom. We were wary, skeptical, even as we admired its quick adaptability, its trendy looks, the polished way it eased into almost any subject.
A decade later, we have not only come to know distance learning, we’ve embraced it as one of our greatest and most reliable allies in lifelong learning. Which is not to say it hasn’t required some adjustment. E-learning necessarily implies e-teaching, and new styles of each are evolving with every academic cycle.
Inside Track spoke with some teachers who are agents in this evolution, to see how they are coping with the changes distance learning has brought to their virtual and real classrooms. Mary Kate Hiatt is Professor of Political Science at Delta College (MI); Curt McCarty is Director of the Independent Learning Center at San Diego City College (CA); Terry Offenberger is Professor of Medical Assisting at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C, OH); George Kanieski is Assistant Professor of English at Tri-C; and Patricia Spence teaches Introduction to Speech Communication at Dallas County Community College District. All have learned to live with – and even love – the new, new kid.
IT: How long have you been involved in distance learning?
Hiatt: Since 1985, I have been involved in distance learning of various kinds, from telecourses to interactive television to online courses.
McCarty: I was the faculty member charged with setting up a program in 1993. We had a telecourse program that has gradually been supplanted by the online program.
Offenberger: When the college decided to go online, English was first. We were using FrontPage to mount the thing, and it was very labor-intensive. I put my medical terminology course online. In terms of the college, it’s been four or five years.
Kanieski: I took the first Web-based courses online around 1997 at Tri-C, migrating from a stand-alone computer bulletin board, using PCBoard, developed by another faculty member. The first classes were made from scratch with Microsoft FrontPage and very little functionality other than a discussion board or two. These days, we use Blackboard, which is a definite improvement.
Spence: I started teaching on television in 1975, and I’ve just ramped it up. In the fall of 1999, I started teaching my Introduction to Speech Communication course. And then I taught a colleague how to do it.
IT: What adjustments or changes have you made in your teaching style?
Hiatt: The largest number of changes in my teaching style has occurred since I began online courses in 1998. Because I am not physically in a classroom with these students, I have had to be much more precise in my directions for assignments. I learned quickly that I did not want a zillion e-mail messages asking me what I meant by, “Read pages 66-93!” In a face-to-face situation, I can clarify something just once to the 30 cherubs sitting in front of me, but if I am not very, very clear online, I will get those dastardly messages. Needless to say, I make every effort to be exceptionally lucid online?a trait now carrying over into my face-to-face classes.
Offenberger: My subject is not like so many others where you really have to change your methodology. Medical terminology is a very independent kind of learning material. If ever there was a subject matter that lends itself well to online teaching, this is it. But I had to choose a different textbook. I knew that if students were left free with the one I had been using, they wouldn’t know where to begin. I made class notes that were posted electronically. And the students have a lot of online practices.
Spence: Teaching speech communication online?now that’s a dilly! The key issue is that students are in touch with you all the time. Helping students figure out how to get started is so critical. The more novice the student, the more important it is to make sure this information is out there. Consequently, I’m available to students all the time. I’m not saying it makes life more difficult, but I’m more conscious of being always ready, the need to be totally prepared.
McCarty: All teachers new to the distance component feel a certain obligation to be more available. It’s a new technology. But after you get in the groove, people fall back on their individual styles of instruction and their individual philosophy. It’s an expanded variety of resources. You have good teaching and not so good, and in a good environment, the teacher uses all sorts of resources.
Hiatt: I have had to think much more from the students’ perspective regarding online material. They are not all as savvy about the Internet as one might think. For instance, I have learned to tell students to scroll down the page before they e-mail me that the item they seek is not there. Thinking these phenomena were merely an online aberration, I was surprised to discover that I had been having the same things happen in the traditional classes for many years. As with the scrolling, it never occurred to them to look in the footnotes!
Kanieski: In terms of our curriculum and the state of Web-based courses as a whole, those of us who value discussion and interaction, in English primarily, are often confounded by other disciplines that cheapen the idea of distance learning by allowing infinite retakes on quizzes, incorporating no class interaction requirement, or even allowing students to complete all course content in a couple of weeks?for a 16-week course!
