I thought some CASLLers might be interested in reading these reviews . . .
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Date: Fri, 31 Jan 1997 22:04:00 EST
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Subject: DEOSNEWS Vol. 7 No. 1
DEOSNEWS Vol. 7 No.1,ISSN 1062-9416. This document has about 396 lines.
Copyright 1997 DEOS - The Distance Education Online Symposium
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This issue of DEOSNEWS comprises two full-length book reviews published
in recent issues of The American Journal of Distance Education. _Why
the Information Highway? Lessons from Open & Distance Learning_, is
a resource of practical applications from the field of distance
education that can be used to help interpret and exploit the challenges
and opportunities offered by new communications and information
technologies. The review is written by Tony Bates of the University of
British Columbia. The second book,_The Virtual Classroom: Learning
without Limits via Computer Networks_, discusses a teaching and
learning environment mediated by computer conferencing. _The Virtual
Classroom_ is reviewed by Zane Berge of the University of Maryland.
Why the Information Highway? Lessons from Open and Distance
Learning. Judy Roberts and Erin Keough, eds. Toronto, Ontario:
Trifolium Books, 1995, 276 pp.
Reviewed by Tony Bates
Director of Distance Education and Technology
University of British Columbia
_Why the Information Highway?_ is a useful and timely addition
to the growing literature on Canadian distance education,
complementing earlier collections of papers such as those of
Mugridge and Kaufman (1986) and Sweet (1989). In his preface to
this book, Sir John Daniel, Vice-Chancellor of the British Open
"In the mid-1980s the term 'distance education' was practically
unheard of in the United States.... This has now changed....
distance education is suddenly at the centre of public discourse
about the electronic future. Canadian distance education is
particularly rich in lessons and experience that can help us assess
the likely fate of new mutations. The Canadian experience will
be very relevant to institutions around the world that are
assessing the implications of the information superhighway for
The editors have assembled a collection of thirteen chapters from
experienced Canadian distance educators on different aspects of
open and distance learning. Part 1 is concerned with emerging
issues in open and distance learning. Margaret Haughey of the
University of Alberta provides a thoughtful discussion of the
meaning of distance in education. Lucille Pacey of the Open
Learning Agency and Wayne Penney, a management consultant
(both from British Columbia), challenge distance educators to think
strategically by developing models of teaching and learning that meet
the emerging needs of learners in the 21st century.
Part 2 is a collection of case studies, each of which describes a
specific context and identifies issues arising from these applications.
Anna Stahmer, co-publisher of _The Training Technology
Monitor_, describes five case studies of open and distance learning
in the training sector; Norman McKinnon, a private consultant from
Ontario, describes three case studies of open and distance learning in
the K-12 sector; Athabasca University's Barbara Spronk provides
seven case studies on the application of open and distance learning
for aboriginal education; Jane Brindley, former Director of Student
Services at Athabasca University, makes an impassioned argument
for high-quality student support services for distance learners;
Laurentian University president Ross Paul takes a hard look at the
reality, as distinct from the myths and "hype," of technology
applications in distance education; and Therese Lamy (private
consultant), Pierre Pelletier (Director of Continuing Education at the
University of Ottawa), Denise Pacquette-Frenette and Daniel
Laroque (private consultants), Noel Thomas (president of an
Ottawa-based company that provides on-line educational services),
and Don McDonell (Director of Distance Education at the University
of Ottawa) provide case studies and perspectives of francophone
applications of distance education.
Part 3, concerned with analysis, includes stimulating chapters on
research and evaluation (Judith Tobin, TVOntario),
internationalization (Ian Mugridge, Commonwealth of Learning),
and government policies regarding distance education (Erin Keough,
Director of the Open Learning and Information Network of
Newfoundland and Labrador and Judy Roberts, an Ontario-based
Several of the contributors emphasize the point that there is now a
great deal of experience in teaching distance learners, and that many
of the lessons derived from this experience will apply to new
applications of the information highway. In particular, teaching
needs to be learner-centered and characterized by good instructional
design, appropriate choice and use of technologies, and, above all,
strong student support services including counseling, group work,
interaction between teacher and student, peer-group interaction, and
links with local communities.
