Blame my highly ego-centric, conservative, democratic-society mentality, but this week’s reading put a bit of a dent in my naive belief that the United States is THE most advanced country in the world in every single arena, including that of distance education. Even in rural Alaska, I would like to believe that we are far more “with it” than anywhere else on planet Earth. Our assigned reading this week and my additional research brought my feet back to the ground.
“Because of the ‘digital divide’ -- the gap in availability of Internet and related technology between richer and poorer countries -- the latter tend to rely still on some older technologies for distance education than do the former” (Moore and Kearsley, p. 243). Indeed, this is true in too many places in rural Alaska, where we would like to argue that students have every opportunity available anywhere else on the planet, yet in reality, students may be limited in terms of access. Yes, the United States is in the lead in terms of standard of living, but rural Alaska still suffers from the same symptoms of the technological divide as less developed countries in terms of lack of high-speed Internet and computer technology in every home.
The similarities between what is happening around the globe and in rural Alaska are uncanny: As noted by Moore and Kearsley, in Norway, the “principal objective is to level some of the difference in educational services between the towns and rural areas and bring educational opportunity to small communities, and to do this by leveraging teaching resources, bringing in experts from any location, with a minimum of full-time professional management structure, in a very twenty-first century model” (p. 253). Sounds a lot like rural Alaska and what we are trying to do in so many of our rural school districts! Similarly, in South Africa, distance education provided by private institutions is focused on “students in grades 10 to 12 who don’t want to or are unable to study at a face-to-face school” (p. 257). This, too, rings true of students in rural communities and villages who are struggling to keep up as high school students and who wish to stay close to home as college students yet are limited in terms of opportunities for learning without relocating to more populated areas with university campuses.
Moore and Kearsley also cite a Japanese Visiting Senior Advisor in Education when they note that, “What is needed more for Japan’s distance education is neither new technology nor substantial content, but considerateness, careful attention and finely-tuned responses to distance learners who tend to be left out on a limb. In this sense, both faculty development and staff development are essential for those institutions to continue encouraging current learners and attracting future ones” (p. 248). And consider Turkey’s Anadolu University, which was established “to provide an alternative opportunity for students for whom there were not enough places on residential campuses” (p. 258). Oh, how true this is in rural Alaska, as well!
Brazil has a “special unit within the Ministry of Education, called the Secretariat of Distance Education” (p. 250). Considering Governor Parnell’s Digital Teaching Initiative to benefit rural Alaskan students, perhaps this is idea warranted within our own DEED? I know that we have a liaison between AKLN and DEED, but what if that position were focused more on truly promoting distance education, professional development, and the infrastructure required for high quality online learning built on best practices and research?
Our earlier readings that focused on MOOCs, OOCs, and widespread learning opportunities for all who have access to the Internet, regardless of their connections to big name universities or the tuitions that go along with them, came back into the picture this week. Moore and Kearsley’s review of systems in Germany and the Netherlands are great examples of why new visions of online learning resonate with students of any age: In Germany, “Teaching matter is not presented in an over crowded lecture theater, but in the form of well organized and prepared teaching materials...which are delivered to the students’ homes...via the Internet” (p. 261). In the Netherlands, online learning is “self-paced [where] there is no cohort of students following a prescribed study pattern. … Students can enroll at any time and generally decide for themselves when to take an examination” (p. 261). In France, online learning is not limited to classes for high school or adult learners, but includes “a catalog of 300 distance courses, provided at all levels from elementary school to university and for all competitive examinations” (p. 265).
