Journal of Nursing Education

Technology-Based Distance Education and the Absence of Physical Presence

Nancy Diekelmann, PhD, RN, FAAN

Abstract

Editor's Note: In this issue of JNE, we bring you a collection of articles showing a wide range of technologic applications in distributive education. As was predicted by every futurist of the 1970s and 80s, the new millenium has dawned with once-unheard-of applications of technology in education. And, as in other fields, we have begun to study the effects and effectiveness of distance education on students and on learning outcomes. But this is only part of the story. Nancy Diekelmann, a renowned interpretive scholar in nursing education, recently conducted a study along with Robert Schuster and Catherine Nosek, of the lived experiences of being a distance teacher. They interviewed faculty from a variety of disciplines, including nursing, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As is true of good interpretive works, Nancy shows us in this guest editorial, some of the struggles in the day-to-day practice of teaching at a distance with technology. Through this work, she opens avenues for both new pedagogies and for some much needed research.

Distance teachers live in discomforting times. Familiar landmarks and touchstones are lost as teachers rethink both learning and teaching. Taken-for-granted and common practices are made visible and questioned. Some describe a kind of unat-homeness in their teaching. For example, in a recent multidisciplinary study, distance teachers described how their reliance on visual and embodied cues were challenged (Diekelmann, Schuster & Nosek, 1998). One teacher, concerned when lecture materials were adapted for a Web-based course, described how difficult it was in asynchronous learning to determine how much detail to include for students on a particular point. The teacher averred, "You can't see their faces." This teacher laments the opportunity to know and connect with students through reading their faces. For this teacher the practical skills of reading students' faces can no longer be used to influence the breadth and depth in content presentations.

Navigating the demands of distant teaching is disquieting (Bromley & Apple, 1998; Katz, 1999; Keating & Hargitai, 1999). Teachers are decentered in a way that is both liberating and fruitful for new partnerships with students. All the while the familiar and commonplace practices that are so central to the day-to-day lives of teachers are changed or missing. Teacher preparation too often focuses on course designing or delivery with emphasis on learning the new instructional technologies. Perhaps the changes for teachers in distance education are more profound than is apparent. The advent of new pedagogies along with rapidly changing instructional technologies have recast teachers' roles in profound ways (N. Diekelmann & J. Diekelmann, in preparation). Likewise telenursing, and technology-based medicine create places that re-vision nursing practice. Challenges abound. The reshuffling of freedom, power, and knowledge through distance education grants a space for new pedagogies and partnerships through challenging roles, assumptions, and practices. That is not to say that conventional pedagogies (outcomes and competency-based education, critical thinking frameworks, and problem-based learning) are not often successfully used in distance education. The task is to know when and how conventional approaches need to be rethought and new pedagogies developed.

The accounts of distance teachers commonly reflect a pattern of an un-at-homeness as they find themselves thrown into the midst of the changes that are beginning to reshape society as a whole. Some teachers worry about getting "a little stale" and welcome distance education as an adventure. Others are more reticent and fearful and venture into unfamiliar pedagogies guided by their commitment to make learning available to students who otherwise could not participate. Many teachers find they develop important insights into classroom teaching through their experiences in distance education. They discover that when assumptions and practices…

Editor's Note: In this issue of JNE, we bring you a collection of articles showing a wide range of technologic applications in distributive education. As was predicted by every futurist of the 1970s and 80s, the new millenium has dawned with once-unheard-of applications of technology in education. And, as in other fields, we have begun to study the effects and effectiveness of distance education on students and on learning outcomes. But this is only part of the story. Nancy Diekelmann, a renowned interpretive scholar in nursing education, recently conducted a study along with Robert Schuster and Catherine Nosek, of the lived experiences of being a distance teacher. They interviewed faculty from a variety of disciplines, including nursing, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As is true of good interpretive works, Nancy shows us in this guest editorial, some of the struggles in the day-to-day practice of teaching at a distance with technology. Through this work, she opens avenues for both new pedagogies and for some much needed research.

Distance teachers live in discomforting times. Familiar landmarks and touchstones are lost as teachers rethink both learning and teaching. Taken-for-granted and common practices are made visible and questioned. Some describe a kind of unat-homeness in their teaching. For example, in a recent multidisciplinary study, distance teachers described how their reliance on visual and embodied cues were challenged (Diekelmann, Schuster & Nosek, 1998). One teacher, concerned when lecture materials were adapted for a Web-based course, described how difficult it was in asynchronous learning to determine how much detail to include for students on a particular point. The teacher averred, "You can't see their faces." This teacher laments the opportunity to know and connect with students through reading their faces. For this teacher the practical skills of reading students' faces can no longer be used to influence the breadth and depth in content presentations.

