William Roberts

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          OK so that's not really me. But it is in spirit! While this website is offered in partial completion of my work towards a Master's of Distance Education in Technology (MDE) from the University of Maryland University College, it is also a representation of my work in field of education.

          Why did I want to complete a Master’s degree in Distance Education? The answer started a few years ago when I was asked to teach a course online by my university. I had no idea what they were talking about so they gave me a crash course in how to use Blackboard. Within a week I was 'trained' in online teaching! Well, I did not find that very fulfilling. So when I learned, not only were there courses in this topic but I could get a degree in distance education, I decided to go for it. Since I am a little older than most students, I don’t see this as being a career-changer for me; at my age, the real value lies in the development of my self-actualization and there is a tremendous satisfaction in that.

          I did not realize how much influence distance education had on my life until I started my studies in the MDE program. I discovered that I had first encountered distance education as a young boy in the 7th grade when my mother decided that my schooling needed to be augmented. She bought lessons for me through the Calvert School (still in existence, http://www.calvertschool.org). I remember receiving lots of school supplies, notepads, pencils, and books. Lorna Doone was the only book I remember now. It was fun and I probably learned something but it did not supplant my formal schooling. Later, when I was grown and working at a radio station, I decided I needed to learn something about radio electronics so I enrolled in a home study program at Cleveland Institute of Electronics (also still around, http://www.cie-wc.edu). This time I received about 100 self-study booklets that I worked through and returned my assignments and tests to the school for critique. I graduated from CIE, I actually did learn something, and I felt rather proud to complete the program.  I think these experiences may have paved the way for a smooth transition to online learning. I did not realize that these experiences were indeed examples of distance learning and they occurred many years before the word ‘internet’ was even invented.

          In the four years that I spent in the MDE program I have learned to observe my university organization from several perspectives. For example, now I can anticipate the pitfalls that are looming at my university. Their reliance on technology as the engine of their DE program is foremost; their dependence on classroom techniques as the basis for online classes threatens their program; finally, the commitment they “will never let online classes replace the face-to-face classes” implies a mis-appreciation for the strengths that distance education offers. There has been no pedagogical training provided to teachers, instead the distance education training has been strictly focused on using various websites software, hardware, and making use of the technical center to produce videos. The desire is to maintain the autonomy of the professor in developing, designing and delivering their own courses. No consideration is given to the team approach such as discussed in courses like OMDE607- Instructional Design and Course Development in Online Distance Education, and OMDE608 – Learner Support in Distance Education and Training.  As an adjunct professor, I have very little input to address these issues but I hope my MDE credentials from UMUC may now add credence to my suggestions.

          I have also learned the importance that dialogue in education, not only in online learning but in classroom experiences as well. Dialogue, real dialogue, those moments of personal human connection, is the soul of learning. When students and instructors interact on this level then learning is co-constructed as unique individual experiences. This point blends so well into my teaching Interpersonal Communication that I think it is quite uncanny how these subjects fit together. For example, I teach the ideas of Martin Buber’s “I-It and I-Thou” in my Interpersonal Communication Classes. His concern for levels of human relationship in the presence of dialogue is a reasonable perspective for understanding online interaction.

          Finally, I have become fascinated with the potential that virtual worlds hold for online education. In OMDE608 I worked with a group to study Second Life and its potential use for a delivering an art course. While many colleges and universities are experimenting with the use of Second Life, there are other virtual worlds that are also being developed, for instance Twinity. These virtual worlds may find a place in the world of online distance education but so far their practicality remains untapped and undiscovered. There may be many other frontiers awaiting tomorrow’s education. Where will mobile communication devices fit in to course delivery? Can holographic technology bring three dimensional classes to remote locations? Will Kindle or Nook become the standard for reading books and journals? Will researchers increase their use of publishing in online journals? These are the exciting questions that I have come to appreciate through my UMUC studies; I look forward to watching these answers unfold and I hope to be an active participant in developing this exciting field.

          During the past four years I have been challenged to think about international questions by several of UMUC's excellent instructors, and I have become interested in several areas that I previously thought would never hold my attention for very long. For example, DEPM625 – Distance Education, Globalization and Development required me to learn about teacher training in Sub-Saharan Africa. I started the project with no knowledge of Africa and came away with a deeper appreciation of the world-wide importance of African education. Because of these experiences I have become a huge fan of UMUC! The international breadth and intellectual depth of the faculty is unparalleled. The rigorous academic expectations require one’s best performance. I am absolutely certain that I could not have gotten the wealth of knowledge, experience and background in this field from any other school.

          So my thanks to UMUC, the professors, TAs, and fellow students who have participated with me duiring these years. Some people have told me that online classes are too impersonal, that they feel isolated and miss the contact that a classroom brings. To those people I say, "you have simply not had the best in online learning." I never felt that isolation, I have made friends and I feel that I can call on the professors long after I have graduated. If you are considering going back to school, then consider online distance education. UMUC is not without problems, but you will obtain an excellent education if you do your part.

          Please take a look at the following pages of this website. I have included some course descriptions, some of my writing samples, and other information. If you'd like to contact me, there is a page for that also, I'll be happy to respond. Enjoy!