Offenberger: The hardest for me has been, how do I test? The issue was complicated because [medical terminology] is truly memorization. I had to experiment. A lot of it had to do with the types of questions I asked. I learned I had to have a huge variety of questions, a huge pool, and always give a random selection. And I use timing. I tell the students, “If timing freaks you out, you can go to the testing center and take a pencil-and-paper test.”
Spence: The medium really is the message. If students take one online course, they think all online courses will be just like that. But even though the courses are on the same platform, there’s a lot of variety. Educational systems need to come up with standards that faculty need to achieve. These should never be just glorified correspondence courses. I’m fortunate in that I’m in a very supportive environment when it comes to online teaching.
Hiatt: Teaching online has also caused me to hush. Because I am so excited about what we discuss in political science classes, if I don’t watch myself, I tend to “participate” too much in a class discussion. Online, I can read the discussion board and jump in only when necessary. I have time to stop and think.
IT: What about the students and distance learning? How do you perceive that it has affected their learning styles?
McCarty: The most basic change of all is that you empower the little person back in the back row who wouldn’t say anything in a class. There’s more exposure through online discussion. It’s a vehicle by which they can express themselves. Our kids rapidly adopt these new techniques.
Hiatt: The extent of the changes often depends on the age and lifestyle of the student. For example, students who use all the flexibility that distance learning includes would be free of having to attend classes in a brick-and-mortar building. They would be constrained only by availability of an Internet connection. I find these types of students are usually the older ones who have jobs and much more income than the typical younger student has. Students involved in distance education must be very disciplined. Not having to face one’s instructor once or twice a week can make for lackadaisical academic work habits. Students who cannot cut the mustard on that score learn quickly not to take distance education classes.
Offenberger: When we first got into it, the quality of the students was extraordinary. And often we got not just students from the college setting, but also community people who were employed. They knew how to follow rules. It was really pleasant in the beginning. Now we get a mixture of those who have experience, who know Blackboard, and we also get people who have no computer at home, no Internet access. Sometimes they call around the fourth or fifth week and ask, “Now, how does this work?”
Spence: The students have had to become more conscious of their own learning styles. Are they self-learners? How much feedback do they need? How much social contact? They’ve kind of been jolted back: What kind of learner am I? In the traditional setting, there was no need to do that.
Offenberger: I don’t get quite that same student contact that I did in the traditional classroom. And some students truly need to be in the classroom.
IT: What is the future of distance education? Are we there yet?
McCarty: It’s certainly here to stay. It’s a media center at your beck and call. You always find some people who are resistant to change. You had people who didn’t want to experience the available technology when you had the old learning-teaching machines of the 1950s. Then you have people who are always looking around to see what’s there. It’s innovation.
Kanieski: More and more, I find myself as a distance learning faculty member also frustrated by technical support that isn’t proactive, as well as cases of “friendly fire.” We have upgraded our platform and several other systems in the last year. On a good day, that means things don’t work the way you’d expect. On a bad day it means things don’t work at all. For instance, over this past weekend, everybody’s password expired in Windows 2000 sometime during Friday afternoon, with no warning. I didn’t discover this until I tried logging into e-mail from home, only to get the error “Invalid Password!”
Offenberger: I am by no means a technology expert. And I would not want to do solely distance teaching, but neither would I want to do solely classroom anymore. I’m old enough that, for me, this is so exciting and so new. It’s a fascinating delivery strategy, and I can see the possibility of a student spending an entire summer in Europe, say, and still doing the coursework. I’m kind of awestruck by it.
Hiatt: In the near future, the differences will diminish or vanish as a result of advancements in Internet transmission. More and more students will opt to take classes online, and more and more colleges will see the advantages of having instructors all over the world perhaps. In the meantime, both instructors and students can take advantage of distance learning’s flexibility and student-centered orientation.
