Table of Contents
1. Skepticism Vs. Opportunity
2. Distance Education; More than a Collection of Hardware
2.1 Time and Space — the Key Differences
2.2 Physical and Virtual Locations — the Classroom
2.3 Independence and Responsibility — the Philosophy
2.4 Which Path Should Translator Education Take with Regard to Distance Education?
3. Changing from an Objectivist to a Constructivist Educational Philosophy and from Teaching to Learning
3.3 An Argument for a Constructivist Learning Environment in Translator Education
4. Translator Education, More than the Substitution of Words
4.1 Meaning and Understanding among Cultures
4.2 Subject Matter Knowledge
4.5 Computer Literacy
5. Employing Distance-Learning Strategies to Improve Translator Education
5.1 Primary Objectives
5.1.3 Translation Classes
5.2 Secondary Objectives
5.2.1 Preparation for an Increasingly Diversified Job Market
5.2.2 Cultural Awareness
5.2.3 Lifelong Learning
6. Towards a More Effective Learning Environment in Translator Education
The profession of translation operates on the cutting edge of globalization. Both practicing professionals and researchers testify to an increasing use of computer tools in general, and information and communication technologies in particular, by translators when they conduct their work. Translators and their clients, as well as their colleagues, are frequently located in different parts of the world and rely on electronic tools to exchange information between one another.
University-level translator education is attempting to keep up with these developments, but in light of the financial constraints, it cannot help but fall behind in its effort to realistically emulate the translator’s profession and to prepare students for their lives as professional translators. There is clearly a need for effective computer use in the translator education classroom to ensure that the students’ transition between graduation and entry into the workforce will not become even more difficult than it already is.
Practitioners in distance education have long been forced to devise new economically and educationally efficient strategies to prepare students for their later professions. These strategies possess the potential to aid translator education in its struggle of incorporating computers as an integral part of the educational process.
This thesis commences by defining distance education and by introducing different forms thereof. Various examples are discussed, as well as positive and negative attitudes towards distance education and the main differences to campus-based education. Based on these findings, the relevance for translator education (Chapters 1 and 2) is presented. After introducing the basic theory of a constructivist approach to learning (Chapter 3) and discussing pertinent skills of professional translators (Chapter 4), Chapter 5 proposes specific distance-learning environments for three different types of classes in university-level translator education, as well as additional benefits of employing distance learning environments. Finally, Chapter 6 briefly reviews the major points of this thesis and draws the germane conclusion.
This thesis is mainly geared toward the academic community in translator education in an effort to bring this matter to the forefront of discussion. By first introducing different forms of distance education and then applying some of the strategies from this field to translator education, I hope to contribute a vital perspective to the ongoing discussion on the more effective use of computers.
Testing the Waters or Going the Distance?
How Translator Education Can Benefit from
1. Skepticism Vs. Opportunity
Originally, distance education (DE) described a situation in which geographically remote students received their course material through the regular mail system from the school/university (also called correspondence education) (Evans and Nation, Global Lines; Porter; van Dusen). After completing the assignments, students returned the material to the school/university, again through the postal system. In the wake of information and communication technology (ICT) developments in today’s fast-paced high-tech world, however, distance education has undergone, and is still undergoing, a profound change. What was once a necessary evil for a few, has turned into a vast opportunity for hundreds of thousands worldwide to receive an education that they could not have enjoyed some fifteen or twenty years ago.
To acquire their degree, students do not even have to leave their homes. Enrolling at a distance-teaching university means studying where and when it is convenient for the students. Former barriers of time and space have virtually evaporated, as it is now possible to complete all course requirements from home and largely, at the students’ own pace. They are able to plan their schedules around their daily activities without letting the program of studies dictate their lives. They can maintain their family lives, pursue their careers, and earn a degree at the same time, which is the main reason why distance education is the driving force in continuing education (Evans and Nation, Policies and Practices; Garrison and Anderson; Williams).
It is relatively easy to find success stories on the subject of distance education. Distance-teaching universities, such as the British Open University (BOU), the Open University of Israel, and the FernUniversität Hagen boast high graduation rates and assure their clientele that they will receive lucrative job offers or will not have any trouble being accepted by “traditional” universities for further education. These distance-teaching universities are completely virtual, in other words, they do not operate on a physical campus or in actual classrooms, but through other forms of communication, such as audio-, desktop-, or video-conferencing, E-mail, Internet-based classes, etc. The British Open University alone has had more than 2 million students in its 30 years of existence. At any given time, about 200,000 students are enrolled at BOU (British Open University Factsheets).
