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Diminishing Distance

Transactional Distance Theory as presented by Michael G. Moore seems to capture a number of the concerns of distance/online instruction and wrap them up into an even bigger concept/concern and frankly it’s a good deal to wrap your head around when beginning to consider online education. Having had the opportunity to teach two online classes summer classes, I have wrestled with a number of the issues Moore mentions and I do believe it is incredibly important to consider and understand this theory and the variables of dialogue, structure and learner autonomy as they impact transactional distance.
As a traditional long term face to face instructor who loves the relationship building aspect of teaching, I found the thought of teaching online daunting as the idea of not “knowing/seeing” my students would take away some of what I love most about teaching. Clearly I needed to discern that you can indeed know your students in this forum too. I also have had the opportunity to hear students discuss experiences with online classes where the teacher is little more than proctor and troubleshooter and that is not a career aspiration of mine. As I approached this year of teaching a hybrid online course, I have tried to think critically about how to make a “connection” with students and how to make the material relevant to them in a way that moves them to want to learn it.

Moore’s description of dialogue was intriguing as it is important to realize that you are having a conversation and I liked that he labelled it as positive which is something we should all strive for as teachers. His thoughts on structure made me think about how I can make some more of the material more “flexible and interactive” with students. I have used and want to expand the use of Pos-it on schoology which allows for the interjection of questions into video clips– so this is one way to get students to give some feedback and thoughts about what they are seeing and increase interactivity and connectivity. We have also worked to make projects in the class very personal– they pick their own house, car, apartment and have a job of their choosing and then this applies to problems they consider.

I really would like to know more and am curious about what Moore terms “student creation of knowledge” that is shared with the teacher– Moore’s lack of an example made this difficult to understand but the example given of the early MOOC communities in the other article seem to perhaps explain what Moore meant.

The other thought of Moore’s that stirred some curiosity was in discussing the autonomy of the learner and the idea that online communities often benefit those students who traditionally don’t say much in a face to face class but yet have brilliant thoughts to contribute that it is often easy to overlook or miss. Being able to create instruction that prompts these students to extend themselves and express themselves does have great positive benefit potential for all involved in the class.

Now that I have these terms/concepts to consider it will certainly make me take a step back and think about how some of my content, tests, discussion boards and or assignments can be altered to increase dialogue in some cases, diminish structure in others and allow for greater learner autonomy in others. I have made a concerted effort to amplify my communication with students to a personal level in little ways that I hope lets them know I see them as an individual part of the class/school. From comments on grades that are specific to their assignment answers to the seemingly more frivolous– nice catch at Friday’s football game– I think even these small things help kids know I am individually concerned and have care for them and it has been my experience in face to face education that when students know and believe this, they will always work harder to give you and show you their best– hopefully that is a concept that is universal to all forms of classrooms.


  1. I really love the idea of having multiple forums for students to share their ideas/questions/opinions other than face-to-face in class. Some of our students are shy or insecure-reluctant to speak out in front of everyone, but do have wonderful insights that everyone could benefit from hearing. Giving them some other options to contribute is a great idea.

  2. Brooks, I loved your post. I feel the same way about distance learning with getting a great rapport with the students. Really getting to know them. Like you stated, those “quiet ones” in the back of the room could often contribute a great deal to the discussions in the classroom, but lack confidence to do so. In an online platform, that fear is a little less apparent and those students may find it easier to come out of their shell. Contributing to the conversations allows lots of knowledge to travel among the students, so that some pick up information easier that they may not have gotten on their own from reading a text. I love the way this distance course is because I feel like we are all together in this. It makes it interesting to me to read what you all say and find that I have a lot of the same questions, and thoughts about those three structures in a distance course. It leads me to believe I am in the right frame of thinking by what I am seeing through all of your posts. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. So I will have to get you to tell me more about Pos-it! I am interested in how I can incorporate this. As you stated, one of (if not THE) best part about teaching is building those relationships with our students. It is scary to think about becoming simply a proctor and not having much of an opportunity connecting, however I think you’re right, there IS a way to do this. I love your idea of inserting comments that aren’t necessarily tied to the content when grading assignments, what a great idea! I am trying really hard to utilize Schoology for as many assignments as possible this year and I have made an concerted effort to make sure I am leaving valuable, genuine comments on each assignment. I can’t wait to learn more from you about teaching a hybrid course and how we can utilize technology while maintaining relationships.

  4. Moore’s view of student-created knowledge, in my opinion, reflects a constructivist view ( of teaching and learning. Simply put, that students are not receptors of information, but construct for themselves knowledge. Think problem-based learning. This stance in my experiences is often easier to swallow when considering higher ed. Does that help any?

    • It does help — but it is a big paradigm shift for teachers who have lived in a public school standardized test driven world– even the course I teach has a nationwide certification test the students are held accountable to- I love the learning for learning sake and the idea that it should be in many ways self directed, that is why my topic either Women’s Leadership or Leadership in general will hopefully allow them to explore themes that are relative to their interest in developing an understanding of leadership and more importantly an idea of how to grow in leadership skills.

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