Spence: In the past, on campus, you would change your course from time to time or update to a new text. But now you change not only because things get out of date, but because more media becomes available to you. Your platform changes periodically, and you don’t have any control over that. It reminds me of that saying of the Hopi Indians, about how there’s no past, no present, and no future. You’re either becoming or ceasing to become!
Asked to reveal his greatest desire, computer pioneer and Apple cofounder Steve Jobs replied, “I want to put a ding in the universe.” Anyone who appreciates innovation would agree that Jobs made a noticeable dent.
This coming March 16-19, similarly inclined community college professionals will gather in Phoenix for Innovations 2003, the League’s sixth annual conference on student and organizational learning. This year’s keynote speakers are all innovators who have put a few dings of their own in the universe:
Join the most innovative community college professionals as they come together to improve student and organizational learning through innovation, experimentation, and institutional transformation at Innovations 2003. For more information, visit our website or contact Gerardo de los Santos at 480 705-8200, ext. 222.
The internet is the fastest-growing tool of communication ever. Consider:
of poetry, short stories, essays, prose, and drama by Phi Theta
Kappa members, advisors, and alumni are being sought for Virtuoso,
a new honors anthology that will demonstrate the academic excellence
and value of the community college experience and the dedication
and commitment of the community college educator.
All submissions must describe a particular experience or person directly related to the community college that profoundly and positively affected the author. A panel of writers and educators will review all submissions and select 50 for publication. The top three student authors in each category will receive cash awards of $1,000, $400 and $200 to the top three student authors.
A distinguished panel of judges representing various sectors of higher education will select the three top authors in each category. Each selected author and community college president will receive a copy of Virtuoso. Virtuoso will also be available for purchase.
For more information please visit The Phi Theta Kappa Middle States Regional website.
The Center for Academic Transformation will hold a series of seminars to provide examples of new learning environments December 6 in Atlanta and February 24 in Dallas. Faculty from four institutions talk about their models of course redesign, including their decisions regarding student learning objectives, course content, learning resources, course staffing, and task analysis, as well as student and project evaluation. Featuring the results of the third round of the Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign, faculty project leaders show how to increase quality and reduce costs using information technology. These models provide varied approaches that demonstrate multiple routes to success, tailored to the needs and context of each institution. For further information, please visit the website.
amid the futuristic frenzy of the Conference on Information
Technology to pass along a few misguided predictions from
The CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) and the League for Innovation in the Community College have received the National Science Foundation Persons with Disabilities (PPD) Demonstration, Enrichment, and Information (DEI) Dissemination Grant. Through an 18-month partnership, NCAM and the League will work to disseminate and institutionalize the use of resources making technology-enabled science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning resources accessible to students, faculty, and administrators at community colleges.
The project goals elevate the
issue of accessibility within community colleges; disseminate
NSF-funded demonstration models, guidelines, tools, and resources
that enable creation of accessible STEM content; and encourage
community colleges to participate in the development and implementation
of accessible specifications for distributed learning platforms.
Project activities will strengthen capacity within community colleges to create and use accessible math and science content in technology-enabled learning. Guidelines and technical resources will facilitate community college creation, maintenance, control, packaging, and presentation of accessible digital content.
The results will serve a wide array of users of online community college content, including people with sensory disabilities, people with learning or print disabilities who benefit from multiple modes of presentation, and people with physical disabilities who use assistive technologies for navigation and control of content.
Accessible content and systems will improve the quality of learning, teaching, and work life for all users, whether they are community college students, faculty members, or administrators.
Through this initiative, the League for Innovation in the Community College will encourage use of its resources to connect and empower learning in community colleges that are recruiting and preparing students with disabilities for STEM careers. This Project will also serve to build support and generate strategies within the League to mount a major learning thread on accessibility at League conferences.