Despite the success stories and the general increase in the use of distance-learning environments, there is still a great deal of uncertainty and insecurity. By far, not everyone in the academic community is ready to accept the concept of distance education. Distance-learning environments are still a new approach to teaching and learning. They question many old and familiar educational approaches and the field of academia is traditionally a slow one to change. As van Dusen puts it, “The task of integrating new technologies into the mainstream of postsecondary teaching and learning […] is all the more daunting because of […] overt resistance from an entrenched faculty and administrative culture, 700 years in the making” (11). Evans and Nation are also critical in their assessment, and they believe that education cannot keep up with technology.
The irony here is that while the speed of change in computer and communications technologies is held to be rapid and accelerating, in education itself there is an apparently slow pace in change at the institutional, bureaucratic and practical levels. [There is a tension] between education’s purposes to preserve and sustain important traditions as well as to prepare people to construct their futures. (Globalisation 176)
The revolutionary approach of distance education has been met with fierce resistance and still struggles to be accepted by a large number of people. In Distance and Campus Universities: Tensions and Interactions, Sarah Guri-Rosenblit describes the problems the British Open University has had to contend with since its establishment in 1969 and, to a certain extent, still faces. The then ruling Conservatives’ Chancellor of the Exchequer called the institution “blithering nonsense” and a “ridiculous idea generated by the Labour Party” (15). Few people at that time expected such a radical university to survive. Still, traditional universities saw themselves as competitors, comparable to a business situation, and voiced harsh criticism, lest they lose students to BOU. Others simply dismissed the idea of a university that teaches entirely at a distance. “As a matter of fact the British Open University's milieu was conceived by most academics as a separate world, which had no relevance to the normal anticipation of higher education needs” (Guri-Rosenblit 203).
There can be no doubt that distance education has its benefits and provides immense opportunities for an increasingly large student population. At the same time, however, it is also clear that distance education is not a universal panacea. It requires a well-developed concept, tailored toward a specific purpose and institution, and needs to be carefully implemented. Van Dusen warns about educational institutions’ past attempts to integrate technological applications into the curriculum.
First, there is a period of excitement and unreasonable claims — what Rockman calls ‘technohype’ (25). This period is followed by one of very low-level implementation, with relatively marginal participation by faculty and staff. Last, frustration and disillusionment lead to relegating the technology to ‘add-on’ status or a dusty death on a closet shelf. (11)
Nevertheless, distance education in its various forms has enormous potential to improve current approaches to education. As in every other field of study, translator education, especially with the demands on today’s professional translators in mind, should therefore take a closer look at distance-education strategies and seek to explore its potential benefits.
Hence, this thesis deals with the role of distance-education environments in translator education. While keeping the unique characteristics of this discipline in mind, I intend to explore how distance-education strategies can be a valuable addition to the preparation of students for their lives as professional translators. In conclusion, I hope to be able to provide an answer to the question “Is it worth getting our feet wet?” In other words, “What role should distance-education environments play in translator education?”
2. Distance Education; More than a Collection of Hardware
2.1 Time and Space — the Key Differences
Generally, there should be a distinction between full-fledged distance education and educational environments that employ distance-learning strategies in a campus setting. Both forms are increasingly attracting supporters and there has been a tremendous growth in applying both types to education and business. Virtual universities enroll growing numbers of students and campus-based universities are increasingly offering courses at a distance. From elementary to secondary schools and from universities to corporations, more and more institutions are making use of distance education and are thus enabling their students and employees to further their education outside of the traditional classroom. High schools collaborate with international partner schools via the Internet and offer students virtual encounters with people from other countries in addition to teaching grammar exercises from a textbook. Employees take classes at a distance and are able to maintain their working schedule at the same time.
Penn State University has extended its program to working professionals in a number of areas by offering individual distance-education courses and entire degree programs. Learners who are unable to visit the campus can receive their education with the aid of CD-ROMs, videoconferencing, the Internet, and other distance-learning tools. Advertising its program on the Internet, Penn State writes,
The World Campus combines [its] strengths with Penn State’s reputation for academic excellence to bring its signature programs to you, when and where you need them. Whether you study from work or at home, in the daytime or late in the evening, you can join an international community of Penn State learners who use the World Wide Web to achieve their educational goals. (Penn State’s World Campus)
High schools in Minnesota use computer conferencing to link up with international schools and enable their students to conduct role-playing activities that focus on cross-cultural communication (Chute, Thompson, and Hancock 8). The business world has seen similar developments. In 1997, Ford Motor Company, for example, needed to quadruple its dealer training output. The 162 instructors for dealer training throughout the world were not sufficient to cover the need for continuing education, as the dealer trainee population had increased drastically. Since additional training centers and more instructors would have been too expensive, Ford decided to extend its distance-education program (a broadcast satellite network called FORDSTAR) to reach dealer trainees all over the world. This strategy proved to be not only cost-effective but also highly efficient. Dealers worldwide can now interact with instructors anywhere in the world without traveling (Chute, Thompson, and Hancock 7).
