Distance education typically refers to a process where students complete their coursework at a location other than a primary campus. Effectively, this method first developed in the mid-19th century in the form of correspondence courses in the United Kingdom. The correspondence course design includes the instructor and the student mailing assignments back and forth between the university and the student’s location. In many cases, the use of the Internet has replaced the correspondence-by-mail method of instructional delivery. With the advent of television and the further development of radio, some colleges and universities saw an opportunity to present classes via these media. By these methods, various instructors present lectures during set broadcast times while students continue to conduct assignments via correspondence. Additionally, some primary and secondary schools also began at the same time to provide information via television, mainly to supplement and reinforce standard pedagogical instruction in the classroom. Similar to correspondence courses, television and radio instruction generally decreased after the introduction of the Internet as an educational delivery vehicle. However, a notable exception currently exists in some university programs where instructors broadcast live satellite feeds to and from their classroom with classrooms located in regional community colleges, military installations, and other locations. In Virginia, Old Dominion University’s TELETECHNET initiative represents an example of one such effort where students both regionally and around the world sit in local centralized meeting places and access instructors while they teach classes at the home campus in real time through two-way television broadcasts. Once described as the wave of the future, some educators, researchers, and educational administrators suggest that online Internet instruction represents one educational process that has truly come of age. The use of the Internet as an instructional delivery system is exploding in the new millennium. With that explosion comes recognition of the existence of both opportunities and challenges for its effective use as a conduit for meaningful and structured education. In that regard, several researchers describe distinct time and location advantages in the use of Internet instruction, as well as its usefulness in developing knowledge about knowledge (Blair, 2002; Hung, Tan, & Chen, 2005). However, upon review of some examples of online coursework, one may witness a broad range of approaches and quality in online educational programs. In fact, experts specifically note that some online courses lack pedagogical emphasis and design and that universal promises of limitless Internet instruction fail the rationality test (Hung et al.; Wojnar, 2002). This suggests the importance of the Internet as a conduit of learning, but it also suggests a significant and, in some cases, unmet responsibility for those who would help mold and shape lives by instructing and helping to educate people through Internet and intranet mediums. In that regard, dialogue or online discussion has proven valuable in enhancing the online educational process (Blair; Dennen, 2005). Although many university programs use several methods of online discussion with varying degrees of success, some benchmarks have emerged and proven their effectiveness.
Different experts consider dialogue differently, but most would describe it in either or all of three primary categories: (a) one-on-one synchronous discussion, (b) group synchronous discussion, and (c) asynchronous discussion. As with most differing methodologies, each of these processes has its own distinct advantages and disadvantages.
One-on-one synchronous discussion refers to what many people call a chat. Popular delivery vehicles for one-on-one chat include programs like Yahoo! Messenger and Microsoft’s Instant Messenger, among others. To use this technology, one need only start the application that resides on their local computer, select the name or pseudonym of the targeted individual, and begin typing when the window on the computer’s screen opens. Real-time, one-on-one discussions provide some of the same benefits in application that phone or face-to-face conversations allow. Advantages of one-on-one chat include the ability to conduct real-time question-and-answer sessions that provide for a more personal approach than group discussions or those found in typical classroom settings.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Self-Efficacy: It is the belief one possesses about his- or herself that suggests he or she has the wherewithal to achieve a given outcome.
Distance Education: It refers to the processes of teaching and learning in environments other than those associated with traditional, on-campus classrooms. These processes include correspondence, usually through the postal service, Internet, or intranet via synchronous learning like Webcasts and real-time messaging; via asynchronous methods like e-mail and bulletin boards; and through two-way audio and video feeds.
Thread: The topic thread refers to hierarchical, asynchronous postings that focus on a particular topic. Threading generally promotes reflection and considered responses, and therefore overall deeper learning than that found in similar, synchronous methods.
Social Constructionism: This refers to a theory of knowledge that suggests people collectively develop their methods of interacting with each other. Members of a given society or culture might assume or otherwise perceive one of the particular methods they employ as a natural way to think or feel. However, upon deconstruction, one might discover that the method originated through a number of decision-making processes.
Situated Cognition: Stemming from pragmatism, theories regarding situated cognition suggest that one learns better in contextual circumstances than in classroom or laboratory settings.
TELETECHNET: This refers to a distance education tool pioneered by Old Dominion University (ODU) in Norfolk, Virginia. TELETECHNET consists of an integrated system of computers and two-way audio and video feeds whereby ODU links with other institutions to provide live classroom instruction, at both the undergraduate and graduate level, to place-bound students throughout the world.
Asynchronous: In distance education, asynchronous refers to communication in a learning process that is not necessarily immediate. This includes methods like Web logs (blogs), bulletin boards, e-mail, and correspondence.
Synchronous: In distance education, synchronous refers to real-time communication in a learning process. This includes methods like individual and group chat and parallel audio and video streaming.