Kolowitz talks about the ideas/research conducted by Douglas E. Hersh, dean of educational programs and technology at Santa Barbara uni.
The premise of the discussion is that students are more likely to drop out of distance education courses. Many reasons for this (e.g. being too busy) – some of these cannot be addressed
But Hersh believes there is a major reason however which could be addressed – that is the lack of human touch.
Solution: incorporate more video and audio components, i.e. videos of themselves teaching or interacting with their online students
2008 – Hersh convinced Santa Barbara uni to drop Blackboard and use Moodle. He built there the “Human Presence Learning Environment”.
- Professors deliver lessons and messages using their webcams
- It show who is logged into Skype
- Students could post their answers in video format.
Hersh believes engagement goes hand-in-hand with audio-visual communication.
John Bourne, executive director of an online-education research group, says “social presence” reduces drop out rates. There is a link between increased interaction between humans and increased engagement with course, which would result in greater retention rates in the long term.
Hersh’s presents his dissertation on the satisfaction and completion rates of 145 students in his “presence-oriented learning environment” compared to a similar sample taking their courses through a “traditional” LMS as proof of the above-mentioned idea.
He credits the higher engagement and retention rates to the “illusion of non-mediation”, a term taken from virtual-presence scholars Matthew Lombard and Theresa Ditton. It means that when students can see the face of the instructor they trust her/him more and they feel more invested in the course. The same applies to classmates.
Hersh admits to a downfall of his system: the loss of focus. Written communication forces the participants to focus more. But it is also alienating.
Reggie Smith, president of the US Distance Learning Association, is sceptical of Hersh’s ideas. He claims that the use of video might be just an attempt to add flash to lower standard materials. He does admit that student-instructor and student-student communication is important, but he doesn’t think it is an essential ingredient for an online course to be successful.