The main differences between campus-based education and distance education are their uses of time and space. In the former learning situation, instructor and students must be co-present for learning to take place. Whether it is a lecture or a seminar, a study hall or an exercise; both instructor and learners meet according to pre-arranged times and locations. In distance education, on the other hand, learners and instructor do not have to agree on one specific time for learning to occur. Similarly, they do not have to meet in the same physical space. In distance education, instructor and learners can theoretically be located virtually anywhere. Instruction and interaction take place through information and communication technologies in networked computer environments, using the Internet, E-mails, desktop conferences, etc. These technologies allow the exchange of information between two geographically separated places. While a lecture might be transmitted live, E-mails and instructional CD-ROMs enable learners to access the learning material at a time that is convenient for them. In short, distance education allows instructors and students to free themselves of two potential constraints: time and space.
Many students, of course, value this new independence, as it enables them to schedule their learning around their lives, as opposed to the reverse. They can maintain their family and social lives and their jobs, while still receiving an education. Instead of attending a lecture on campus, students can “log on” and listen to a lecturer who is halfway around the world. As an alternative to showing up for class in order to submit an essay, students can write their papers at home and send them to their instructors via E-mail.
2.2 Physical and Virtual Locations — the Classroom
The remarkable feature about the virtual class room is that there is none. Instead of a physical space with desks and chairs, learners interact with each other and with their instructor in what is often referred to as cyberspace. Naturally, there are significant differences between the two spaces. The lack of proximity, the impossibility of placing copies on students’ desks, the use of technology that is often still unfamiliar and a number of other personal concerns make distance education a challenging experience for everyone involved. Whether the implementation of distance-learning strategies in a certain academic area will improve education or whether it will be unable to live up to its full potential depends largely on how the new learning situation is approached. A virtual classroom is more than simply a room with bits and bytes instead of books and bodies in it. It is a promising space that is different in so many ways as it offers unique opportunities that can make it a valuable addition and even alternative to its physical counterpart. The greatest strength, maybe surprisingly at first, is likely to be the intense focus on interaction and collaboration.
Van Dusen views four kinds of interaction in the virtual classroom: learner-content, learner-instructor, learner-learner, and (unique to the virtual classroom) learner-interface. It is no coincidence that the learner is the central participant in each of these four interactions. According to this concept, learner-content interaction is easier in the virtual classroom, because of the multiple forms in which information and knowledge can be presented and manipulated. With the use of a variety of information and communication technologies and their availability to students, learners can interact with the information and knowledge based on their personal preferences. If someone learns best by listening, he or she will prefer audio-conferencing to follow a lecture. Others will prefer a more visual type of learning and use computer simulations. Theoretically, information can be presented and manipulated in many forms, so that every learner will find one or more ways that suit his or her needs and preferences.
Learner-learner and learner-instructor interaction initially appears to be more difficult due to the participants’ physical separation. According to numerous researchers (Clark, Student Opinion; Costin; Pascarella and Terenzini), group work and discussions have a greater potential than lectures for developing critical thinking skills and for enabling learners to integrate new knowledge into existing concepts (cf. 3.2). In a physical classroom, student-student and student-instructor interaction happen face-to-face in class. Students can work alone or in pairs, move around the room for group work, listen to each other, and raise their hands if they have a question. Supporters of campus-based teaching claim that all this is hardly possible in distance education. Even the best technology cannot capture and transmit all the facets of a discussion, and interaction at a distance —especially if it is dictated by different schedules— is difficult at best. Many non-verbal elements, such as gestures, which can be critical in a discussion, can easily be lost. In addition, talking into a microphone to someone who is in a far away location gives discussions in an educational context something surrealistic or highly unusual. Van Dusen dismisses these concerns. While he acknowledges the potential of the physical classroom, he claims that it has not been fully realized. Distance education, in turn, he argues, lends itself to collaboration and interaction.
