Vol. 16 : No. 10< >
Editor’s Note: This
is a significant analysis of the learning environment and of "Sense of Place."
The research is comprehensive, intriguing, and insightful. Dr. Glogoff opens
a future for education through a rare understanding of the academic history,
past and present.
Of Pipe Tomahawks and Instructional Artifacts:
Photographs with permission from: http://www.nativeartstrading.com/Tomahawks.htm
In January 2002, the University of Arizona hosted a conference entitled: "Developing a Sense of Place for Distance Education." Four keynote speakers shared their thoughts on the conference theme, weaving a tapestry of images that shaped the audience’s appreciation of the past, awareness of contemporary technological, social and cultural norms, and fashioned a vision of the future. Stan Davis, a consultant, futurist, and well-known author, drew upon an historical framework in discussing education in the context of economic life cycles. He explained first how the Church drove education during the Agrarian Age and that government became the driving force during the Industrial Age. Now, as we are well into the second half of the Information Age, Davis noted a shift from government driving education to the private sector’s ascendance as a key force.
Within this era of the Information Age we are witnessing a transition from numbers and words having the biggest impact on what we communicate digitally, to sounds and images. Integrating sound and images in instruction has the potential to attract new users to distance learning because it can significantly enhance a sense of community among participants. Tools promoting collaboration, such as those providing real-time video conferencing, offer greater opportunities for learner-centered instruction than text-based tools. Consider the potential of replacing asynchronous email correspondence with real-time "face-to-face" consultations between faculty and students who are dispersed across the Internet. Courses in disciplines such as speech and language benefit from practical applications of voice-enabled software by adding sound to message boards and web pages, creating presentations with sound attached, and enabling voice email.
In two other general sessions, the speakers described how they were exploring ways to combine elements from both virtual and physical learning spaces. Ronald Bleed, Vice Chancellor of Information Technologies at the Maricopa County Community College District, spoke of the "hybrid" campus and Laura Palmer Noone, President of the University of Phoenix, described her institution’s effort to combine aspects of the classroom experience with online instruction. These comments confirmed Davis’ observation that if anything, evolving technologies should augment the overall learning experience rather than transform it. He described the situation as analogous to when radio broadcasts of baseball games began. At that time team owners worried that fans would stop coming to ballparks. Instead, radio made baseball the nation’s pastime and television made it exponentially more popular. In the context of distance education, Davis’ historical theme again serves as guide. The groundwork for today’s online instruction derives its roots from the emergence of adult education programs. The correspondence courses of the forties and fifties led to the video courses of the seventies and eighties, which led to today’s web courses. It is not surprising, then, that we now speak openly of the virtue of intermingling elements of the traditional physical campus with the virtual.
The underlying framework for distributing learning via computer networks reveals an infrastructure where new technologies replace older technologies with regularity. Some evolve from the more established; others merge with related technologies, and others appear out of necessity. Scholars researching the "artifactual" record describe the technological continuity of the artifact.
Using their model, we might view the hardware, software, and telecommunications resources with which we interact on a daily basis as artifacts advancing along a contiguous path. History of technology scholars who take an evolutionary view of technological change, speak of three themes: diversity, necessity and technological evolution. Contrary to the "revolutionary" theory of technological invention that ascribes dramatically new inventions springing forth because of the genius of individuals, historian George Basalla suggests looking closely for evidence of the introduction of external stimuli such as socio-economic, political and cultural factors (Basalla, 1988). Theorists like Basalla also account for new inventions in terms of pairs of artifacts brought together to create an entirely new invention. An historical example is the pipe tomahawk that Basalla shows was developed in the mid-18th century by an anonymous English blacksmith. The pipe tomahawk was immediately adopted and became widely used by American Indians until the early 20th century (Basalla, 1993).
Contemporary artifacts can experience similar pairings. For example, when looking at course management systems we see how numerous technological artifacts have been drawn together. Formerly stand-alone technologies such as chat rooms, email, discussion groups, HTML editors, and web pages used for faculty or student presentation space, are six "artifacts" that comprise the current generation of course management systems. Now factor in the emerging technologies -- and future artifacts -- of sound and images. Inexpensive video cameras, for example, are widely available and come with software that makes recording audio and video child’s play. Web conferencing systems can capture participants’ desktops, share files, transmit voice over the Internet, and stream media.
Once such tools are incorporated into course management systems, instructors and students in distance learning courses will make the transition from today’s largely text-laden communications tools to applications with far more interactive components. Hopefully, the tools encompassing the next generation of course management systems will approximate the pipe tomahawk’s practicality.
