I was struck by our discussion of distance learning during our class Monday. Well, I would have struck, if I had been paying attention fully.
At the time of our discussion, I was talking to another student in the class on GChat about the discussion, writing a paper, emailing my boss, researching potential Webinar topics and also monitoring my facebook for new notifications.
SI students live within an arm-length of a computer at all times. I think this must have gotten worse when we moved to the North Quad space, where even our cell-phones don’t work, creating email and the internet as a sort of total communication.
This has in some way I think drastically changed the way we as a group learn. Much of my learning has become a strange blend of asynchronous and synchronous learning. I sit in one class and I learn for another; I write emails, I draft reports, I do research and yes, I do blog-posts. I multi-task.
I once had a class where we had our group project meetings for that class during lecture. We all got into the same Gchat circle, creating agendas and to-do lists, and drafted reports. It saved us probably collectively 40 hours of meeting outside of the class. All while we were supposed to be paying attention to for all purposes was a very informative, interesting lecture.
We spoke at length critically about online learning. We spoke about the emotional impact of distance. We spoke about the issues of technology, time-zones and expectations. Admittedly, I have never taken an online class. But haven’t all of my classes at SI in some way been online? I am online all the time, my brain distant in another class literally working on something or looking at something else. How much more, quantitatively, am I “there” than an online student taking the same class?
Admittedly, I think I’m worse than most. But not by much. I think it’s too easy to say that a online student is “distant” whereas a residential student is not. In terms of expectations, there is increasing distance and asynchronous interaction throughout our academic lives.
I’m not saying I believe we should all take online classes. As I said in class, my coursework I feel is one small part of a larger, perhaps monastic experience I have had at SI, a sort of total immersion. But I think we should first look around at our laptops before we volunteer ourselves as the non-distant ones.