Interactive Tours- A Distance Learning Technologies Scenario…

A high school history teacher, located on the west coast of the United States, wants to showcase to her students new exhibits being held at two prominent New York City museums. The teacher wants her students to take a “tour” of the museums and be able to interact with the museum curators, as well as see the art work on display. Afterward, the teacher would like to choose two pieces of artwork from each exhibit and have the students participate in a group critique of the individual work of art. As a novice of distance learning and distance learning technologies, the teacher turned to the school district’s instructional designer for assistance. In the role of the instructional designer, what distance learning technologies would you suggest the teacher use to provide the best learning experience for her students?

Distance education has been defined as ‘institution-based, formal education where the learning group is separated, and where interactive telecommunications systems are used to connect learners, resources, and instructors’ (Simonson et al., 2012, p.32). The example in question here specifically states that distance learning technologies need to be implemented. Thus, at least part of the learning experience in the interactive tour or group-work will need to be completed by students while they are not physically in the same place.

In this instructional design project we are not tasked with actually creating the content for delivery. Rather, our task is solely involved with suggesting which technologies should be used to effectively accomplish the virtual museum tour and subsequent group critique. Thus, while the first step in developing effective instruction- the analysis phase- usually involves a needs analysis and a task analysis, these parts of analysis will not be required here. The objectives for the instruction and the choice of tasks involved have already been settled on by the teacher in question. The analysis in this case will be centred on gaining an understanding of which distance learning technologies will be most suitable for this particular group of students. To do this our analysis will need to focus on learner analysis, and by this analysis we will be able to discern how to optimally use technology to support the learners ‘both as a group and as individuals’ (Morrison et al., 2013, p.52).

The learners in this case are high school history students. In this theoretical case we obviously don’t have the opportunity to conduct a full learner analysis on the class (for example, what age-group the students fall into, what their general academic standard is, what is their level of access to technology etc.) so some assumptions will need to be made on their learner characteristics. Huett et al. (2008) in their analysis of the use of online learning at high school level make the point that a number of psychological characteristics are required for distance learning to be successful, including autonomy and motivation. These attributes can vary at high school level, especially as ‘the development of many of these characteristics is age-dependent, raising the possibility that younger students may be less successful online learners’ (p. 64). In order to safeguard against the fact that fully online studies are highly unlikely to uniformly suit the learning characteristics of a whole class at high school level, I believe a web-facilitated distance learning class would be most appropriate. With this learning method the students can view the virtual tour material from distance in their own time, and then spend classroom time discussing what they have learnt and participating in the group critique of the artwork. This means students can take the virtual tour at their own pace, and the teacher, in turn, can spend less time in class working through the material and devote ‘more classroom time on individualized instruction’ (Defour, 2013).

I would recommend the use of CourseSites to the teacher for making virtual tour material available to students at a distance. CourseSites is a Course Management System that can be used to host a variety of materials and media online. Recorded video footage of the art work in the museums with accompanying commentary and explanations by museum curators can be uploaded to coursesites, and thus made available to students in their own time away from the classroom. Discussion board areas can also be utilised within CourseSites for students and the teacher to discuss any parts of the virtual tour remotely, although these discussions will also be held in the classroom. As explained above, it is unclear as to whether this particular group of high school students would have the characteristics required to make optimal use of online discussion boards. In my own personal experience, it is very difficult to motivate students of high school age to engage with this type of activity outside of the classroom, unless it is made a compulsory part of the course. As per Knowles et al. (2012), students who are not yet considered adult learners in terms of psychological development are often more motivated by external influences like grades and parental approval rather than internal pressures such as a desire for personal development and self-esteem. CourseSites has limitations in the amount of content that can be uploaded to each course (500mb), but for a single high school instructional programme this should certainly be sufficient. The platform is also free-to-use.

Using CourseSites as distance learning technology has been proven successful in high school environments in the past. The CourseSites website itself details the positive feedback a number of teachers at high school level have returned on the technology. Audrey Carmosino (n.d), for example, is a high school science teacher who has use CourseSites to ‘expand [her] in-class course into more of a hybrid format’. There are also advantages for students using CourseSites that extend beyond just being able to study remotely outside of the classroom: another high school who use blackboard (which has the same format and functionality as CourseSites), Carroll High School in Ohio, USA, note that offering instruction to students through this medium will be of benefit to them once they move into University. Blackboard and CourseSites are two very commonly used distance learning technologies at third level.




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