I am guilty of being intrigued by Google’s search bar “Doodles” and illustrations. Earlier this week, the Google search page featured a birthday cake with “25.” I bit and clicked...and it led me to the following Google blog post, which certainly contributed to my thinking this week. HowI it is possible that the world wide web is only 25 years old is beyond me. In people-years, the WWW’s frontal lobe hasn’t even developed yet, meaning it still hasn’t reached an age of maturity! I was struck by Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s post on the Google blog on Tuesday, where he wonders online how we will “ensure that the other 60 percent around the world who are not connected get online fast? How can we make sure that the web supports all languages and cultures, not just the dominant ones? How do we build consensus around open standards to link the coming Internet of things? Will we allow others to package and restrict our line experience, or will we protect the mgic of the open web and the power it gives us to say, discovery, and create anything? How can we build systems of checks and balances to hold the groups that can spy on the net accountable to the public?”
A 2012 infographic shows that WE create 571 new websites and 347 new blog posts via Wordpress and 48 HOURS of uploaded video via Youtube and over two-MILLION search querries occur every MINUTE of the day (James, 2012). Human beings around the world, connected by the World Wide Web, aren’t just coexisting on a huge mass of a planet in space; we are working together to create a global reality on a “flat” planet that allows us all to interact socially, governmentally, and economically, regardless of where we are.
Each day when I log onto Facebook, I get the latest news from a former student currently engaged in mission work in Thailand. I don’t have to wait weeks on end for a hand-written letter explaining what she has been up to and relying on her expertise as a writer to explain to me her surroundings and experiences: I can “live” the adventure right along with her thanks to real-time posts, video, photographs, and chat messages.
My brother was in India for work a couple week ago. We had a face-to-face conversation while he was there via Skype. My daughter is in California during her spring break, and I receive regular photo updates from her via text messages. My 10-month-old niece was baptized in Davenport, Iowa, today...and while I could not be there, I felt pretty close thanks to SnapChats and multi-media messages from my parents and siblings. I read about distance education all over the world for my class this week and was able to check out what those countries have to offer via URLs to their websites, all accessed from my home office in rural Alaska (which happens to overlook the Wrangell Mountains and some of the most inaccessible and remote topography in North America).
So...what lessons can we take from global distance learning efforts? It’s fairly simple: Geography is no longer an excuse. Location on the planet cannot be used as a limitation for opportunity. Rural Alaskan students should have EVERY chance to access high-quality online learning -- the same as exists anywhere in the world. Berners-Lee’s blog posts talks about a “digital bill of rights to advance a free and open web for everyone” and Webat25.org serves as a very visual reminder that the WORLD is connected via the web, a 25-year-old “thing” that, in one short quarter-century, has changed the entire world.
There is no going back. Thus, we, as educators whose school rooms have had the doors blown off by the global connections available via the web, need to be proactive in defining what "quality" means in online learning and in helping to ensure our students have the best available resources at their fingertips...instead of waiting for for others to make these decisions for us.
"DOMOSPHERE." Data Created Every Minute. Web. 16 Mar. 2014. <http://www.domo.com/blog/2012/06/how-much-data-is-created-every-minute/?dkw=socf3>.
"Governor Unveils Digital Teaching Initiative." Press Release. Web. 16 Mar. 2014. <http://gov.alaska.gov/parnell/press-room/full-press-release.html?pr=6639>.
Moore, M. and Kearsley, G. (2012). Distance Education: A Systems View of Online Learning. [e-book edition]. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
"Official Google Blog: On the 25th Anniversary of the Web, Let’s Keep It Free and Open." Official Google Blog. Web. 14 Mar. 2014. <http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2014/03/on-25th-anniversary-of-web-lets-keep-it.html>.
"Web at 25: Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Invention of the Web." Web at 25: Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Invention of the Web. Web. 13 Mar. 2014. <http://www.webat25.org/>.
Woollaston, Victoria. "Revealed, What Happens in Just ONE Minute on the Internet: 216,000 Photos Posted, 278,000 Tweets and 1.8m Facebook Likes." Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 30 July 2013. Web. 16 Mar. 2014. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2381188/Revealed-happens-just-ONE-minute-internet-216-000-photos-posted-278-000-Tweets-1-8m-Facebook-likes.html>.