Traditional education and distance learning
The introduction of new technologies in traditional education and distance learning has provided us with new means of making teaching and learning possible, even under difficult and extreme situations, something that was clearly not possible in the past. Distance learning, especially is a rather new concept in education, if we exclude old-school mail studies.
Nowadays distance learning uses technology to narrow the distance between teachers and students. This distance is not only related to space but also time, since the participants do not necessarily need to be present in real time, but lesson can also for example be recorded.
An introduction to non-conventional learning
The first time I was able to experience distance learning was while I was studying in university. I was studying in Athens and we used to have a common class with a university in Cyprus. Once a week we used the internet and two cameras and microphones to communicate in a live session. The professor was either lecturing in Athens or Nicosia and the lesson was broadcasted live to the other side. Students in both classrooms could ask questions and participate, but two students were necessary to act as coordinators on both sides. The image of the other side was visible all the time on a large projector screen.
Many years have passed since that and I believe that technology has made things even better now. We are now using distance learning occasionally in the school I work, mainly to see the possibilities and learn how to use it efficiently. This is done in cooperation with other schools around Greece and besides all other advantages one can find in distance learning, I would pinpoint the fact that children show far more interest in the lesson and the whole procedure in general.
I believe that they are more or less attracted more by technology and the fact that they are experiencing a new thing in school. Maybe they will someday get used to it and become bored, I don’t really know, but at the moment they seem to like it a lot and be more focused on the lesson.
Distance learning in practice
A few months ago I contacted the principle of our school and decided to use distance learning, in order to help one specific student who had a serious accident and had to stay in bed for 3 months because of that. The idea was that the student could watch the lesson and participate in class every day, that is without leaving his home, not even his bed. Everything was setup by me and a couple of colleagues and no special equipment was actually used, just a laptop and a camera we already had at school.
The camera was placed in a corner of the class facing the teacher and the image was sent directly to the laptop and then transmitted to the student via the internet. We also didn’t use any specialized software, just Skype to communicate. The student was getting live streaming video and audio from the class and could contact the teacher by writing a message on his laptop or make a video call.
It all worked flawlessly for over 10 weeks and the unfortunate student got well and most importantly was able to attend all classes, as though he was physically present there. Therefore, he was finally allowed to participate in his final exams without any other problems and this made him save his year, because in any other case he would be forced to do the whole year again from the beginning!
Clearly distance learning differs from conventional learning in which a teacher talking to a group of students who are focused at the same time in the same place. In the case I explained above, the student would watch the lesson in real time, but that’s not always necessary. In distance learning, the teacher and students are not in the same place at the same time, and the information can be “consumed” even at different times.
It would be wrong, however, to assume that by using technology more in education, we can yield much better results without any structural changes. The installation of a camera, a computer and a microphone in a school classroom or a university is clearly not always enough. It is actually not possible to improve the quality of studies, to enroll more students and reduce the cost, if there is no reorganization of traditional education according to a different pattern.
Nevertheless, things clearly work better on a smaller scale and can really be scaled up making distance education increasingly competitive with conventional methods.