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Modules Summary and Reflection

Karin E. Grisham

Texas Tech University

The following paper summarizes distance education in terms of its historical
development, research, asynchronous communication tools, and synchronous communication
tools in modules titled two, three, four, and five, respectively.
Each module contains two parts. The first part summarizes the module topic and the
second part involves a reflection of the information researched in the summary.

Modules Summary and Reflection
Module 2 Historical Development
There were three main ideas that were the focus of module two. The main ideas for this
module were defining distance education, history of distance education and current theories of
distance education.
Definition. The definition of distance education has undergone numerous revisions.
Berg (2014) defines distance education in the Encyclopedia Britannica as the form of education
in which the main elements include physical separation of teachers and students during
instruction and the use of various technologies to facilitate student-teacher and student-student
communication. With the development of technology and how fast technology is advancing,
including not only a physical separation but one of time as well would be an additional aspect to
include in the current definition (Spodick, 1995).
History. Distance education begin in 1840 in England, with secretaries who were taking
a correspondence course in shorthand and would correspond via the newly established postal
system (Casey, 2008; Schrum, 1991; Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). The
invention of the radio during the 1920s was the next great advancement in distance education
which allowed students from an even greater distance to take part in education (Simonson et al.,
2012; Spodick, 1995). When television was made available in everyones homes during the
1030s, this became an even more valuable tool in bringing the classroom to more and more
people, however this was one-way communication and they could only be delivered through a
live broadcast (Simonson et al., 2012; Spodick, 1995). Microwave and satellite technology
allowed for the advancement of distance education once again by reaching more people than had
been possible with the media through which distance education was using previously (Simonson
et al., 2012; Spodick, 1995). Thus far, the communication was strictly one-way and the type of
learning that was taking place was passive (Spodick, 1995). During the 1980s and 1990s, when
the development of fiber-optic communication occurred, two-way interaction between teacher
and student as well as student and student became possible (Simonson et al., 2012; Spodick,
1995). Later the Internet took over as the main medium through which distance education was
accomplished (Spodick, 1995). With the internet and the rate at which technology is evolving,
the future of distance education is going to continue to be more easily accessible to anyone who
is interested in educating themselves.
Theory. While it has been difficult to develop a definition for distance education, it is
even more so regarding development of a theory for distance education. Even though distance
education has been around since 1840 and its definition was adopted by the Encyclopedia
Britannica in 2009, a single working theory is still not agreed upon (Simonson, Schlosser, &
Hanson, 1999; Simonson et al., 2012).
The need for a theory of distance education is useful in that a working theory will allow
educators to and researchers to develop hypotheses and formulate conclusions so that decisions
regarding distance education can be confidently made (Simonson et al., 1999; Simonson et al.,
2012). Part of the difficulty with coming up with a single theory for distance education is the
rapid changing of distance education (Simonson et al., 1999; Simonson et al., 2012). For
example, distance education was initially thought of as a separate form of education, but recently
the emerging theories are stating that distance education is not a distinct field (Simonson et al.,
1999; Simonson et al., 2012). With technology changing as quickly as it is and instruction that
occurs at a distance no longer means asynchronous nor lacking the face-to-face component, there
are many new components to consider when developing a theory of distance education
(Simonson et al., 2012).
I was aware of distance education, but I did not realize that it had been around since the
mid 1800s (Simonson et al., 2012). It is amazing how far distance education has come since
then. Where it started with one-way, asynchronous communication through the postal system it
has developed into a two-way communication form of learning that can be either asynchronous
or synchronous (Simonson et al., 2012).
I am very impressed with Australia and their efforts to implement distance education on a
nation-wide scale beginning in the 1920s, even though it was mandated by the state
governments (Reiach, Cassidy, & Averbeck, 2012). While their reasoning behind the
implementation was to educate all children, especially in rural areas, as well as to educate
teachers, the United States developed distance education courses to cater to students at the
university level who were looking to increase their professional skills and knowledge (Reiach et
al., 2012). Distance education at the college level in the United States is quite common, but to
have that as an option for students in K-12 education is not as well-known. In 2001, only
fourteen states had a state level virtual school in place, but by 2004 almost every state had some
type of program in place for K-12 students (Rice, 2006). The United States appears to be behind
Australia in its ability to education K-12 students through a distance education medium.
As long as distance education has been around, it surprises me that it has taken as long as
it has to develop a widely accepted definition. I realize that technology is ever-changing, but to
develop a definition that will stand the test time does not seem to be an insurmountable feat. In
addition, to develop a working theory that will allow researchers to pose valid research questions
and draw conclusions will only strengthen the field of distance education (Simonson et al.,
2012). I am not sure why the leaders in this field cannot agree upon a much needed theory.
