This week's reading was an eye-opener. When I think about distance learning, the research base I thought would exist would have been published within the last 20 years or so. It was fascinating to read that the studies referenced date back to the mid-1920s...and even more interesting is that the early research on correspondence study asked the same questions we ask today -- i.e., "Crump ... reported there were no significant differences between test scores of Oklahoma students in a classroom compared with those who studied the same subjects by correspondence" (Moore & Kearsley, p. 223). Hmm. Folks within my school district have been debating the merits of traditional classroom learning v. distance learning in big ways of late, as if the discussions we are having here are the first ever on this subject!
One of my biggest take-aways from this week is that "distance learning" and research surrounding its evolving forms have been around for nearly a century. As technology has played an increasingly greater role in the past couple decades, the ways in which we understand "distance learning" have changed ... prompted in part by the evolving nature of the tools, platforms, and delivery models used. "The Case Against Assistive Technology" is a terrific video that examines the evolution of "technology" in education. It focuses on assistive technology for students with special needs, but its message applies to all.
The section on Transactional Distance Theory also noted that "foreign students usually feel more comfortable and engage in more dialogue by the text-based, asynchronous communication methods than they do in the faster, synchronous audio-video conference" (Moore & Kearsley, p. 210). My experience as a high school English teacher taught me that this premise also holds true for high school students communicating with peers they have never met face-to-face. From 1999 to 2005, my students at Kenny Lake School participated in online literary exchanges with peers in Colorado as part of the Bread Loaf Teacher Network. During the course of the six years my students corresponded with their "poetry pals," they developed as writers and thinkers--much more so than students in my classes without opportunities to discuss content and text with an outside audience. A "faster, synchronous audio-video conference" is similar to a traditional classroom discussion, where the fast-thinkers and fast-talkers are often the ones to dominate a conversation. Dialogue in an online environment can provide learners with greater opportunities to think, ponder, and reflect before "speaking." The section on Guided Didactic Conversation Theory was filled with "Uh-huh, uh-huh" moments as I recalled the power of dialogue and resulting relationships that developed during the online exchange years. A fellow classmate from the Bread Loaf School of English studied the "Pass the Poetry" online exchange for her doctoral dissertation, which provides great insights into the power using an online discussion forum in a blended classroom (Rucker, 2008).
"Reduce distance by increasing dialogue " (Moore & Kearsley, p. 219) is poster-worthy as I contemplate design of an online course. But, I wonder: What are the best ways to promote dialogue in online courses that feel genuine and result in real connections between and among students, as opposed to being "required posts" that some students may see as formalities rather than opportunities to learn together with their online classmates? Hmm...
Arzt, J. (2011). Online courses and optimal class size: A complex formula. Retrieved from
Henderson Rucker, J. (2008). Effects of online, collaborative discourse on secondary student writing: A case study of the history and ecology of an electronic exchange. Retrieved from Digital Commons Georgia Southern (http://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/etd/506/)
Johnston, D. (2010, September 3). The case against assistive technology [Video file]. Retrieved from