Technology: Taking the Distance out of Learning/New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 94

By Lindsay, Nathan K.; Howell, Scott L. | Quarterly Review of Distance Education, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview
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Technology: Taking the Distance out of Learning/New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 94

Lindsay, Nathan K., Howell, Scott L., Quarterly Review of Distance Education

Technology: Taking the Distance Out of Learning, Margit Misangyi Watts (Ed.), New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 94, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003.

Revolution or evolution? The debate continues concerning what role technology should have in education and, more specifically, distance education. Such questions are considered in the monograph titled "Technology: Taking the Distance Out of Learning," part of the New Directions for Teaching and Learning series. With the recent flood of technological innovations and the popularization of distance learning, education has struggled to know whether to embrace or eschew distance education models and technologies.

The editor of this journal, Margit Misangyi Watts, introduced this question as her focus and thesis for this volume: "Why should we include distance or distributed learning modalities in the delivery of education?" (2003). This monograph seeks to answer this fundamental query, outlining superficial motivations and compelling reasons to adopt, and sometimes reject, the distance learning modalities which almost always include technology. Each chapter of the volume focuses on a different aspect of technology, bringing perspectives from public education, higher education, and the corporate sector. The text combines the viewpoints of many authors and provides tangible evidence that technology is affecting different facets of learning and will continue to do so.

It is important to note that the New Directions/or Teaching and Learning series is not a highly esoteric scholarly journal; the writing style is nontechnical and references are minimal. Thus, although a number of the arguments in Technology seemed to be at the surface level without evidential support, the lack of emphasis and depth could be a function of the series' style and approach. The series' intent is to proffer informal perspectives and opinions on the practical issues that impact faculty members and their students.

The title of the monograph deserves closer scrutiny. At first glance, it implies that the volume will explain how technology mitigates challenges posed by distance learning. However, contrary to what the title may imply, many of the chapters actually make the counterargument, outlining the deficiencies of distance education, especially compared to "traditional education." A more fitting title might have been, Technology: Putting the Distance in Learning? Not all of the authors, however, held these views.

At the beginning of the manuscript, the editor, Margit Watts, explains how technology can serve as a catalyst or lever for educational reform. We concur with Watts' pragmatic approach and have observed technology serve as the impetus for helping faculty examine and improve their teaching at numerous institutions. The infusion of technology can cause instructors to rethink their goals, methods, activities, and assessment measures. As Watts contends, "The conversation needs to take the leap from the question, 'What kind of software is that?' to the question, 'What kind of critical thinking skills are being developed by the use of that software?'" (p. 6). This idea of technology as catalyst was introduced in Ehrmann and Chickering's article, "Technology as a Lever" (1996), an adaptation of Chickering's seminal work in 1987, "Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education." Unfortunately, too many faculty shy away from using technology, not because they think technology is good or bad, but because they do not want to critically review their teaching practices.

Watts' initial chapter is essential in helping readers see the common threads and purposes that run throughout the rest of the chapters. For example, she explains her perspectives on how the chapters on service learning and text immersion are related to technology, a connection that might otherwise be difficult for the reader to make. A theme extending throughout much of the volume is that of using new metaphors in discussing technology.

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