Distance Education and the Mainstream: Interaction as an Indicator of Distance in Education

September 13, 2004

Another indicator often presented is the emergence of the smart classrooms. In such classrooms, the faculty have access to the Internet by high speed wired connection, or even wireless technology and are capable to include Websites, and other display materials to students in their lecture.

Interaction as the Relevant Indicator
In short, technology is often indicted as the base of the claim for such mainstreaming. Other important factors are often neglected. For example, the level and rate of interaction between students and instructors are rarely mentioned as evidence of distance education going mainstream. Observers often forget that if there is negligible or no interaction between the student and the instructor, it does not matter if they are under the same roof, or thousands of miles apart. In fact, most lectures presented in most classrooms are “distant” since there is little interaction between the instructor and the learner while they are delivered.

In fact, distance education has always been the mainstream form of the so-called face-to-face education. To the point that technology has increased communication between the instructor and the learner, and has brought up the level and rate of interaction between the two, it has also decreased the distance between them. As such, distance in education is not merely based on the geographic separation of the learner and the instructor but the level and rate of interaction between them.

Such, “psychological” or transactional distance, as defined by Dr. Michael G. Moore, is the primary indicator for distance education becoming mainstream. Research is needed to measure the quantity, quality, and effectiveness of interaction, between the instructor and the learner as an indicative of the proliferation and mainstreaming of Distance Education.

Dr. Farhad (Fred) Saba is professor of Educational Technology at San Diego State University (1984-present), where he teaches courses on distance education, and cyberculture. He has been involved in the field of distance education since 1973, first as the Managing Director of Educational Radio and Television of Iran (1973-1978), and then as the Director of the Telecommunications Division at the University of Connecticut (1979-1984). He is also the founder of Distance-Educator.com, which is an online news and information resource for practitioners in the field. His consulting work has included many corporations, and public institutions Dr. Saba’s scholarly publications have been honored by several international awards including the Charles A. Wedemeyer Award (American Journal of Distance Education) and by the Association of Educational Communications and Technology’s Educational Technology Research and Development Journal Award.