In the traditional classroom, the potential for learner-instructor and learner-learner [interaction] is very high, but instructors have largely ignored this mandate for change and continue to employ the lecture mode as the predominant method of instruction. In the virtual classroom, on the other hand, technology supports collaborative learning, heterogeneous groupings, problem solving, and higher order thinking skills — educational processes that a lecture format cannot facilitate. (iii/iv)
Depending on the purpose, the instructor in a distance-learning environment can employ a variety of strategies to support interaction. Generally, we need to distinguish between two forms, synchronous (real time) and asynchronous (delayed) interaction. Examples for synchronous interaction include Internet relay chats (IRC), audio, desktop, and videoconferences, etc. All these possibilities enable participants to have live discussions or to collaborate in one way or another in real time. Chute, Thompson, and Hancock have even found that “many students have reported being pleasantly surprised to find that they have more interactions and opportunities for interaction in a distance-learning environment than they would in many face-to-face classes” (40).
Examples for asynchronous interaction include E-mail, mailing lists, and newsgroups. These forms of interaction have several advantages over the traditional classroom. Tucker argues that the aforementioned technologies allow for a more deliberate response and consequently more successful communication. Students and instructor have more time to think about an issue before responding. Follow-up E-mails to a discussion can even be made part of the course requirements. Another advantage is clearly the storage and retrieval opportunity provided by the technology. Students and instructor can go back to previously made comments and there is always a record of what was covered during the course.
In all written messages, synchronous and asynchronous, students are likely to increase their writing skills. Every electronic piece of writing is stored for later access and copied to the instructor who can monitor progress and content. The mere fact that students have to write everything down and then send it to their peers is likely to improve writing and analytical skills, because they will draft their messages more carefully, rethink their approach, and thus ensure a better overall quality of their contributions.
Lectures can also take on new forms with the aid of information technology. Concepts that were formerly explained only in words or maybe with the help of pictures or slides can now be presented in a completely different way. Van Dusen mentions one example in which the simulation of a fire sprinkler is demonstrated in a computer simulation (35). While students would normally have to actually activate the sprinkler (and consequently destroy it for future use or demonstrations), a computer simulation has three distinctive advantages. It can collapse or expand time and thus focus on the critical aspects that might otherwise be less obvious. It is an educational field trip for which students do not have to travel and it can eliminate some of the disadvantages that are usually associated with a certain situation.
The fourth kind of interaction, learner-interface, is critical to the success of a distance-learning course. Only when students and instructor are comfortable enough with the technology they use can they accomplish all the tasks and make the course a success for everyone involved. There needs to be a time period at the beginning of the course which allows all participants to familiarize themselves with the technology. Hillman, Willis, and Gunawardena believe there is an immediate link between acceptance of technology and acceptance of content, saying that students need an opportunity to “become comfortable with the interface, accepting of the technology and, consequently, comfortable with and accepting of the content of the instruction” (qtd. in van Dusen: 36). Once this comfort is established, learners can make full use of the tools they have. The technology allows multiple representations of the learning material and a variety of ways for understanding fundamental principles. Familiarity and acceptance of the technology on behalf of the learner will ensure that this potential can be fully realized.
Much of the highly critical attitude towards the virtual classroom certainly lies in the fact that it is a relatively new phenomenon. Time is likely to take care of some of the resentments that have been voiced by the critics, as they will see and experience increasingly more successful applications of distance-learning strategies. One major prerequisite, of course, is that the technology is used effectively and with a clear objective in mind. Technology use for the sake of using it is a recipe for disaster. Diana Laurillard warns, “we must take care, in the educational design process, not to be swept along by the promises of the new technologies, but to use them in a controlled and selective way” (261).
We would certainly lose some great opportunities for learning if we simply dismissed the physical classroom and the campus environment as a place where successful learning just cannot occur. We need to keep in mind that “studying alone can be discouraging and lead to failure. […] There are no chats over a cup of coffee at the student centre, no casual encounters with either the professor or with fellow students, no contact with people who took the same course previously” (Guri-Rosenblit 87).
Hence, I do not want to create the impression that the campus is the root of all failures in education and that the virtual classroom will provide all the solutions we are looking for. However, skepticism towards this virtual space must not allow us to shy away from investigating its full potential; similarly, the comfort with, and employment of, familiar concepts and approaches to education cannot remain unquestionable. We must not blindly accept somewhat nostalgic views such as the one supported by Tiffin and Rajasingham, who claim that the physical classroom “works not just because it is an effective communications system for instruction, but because it is a keystone of society” (70).
