Although I love the “magic of presence” that a live classroom offers, I have to admit that I am a huge fan of distance learning and the role it has played in my own rich educational experiences. I grew up in a very small, rural (graduating class of 37) school district. But one thing it had in addition to some very dedicated teachers, was a distance learning room. Back before FaceTime, before Zoom, and well before social media; even back when email was still novel and even a little suspect, we had a designated room in our school with eight TV sets (not flat screen!) multiple cameras, and tables equipped with flat microphones. The distance learning room with state-of-the-art equipment for the time allowed for a closed circuit connection with all the other school districts in our BOCES (Board of Cooperative Education Services), a regional consortium for school districts to share resources mandated and regulated by the state.
Back in 2000, our distance learning room offered me the chance to take AP English Literature and Composition, a college-level course that our school wouldn’t have otherwise been able to offer. Our teacher, the smart, encouraging, dedicated, and demanding Ms Romeo was an hour away, in another county, also in a small town called Newark Valley, NY. She sat in a room with the other half of our class and taught them and us at the same time. On the screens at the front of the room, we could see ourselves (a helpful reminder that we were also on display), we could see Ms Romeo, who referred to herself as a talking head, like you seen on TV, and we could see, from another view, our classmates in the room with her. There was another monitor in case yet another school wanted to tap into the course.
After a day or two, the distance learning mode seemed quite natural. We could still see and interact with our teacher and she with us. Documents were exchanged by FAX (yes, that’s how early this was), so they were received on paper close to instantly. And our textbooks, formal papers, and feedback were sent back and forth by courier, which we referred to as the “pony express.” It was really a great experience to get to interact with smart kids from another school and I found it to be a rich and exciting (though scary at first) educational experience. I did well on the AP exam and was able to earn credit for two college writing courses which transferred to my college.
The magical distance learning room also allowed me to take another course that my small school would have just never been able to offer. Wholly in love with academics (but not with school–I always hated school despite loving academics; the more academic the better and schools tend to be more “other” than academic these days, but I digress), I gave up my lunch period in eleventh grade to take Anthropology offered by Vestal High School. I was thinking I wanted to be an anthropology professor at the time and I did, in fact, major in anthropology during my first year in college. Although eventually I switched to Politics, I would never have known with such certainty what I wanted to study in college had it not been for that distance learning experience in anthropology. I loved that experience of learning about something a bit more advanced and exotic, and also making friends with Vestal kids, so different from many of the kids in my own school. It was such a positive and stimulating experience.
My senior year, in addition to a full schedule at school (no study halls for me!), I also took a course that I found so fascinating: The Humanities in Western Culture, offered by Jamestown Community College online on a network (SUNY Learning Network) that no longer exists. I loved academics but was SO shy that this experience allowed me to study in a college environment with people much older than I was (a lot of adult learners) but without having to leave my house. A ton of reading and writing and posting in online discussion forums, I just loved it. I thrived in that environment and loved that quiet old me became a very popular personality in the discussion boards.
The summer after my first year of college, I got ahead by taking two upper level political science courses–US Politics and European Politics–from SUNY Fredonia. I thrive in a self-directed environment where I feel comfortable in the solitude but still connected enough to others to not feel alone.
Just wanted to share my perspective!