The instructional designer for EDUC 6135 posed some far-reaching questions for our final reflection. The queries invited me to predict the character of our society’s perceptions of distance learning in the near future (say, in 5 to 10 years) and later (say, in 10 to 20 years). They also challenged me to consider how, as an instructional designer, I might increase societal approval of distance learning. Finally, they required me to specify ways in which I might not only improve the public’s view of distance education, but continuously advance its substantive quality as well. Yet, however far-ranging the questions, they all derive from the basic assumption that the popular impression of distance learning demands amelioration. This presumption may be in the process of becoming outdated as students learn to accept and manage, even willy-nilly, its technological tasks. The bad news is that, even so, some participants’ dislike of distance learning has not disappeared thereby, but has instead become focused on their real, rather than merely perceived or hopeless Luddite, distress with its disadvantages as a learning modality. The good news is that, as their resistance is revealed to come from online education’s bona fide limitations rather than stubborn bias, it can be addressed with actual solutions; doing so will automatically hoist acceptance of distance learning, and I as an instructional designer can aid that effort.
For example, it is a fact and not just an opinion that Walden’s highly interactive asynchronous teaching environment (Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015, p. 10) delays by hours or even days (Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015, pp. 107-108) the instructor or colleague feedback that would be instantaneous in an in-person setting. Interviewee responses to the Week 7 discussion assignment on perceptions of online distance degrees showed that, while respondents held the quality of the degrees as equal to those from a traditional institution, many assessed the method of instruction as inferior because it lacks face-to-face interaction. Indeed, in one study, researchers at Rutgers University found that “feedback from course participants revealed one of the motivations to participate in a brick and mortar classroom was the intrinsic urge to become part of a community” (Boling, Hough, Krinsky, Saleem, & Stevens, 2012, p. 124). So concerns about online courses’ less-immediate interaction reflect not just a general prejudice, but a specific learning preference, that discourages certain students from choosing distance learning programs.
I believe that advancing technology can overcome this genuine issue. Virtual Reality in education appears to be more effective in game form than in the virtual worlds form—that is, asynchronous communication–generally characterizing discussion forums (Merchant, Goetz, Cifuentes, Keeney-Kennicutt, & Davis, 2014, p. 37) and making them seem stilted and, well, distancing. As Virtual Reality becomes more realistic and as question-and-answer communications technology becomes more widespread and accessible, I think that virtual worlds will attain as much teaching power as gaming has today, and its online interactivity will become a more personal experience, even if asynchronous.
As a case in point, the University of Southern California, where I work, exemplifies this effort by having invested millions of dollars into researching the educational utility of the virtual worlds format in its New Dimensions in Testimony program (http://www.today.com/series/are-we-there-yet/holograms-add-new-dimension-holocaust-survivors-story-t20511). The program applies technology already used by Hollywood and by the Institute for Creative Technology (http://ict.usc.edu/) in the Department of Defense’s PTSD studies to conduct question-and-answer interviews for the USC Shoah Foundation (http://sfi.usc.edu). Genocide survivors are interviewed in order to produce learning materials helping scholars, educators, communities and organizations teach tolerance and combat ideologies of hatred. Holograms preprogrammed to ask and to answer thousands of questions can act in a real world or virtual world format.
Hologram Online Interview Technology
This technology appears to produce through virtual means the biological effects of a face-to-face, real-time conversation between an interviewee and students. Current research at the USC Shoah Foundation is investigating whether the ability to look at an interlocutor in three dimensions—right in the (virtual) eye—triggers biological engagement just as in-the-flesh interaction does. If researchers can prove that learners are more comfortable communicating with 3D, realistic people—be they live or automated–the understandable discomfort some students feel with interactions at a distance instead of in a classroom may be mitigated by employing this virtual world techniques in online discussions. Advancing such knowledge and applying these and other technologies are concrete ways in which I, as an instructional designer, can improve not just the perception, but the true efficacy, of distance education.
Boling, E. C., Hough, M., Krinsky, H., Saleem, H., & Stevens, M. (March 1, 2012). Cutting the distance in distance education: Perspectives on what promotes positive, online learning experiences. The Internet and Higher Education, 15(2), 118-126.
Coldewey, D, (2015), Holograms add new dimension to Holocaust survivor’s story. Retrieved from http://www.today.com/series/are-we-there-yet/holograms-add-new-dimension-holocaust-survivors-story-t20511
Institute for Creative Technology. (2016). Retrieved from (http://ict.usc.edu/)
Merchant, Z., Goetz, E. T., Cifuentes, L., Keeney-Kennicutt, W., & Davis, T. J. (January 1, 2014). Effectiveness of virtual reality-based instruction on students’ learning outcomes in K-12 and higher education: A meta-analysis. Computers & Education, 70(2), 29-40.
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education, Charlotte, North Carolina: Information Age.