_Why the Information Highway?_ is comprehensively Canadian
in terms of geography, culture, and experience. However, the book
does not include contributions from some of those Canadians--such
as Linda Harasim and Gerry Sinclair from Simon Fraser University
and Terry Anderson from the University of Alberta--who have
pioneered the use of the Internet for teaching or from those using
videoconferencing at Calgary, Queens, Guelph, Waterloo, and
MacMaster universities. These new "players" reflect a range of
differing philosophies and contexts for technology-based distance
learning. Their potential contributions are missed, especially in the
context of the inherent conservatism of Canadian distance education
and the need for it to adapt to a rapidly changing technological and
social environment, which is noted by several of the contributors.
Pacey and Penney for example, question whether Canadian
distance educators have changed their thinking to take account of the
changing world around them. Tobin also notes that, despite nearly
twenty years of research in distance education, the research is still
fragmented and repetitive, failing to address the wider issues of
what learners need and how best to meet those needs in a world
where distance education and campus-based teaching are rapidly
converging through the use of technology.
The absence of perspectives on these issues highlights my main
disappointment with this book. With a few exceptions, the authors
do not address the central issue of how the information highway will
change the nature of both distance teaching and campus-based
institutions. As a result, issues specific to the application of
technologies such as the World Wide Web, computer conferencing,
and videoconferencing are not discussed in any depth. The
"missing" contributors named earlier are experimenting with these
new delivery forms in new contexts and are coming up with
solutions that extend both the campus-based and distance education
Thus, while the book will be useful for faculty members who are
interested in using multimedia and the information highway for their
teaching, it will not provide answers to some of the critical issues
that they are having to address: the difference between on-campus
and off-campus use of technologies, faculty development, and
technology infrastructure support, for example. Despite these
limitations, _Why the Information Highway?_ can provide
educators with much needed guidance about many of the critical
aspects of teaching distance learners, whether over the Information
Highway or in other ways.
Mugridge, I., and D. Kaufman, eds. 1986. Distance Education in
Canada. London: Croom Helm.
Sweet, R., ed. 1989. Post-Secondary Distance Education in
Canada. Athabasca: Athabasca University/Canadian Society for
Studies in Education.
The Virtual Classroom: Learning without Limits via Computer
Networks. Starr Roxanne Hiltz. Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1994, 406
Reviewed by Zane Berge
Director, Training Systems
ISD Graduate Programs
University of Maryland Baltimore County
One of the first "names" in the field of computer-mediated
communication (CMC) of whom I became aware was Starr Roxanne
Hiltz, who has been researching and writing on this topic for twenty
years (see Hiltz and Turoff 1978). It is with this long-time
knowledge of the field that Hiltz has crafted a book to summarize
her work. In _The Virtual Classroom_, Hiltz describes a "virtual
classroom" as a teaching and learning environment within, and
mediated by, a computer system. The Virtual Classroom (TM)
computer-conferencing program originated at the New Jersey
Institute of Technology; it "brings the university into the homes and
work places of students through the use of computers" (p. xvii).
One goal of this book is to make Hiltz's many years of research
and technical reports understandable to several target audiences,
especially to teachers and students who might use CMC in their
courses. Additionally, Hiltz hopes to reach scholars and the general
public interested in technology, society, and "new communication
technologies and in issues of evaluation research related to
computer, communications, and pedagogical innovations" (p. xviii).
When the original research reported in this book was conducted,
justification had to be made for the use of CMC for teaching and
learning. The comparison with the "traditional classroom,"
however, does a disservice to this powerful environment. The
traditional classroom, in most cases, is not the shining standard to
which we should hold all learning environments, and I am
somewhat concerned by the overarching comparisons made. It is
difficult to describe in text the flavor of vanilla ice cream, and
equally difficult to explain the "flavor" of a learning environment,
especially to someone who has never experienced any virtual
classroom. To her credit, Hiltz clearly states that while a computer-
mediated learning environment can support some activities that are
difficult or impossible in face-to-face environments, _both_ face-to-
face and CMC have strengths and shortcomings. Clearly, unless we
are concerned only with issues of access to high-quality education, a
challenge to educators is to find the "mixed mode environment"--
using all tools at our disposal--to deliver what we know at any time
is the highest quality education.
Chapter 1 states two basic research questions guiding the Virtual
*Is the Virtual Classroom a viable option for educational
*What variables are associated with especially good and
especially poor outcomes in this new teaching and learning
As mentioned above, I would suggest that we now have moved
significantly beyond the first question, thanks in large part to the
already published research on this project. However, the second
question is the more important one.
