Recent developments in technology in learning have often been claimed to facilitate distant learning
. I have to say that I am not enamoured by that phrase, or the connotations that it has. One alternative I considered was disembodied learning. I hadn't heard the term used before but trusty old Google threw up Disembodied Learning: How Flexible Delivery Shoots Higher Education in the Foot, Well Sort of
as its first hit:
One of the great ironies in education at the moment is that increasing attention is being given to the body - how meaning is `written' on it by gender, ethnicity and class - at the same time as the new information technology provides for the body's very disappearance from learning. `Flexible delivery' writes the body out of the learning equation - or tends to. This short paper, shaped by philosophy and styled as polemic, discusses this irony. It ends up with a few worries about flexible delivery, especially the so- called `delivery' of learning, and suggests that higher education may not be as well-served by flexible delivery as is currently thought.
I have some sympathy with the tenet of that article. I am not a sociologist (IANAS ;-)) but my own experience of teaching - and commonsense - suggest that an embodied mentoring aspect to teaching and learning is A Good Thing. I like to think that real face to face mentoring situations - i.e. lectures, practicals, and tutorials, are a necessary condition for really effective teaching and learning. As a Computer Scientist that has used newsgroups and e-mail for more years than I care to remember to support teaching I know that these sorts of technologies have their place but that they cannot replace face to face situations entirely.
But, I am also critical of the constraints that such technologies impose on interactions between participants in a class. On such constraint is the poor integration of e-mail (pop/smtp) and newsgroup (nntp) with the web (http). It seems to me that e-mail or newsgroup mediated discussions are themselves disembodied from the web which, IMHO, is a superior delivery platform. Of course, you can incorporate URLs and/or HTML in e-mail and newsgroup messages but integration this ain't. It won't come as any surprise to regular readers to know that I think weblogs are an exciting (new?) development and, potentially, a great asset to disembodied learning. I like the term disembodied rather than distant in this case since it implies (to me at least) that I although I may not be in a classroom or laboratory in person, I can be there 'virtually'. I sometimes feel that 'distant' implies 'disconnect'.
Although it's unlikely that I can contribute a great deal to the underpinning (sociological) theory - remember IANAS - I am a dedicated teacher. The students that I interact with on a daily basis are (mostly ;-)) computer-literate and some are undoubtedly more active in e-mail, IRC, and newsgroup forums than I. I have always counted myself fortunate to have the opportunity to interact with generation(s) of students that are so comfortable with these sorts of technologies. They are ideal guinea-pigs!!
Time's up. Off to a tutorial. I'll get back to this thread later.