Stevens’ Project Implementation Program (SPIP), part of
Alliance+ activities at Cuyahoga Community College (CCC), fosters
collaboration between the community college and K-12 school
districts and provides the opportunity for selected teachers
to implement one of five Stevens’ Institute of Technology
collaborative or real-time data projects. Project participation
includes the opportunity for innovative project deployment including
cross-district collaboration and campus field trips plus exposure
to Cuyahoga Community College programs and resources. SPIP participants
are partnering with Cuyahoga Community College faculty members
who serve as subject content mentors and liaisons to college
resources and facilities.
Ongoing project implementation includes completion of lesson summaries, a classroom observation by Cuyahoga Community College and Alliance+ staff, and a final presentation by teachers and students at school in December and at the Alliance+ Year-End Celebration. Alliance+ plans to run the program again in the spring and anticipates increases in science and mathematics learning as a result of student participation.
Hewlett-Packard Company is accepting applications for its 2003 HP Community College Pre-Engineering/Computer Science Grant initiative.
Applicants should be two-year community colleges or tribal colleges in the U.S. that have a successful retention and transfer program that supports the academic achievement of African-American, Latino, and American Indian students in pre-engineering/cs courses, resulting in the transfer of these students into computer engineering and computer science majors at four-year universities. Schools that do not have such a program will not be considered.
Up to 11 schools in the U.S. will be awarded this grant in 2003. Those that transfer underrepresented pre-engineering/cs students into universities with which HP has a recruiting, research or community relationship will be given preference.
The award is an HP Wireless Mobile Classroom, which includes 30 HP notebook computers, an HP OfficeJet All-in-One printer/copier/scanner/fax, an HP digital camera, a MobiLAN ONE wireless motorized cart from Wireless Information Networks, Discourse instructional delivery software from ETS Technologies, Inc., and five additional notebook computers for faculty use.
selection process will happen in two stages:
Stage 2 - HP will review all applications submitted, and based on the information provided will select a limited number of finalists to be invited to submit full proposals to a competitive final review and selection process.
Get online to learn more about HP's Global Philanthropy Programs.
Ian McDonald, Terminal Café
month, LeagueConnections brings you resources of interest and
innovation, brief glances at the latest and most thought-provoking
materials for community college professionals. With a teeny-tiny
nod to the Conference on Information Technology’s nanotechnology
session, we make a minuscule departure by reporting on a novel
that has awed nanowatchers the world over.
“Nanotechnology,” says Rice University Chemistry Chairman Richard Smalley, “will reverse the harm done by the Industrial Revolution.” It might also make space travel safe, cure disease, solve our knottiest ecological problems and, as novelist Ian McDonald extrapolates in his groundbreaking novel Terminal Café, create gargantuan moral headaches.
“The first thing we get with nanotechnology is immortality,” McDonald writes in the book’s afterword. And along with immortality, resurrection. In the major cities of McDonald’s 22nd century, the reanimated are confined to Necroville, where they slave to pay off their resurrection debts. On the annual Night of the Dead, the living and the lowly revived integrate to celebrate together.
Well, it does sound a little Stephen Kingly. But McDonald’s Chaucerian spin deepens and broadens what could have been just another sci-fi romp through the nanocorn. On the night in question, five friends gather at the titular café to tell their respective tales. This group consists of a cyberlawyer on a quest to win a case for a wealthy resurrected client, a safari guide, a nanosculptor, the son of the inventor of the resurrection process itself, and the master of ceremonies, a drug designer.
Not exactly Canturbury, but these characters weave together a believable projection of a future where technology has lost its leash. And although he sets it against a backdrop of space battles and other tired video-gamish effects, McDonald manages a thumping good cautionary story about what happens when humans slouch headlong and heedless toward the future.
Although Terminal Café, available in paperback, was first published in 1994, it stands ever taller as good fiction the closer we get to nanotechnology fact. The book has grown steadily in popularity on both sides of the Atlantic since its first printing, and is recommended reading for anyone interested in how big?and scary?things can get when we start really thinking small. Almost a decade has passed since McDonald wrote the novel, but there’s still plenty of food for thought at the Terminal Café.
Terminal Café, by Ian McDonald. NY: Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1994.
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