Notes on: Sewart, D et al (eds) (1983) Distance Education - International Perspectives.  Beckenham: Croom Helm.

Dave Harris

[Classic accounts of the pedagogic principles, formulated as educational technology, that informed distance education.  These principles then escaped and infected the whole sector of higher education in the UK, through various quangos such as HEFCE, QAA and others, without realizing the context—that such techniques might just be acceptable if it's not possible to talk to students face to face.  There is just something about educational technology of this kind that appeals to managers and bureaucrats—it is their ideology]

Baath, J.  'A list of ideas for the construction of distance education courses', 272-90.

There are some very basic requirements for any distance project, including a budget, decisions about the type of course, the sort of teaching and teaching groups that might be required and so on [A manager speaks!  There are also wonderfully stereotyped assumptions about adult students].  We can borrow the notion of essential psychological functions from Gagné.  An educator must arouse attention and motivate through the presentation of objectives, make the links with previous knowledge, activate learning, provide feedback, promote transfer and retention.  Apparently these functions are to be achieved through pretty basic bits of advice like using colour, dynamic layout, attractive typography, and even providing 'smells' and 'presents'.  We should consider using in our materials 'the same style as advertising brochures', providing surprises and variety.  We should appeal to student needs, require them to do concrete presentations, and enjoyable exercises.  We should provide them with rapid feedback.  This leads to the need for objectives, self tests, diagrams of structures and arguments and so on.  We might begin with a diagnostic test to link present experience with course content, including 'familiar material from the mass media'. These students will need study techniques.

The teaching material must be designed to exhibit clarity, linguistic simplicity, the personal style of the educator, and concrete examples.  We need to think of developing 'lexivision' [that fuses pictures and words] and using variable media.  The job is to explain 'without putting too much strain on the truth' in the form of offering a commentary with a range of different emphases (285).  We should also use Ausubel's 'advance organizers', in the form of statements of overriding principles, or announcements of similarities and contrasts in the material.  We can develop exercises to organize verbal explanations and summaries.  We should engage in active learning through the use of exercises, tests, references to further material, and positive criticism.  We can promote the transfer of knowledge through a variety of examples, parallels in other subjects, dissimilarities as well, and the application of exercises.  Study techniques should be primarily aimed at helping retention.

Peters, O.  'Distance Teaching and Industrial Production: a comparative interpretation in outline', 95-113 [a very influential piece, originally published in 1967. Control implications are especially clear]

Distance education clearly shows novel features, and thus it requires modern forms of communication.  In this way, distance education is 'complementary to our industrial age'.  Industrialization transforms even teaching [I don't think this is meant critically], and we can use concepts of industrial production as heuristics.  This will provide the latest in a series of analogies, replacing earlier ones between, say, education and dramaturgy.  Weber was clearly aware of the parallels.

We can see distance education as akin to industrial production because:
  1. There is a production system producing [printed or broadcast] study materials
  2. Commercial considerations are explicit, even for state financed organizations, and these lie behind certain structural changes such as seeing education as produced by an advanced division of labour rather than a craft; seeing how the work tasks involved are structured by mechanization; the need to develop a systematic control of the system especially in preparatory phases; formalization and standardization of work; and objectification of the production process because investment is required.  These trends produce a strong tendency towards centralization and concentration.  We need terms from 'business studies' to understand them.

We might consider the changes in terms of rationalization, an effective relationship between means and ends.  This can produce a new specification of tasks and an interest in continual improvements.  There will be resistance, from obstacles 'in human nature…  [Irrational residues]' (98).  However, educational practice has long been rationalized any way, seen in the deployment of rational curriculum planning in lecture methods, for example.  These trends are developed best in distance education.  Advanced division of labour in such systems can overcome any subjective resistance (99) [diluting radicals in committees and hierarchies of control].  Greater specialization also means a more limited phase of work [maybe even short term specific contracts].  Larger audiences are possible, and so are modern techniques including the mass media.  The system can now be subjected to new forms of quality control and scientific monitoring.

The notion of a division of labour was first developed by Adam Smith, who noticed that increased specialization was more productive.  Such specialization is advanced in teaching a distance, splitting for example counselling from teaching and from assessing.  Specialist academics are accompanied by specialist editors and pedagogues.  It might even be possible to develop a [kind of monitorialism] system where senior students do the marking (101).

An increased level of mechanization is now possible, possibly even leading to automation.  Conventional teaching can be seen as analogous to pre-industrial crafts.  Assembly lines have proved to be an important technology, and such devices will save time with teaching as well.  The same goes with the notion of mass production—we must no longer see mass as a negative term (102): now it merely means a system of large scale production and access [note that Peters uses German references throughout, apparently from German business studies].  Addressing the mass market brings all sorts of advantages and permits the development of special systems to cater for it. There is no need for academics and students to live in close proximity.  Effective marketing drives research into student needs in order to prevent dropout and to accurately fill places.  Such research can also help to standardise chances for entry as well.

A good deal of preparatory work is still essential in mass production.  For example we need to calculate the numbers and sizes of inputs.  'The more thorough the preparation, the less a successful production process dependent upon the particular abilities of the workers involved' (103) [I have noted that these are quite unapologetic deskilling approaches].  Lots of investment is needed in this preparatory work.  In distance education, 'tutors and advisers are more easily exchangeable on account of the thorough preparatory work' (104).

More planning is required, at both a general and specific level, to deal with contingencies.  Problems arise especially with the need for a 'structural integration' of the different components—for example, there might be a need to specify definite roles for each component.  Overall, a rational organization is required to deliver effective teaching.  Designing one can be another specialist function, involving the scientific control and management of production processes [and Taylor is specifically mentioned here,  106].  Applied educational research is especially important in distance education.  There is a need to focus on the effectiveness of the whole group especially, rather than on individuals.  We can therefore expect considerable formalization—standardization, specification, or effective communication, standard guidelines for course production and assessment.  The product needs also to be standardised.  Diversity can be introduced through combinations chosen by consumers.  Standardised products will limit 'situation - dependent improvisation'.  It might be possible to work towards one suitable course for as many students as possible, and this will end the risk of encountering idiosyncratic academics (107).

A distance education university offers a functional differentiation of tasks and workers, and this will lead to greater specialization [which, for him, is good].  It will produce a necessary objectivation to remove subjective elements and increase production, as in Taylorism.  The personal authority of academics will be diminished [also good] (109).  Effective courses can be reproduced [because academics will no longer own them].  Concentration and centralization can help, just as does the growth of monopoly capital [!].  For example, distance teaching can be particularly cost effective if it deals with large numbers.  Such concentration will help the concentration of quality as well, although there may be a price to pay in minimising competition [about the only criticism so far].

Overall, distance teaching can be defined as a rationalized activity, with all the advantages of reproduction, access and concentration.  There is no intention 'to pass judgment' (111), however, and it is important to recognize important disadvantages and the possibility of 'painful malfunctions'[in another chapter, this work is quoted and the possibility of alienation is raised—alienation among the workforce, especially academics who have not prepared to work in such an industrialized way.  The remedy might be some kind of job enrichment scheme!].

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