Internet and Higher Education 5 (2002) 181 – 184
Distance learning: making connections across virtual space and time Robin S. Groff Alarcon* American Heritage, 12200 West Broward Boulevard,
Plantation, FL 33325, USA Received 21 October 2001
Anthony G. Picciano (2001). Upper Saddle, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall, 250 pages, ISBN 0-13-080900-4. US$47.00
1. Introduction Higher education has changed. No longer are the majority of students young, recent high school graduates, whose work schedule revolves around their school schedule. No longer are teachers and students required to be in the same location at the same time. No longer are brickand-mortar buildings the only establishments of learning. Instead, today’s students are older, with families, and most must work their school schedule around their work schedule and other life responsibilities. Distance learning, also known as distance education, is one method that students are utilizing. Distance Learning: Making Connections Across Virtual Space and Time is a text for anyone who is involved with any aspect of distance learning. Additionally, it can be used as a textbook, and a companion website hhttp://www.prenhall.com/piccianoi is provided to supply resources for both the professor and the student and to keep the text updated.
2. About the author Picciano is an expert in the field of educational technology, having served as a consultant for various public and private organizations ranging from the U.S. Coast Guard to EDUCOM.
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Picciano is also a professor at Hunter College in the School of Education’s Education Administration and Supervision Program. He is also a faculty fellow at the City University of New York Open Systems Laboratory, which is known for its dedication to experimenting with advanced uses of instructional technology and to providing staff development programs for organizations such as public schools, colleges, and private businesses. Picciano specializes in educational technology, organizational theory, and research methods.
3. Purpose and background Picciano wrote Distance Learning: Making Connections Across Virtual Space and Time ‘‘to provide the theoretical framework as well as the practical considerations for planning and implementing distance-learning programs’’ and ‘‘to provide a foundation from which educators throughout the world will view distance learning as an appropriate approach for meeting the ever-expanding needs of students’’ (pp. v, 17). Picciano’s text deals with one of the most pertinent, yet controversial issues facing education today—distance learning. The author, an expert in the field, began with a definition of distance learning and progressed through the development of a distance learning program. Picciano presented a thorough introduction to distance learning, defining it as any situation in which the teacher and the learner are ‘‘physically separated.’’ He described Donald Keegan’s 1996 definition of distance learning and its five basic requirements as ‘‘one of the most thorough definitions of distance learning’’ (p. 5). He further explained that although distance education’s roots can be clearly traced back to the correspondence courses of the 1830s, the emergence of newer technologies has made distance learning more appealing, varied, and popular.
4. Highlights of the text Throughout the book, the author methodically moves through the necessary steps for planning, designing, and implementing successful distance learning programs. He stressed that not all courses are suited for distance education, but making a few changes to the face-toface curriculum and placing it in the distance learning arena will not suffice. Instead, successful distance learning planning models must utilize a team or social approach, incorporating Sheathelm’s four Cs: comprehensiveness, collaboration, commitment, and continuity, as the framework for distance learning planning. The author presented his modified version of Getzel and Guba’s social process planning model, which was first introduced in the 1950s, where the school or college functions within the authority of a governing body, which in turn functions within the environment. The significance of this arrangement is that the environment provides the morals and expectations that the governing body works under to establish the specific goals and objectives of the school or college; in other words, each sector drives the other.
The planning model functions under the premise that environmental factors determine the goals and objectives of distance learning. From this, applications, the fundamental building blocks of distance learning, are developed. The applications determine which hardware, software, training, facilities, and financing are required. Effective planning can only exist if effective evaluation, determining the effectiveness of the goals and objectives, and assisting in the fine-tuning of the program, also exists. The development of applications should include concerns related to teaching, pedagogy, and the determination of the method for disseminating the information. Picciano explored Marshall McLuhan’s 1960s theory that ‘‘the medium is the message’’ (p. 44). McLuhan’s theory removed the emphasis from the content and placed it solely on the delivery method. Picciano argued, ‘‘without content, the media is powerless’’ (p. 44). The message must be tailored for the delivery method, some mediums are better suited for delivering specific forms of information than are others, leading to the idea of utilizing blended technologies for the delivery of distance learning courses. For example, a visual could not be used to deliver a radio message. It could, however, be used to enhance a radio voice over for the Internet, or another video presentation. Picciano also addressed a lack of an all-encompassing theory for establishing distance learning pedagogy. He suggested using the 4D instructional development model: define, design, develop, and disseminate. In this process, the students’ needs, including communication and interaction, are paramount. Interaction is essential, and often the interaction among the students is more important than the interaction that occurs between the teacher and the student. The various forms of distance learning communication and interaction were compared, including the printed study guide, asynchronous and synchronous Internet-based learning, and interactive video conferencing. The author addressed issues of teacher and student perspectives and feelings, topics which most forget. Students are the key to distance education but distance education students’ needs differ from the traditional student. The average distance learning student is over 25 years of age. The traditional learning theories of Piaget, Bloom, Gagne, and Vygotsky must be adapted to deal with the varying learning styles of the adult learner. Malcolm Knowles, the father of adult education, developed a rubric of constructivism based on the traditional theories. Teachers of distance learning courses are also faced with new challenges, such as dealing with the technology. Additionally, distance education teachers are often required to create the course and distance learning materials, which leads to the issue of fair use, particularly since the government is not certain how the Copyright Act of 1976 applies to distance learning courses. For this reason, the author suggested that schools and colleges develop a set of guidelines related to fair use and copyrights. He provided a list of nine possible guidelines as well as an example of a form letter for requesting permission for using copyrighted materials. Further issues include preparation time, course enrollments, special compensation, and personnel decisions, as well as the issues of intellectual property rights. Often, a single distance learning program will be tested, and if it is successful, a full program may be placed online. Consequently, teachers must negotiate terms for reimbursement and ownership of the materials that they create.
To further support his work, the author introduced a web-based distance learning model, where the teacher and the students are using the Internet as the main vehicle for sharing and interacting with instructional resources. The author provided a guide to designing a webbased distance learning course. This model, as well as the social process model, reinforces the concept that no individual should be charged with the development and implementation of a distance learning program. Such a charge requires a team effort, from creation to implementation. Policy-makers and planners must consider several issues that are pertinent to the progress of distance education: quality assurance, student access to technology, scalability issues, and rigorous planning, to name a few.
5. Conclusion Distance Learning: Making Connections Across Virtual Space and Time is a well-written, informative text that deals with all aspects of distance education. Picciano speaks with an informed voice, based on much research and experience. The text is organized into nine chapters, each of which provides a case study to assist in the internalization of the information that has been presented. The author also provided a list of online sources of information related to distance learning. The only concern the reviewer has is that the resources cited ranged from 1993 to 1999, with a few dating as far back as 1973; the references in the section The Current State of Distance Learning were 4–5 years old and there was only one update on the website, which dealt with China. However, this text is highly recommended for anyone who is involved with any aspect of distance learning. Picciano’s clear, methodical, insightful approach would benefit a wide audience with different needs, including those involved in administration, faculty, or students involved in learning via distance education.