Academic journal article Communication Research Trends

2. How Does an Institution Develop a Model for Distance Learning?

Academic journal article Communication Research Trends

2. How Does an Institution Develop a Model for Distance Learning?

Article excerpt

Many educational institutions from the elementary school level to higher education have implemented some form of an online distance learning initiative over the past decade, with those schools taking the lead that already had imbedded within their infrastructure some form of distance learning program (CHEA 2000). Two questions are crucial to the development of any distance learning initiative: Why is an institution willing to advance in the directions of distance-learning? and What does it mean for that institution to do so?

A spectrum exists concerning those schools beginning their engagement of computer-mediated educational platforms that has at either end one of the following faces: those with a distance learning tradition that already have well-developed programs in place and merely need to transition into web-based, interactive learning platforms and those that have no tradition of distance learning from which to draw and begin their experimentation in distributed learning through the development of technological initiatives in face-to-face classroom settings. This latter kind of institution starts with what experts call hybrid classes, which used to be classes where students met three times a week and used course templates to increase their interaction with one another, with their professor, and with their learning materials. The trend now moves towards decreasing face-to-face meeting time in order to increase real time outside of class spent working through the online course materials and interacting with others. Mary Ellen Lago (2000) notes a distinction being made by the University of Central Florida between e-courses and hybrid courses, where the former entails students being in class full-time while using online resources and the latter entails students being in class only one hour a week and spending the other two hours interacting through the Internet. Of course, this seems counter-intuitive--one would expect an e-course to be fully online instead of actually using mixed-methods, and one would think a hybrid course would be both online and in the classroom. Distinctions like these, however, do not rest on any standard; each school that starts a technology and learning initiative coins its own original definitions. We are in for a world of conflicting terminologies, it would seem.

Many of these models appear not only in higher education but in elementary and secondary educational institutions as computers become more pervasive in those face-to-face learning environments and as states begin to respond to federal initiatives like the No Child Left Behind Act. In some areas, virtual high schools (VHS) are forming around the model of university-type distributed education. "A VHS school provides one teacher to teach a VHS class and a site coordinator for all VHS students," Burck Smith (1998) writes. The way it works is that

   up to 20 students at that school may take a VHS
   class. Each participating school provides on-site
   Internet access, but students may access VHS
   from home as well. Students may choose from
   courses such as statistics, hands-on-physics, or
   introduction to folklore. Students and teachers
   post questions and responses, access materials,
   and complete assignments online. When needed,
   students and teachers interact one-on-one via email.
   (Smith)

While VHS does not offer core courses like Algebra or English, it does offer things that a physical high school might not, like applied physics and folklore. In this instance distance learning offers something that site-based programs cannot. The idea of distance learning being about time and not distance, in this case, gets expanded to include opportunities for acquiring knowledge in esoteric areas rather than in traditional or mainstream areas.

Of course, distance learning can still overcome distance in areas where students would otherwise have to relocate into boarding schools in a central location. …

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