Hiltz does an excellent job presenting the case for using the
virtual classroom to provide improved access through flexibility of
place, flexibility of time, and absence of travel requirements. She
also recognizes the limitations of CMC in providing access: limited
course offerings, equipment requirements, and skills requirements.
Hiltz summarizes the more important features of CMC by
contrasting them with the traditional classroom, an approach which,
as I mentioned earlier, has its limitations.
Some important philosophical foundations are articulated in
Chapter 2. After providing an appropriately concise summary of the
"no significant difference" outcome in media comparison studies,
Hiltz reviews (in a somewhat abbreviated fashion) the literature
relating to active learning, collaborative learning, and selected
aspects of CMC .
Hiltz does a good job of describing the features of the virtual
classroom software, and these descriptions are generalizable across
many conferencing systems. She then outlines eleven hypotheses
that she and her colleagues have been studying over the years. The
first hypothesis deals with the comparative effectiveness of virtual
classrooms versus traditional classrooms. In general, I think the
field is well past having to justify CMC as a viable channel for
learning to take place. With this exception, the hypotheses seem
valuable: they explore a causal model for the virtual classroom and
begin to explain under what conditions and to whom on-line
learning is most useful.
Chapter 5 covers "basics" and has dozens of useful practice tips,
obviously gleaned from years of experience. Chapter 6 addresses
the moderation of computer conferences, and Chapter 7 involves
collaborative learning. Chapter 8 describes some of the problems
faced in implementing the on-line classroom. Topics such as
recruiting sufficient numbers of students for experimental on-line
sections, faculty opposition, inadequate access to equipment, and
deliberate misbehavior by some students are among the many issues
discussed. This section of the book is rich in practical advice,
exhibits, and lists, making it valuable reading for any on-line
teacher, whether veteran or novice.
Chapters 9 through 14 describe the quasi-experimental design and
results of full-scale field trials conducted on a prototype of the
system in 1986=CB87. While a researcher wishing to replicate or
extend the author's work may find them useful in their entirety, the
summaries are well done and probably stand alone for practitioners
and scholars not actively engaged in research. Taken together, these
chapters are useful for all readers in understanding what happened in
the early Virtual Classrooms. Topics covered include results based
on sample transcripts and interactions, variations in student ability,
access problems, students perceptions, motivation, and dropouts.
In Chapter 15, "Learning Without Limits," Hiltz describes current
and future developments in the virtual classroom and her view of the
future of CMC in elementary to postgraduate-level education. While
I agree with most of what she says, I have some reservations about
the extent to which students can choose to learn whenever and
wherever they wish, especially in K-12 contexts.
Hiltz states that the work described in this book focuses on
university-level learning, but that it can and is being applied at the
K-12 level. She goes on to describe a project to provide "freedom
for the [K-12] learner" (p. 256). Given the severe constraints and
limitations on the use and employment of effective educational
processes that the author lists, the idea is to implement a program
"whereby each student can progress through each course according
to his or her level of ability and motivation. Learning can occur
around the clock and throughout the year" (p. 257). However,
factors outside of learning and teaching will reinforce the status quo
and mitigate against the type of radical changes that a focus on
pedagogical factors alone would seem to call us to.
As the author suggests "the most important changes over the next
decade or two will not be in technological advances, but in
institutional change" (p. 259). Yet it is the changes to the roles and
functions of students and teachers highlighted in summaries of the
"faculty perspectives" and the "student perspectives" that are more
likely to immediately affect on-line learning.
Because the theoretical perspective in _The Virtual Classroom_ is
weaker than the practical guidance offered, _The Virtual Classroom_
cannot be said to be _the_ one book about CMC that readers should
have. (A better all-purpose choice would be either _Learning
Networks_ [Harasim et al. 1995], of which Hiltz is a co-author, or
_Alone but Together_ [Eastmond 1995]). However, _The Virtual
Classroom_ is a valuable book for teachers using CMC and for
researchers and scholars working in this field. The author's long
experience with computer conferences adds great credibility to her
conclusions. Overall it is clearly written and contains valuable
references in the field prior to the copyright date.
Eastmond, D. V. 1995. Alone but Together: Adult Distance Study
through Computer Conferencing. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
Harasim, L., S. R. Hiltz, L. Teles, and M. Turoff. 1995. Learning
Networks: A Field Guide to Teaching and Learning Online.
Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Hiltz, S. R., and M. Turoff. 1978. The Network Nation: Human
Communication via Computer. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
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