Over the past few years, online courses and ambitious initiatives aimed at a perceived marketplace have been announced as often as new breakfast cereals. Stories of failed initiatives are only slightly less commonplace. Colleges and universities dove headfirst into distance learning as if private sector diploma mills were poised to snatch students from our brick and mortar institutions. Many of these efforts have been slowed or stopped while the institutions grapple with better understanding the costs associated with online instruction (Carr, 2001). NYUonline, for example, was closed in late 2001 reportedly due to concerns for the distance-learning company’s business plan and that it could not "break from its academic roots to operate as a business" (Carlson & Carnevale, 2001).
At this time, however, the private sector seems more attuned to technology certificate programs than to traditional academic degree programs nurtured for decades by faculty curriculum committees and external accreditation reviews. Consider as well how Laura Palmer Noone openly acknowledges that the University of Phoenix’s success is due to capturing a niche market -- full-time workers, people with family obligations for whom matriculating at a traditional physical campus is impractical, and those whose schedules are not conducive to academia’s often rigidly enforced proscriptions.
At this time the vast majority of undergraduates’ sense of place resides with established institutions. The residential campus remains a highly attractive commodity. For traditional undergraduates, solely online programs cannot compete with the green space of a physical campus, the learning derived from face-to-face meetings with faculty, the serendipity of small group interaction with classmates, the exposure to diverse cultures, lifelong friendships derived from campus Greek or residential life, and the loyalty engendered by the school’s sports teams.
This is not to advocate traditional instruction over online. Instead, it envisions an integrative model driving instruction at the residential and branch campuses, and in fully virtual environments. It is predicated on the belief that for higher education to remain a viable choice to the majority of degree seeking students, both on-campus and distance instruction must evolve. In order to realize this vision, we should plan and implement new online learning initiatives that absorb the technological evolution model in our processes. As this process matures, we avoid treating technology as mere artifacts and become increasingly cognizant of the social, political and cultural trends interwoven with evolving technologies. By doing so, we will realize the most profound impact on students and faculty working in online environments. The business plans developed around online instruction will be sounder and we will be far better positioned to respond proactively to external stimuli.
Before delving more deeply into these external stimuli, let’s consider one more historical lesson. Tom Standage’s history of the telegraph, The Victorian Internet (Standage, 1998), draws fascinating parallels between the nineteenth century’s telegraph and the Internet. Standage observes that the telegraph and the Internet both enable people to communicate over great distances using a common set of rules and protocols. Hype generated in the mid-1990s about the Internet brashly predicted that it would transform our lives, revolutionize education, re-engineer business practices, and democratize the world. Foes of this utopian forecast instead preached of cultural demise and threats from horrific societal miscreants. Interestingly, one hundred fifty years ago the telegraph was similarly met with confusion and incredulity. For example, a bill before Congress to allocate $30,000 to build an experimental telegraph line was met with catcalls and derision. Although the bill narrowly passed, over one-third of the representatives did not cast a vote. Some simply could not understand the telegraph’s technical underpinning, while others shared concerns that the funding bill was an elaborate scheme to defraud the public.
Each technology also has witnessed a sub-culture replete with its own jargon, contention between experienced users and novices, and proponents for encrypting messages to guarantee security. Like the Internet, once the telegraph became established, the business community became its most ardent supporter. Today, many of us feel connected closely to strangers we meet in chat rooms, on listservs, or through the Web. In much the same way, the trans-Atlantic cable of the late 1850’s and the transcontinental telegraph system of the 1860s made people living in those times feel linked like never before to others living thousands of miles away. Anecdotal evidence such as this reminds us to look for antecedents to today’s technologies before proceeding as if they are ushering us into entirely new processes. The adage that those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it is as true for those who fail to study the history of technology.
While distance education has existed for decades and been delivered via a variety of media, teaching on the Web is considerably different from previous delivery methods. On the Web, the participant’s sense of place is a prime concern. As a torchbearer of his father’s message for the digital age, Eric McLuhan described the Internet in dizzying terms: "the center is no-where and now-here, everywhere at once" (McLuhan, 1998). William J. Mitchell wrote in City of Bits that the Internet is "nowhere in particular but everywhere at once" (Mitchell, 1995). In the Gutenberg Galaxy, the elder McLuhan referred to an electronic interdependence that recreates the world as a global village and noted that "when technology extends one of our senses, a new translation of culture occurs as swiftly as the new technology is interiorized" (McLuhan, 1995).
