Online Distance learning: Conversation with Professor Chip Bruce

With online education suddenly becoming important, I have been reaching out to people with a long history and experience in online and distance learning. I recently spoke to Bertram ‘Chip’ Bruce,  a Professor Emeritus at University of Illinois who spent his career working in both colleges of education but also information sciences. Chip teachers a number of online classes but has also been involved in many pioneering distance learning programs from the early days of the internet, including some programs from the days before we had browsers and the WWW.

You can find the conversation here. Please scroll below for some takeaway messages.

My Key Takeaways:

  1. Distance learning does not have to rely on the “latest” technology. Older technologies such as the radio and television have been effectively used to do distance learning in the past. In this current crisis, we may have to look at these technologies to reach beyond the digital divide.
  2. Online classes can be synchronous i.e. all the students and teacher go online at the same time, and interact in real-time or asynchronous i.e. students and teachers can do work at their own time and interact using a tech platform.
  3. Asynchronous classes are tempting to administrators and school leaders because they are easier to run and can reach more students. However, synchronous classes allow many of the kinds of interactions you might do in a real world-class.
  4. Lecture-based online classes such as the Khan Academy are a wonderful tool. BUT they should consist of just one piece of an online curriculum.
  5. Online classes allow for lots of progressive interactions between students – such as group discussions, commenting on each other’s presentations, and hands-on learning. Lesson planners can get creative and thinking about what kinds of material might be available around the house.
  6. As we choose a technology for lesson delivery we need to think of its own affordances i.e. what is now possible with this technology that was not possible before. We should resist the urge to transport the way we would teach in a classroom into an online class. This is a good moment to think about what things we can do BETTER online than in the real world, even as we think about what we will lose in that transition.

Chip has shared some interesting links to the programs discussed in this conversation. Please do take a look at them.