Navigating the demands of distant teaching is disquieting (Bromley & Apple, 1998; Katz, 1999; Keating & Hargitai, 1999). Teachers are decentered in a way that is both liberating and fruitful for new partnerships with students. All the while the familiar and commonplace practices that are so central to the day-to-day lives of teachers are changed or missing. Teacher preparation too often focuses on course designing or delivery with emphasis on learning the new instructional technologies. Perhaps the changes for teachers in distance education are more profound than is apparent. The advent of new pedagogies along with rapidly changing instructional technologies have recast teachers' roles in profound ways (N. Diekelmann & J. Diekelmann, in preparation). Likewise telenursing, and technology-based medicine create places that re-vision nursing practice. Challenges abound. The reshuffling of freedom, power, and knowledge through distance education grants a space for new pedagogies and partnerships through challenging roles, assumptions, and practices. That is not to say that conventional pedagogies (outcomes and competency-based education, critical thinking frameworks, and problem-based learning) are not often successfully used in distance education. The task is to know when and how conventional approaches need to be rethought and new pedagogies developed.

The accounts of distance teachers commonly reflect a pattern of an un-at-homeness as they find themselves thrown into the midst of the changes that are beginning to reshape society as a whole. Some teachers worry about getting "a little stale" and welcome distance education as an adventure. Others are more reticent and fearful and venture into unfamiliar pedagogies guided by their commitment to make learning available to students who otherwise could not participate. Many teachers find they develop important insights into classroom teaching through their experiences in distance education. They discover that when assumptions and practices are challenged and new pedagogies emerge; thinking in new ways is evoked. In an interactive video multisite course, a teacher described the realization of how learning can be limited in a lecture course because students cannot talk while the teacher is talking.

Most of our students still prefer to have an instructor in front of them although we do have people write down on their evaluation forms that they like the fact that the instructor couldn't see them... maybe they have their feet on the desk... I'm pretty sure there is a lot of discussion among the students at the off-campus sites when their microphones are off. . .There's no way I can know for sure. . .Occasionally I hear people coaching someone or my asking so and so to respond and so and so's having trouble... But one time we had some videotaping of the students, and the fellow who did the videotaping came back and told me he was amazed how much of this off-mic chatter there was. Students talking. Did you get this? Did you get that? Why is this? Why is that?... Now, see, this is the part that I can't say for sure. [There's] the issue of well, if they're communicating like that, are they paying attention to class? So this is where we get into something that's not totally clear to me... I'm not sure how much of this is beneficial and how much of it is negati ve... Sometimes somebody will make a comment [or] ask a question, and then I will respond. A few minutes later somebody from the same site will come back with a follow-up question, which leads me to think that maybe they've been discussing it further at their site, so that they get further on and they ask the follow-up question. This is conjecture on my part, but I think that's something that should be noted. I mean, people should realize that if you have half a dozen people at an off-campus site, there's probably going to be some kind of discussion, and certainly you wouldn't tolerate it, or that people would be afraid to do it in front of the instructor, but if people think, well, nobody can see me, nobody can hear me, we can discuss it all we want. [They] can only focus on one thing at a time, and how much of it do they discuss among themselves? How much would they discuss with me? I am not sure.

Interpreting this narrative reveals how distance education can allow students to seize the moment of questioning, often a teachable moment, and ask a question of a peer while not disrupting the class, as the teacher continues to teach (Diekelmann & Ironside, 1998). The students in this situation appeared to "get further on" by participating in this kind of spontaneous dialogue. On the other hand, talking at the site could be disruptive to other students. The pedagogical possibilities in this distance education situation evoke thinking about familiar, often invisible assumptions such as when and how do teachers and students speak when they come together? Can students both participate in conversation and pay attention to a lecture? The absence of physical presence (in this case the teacher's) in distance learning challenges students, teachers and clinicians to create neoteric possibilities for nursing education. Distance education may be the place to push the edges of what constitutes schooling, learning, and teaching and to create new pedagogies for the changing instructional landscape as nursing education enters the new millennium.

REFERENCES

  • Bromley, H., & Apple, M. (1998). Education I Technology I Power. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
  • Diekelmann, N, & Magnussen-Ironside, P. (1998). Hermeneutics. In J. Fitzpatrick (Ed.), Encyclopedia of nursing research (pp. 243-245). New York: Springer Publications.
  • Diekelmann, N, Schuster, R., & Nosek, C. (1998). Creating new pedagogies at the millenium: The common experiences of the University of Wisconsin-Madison teachers using distance education technologies. Teaching with Technology Today (On-line journal). Available: http://www.uwsa.edu/ofit/ttt/98.pdf.
  • Diekelmann, N, & Diekelmann, J. (2000). Schooling learning teaching: Toward a narrative pedagogy. Manuscript in preparation.
  • Katz, E. (1999). Dancing with the devil: Information technology and the new competition in higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Keating, A., & Hargitai, J. (1999) The wired professor. New York, NY: New York University Press.

10.3928/0148-4834-20000201-03

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