Though written roughly forty years before the Web’s ascendance, McLuhan’s words ring prophetic. Sight, sound and touch are engaged when we conduct instruction on the Web. Effectively teaching with the Web engages students’ senses in ways far beyond those that we might expect. We need to be careful, however, that we are not merely replacing the physical podium for the virtual but are incorporating the powerful ways that the Web heightens student interaction.
Teaching on the Web induces different social and collaborative processes than the traditionally time-bound, place-bound, and role-bound education models. When students learn from web-based instruction, they should not feel restricted to the computer/artifact’s physical location but instead find their senses excited in ways that transcend it. Certainly, much depends on the content, its presentation, the students’ experiences with technology, their expectations, and a myriad of other conditions. For the instruction to realize its objectives, faculty should assess what methods best promote learning. The traditional passive, lecture-and-book-based education encapsulating early web-based instruction does little to instill a sense of place in the virtual classroom. In a May 31, 2002, Chronicle of Higher Education cover story entitled "The 24-Hour Professor," the sub-title spoke volumes to the changes many faculty now feel: "online teaching redefines faculty members’ schedules, duties, and relationships with students." One key to teaching in this environment brought forward in the article is that a quick response to student virtual communications is critical to establishing a sense of place in the virtual class.
A crucial element for successfully delivering virtual courses entails "transforming the educational experience so that it is meaningful to the information-age learner" (Frand, 2000). Within this context, the influx of the first wave of the Network Generation into undergraduate education affords educators an outstanding opportunity to align their instruction with how these students learn. Previous models should be set aside in favor of experimenting with new tools and styles, evaluating what works, and redesigning accordingly. The types of questions to ask are: How do NetGeners learn? What do they learn independent of faculty and where is faculty guidance most needed? What role do virtual classmates play in learning? What is the nature of the virtual communities that NetGeners build and how do they contribute to the learning experience? How effective are these virtual students at sifting through the over 2.5 billion documents residing on the Internet (Saracevic, 2000)?
Sherry Turkle and Howard Rheingold established a foundation for a sense of place in virtual space when they described their research and experiences regarding behavior in Internet chat rooms and newsgroups in the early to mid-1990s (Turkle, 1993). Rheingold has written more recently on virtual communities (Rheingold, 2001) and as a keynote speaker at the University of Arizona conference updated the attendees on his more recent observations as they relate to online learning. Approximately ten years after the publication of The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier, he advised educators to regard effective online communication as a form of literacy. In addition, he emphasized the importance of recognizing the value of social interaction in online learning. This is particularly true for virtual classes taught to undergraduates, because this group is learning social norms as well as subject content.
Technology, social exigencies, and pedagogical interpretations each play a role in persistent structured asynchronous interpretations. Examples of instructional tools that contribute to developing a social realm for virtual learners are chat rooms, email, threaded discussion forums, blogs 1, and messaging. Rheingold suggests that instructors explore student social expectations. Within this context, instructors are advised to establish frameworks in which conversations held in open space may be contained within understood boundaries. Setting boundaries such as schedules and expectations can help create perceived space between instructor and student. Social rules, such as how online disputes are adjudicated, help establish normative behavior.
In addition, merging physical expectations within the virtual environment makes it easier for participants to determine where a course’s virtual on-ramps and off-ramps are located. Such demarcations increase a student’s ability to answer that internal question, "Where am I?" Rheingold finds that written language, an artifact from the earliest forms of instruction, is exceptionally important in creating mental models in online space. Persistent conversations, such as those in threaded discussion forums, can expand a student’s social networks through time and contribute to building virtual communities. Other keys to fostering a sense of place in online instruction are blending asynchronous communications with face-to-face, experimenting with new technologies that may promote community, and re-designing online instruction based on the learner’s input.
Don Tapscott, with his important book Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation (1998), brought us closer to understanding how today’s teenagers think, learn, behave and respond to intellectual stimuli. At the heart of the Network Generation culture, he reported, is interactivity. Children today increasingly are participants not viewers and are more incited to discourse than their predecessors. Contrary to fears that students are hurt by time spent on the Internet and in chat rooms, he finds that "digital kids" are learning precisely the social skills required for effective interaction in the digital economy (Tapscott, 1998). Tapscott’s research leads him to conclude that the Net Generation is a force for educational transformation. They process information differently than previous generations, learn best in highly customizable environments, and look to teachers to create and structure their learning experience (Tapscott, 2001). Furthermore, the importance of understanding the behavioral patterns of the Network Generation exceeds merely appreciating that they are comfortable working online.