Again, the traditional classroom does have its advantages, but it cannot forever remain the only place for learning to occur. If the virtual classroom promises to be a valuable addition, we are obligated to seriously investigate how to use it most effectively. After all, why should we not make every effort to combine the two worlds in order to offer students the best possible learning environment?
As was pointed out in the previous paragraphs, information and communication technology, despite the praise by its proponents, is not a panacea. Only if it is used responsibly and thoughtfully can the technology be a valuable addition to the learning process. In a foreword to Opening Education; Policies and Practices from Open and Distance Education, Ross Paul, President of Laurentian University, a Canadian institute with its own distance-education program, stresses that the use of technology does not mean a complete overhaul of education. It is just another way of enabling students to learn. “I emphasise that distance learning is simply another means to encourage students to become independent lifelong learners and that one must start with the learning needs of the student, not, as is so often the case, the fancy technology itself” (xi). With this important reminder, Ross Paul reiterates what is essential in all forms of distance learning. Technology must not be an end in itself; it must always be embedded in a broader context that clearly states which kind of technology is used for what specific educational purpose.
The use of information and communication technology can range from fairly uncomplicated, low-key strategies such as E-mail exchanges, to highly sophisticated and much more expensive live desktop conferencing. Selecting a strategy depends largely on two factors: the type of course or institution and the available financial resources. Full-fledged distance-teaching universities, of course, depend much more on technology, and a variety thereof, than institutions that use certain distance-learning strategies in a campus-based environment. If every segment of a course is taught at a distance, the instructor is likely to employ different technologies, such as videoconferences for lectures, desktop simulations for presentations, electronic bulletin board systems or mailing lists for in-depth discussions, and interactive software for independent studies. “Just as we use multiple transport systems to move people —airplanes, trains, automobiles— we need to use multiple media to move ideas in any form — audio, data, or video” (Chute, Thompson, and Hancock 25).
Instructors of a campus-based class on the other hand will probably only slowly introduce the new learning tools and first add just one form of technology to the existing learning environment. Fischer, for example, reports about a number of projects between American and German high schools, where students exchanged messages via E-mail. One example deals with a computer class at a German school and a German class at an American high school. Both classes formed numerous small groups that corresponded via E-mail over a period of about 7 months. At first, the E-mails were but small notes. Not only were the students uncertain about this new way of “learning,” but the fact that they had to communicate in a foreign language with native speakers of that language made the writing process difficult. Consequently, the initial E-mails were only a few sentences short and contained very general information about the respective group members, such as date of birth and hobbies.
After a while, and with some guidance from their instructors, the students began to write longer E-mails that provided much more meaningful contents. They realized that not only their languages were different, but also that the other groups’ culture was very distinct from their own. This experience, in turn, was then discussed in class. The ratio between the actual typing of E-mails and discussing their content in class was roughly one to five. Thus, most time was spent in the classroom, with the major difference that students did not complete grammar exercises from a book but talked about meaningful, real-life experiences thanks to their partners across the Atlantic. Instead of studying mainstreamed material, students of this project had the opportunity to engage in personal discussions with people from another culture. They learned by trying to better understand each other’s world and comparing it to their own. Through the use of E-mail, Fischer argues, students were able to conduct fast, almost instantaneous, correspondence and to learn more about each other’s cultures. This high-speed exchange of information was crucial to the success of the project.
One could argue that the exchange by mail would have been just as effective, especially since other materials still had to be sent through the postal service. Frequent […] communication on the Internet, however, kept a flow of student messages alive. I suspect that this would not have happened if only old-fashioned letter writing had been available. (154)
Fischer also explains that this kind of learning requires close supervision by, and efficient cooperation between, the participating instructors. Simply providing access to E-mail without a clear concept about the intention of the project will not yield satisfying results. Only if the authorities are fully committed to this kind of distance-learning environment and if they are willing to devote enough time and energy to the project can they enjoy the educational benefits of implementing E-mail into the curriculum.
The second decisive factor in the choice of which technology to use is the available funding. It is rather inexpensive to equip existing computers with Internet access so that students can send and receive E-mails, and, depending on the purpose, this may be sufficient, as demonstrated in Fischer’s example. E-mail alone, however, cannot carry a course that is conducted entirely at a distance (Phoha). Full-fledged distance-teaching universities must employ many more types of information technology in their courses. The danger that the technology itself — and not the effective use of it — dictates the course increases as soon as more kinds of technologies are employed.
