Academic journal article Quarterly Review of Distance Education

Reframing the Role of Educational Media Technologies

Academic journal article Quarterly Review of Distance Education

Reframing the Role of Educational Media Technologies

Article excerpt


By their very nature, distance universities strongly rely on a variety of technology-based media for instructional delivery and interaction. Print, television, telephone, and the Internet are used to compensate for the absence of lectures, practicums, and other face-to-face sessions. For quite some time, the extensive use of media in distance education was viewed as a "second best" replacement for face-to-face tutoring, i.e., an occasional solution meant to control the perceived damage that might result from the loss of traditional instructional delivery methods. To this end, distance education was often qualified as second-hand education, which is an ironic reference to distance education's original raison d'être: second chance education (Edwards, Hanso, & Raggatt, 2002). Nevertheless, distance universities are reputed for their high standards of education, and they often outperform their nondistance counterparts in national reviews and student polls (cf. National Student Survey, 2014). In recent years, many traditional universities have been extending their face-to-face models with online services for offering enhanced flexibility to their students. Notwithstanding this blended model, the expertise of traditional universities, including workflow and business processes, remain directed to their main delivery channel, which is face-to-face teaching. Clearly, distance education remains a distinct branch of education that requires a different set of expertise, specifically, a state-of-the-art knowledge of instructional design, educational media, and their associated technologies. Distance universities recognize these requirements and have designated advanced research and innovation in these key areas as a strategic priority. Most distance universities have established dedicated educational research and development units, many of which have gained worldwide reputation (Ozcinar, 2009).

Nevertheless, responding appropriately to the ever-growing flood of media technologies and devices is anything but a straightforward matter. This paper discusses how distance universities cope with the rapid pace of technological change. We first discuss conceptual factors and issues that influence the uptake and implementation of new digital media technologies in education. Next, we describe the special nature of media technologies, which is in the direct connection of technology with our cognitive functions: thought, processing, memory, and perception. Third, we briefly review the use and role of media in distance education. Fourth, we highlight the role of the Internet as a catalyst and driver of disruptive societal change that makes possible new power relationships and new modes of communication. Fifth, we discuss the intrinsic conservatism that dominates education, and elaborate explanations that are associated with the fundamental misconception of technology instrumentalism. We conclude by briefly describing the main challenges for productive educational innovation that are connected with the described concepts and factors.


Obviously, the flood of media technologies, devices, and services will continue to expand in the coming years and will continue to have sweeping impact on the ways society functions. Notwithstanding the disruptive nature of the Internet, the true nature of its impact is not in its scale, abundance, or in the induced redistribution of powers; rather, the impact is seen in the manner in which its associated media technologies support and augment our cognitive functions. To explore what is actually occurring in this setting, we assume a humancentered view and examine the role of media in human cognitive functioning.

It is of paramount importance to note that media technology is not just common technology. Media technology is quite different from common tools such as a chain saw, a refrigerator, or a toothbrush, because it directly links to what is generally considered to be the defining feature of the human species: our cognitive abilities, our thinking capacity, our intelligence. …

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