It relies on accepting what Tapscott labels as the 8 Shifts of Interactive Learning:
- from linear to hypermedia learning
- from instruction to construction and discovery
- from teacher-centered to learner-centered education
- from absorbing material to learning how to navigate and how to learn
- from school to lifelong learning
- from one-size-fits-all to customized learning
- from learning as torture to learning as fun, and
- from the teacher as transmitter to the teacher as facilitator (Tapscott, 1998).
What do undergraduates find as they begin their college careers? Are their courses constructed in ways that incorporate new media tools and are based upon discovery and participation? Wearing the pundits cap, Tapscott opines that an educator frozen 300 years ago would find that little in the classroom has changed over three centuries. Some might even suggest that little has changed since Peter Abelard taught at the Cathedral School in Paris in the early 12th century. While musings such as these tease contemporary educators, research on teaching in K-12 and universities indicates that classroom instruction is much as it was for the previous generation.
Larry Cuban, Professor of Education at Stanford University, reported similar outcomes when comparing early childhood sites, high schools and Stanford. Today’s students and faculty have access at home and school to outstanding technological resources. They use technology to research, write, communicate, and prepare for courses. Nevertheless, his studies indicate that even in the technological Mecca of Silicon Valley, direct classroom instruction makes little use of the new media (Cuban, 2001). Teachers at all levels of schooling, he found, are using technology to perform tasks that they have regularly done in the past: i.e., communicate with parents and administrators, prepare their lessons and lectures, and update grade books. In effect, today’s undergraduates find one artifact replacing another.
Incorporating new techniques in online instruction will do much to further the investments made by both higher education and e-learning companies. As the six professors in The Chronicle of Higher Education article "The 24-Hour Professor" (Young, 2001) made clear, the amount of time online teaching takes is far greater than what one invests in traditional classes. Student emails arrived seven days a week and at all hours. Rather than leaving student contact hours on campus, these professors found that their commitment to students in virtual courses expanded into what was previously personal time. Virtual courses, therefore, extend spatial boundaries and offer greater opportunities to interact with students and shape their learning experience. As tools delivering sound and images become more adaptable, students should realize a greater sense of place and involvement with online learning. A few examples will serve this point.
At the University of Arizona, an English instructor is using a voice-enabled threaded message board within a website to teach Mohave, an endangered Native American language spoken in western Arizona. The instructor has created different modules with information about Mohave pronunciation and vocabulary. Modules are constructed around topics such as greetings, verbs, parts of the body, and short sentences. Students review a module and go to the message board where they listen to a native speaker pronounce the words, respond to questions, and enter their own message. In addition to the voice-enabled portion of the message board there is the capability to type the text of the message, which appears in an accompanying channel. It is not dissimilar to other web message boards and threaded discussions, except it adds the dimension of sound to the instruction. Something of a pipe tomahawk for the year 2002. This product, and others like it, provides intuitive ways to make instruction more interactive. Instructors can deliver lectures over the Web that combine presentation material with voice. Students are able to post presentations to web space that include text, images, and sound. The ability to reach beyond the limits of text-only delivery mechanisms is an important step toward making the virtual classroom less a broadcast medium and more of an interactive dialogue. It is not surprising to read that one of the leading vendors in this marketplace has announced a partnership with one of the leading course management systems. Doing so is a logical extension of the technology because these tools have, to-date, relied heavily on text-based email and discussion forums.
Sound and images step to the forefront when delivered as digital video. Teaching faculty commonly has the ability to record content, such as lectures, and stream them to students "anytime/anywhere." Tools that archive the content to searchable databases created from voice-recognition software extend the value of archived lectures well beyond stored "talking heads." A colleague spoke enthusiastically of how he re-designed his course so that a previous semester’s lectures were streamed to students on-demand from a video server. Instead of lecturing for fifty minutes, he now uses in-class time to discuss relevant course material and explore ideas.
Another example of the impact of functional sound and video is seen at the University of Arizona where the College of Nursing is transforming its doctoral program from residential to totally online. Faculty members looking to technology to enrich online instruction are excited about the capabilities of digital video. Their interests run the gamut from simple, inexpensive applications to high functionality, costly products. Ideas that they find appealing include attaching short personalized video files recorded spontaneously at their desktops to email messages, streaming previously recorded lectures, and leading live webcasts. Opportunities to create virtual seminars are being discussed with web collaboration tools. Imagine replacing the virtual void that distance learners feel in asynchronous programs with images of classmates displayed on their desktops.
