Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

Fostering Community through the Use of Technology in a Distributed Learning Environment

Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

Fostering Community through the Use of Technology in a Distributed Learning Environment

Article excerpt

With the technology revolution (e.g., World Wide Web, e-mail, videoconferencing), the importance of creating a sense of community in the learning environment is as significant as ever. The purpose of this article is to share the lessons learned in developing and teaching a multicultural counseling course via distance and distributed education. The authors will discuss strategies for integrating and fostering a sense of community for students using this non-traditional mode of learning.

The technology revolution that has impacted society is now having a dramatic effect on colleges and universities. Distributed learning is one manifestation of the union of technology and education (Oblinger, Barone, & Hawkins, 2001). The convergence of technology and education in the form of the World Wide Web, WebCT, e-mail, and videoconferencing has underlying implications for the sense of community that student affairs professionals have been striving to foster at universities across the nation for years (Boyer, 1990; Komives & Petersen, 1997; McDonald & Associates, 2002; Treuer & Belote, 1997). The development of community is at the heart of the student affairs profession and community is what gives students a sense of belonging and connectedness to their schools. With the advent of sophisticated educational technology, many higher education professionals are concerned with creating a sense of community or a "capacity for connectedness" in the learning process among the teacher, the student and the subject (Palmer, 2002, p. 185).

Distributed learning has become a popular term used to describe the use of telecommunications to deliver synchronous and asynchronous instruction. Synchronous instructional activities are those that happen in "real time" where all participants are connected and communicating at the same time, i.e. chat rooms, video conferencing. Asynchronous learning activities are independent of time. This means participants can pick and choose independently when they want to access activities, i.e. electronic bulletin boards. Distributed learning, therefore, includes technologies delivered in part through electronic media, such as videoconferencing, videotape, interactive television, electronic mail, and web-based instruction for the distant learner, as well as the traditional on-campus learner (Oblinger, Barone, & Hawkins, 2001).

The concept of distributed learning integrates the interactive capabilities of networking, computing, multimedia, and hypermedia with teaching approaches such as collaboration, discovery learning, problem solving, and active learning. Hirschbuhl and Bishop (1996) stress the importance of the two kinds of interaction with regard to learning. Within a technology-driven distributed learning environment, a student interacts with the content as well as with others about the content. "Both types of interaction are important for efficient, effective, and affective learning" (Hirschbuhl & Bishop, 1996, p. 202).

Distance education is a part of the distributed learning model. The terms distance education, remote learning, and distance learning all refer to learning environments whereby place and/or time separate the student and instructor; thus, the student learns independent of contact with the instructor and, often, other students. Moore and Kearsley (1996) defined distance learning and education as "planned learning that normally occurs in a different place from teaching" (p. 2).

Distributed learning has proven to be a cost-effective mode of instructional delivery that increases learner access by accommodating the schedules of nontraditional students and therefore is rapidly increasing in higher education (Anglin, 1995). Additional benefits of distributed education to higher education include enhanced learning experiences, improved access to education, greater learner flexibility, expansion of education to new groups, and increased interaction and collaboration (Oblinger, et. …

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