With the completion of our new Adams Street Family Campus the Rescue Mission has added an additional technical expansion to our Challenge Learning department that is helping us stream our classes live each day between our Downtown Tacoma Campus, Adams St. Family Campus, and Tyler Street Campus. This technology holds tremendous potential for future expansion and coordination between other Rescue Missions, non-profits and schools as we learn about how to better use this technology to expand services and help keep costs down.
But there are also new challenges with distance learning that need to be addressed, and experimentation that needs to happen. Some of the challenges include determining the true cost of these technologies (since costs are often embedded line items other than education), and work flow issues (preparation of materials and coordination between sites is more critical when you are using distance learning). But perhaps the biggest challenge is the way it changes the nature of teaching for the instructors.
In the meetings I've hosted by streaming technology I've noted a few critical things that other instructors may need to consider:
1. Visual distractions. Things are exaggerated by video and repetitive movements, distracting backgrounds, or people and things moving inside the frame of the screen is much more distracting by video. Careful thought and consideration needs to be given to this unique visual environment so that no one is distracted by what is happening around you, instead focusing on what you are instructing and presenting.
2. Ambient Noise. The benefit of this advanced technology is that the camera and microphones are high def, picking up any question or comment from those in the group. This same technology also tends to amplify the sounds indiscriminately. Coughing, doors slamming and the like have an amplified affect on video than in real life. Instructors need to consider how to manage the distant classroom by using the mute button on the microphones, and having an assigned facilitator in the classroom to help manage these elements.
3. Visual Presentations. Most of these modern video conferencing equipment allows you to use a computer to project powerpoint and other presentations. Learning to interface with these programs will be critical since writing on blackboards and other localized presentation slates is limited in its effectiveness.
For those of you who have done teaching by distance learning, I'm interested in your feedback and additional help in improving the effectiveness of this technology. Any ideas? What are the challenges of being a student in those environments and how can we improve the experience for students?
Read all of David Curry's blogs at http://blog.rescue-mission.org
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