Commercial Integrator September 2022 - 44

Education
Distance Education: What We Learned,
What Works and What Doesn't
Preconceived notions are out the
window as education institutions
embrace equity, inclusion and
multi-modal learning.
By Joe Way, PhD, CTS
ON MARCH 13, 2020, the president declared a national
emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. If they had
not done so already, every higher-education institution, on that
day, announced a move to online learning. It would only be
temporary...or so they thought. What was initially believed to be
a short-term stopgap became a transformational moment in
learning: Distance education moved from being a niche enrollment
category to the single biggest defining factor in education
as it moves forward.
As technologists, we naturally jump to the things that make
distance learning possible. Many of those tools - for example,
unified communication (UC) platforms, in-room cameras, ceiling
microphones, learning management systems (LMSes) and
recording capabilities - might not have been part of classroom
standards in prior days. Although having the proper tools
is important for an effective installation, the tools themselves
are not the lessons learned.
Content is Critical
Effective distance learning is about content - specifically,
content delivery and content comprehension. Translated,
that means it's about the people: People sending the
content and people consuming the content. Students
adapted extremely well to online content delivery. In fact,
they have been doing it for more than a decade; just look
at the popularity of TikTok, Snapchat, FaceTime and a wide
range of other social-media communication platforms. The
college-aged demographic has clearly been primed to learn
through the screen.
Faculty members, on the other hand, experienced a roadblock.
" How do I take what I have been doing for 20 years
and put it online? " the professors asked. " You don't, " the
tech managers responded. The world is different; learning is
different; and your teaching style and skill set must also be
44
Commercial Integrator SEPTEMBER 2022
different. Faculty must adapt to the technology provided and
students' experience of it.
Online teaching is a fundamentally separate endeavor than
in-person instruction is. Distance education is not traditional
education, and it should not be treated as such. The move out
of brick-and-mortar classrooms to virtual learning exposed
some weaknesses in conventional education practices. Issues
of equity and access became glaringly apparent. Whereas,
formerly, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was considered
a checklist item during space design and construction,
the pandemic demonstrated something important: There are
people behind the regulations. Likewise, online-learning best
practices, like those of Quality
Matters (QM), had to become
commonplace rather than
Online
teaching is a
fundamentally
separate
endeavor than
in-person
instruction is.
being " nice-to-haves. "
" A " comes before " V, " but
the " V " is vitally important for
equity and accessibility. The
pandemic helped clarify the
old AV adage that audio is
more important than video. In
the context of work-from-home
offices, many would argue
that it's OK if people can't see
you so long as they can hear
you. That, however, is a flawed
theory when it comes to distance education. While audio is important,
closed captioning ranks above it - and that is visual. It
is not the camera that is so important, but, rather, the ability to
consume the content's message. And that message is delivered
both aurally and visually in an equitable digital world.
Learning without being able to stop a livestreaming professor
for questions and discussion means that having ability to
rewind, relisten and reread is also a determining factor in the
success of distance learning.
Considering the Visual/Hearing-Impaired
Distance education proved to be a blessing for those who
are visually impaired and/or hearing impaired. Although most
technology managers would agree that professors aren't supposed
to serve as AV technicians and show producers, they
are expected to follow best practices in content delivery. Many
institutions' Offices of Teaching and Learning formerly taught
these practices, but they were rarely obeyed in in-person
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