My main experience with distance education has been as a learner. I have taken a few
distance education courses at various universities, but my main exposure has been in the Global
PRiSE (Pragmatic Researcher in Science Education) PhD program through Texas Tech. As a
learner, I have been exposed to blogs and discussion boards, Skype and Lync, as well access to
the library resources without ever stepping foot in the physical library on campus. This
knowledge has allowed me, in my opinion, to be a more versatile teacher. I am aware of some of
the tools available for learners, and I am not afraid to try them in my classroom. I teach at a 2-
year community college which does offer online courses. While I have not taught an online
course, I am absorbing all the information I can so that I can soon include that to the list of skills.
Our college uses Moodle as a platform instead of Blackboard. After taking quizzes and tests
online through the distance education statistics courses that I took through Texas Tech, I am
aware of the possibilities of what is available, so I have been creating assignments for the various
classes that I teach. I think that be a distance learner has given me a unique perspective into truly
learning how distance education works, instead of just obtaining knowledge about distance
education through a face-to-face class.
Module 3 - Research
Since the development of single theory for distance education is not finalized, there is not
an organized list of research topics that would help organize the knowledge in the field
(Simonson et al., 2012; Zawacki-Richter, 2009).
While there is not a well-organized list of research topics in distance education, there are
a few topics that can be agreed by most as basic include student support, instructional design,
educational technologies, and interactivity through media (Zawacki-Richter, 2009). While there
are differing opinions on where the focus should be on research in distance education, a few
similarities in which research areas are most important and they are: theories and models,
distance education systems and institutions, economics, learner support services, educational
technology, management and organization, instructional design and characteristics of the learner
(Holmberg, 1987; Zawacki-Richter, 2009).
From 2000 to 2008, 695 journal articles about distance education were reviewed and the
areas which were identified to be neglected were innovation and change management along with
intercultural aspects of distance learning (Zawacki-Richter, Bcker, & Vogt, 2009). The major
issues studied during this time were interaction and communication in learning communities,
instructional design and learner characteristics (Zawacki-Richter et al., 2009). Educators who
have a desire to improve their skills rely on sound research; therefore, it is necessary that the
research that is conducted is valid (Simonson et al., 2012; Zawacki-Richter et al., 2009).
One of the main surprises regarding the important research areas listed in distance
education was the lack of agreement that professional development and faculty support should be
a major topic (Holmberg, 1987; Zawacki-Richter, 2009; Zawacki-Richter et al., 2009).
Professional development for teachers corresponds to increased knowledge and skills of the
teacher which in turn results in improved teaching which will ultimately lead to improved
student outcomes (Higgins & Harreveld, 2013). Education is in the business of educating
students and this cannot be accomplished without quality teachers and professional development
opportunities will increase teacher quality so the lack of seeing the need for research in this area
is troublesome to me.
Zawacki-Richter et al (2009) states that since the theoretical underpinnings in the field of
distance education are inadequate, it has resulted in poorly designed research which produces
and publishes conclusions that should not be considered valuable. This statement, again,
reiterates the need for a sound theoretical basis in this field of study. It is difficult to see how the
results can be taken seriously and then used as a premise to make changes within a classroom,
district or throughout the entire educational system based on a field which is underdeveloped in
terms of a universal definition and methodology.
Simonson et al (2012) address three myths related to distance education. Myth one
discusses how more interaction results in increased learning, myth two addresses how instructors
should be trained in order to effectively teach via distance and myth three states that e-learning is
the same as distance education (Simonson et al., 2012). While myth one and three seem to
present valid points that I can agree with, I disagree with the overall statement of myth two.
Simonson et al (2012) states that it is not necessary for teachers to be trained in how to teach
distance learners and that the most important skill for any teacher is content knowledge. I do
agree with the fact that content knowledge is important, but we have all had teachers at one point
in our lives where a brilliant teacher who knew their content inside and out was teaching us a
course. They may have known their content, but they were not effective at teaching others and
very little learning took place while frustration was frequently experienced in the course. As an
instructor who is on the cusp of beginning to transition into distance education, I feel that while I
have the knowledge of the content, I would have been ill-effective as a distance learning
instructor had I not had the opportunity to be a distance learner myself. Simonson et al (2012)
states that technology is not what allows distance learners to be successful, it is the components
of the technology that allow for equal experiences between a distance learner and a face-to-face
learner. As an instructor of a distance education course, I feel that without knowing the
technology and all the tools that are available to use, that I am doing my students a disservice.
The only way, that I feel, that a teacher can be informed of the available tools that technology
has to offer is through professional development, especially with the rate at which technology is
changing and the multitude of new tools that are made available on a regular basis.
Module 4 Asynchronous Communication Tools
Asynchronous communication is defined as communication that does not take place at
the same time, for example email and social networking sites (Ishtaiwa & Abulibdeh, 2012;
Lindsay & Davis, 2013).
Whenever there is a time delay between instructor and student or student and student, it is
a type of asynchronous communication (Ishtaiwa & Abulibdeh, 2012). Tools used for
asynchronous communication include: email, discussion boards, social networks, blogs, wikis,
and podcasts and they allow students to learn through problem based learning or project based
learning (Ishtaiwa & Abulibdeh, 2012).
