A vision of distance students today

Late last year a video appeared on YouTube that rapidly became a smash hit (nearly 1.5 million hits, and nearly 7,000 comments) and created much discussion and debate.

Titled ‘A vision of students today’, it shows a lecture hall … hang on, why am I trying to describe it? You’ve probably seen it already and, if you haven’t, here it is:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/dGCJ46vyR9o" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

It was posted on 12 October 2007. I first saw it when a colleague sent me the link on 7 November. It was included in a keynote address at an excellent Learning Technologies conference I attended later that month. I mention this because during a session focussing on student issues, we videoconferenced with two of the US students from Kansas State University who were involved in developing the video.

I suspect that advocates of the student voice have been showing it on countless campuses to focus attention on the changing nature of student learning and the role of technology.

But to get to the point: reflecting on the video, I was wondering what would be said if it was a group of distance education, rather than classroom-based, students. So, I’ve constructed a table with some of the statements from the video, and taken a stab at what a distance students might say. I know, it’s not really a valid or overly meaningful comparison, and there’s a multitude of caveats and conditions, but anyway, here I go!

Student statement in video

Equivalent DE student response

My average class size is 115. My class size is 30.
18% of my teachers know my name. All my teachers know my name.
I complete 49% of the readings assigned to me: only 26% are relevant to my life. I complete 60% of the readings assigned to me: only 26% are relevant to my life.
I buy $100 textbooks I never open. I read most of all my textbooks.
I will read 8 books this year, 2300 web pages and 1281 Facebook profiles. I will read 4 books this year, 1200 web pages and, though a little nervous, have joined Facebook and already have 15 friends.
I will write 42 pages for class this semester, and over 500 pages of email. I will write 84 pages for class this semester, and over 250 pages of email.
I get 7 hours of sleep each night. I spend 1.5 hrs watching TV each night. I spend 3.5 hrs a day online. I listen to music 2.5 hrs a day. I spend 2 hrs a day on my cellphone. Spend 3 hrs in class,2 hrs eating. I work 2 hrs every day,3 hrs studying.That’s a total of 26.5 hrs per day – I am a multi-tasker (I have to be).




I Facebook through most of my class. I watch TV while studying.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve had to make sacrifices to get into this course.

Any corrections/additions? I guess that some of the research data on distance students’ study habits would provide more accurate figures than I’ve indicated. Overall, though, I think it’s helpful in prompting us to reflect on the academic and social worlds that our students occupy, whether face-to-face or at a distance.

6 thoughts on “A vision of distance students today

  1. Hi, am here:))))
    Nice Blog !!!
    I remember some of the research results from the last research we worked on, but few related to this.
    I guess it would be good to compare their grades…although that sort of information might be relatively difficult to get. Grades in a way can show the effectiveness of learning techniques…

    I wonder how different DE is now as compared to 5 years ago…as the technologies advance so quick…

    btw, you can use the tags in the format: [img] your pic URL link [/img] to show the pic of your cat on the petnews forum :))))).

  2. Thanks Sanna … my suggested responses were based on a few assumptions, such as the belief that the DE students are more ‘studious’ (e.g. more likely to do all the readings and, if they buy books, make good use of them). I halved the amount of reading, assuming that more of the f2f students are full-time and the DE students are mostly part-time. And you are right to ask about the impact of technology … things are changing fast!

  3. Hi David –

    Glad to see you at the helm of ODLAA..but possibly even gladder that you’ve started this website for distance education ‘tragics’ and others. I’ve read every entry with interest. Thanks for startuing it up!

    I’d like to challenge your reading statement in the matrix you drew out of the YouTube video (which I viewed and passed on along with everyone else in the university world). What’s a book? did you envisage that included study guides and reading compilations? These still exist, for everyone, whether they are printed by the institution or by the student from an electronic file. My empirical evidence is the number of people I see reading (pen or highligher in hand) these familiar publications on the Sydney trains (I’ve gone green and am now a committed user of public transport). I think DE students are probably more aware of the diversity of resources they use than perhaps a young undergraduate is,and are morelikely to still be locked into paper, so they’d probably say someting about books, study guides, and possibly articles.

    I also found it interesting that you took on the verbal message/s but not the visual! One strong visual was the notion of students spending a lot of time together in one place (the lecture hall)for their learning experience. While that’s of course not the only place campus-based students are found, it’s a dominate image. The distance education student on the other hand is found everywhere and rarely in a physical group.

    Mary Jane

  4. Hi Mary Jane,

    Thanks for your feedback and comments (and the challenge!). Yes, for this case I was taking the traditional view of a book as a purchased text. That’s why I halved the number of books, assuming the typical DE student is half-time. And yes, I agree with your questioning of this and your data/observations.
    Ditto for the verbal/visual.

    And your tantalizing last sentence clearly raises the question of groups (physical and/or virtual) and the growing contribution of technology in this area.

    There’s such a lot to talk about!

    Cheers, David

  5. Keep at it David. I saw the video some time ago too and didn’t send it on. Call me old and cynical, but how prevalent is this type of activity in on or off campus HE? What is it saying about a perspective of HE? Again the enthusiasts lead off.

    In at least one DE class I heard of last year, there was quite the informal network (text only) set up and flourished while the ‘formal’ stuff went on regardless. Do students differentiate between education online and social networks?

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