Looking at a virtual classmate’s face while she or he speaks through voice-over-IP, even if that image is small and somewhat distorted, adds a more personal dimension to the experience and contributes toward building a sense of community. Instructional resources such as these will promote collaboration and participation among geographically dispersed students by sending video images of the participants or objects under discussion.
In addition more advanced technologies are now available that bring real-time conferencing and collaboration to the desktop. These tools enable instructors to broadcast a desktop view to anyone in that virtual classroom, most commonly PowerPointTM presentations and web browsers. Added functionality promotes further collaboration by exchanging desktop control with remote participants, sharing drawing tools on "whiteboards," integrating keyboard chat, providing voice-over-IP instead of by potentially costly telephone conference calls, and displaying video images of the participants. While these tools seem like expensive add-ons, we are likely to see them bundled in -- or interoperating with -- future course management systems.
The assumption exists that strategic planning and policy are the compass points plotting higher education’s direction and that the ubiquitous nature of technology in today’s workplace has relegated the successful planning process to a reactive rather than a proactive activity. Most technologists will attest that "budgeting for change" rendered by technology is far more daunting than "planning for change." The impact of technological advances are felt throughout higher education and observed as more of a cause-effect than as a symbiotic relationship. An article in an April 2002 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education (Young, 2002) voiced the laments of numerous information technologists over increasing costs for course management system licenses, described as spiraling upward outrageously. Such increases, of course, are not unique in a market-driven economy and there have been other technologies in which the costs have risen dramatically as new functionality emerged, markets solidified and buyers established a need for the products. Library management systems, database management systems, and video archiving systems are three examples. These markets would not have succeeded had us buyers been unwilling or unable to process the purchase order. Within the framework of our technological infrastructure, new technologies evolve, merge and replace older technologies with regularity. Somewhere between all the platitudes and cautionary tales lies an educational pipe tomahawk that will extend our ability to deliver instruction in ways that match student expectations.
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Basalla, G. (1993). On the Make, The Sciences, 33(2), 40-45.
Carlson, S., & Carnevale, D. (2001, December 14). Debating the Demise of NYUonline, The Chronicle of Higher Education, p. A31. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/weekly/v48/i16/16a03101.htm
Carr, S. (2001, February 16) Is Anyone Making Money on Distance Education, The Chronicle of Higher Education, p. A41. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/weekly/v47/i23/23a04101.htm
Cuban, L. (2001). Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press.
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Saracevic, A. T. (2000, November 5). Quantifying the Internet: Bay Area Archivists try to Figure Out How Big the Net IS and What's On It, San Francisco Examiner, B4. Varian also estimated that the Net is growing at 7.3 million documents a day.
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Young, J. R. (2002, May 31). The 24-Hour Professor: Online Teaching Redefines Faculty Members’ Schedules, Duties, and Relationships with Students. The Chronicle of Higher Education, p. A31. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/weekly/v48/i38/38a03101.htm#six
Young, J., R. (2002, April 19). Pricing Shifts By Blackboard and WebCT Cost Some Colleges Much More. The Chronicle of Higher Education, p. A35. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/weekly/v48/i32/32a03501.htm
1 blogs On a website, a blog, a short form of web log or weblog, is a personal journal that is frequently updated and intended for general public consumption. Blogs generally represent the personality of the author or the website and its purpose. Topics sometimes include brief philosophical musings, commentary on Internet and other social issues, and links to other sites the author favors. The essential characteristics of the blog are its journal form, typically a new entry each day, and its informal style. Retrieved July 25, 2002 from http://searchwebmanagement.techtarget.com
Stuart Glogoff is Manager, Distributed Learning Projects at the University of Arizona. This is a multifaceted position and draws upon his twenty-five+ years of experience with information technology. His responsibilities include identifying, evaluating and recommending technology products related to teaching and learning; administering cross-functional IT projects that promote best practices in the use of education technology; creating interdisciplinary digital libraries and re-usable instructional objects; and developing high quality instructional modules for online learning. His work is conducted under the guidance of the Vice-Provost for Instructional Technology.
Stuart Glogoff is the manager of distributed learning projects in the Office of Distributed Learning at the University of Arizona. His contact information is:
Stuart J. Glogoff, Manager,
Distributed Learning Projects
Office of Distributed Learning
1077 N. Highland Ave., Room 337 CCIT
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721-0073
Office Phone: (520) 636-5347 Fax: (520) 626-8220