The benefits of learning through asynchronous communication include flexibility, easily
accessible, cost effective and students can work at the their own pace and speed more so than if
they were in a synchronous educational environment (Ishtaiwa & Abulibdeh, 2012). Students
are able to access the information from anywhere and any time of day as long as Internet and a
computer are available and accessible (Simonson et al., 2012).
Some limitations of using asynchronous communication as a form of learning is not
everyone has access to Internet or a computer, the learner must be somewhat capable of using
technology, students must take responsibility for their own learning, and feedback is delayed
(Simonson et al., 2012).
Email. According to Lindsay and Davis (2013), email is the preferred method of asynchronous
communication with adults.
Discussion boards. Discussion boards are online bulletin boards that allow people to discuss
and debate about a common topic which are often used by higher education such as Moodle and
Blackboard and while they may be free to the student, the educational organization does incur a
fee. ("Discussion board,"). A free option to a discussion board is Google Groups (Lindsay &
Davis, 2013).
Wiki. A wiki is a tool that allows users to produce, share and edit collaboratively and are
usually free to use ("Learning design and technology," 2014; Simonson et al., 2012)
Blog. A blog is a tool that allows the user to reflect the thought of an individual similar to a
journal and this can be made private or public and are usually free to use ("Learning design and
technology," 2014; Simonson et al., 2012).
Social network. A website that allows people to communicate and share information, journals,
photos, and likes or dislikes with each other, for example, MySpace and Facebook (Simonson et
al., 2012; "Social network," n.d.).
Podcast. A music or talk program that is in digital format which can be accessed over the
internet which lasts approximately three to ten minutes ("Podcast," 2014; Simonson et al., 2012).
As a distance education student, I have been able to utilize a discussion board through
Blackboard. It did take a little time to adjust and learn the technology, it is fairly easy to
navigate. The school that I teach uses Moodle as a platform for discussion boards, and even
though I have not implements the discussion board feature, it is something that I plan to do with
in the next year. We recently did a system conversion and updated Moodle, and I was not ready
to learn all of that in addition to how to run a discussion board.
According to Levin, He and Robbins (2006), asynchronous communication results in
high student engagement and overall responsiveness as well as producing responses that were
more task orientated. As a student in a distanced education course, I have found that in an
asynchronous learning environment, I can better prepare my response by researching the topic if
needed; whereas in a synchronous environment, I must provide information without given the
time to formulate a well-thought out response.
Module 5 Synchronous Communication Tools
Synchronous communication occurs when all people are able to communicate with each
other at the same through technology such as text chat, electronic white boards, audio or video
conferencing, application sharing and polling (Blankson & Kyei-Blankson, 2008; Levin, Ye, &
Robbins, 2006; Lindsay & Davis, 2013). The students are able to respond to each others
statements and posts in real time (Blankson & Kyei-Blankson, 2008).
Just like there are disadvantages when asynchronous communication takes place, there
are also disadvantages with respect to synchronous communication. In a synchronous
communication some students are not able to synthesize the discussion at the pace it is occurring
and therefore do not benefit from the live discussion as much as they would from an
asynchronous format (Blankson & Kyei-Blankson, 2008). Another issue that occurs when
students participate in a synchronous discussion is that not everyone participates at an equal level
(Blankson & Kyei-Blankson, 2008). Some students are very active and contribute meaningful
posts to the discussion, while some students just read what others post, but do not actually
contribute to the discussion and yet others contribute minimally to the discussions and are rarely
seen online (Blankson & Kyei-Blankson, 2008). A contributing factor for lack of students
participating at the level that the instructor expects could be the students inexperience with
online activities and not understanding what constitutes a good post (Blankson & Kyei-
Blankson, 2008).
A positive outcome of synchronous communication is the result of a more academically-
focused dialogue due to the increased social interaction (Levin et al., 2006). According to Levin
et al (2006), students preferred the synchronous over the asynchronous method of
communication when having equal exposure to both partly because they were provided
immediate feedback and that it felt more like a real conversation.
One method of synchronous communication that I am familiar with is Skype or Lync,
which allows the students to communicate via video in real time. Due to bad weather, poor
Internet connection and time of day, I am not one who prefers a synchronous communication
form of communication at a distance. When scheduling a synchronous communication between
yourself and others in another time zone, much less another country, it becomes more
challenging to schedule a meeting that is convenient for both participants. While researching
about different types of media in which synchronous communication could take place, I have
really enjoyed all the features that Google Hangouts has to offer. It has the potential to video
chat, but it can also be asynchronously as well if you just wanted to send a chat message (Haebig
& Lawrence, 2013). It has the capability to simultaneously work on a document through the use
of Google Docs as well as to screen share (Haebig & Lawrence, 2013).
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