Vol. 16 : No. 2< >
Begging the Question or Odd Man Out
Perrin, Journal Editor
Authenticity is hard to come by, sometimes even in Academia. We have been concerned with the plethora of self-diagnostic questionnaires on student readiness for online Distance Learning courses. These questionnaires are designed to focus student understanding and provide analyses of DL requirements in the technical (hardware) and psychological/social (humanware) areas to determine whether a student would have reasonable expectations for success as a DL student. It is our observation that these questions, for the most part, have about as much veracity in determining whether a student would do well in Distance Learning as declaring that one would like pickles if one had had eaten cucumbers although that person had never tasted either vinegar or salt.
A little pragmatism here would do a world of good. Some questionnaires like those on the Illinois Online Network and Online Learning, University of San Diego come right up front and score with a genuine concern that, to be a successful online Distance Learning student, the student must have access to a computer, the Internet and a phone line. USD is head and shoulders above many other surveys in asking whether the student knows how to use a computer and PBS does well and puts some things in perspective with its question about the immediate and imperative student need for the course.
Our concern is the "humanware" (our word) arena. We have yet to see any substantive research that supports the following ever present implied dependent relationships to assess likelihood of student success in DL.
A student's need to feel part of a class is a more significant indicator of probable failure as a Distance Learning student than of probable failure in a F2F class.
Lack of immediate instructor feed back is more significant to a distance learner that to an on campus learner.
Tendency to procrastinate is more indicative of probable failure in a DL class than in an on campus class.
Reluctance to contact an instructor for help in a timely manner is more likely to cause failure for a Distance Learner than for an on campus student.
If class discussion is helpful to a student, the student is not a likely candidate for success in Distance Learning (implicit is the assumption that class discussion is lacking in DL).
If exploring new things is appealing, a student is more likely to be successful as a distance learner. (Does this imply that, if this kind of learning exploration is not appealing to a student, the student is advised to stick with a F2F situation?).
Going to class in pajamas is better than commuting to campus - (that these criteria are indicators of likely success for the Distance Learning student mandates absolute suspension of academic judgment!)
If a student feels that often an immediate answer is not
his or her best answer, the time delay in Distance Learning would be
advantageous. (Doesn't this indicate a possible need for some redesign in
question and answer activity in on campus classes rather than an inherent
aptitude for Distance Learning?). And, my personal favorite,
If a student thinks that sharing work, life and education experiences will bring about increased learning, that student is likely to be a successful Distance Learning student. This implies that if a student does not believe this, then that student is not a good prospect for Distance Learning and would be well advised to stick with on campus classes where, presumably, such sharing will not take place to impede the progress of learning.
Seriously, friends, colleagues, and fellow distance learners, we need to sweep the corners of our towers with a little more rigorous broom.
Shirley M. Davis
Shirley, our beloved colleague, friend, mentor passed away Sunday, February 10th, 2002. Shirley worked long and tirelessly on behalf of Distance Learning and in support of bringing the very best learning experiences to students of all ages, wherever they were. Shirley was Director of Learning Innovations for PBS Adult Learning Service and PBS TeacherLine. She was Past-President of the United States Distance Learning Association and founding member and Past-President of the Washington Metropolitan Distance Learning Association. Shirley has been a highly respected leader within the Distance Learning movement for the past 20 years and was a major force in the advancement of Distance Learning. She will be sorely missed by all of us who had the joy and excitement of knowing and working with her.