The instructor must therefore ensure that he or she pursues a clearly defined objective with every type of technology that is used. As long as the technology serves a well-defined purpose, it is likely to enhance the learning effect. As Clark (Reconsidering) argues in his investigation of technology use in education, it is not what is used, but rather how it is used. “The best current evidence is that media are more vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement anymore than the truck that delivers our groceries cause [sic] change in nutrition. […] Only the content of the vehicle can influence achievement” (445). If technology is used for a clear pedagogical purpose, and if instructors do not “abdicate pedagogical responsibilities to machines” (Valley, Steeples, and Hynes 86), the use of technology will most likely be a valuable addition to the learning environment.
2.3 Independence and Responsibility: the Philosophy
More independence for students means less supervision by instructors. Initially, this shift in responsibility produced rather harsh criticism, as many instructors suspected that distance education took the laissez-faire concept several steps too far. Since learners in distance education are largely able to study what they want, where, when, and how they want, instructors feared that they were forced to give up what they considered to be an essential amount of control over the educational process. Carried to the extreme, the technology, some people feared, could eventually make the instructor obsolete altogether. If lectures are enhanced with, or even replaced by, computer simulations, if learners learn more on their own terms, according to their own schedule, and if the responsibility for learning is placed in the hands of the learners themselves, what role do instructors perform? Does distance education even need instructors at all?
Van Dusen concedes, “as the learning paradigm matures, the role of the professor will change and possibly even be radically transformed” (15). At the same time, though, he is convinced that the instructor will not become obsolete. For example, instructors could become specialists who “produce specific products or deliver specific services; many will work part-time, often from their homes, linked to learners through technology” (15). In the long run, he argues, that will lead to a breakthrough in education, because of the “paradigmatic shift from a professor-centered to a student-centered system of learning” (30). While the instructor’s job description will look different in distance-learning environments, it is clear that the instructor will continue to be an important member of the educational process. “Good instructors cannot be replaced by technology, but they can become better instructors by using technology efficiently” (Chute, Thompson, and Hancock 56).
This transfer of responsibility from instructor to learner in distance education is usually referred to as "open learning." While open learning is actually an independent concept, it is closely tied to the notion of distance education. As a matter of fact, the literature (e.g. Campion; van Dusen) rarely draws a clear distinction between the two, and the Distance-Teaching University of Columbia even uses both terms in its official name: Universidad Abierta y a Distancia. Tergan et al. note, “it can be observed […] that open learning and distance education are increasingly mentioned in the same breath” (29). It appears that one cannot really exist without the other, and only combined do they reflect what is called “learning at a distance.” Field’s definition of open learning is characterized by this interdependency:
Open learning is used to denote both an educational philosophy and a set of techniques for delivering knowledge and skills. As philosophy, open learning implies greater accessibility, flexibility and student-centeredness: it implies placing learner rather than provider at the core of educational practice. As a set of techniques, it is characterized by the use of resource-based teaching and training, often associated with the use of new communications media. (qtd. in Mike Campion: 149)
Open education thus describes a student-based learning environment. Most researchers in distance education (e. g. Chute, Thompson, and Hancock; Evans and Nation, Opening Education; van Dusen) emphasize that this form of education focuses more on learning than on teaching; in other words, learners are much more actively engaged in the process of acquiring knowledge. Though they still attend lectures and passively absorb what their instructor presents, the technologies in distance education demand more responsibility from the learners. Since they often work on their own schedule instead of institutionally prearranged times, they have to be self-disciplined enough to abide by that schedule.
Teaching in the sense that the instructor leads the way by explaining step by step what it is that he or she wants students to do gives way to learning as students become more responsible for their own learning process. Learners are more independent and need to fulfill tasks without the clear-cut instruction that is common in campus-based teaching. That, in turn, demands more flexibility from the learners. They are forced to think critically about the learning material and to complete assignments with less guidance and supervision. In their discussion on distance education, Chute, Thompson, and Hancock come to the following conclusion:
In this [distance-learning] environment the learner can be less of a listener and more of a collaborator in the learning experience. Technologies that support collaborative work by geographically separated participants will allow team learning, with the learners and instructors sharing responsibility for structuring and maintaining the learning process. As learners gain more experience and confidence in this type of learning environment, the instructor can increasingly fill the role of ‘guide on the side’ rather than ‘sage on the stage.’ (207)