Reflections on Research, Faculty and Leadership in Distance Education

Article excerpt

Reflections on Research, Faculty and Leadership in Distance Education, by Michael F. Beaudoin (Ed.). (Oldenburg, Germany: Bibliotheks- und Informationssystem der Carl von Ossietzky University, 2004, 141 pages, ISBN: 3-8142-0905-2, softcover)

Reflections on Research, Faculty and Leadership in Distance Education, by Michael Beaudoin, is a mandatory, prerequisite resource for any practitioner, researcher, faculty member, and technology manager who is reflecting on his or her role in distance education theory and practice. Whether you are new to the field or are an experienced distance education practitioner, this book is a five-star read that will provide you with the philosophical and practical base to reflect on your own view of the field, your work, and the future of distance education in higher education.

Beaudoin draws on his distinguished career of over 2 decades in serving as a distance education leader, program manager, writer, presenter, faculty member, researcher, and theorist in the field. Moreover, he has adapted a unique and innovative approach to examining a range of critical issues facing the field by reviewing various articles on distance education practice, theory, and research that were published since 1991 to determine if this literature is still relevant today and how (or if) it provides direction and vision to the next evolution of the field. Beaudoin draws on literature that focused on the state of research practice, the changing roles of faculty, and the status of leadership in the field.

At a time when the "mainstreaming" of distance education with campus instruction is pervasive across higher education, Beaudoin takes a calculated risk in today's ubiquitous information and technology age to suggest that distance education researchers, practitioners, and leaders must pause and reflect on the field, where it's been, where it's going and how we are going to get there. He asks some very candid questions:

* Where is the literature on "leadership" in distance education? Do we, in fact, know very much about effective leadership in distance education and the skills and attributes that the next generation of leaders will need to move the field forward?

* In an era of unprecedented information and research via the Web, is research that was conducted 5 years ago obsolete and irrelevant to today's distance education environment?

* Have faculty roles changed due to technology adoption and/or have faculty roles changed because our views and philosophical basis for what constitutes effective teaching and learning changed? Or both?

* Given the accelerated access to information, research, and other resources, is the quality and precision of today's distance education research lacking in terms of methodological and assessment approaches?

* Has the distance education field made a critical error in viewing distance learning as synonymous with "online teaching and learning" only? We have been combining technologies in course delivery for decades, yet today we throw around words like "blended learning" as if we have created this in the past 5 years.

Distance education is at a crossroads. Beaudoin has insightfully accentuated this point in his book. In many ways he points out what Yogi Berra told us about leadership and change ... if you don't know where you're going, you're going to end up somewhere else. As the reviewer of this book, I can dispense with "politically correct" jargon and summarize Beaudoin's major points below.

First, the field of distance education does not know where it's going. Perhaps more disconcerting is that the current generation of practitioners and researchers has a simplistic and irreverent view of previous work and research conducted in the field. …