Presentation Abstract

Theory and Practice: The Discourse of Distance

Given the amount of research that has gone into electronic communication, both synchronous and asynchronous, one might suppose predictable outcomes-in as much as language can be predictable-in the use of such electronic formats as teaching media. In looking at potential situations which this media might present for perspective students in my distance education literature course, I tried to address anticipated problems in communicating. I considered how best to design the course, to select appropriate media, and to design the software which would supplement the course. The primary principle of my plan was redundancy, with the aim of flexibility. I believed that, if I provided multiple formats for delivery of instruction, I might cover most communication problems with a good back-up. The idea of redundancy also addressed the probable variety of technology to which students might or might not have access. For example, those students who did not have a CD-ROM drive to run the courseware might use Asymetrix's Neuron Internet viewer to access the program or they could view the "pages," or screens, of the program in print format.

In theory, my ideas accounted for most of the potential problems inherent in electronically supported instruction, problems well explored in research applications. These ideas were grounded not only in the current research on distance education but in the anecdotal accounts found on the ACW-listserv and in teaching stories shared among my colleagues. This information was very useful in determining the extent of my preparatory work. In practice, however, I found that for both the delivery method and course content, I had to make constant adjustments, devise newer alternatives, and just plain abandon certain theoretical plans in favor of more practical methods and media that worked "as needed."

In my presentation, I will briefly review the research that informed my initial decisions, cover what approaches I took in light of that research, and then tell about the outcomes of my plan. The results, on which I will spend the majority of my discussion time, will include a consideration of the success and failure of each electronic medium as a means of instructional delivery. I will describe some of the day-to-day activities and events that occurred during the course. Additionally, I will demonstrate sample media interactions and actual texts of student/instructor communication to analyze the contribution of each medium to the achievements and failure of teaching and learning in the course.

Theoretical approaches can help teachers plan effectively for distance education courses--particularly in choosing the electronic media by which students will communicate, receive instruction, and obtain evaluation for course work and tests. The media will also help the student establish a sense of community and collegiality with the rest of the class. Despite these important benefits, though, no amount of theory can account for the specific conditions that an instructor will face in the actual delivery of the course via electronic means. The electronic media provides a promising alternative format for delivering instruction, but it requires an actively involved, innovative, and flexible instructor to manage.

Author: Betty L. Hart

Category: Distance education

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