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Scholars: Internet is not always easier classroom

Speakers discuss what impact distance education will have on the University

Mark Smith of the American Association of University Professors said that distance education will have a great impact on UNM's future.

Smith was one of three panelists attending a forum on distance education held Wednesday that was sponsored by the UNM chapter of the American Association of University Professors, the UNM Faculty Organizing Committee and the UNM Extended University.

"The teacher and the student are separated geographically, so face to face communication is absent," said Smith, who is on an American Association of University Professors special committee for distance education. "It could be that I'm teaching here and the student is in Chile."

Distance education will not wipe out universities, Smith said, but it will definitely change the way run and operate.

Some professors at UNM are changing the way they run and operate some of their classes with distance education. Robert Leonard, an associate professor in the UNM Anthropology Department, is using distance education to teach anthropology 101 to some UNM students. As a panelist at the forum, Leonard said distance education has its advantages and disadvantages.

"I teach anthropology 101 on-line," he said. "It's Web-based. I never see these people. I did it because I thought I could provide students with the best I could."

Leonard said he uses a basic Web site with links that students need. He also provides his students with short video and audio clips and links on the site. He said he plays a video of himself giving a presentation on the Web site, but tries to keep his on-camera time to a minimum.

"I never do anything for five minutes on video because the technology can't handle it," he said.

Leonard said an advantage to distance learning is that it allows students and teachers to learn in the comfort of their homes.

"About four hours from now, I will be in my chat-room," he said. "I will probably be in my kitchen at home with my shoes off, maybe having a beer."

Another advantage is that distance education allows students to do things they would never do in the classroom, Leonard said.

He said when teaching about issues students might be afraid to talk about in person, the anonymity of the chat room allows students to open-up.

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However, Leonard said the lack of face-to-face interaction is a disadvantage.

"Is it better than traditional classrooms? I don't think so," he said. "Is it worse? I don't think so. It's different."

Panelist Richard Howell, of the UNM Extended University, said he wanted to dispel a few myths about distance education. He said people often think distance education is easy to put together and teach. It is not, he said.

"The reality is that they are very complicated and very expensive," he said of online classrooms.

Howell said that people also think distance education equate to smaller teacher-to-student ratios. He said a study done at the University of Illinois showed that the typical on-line classroom has about 25 to 30 students.

Though some professors at UNM have implemented distance education courses, Howell said in order for the trend to continue, departments need to be involved.

"What happens when you are an individual teaching an online course, you become overwhelmed at the amount of work involved," he said.

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