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Dana Huff
2 March 2009

Describe your experience taking classes at a distance. How many distance courses have you taken? Why did you choose distance education? Describe communication between yourself and other students as well as communication with instructors. Describe any issues you have encountered and how those issues have been resolved. Also, describe the types and uses of media within certain lessons or courses, which you liked or did not like.


I have taken ten distance education courses, including the three I am currently taking. None of my distance education courses have included video or audio as of yet, and they have all had an online base in Blackboard; however, all ten meet the criteria Smaldino, Lowther, & Russell describe as elements of distance education: 1) physical separation of learners from the teacher, 2) organized instructional program, 3) telecommunications technology (text as opposed to audio or video), and 4) two-way communication (written communication) (p. 158). Of these ten classes, seven have been ITMA courses, while the other three were professional development book studies designed to help teachers conveniently earn PLU's (professional learning units) needed to maintain certification.


I chose to try distance education because of my hectic schedule. Choosing programs that allowed for asynchronous study enabled me to earn PLU's and begin coursework on my master's when I otherwise would not have been able to. I am the department chair of my school's English department, a full-time teacher, and the mother to three children, two of whom are special needs. All of my responsibilities make it difficult for me to carve out time to drive and take courses downtown at the nearby university, but distance learning has enabled me to learn at a pace that works for me and work from home.


The form of communication enabled by instructors in each of the Blackboard courses I have taken has mainly been in the form of forum posts in which I was required to post my thoughts on a topic and offer feedback to those of my peers. What I found is that most of my classmates in my PLU courses tended to do the minimum required and did not read or respond to replies. The replies were often stilted and did not generate true conversation among class members. On the other hand, when I was asked to do a similar task for my Learning Theories course, I found the discussion interesting; most of my classmates replied to posts even if they had met their criteria for the assignment. The conversation was more natural. A form of communication that grew as a result of interaction through e-mail in which my classmates were each asked to introduce themselves in Introduction to Computers generated interaction on Facebook and Twitter. This communication has been valuable to me because distance learning can feel lonely, and it helps to know others are also learning the same material. Most of my communication with instructors has taken place through e-mail in the form of questions or tips and advice on assignments or through the grading module in the form of written feedback. I have found both e-mail communication and the grading module to be helpful to me in understanding requirements.


I think one of the biggest issues I have encountered is feeling alone. Working with my classmates on a few occasions has alleviated that issue somewhat, but sometimes I still miss the dynamic of a classroom discussion, however unfeasible it is for me to actually engage in traditional coursework at this time. One way I have solved this problem, at least in part, is interacting with my classmates in other venues, such as Facebook and Twitter. Another issue I encountered in other classes is the feeling that the materials were dated. In particular, I felt adding a social component to the Education and the Web course could have enhanced the learning. The culminating assignment is an Excel file with a collection of links, but I think we could have done the same assignment using social bookmarking tools such as Delicious or Diigo, both of which would have allowed for interaction among class members and been instructional for class members. I am sure others found links that I didn't find and would have been interested in learning about. When I asked the instructor about this possibility, it became clear that the Excel file would still be necessary, and using both seemed like creating extra work for my classmates, so I dropped the issue. I have found that a lack of communication involving the content has sometimes caused a barrier between students and instructors as well. I think it's easy to forget there are human beings on either side of a distance education setting. Some of these issues have not been overcome either because I'm not sure how to broach the subject or frankly because I'm afraid to broach the subject. Naturally that kind of attitude doesn't solve any problems. On the other hand, I found that some instructors in the program have been quite willing to address questions or concerns via e-mail.


Almost all of the media used in my distance education courses has been print media. It has required a great deal of discipline to read the assigned readings and complete the coursework. My most recent Digital Audio assignment required viewing a tutorial on analog-to-digital conversion. The tutorial was a video description of the information. I did enjoy learning the material in a different way, but as the tutorial was not available for Macs, I had to secure a different computer on which to view the tutorial, which was not problematic, but was inconvenient. It occurred to me that should I employ a similar experience for my students, I would ensure they could use the material on Windows, Mac, or Unix because my students' access varies widely: many of my students have Windows PC's, but just as many have Macs. My reaction to the print material has been mixed. I really like the Smaldino, Lowther, and Russell text we are using in Instructional Media. It's well organized, easy to read, and straightforward as well as informative and interesting. Some of the print media I have read for other classes seems dated, which made me wonder what changes had occurred with regards to the information; however, I must hasten to add it was still instructive and informative. In all cases, I am not sure if more recent information pertaining to the subject matter was unavailable, unnecessary, or just wasn't used, but I did wonder why older materials were used. Perhaps this issue might be addressed with more communication. I did enjoy the video, and I would like to use more nonprint resources like audio and video as I progress through the ITMA program. My three PLU courses relied strictly on print, although some of us shared audio and video resources that pertained to our subject matter.


Smaldino, S. E., Lowther, D. L., & Russell, J.D. (2008). Instructional technology and media for learning (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall.