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  • Interview w/ Dr. Susan Ko, Online Instructor, Cal State Dominguez Hills & UCLA Extension

Editor's Note:  This interview was conducted nearly 20 years ago as part of a project I completed for the UCLA Educational Leadership program. The goal was to understand how educational leaders use computers in their daily lives and how they manage technology's many challenges in their workplace.  I am amazed at how well the issues raised by the twelve K-12 leaders and higher education professionals I interviewed have stood the test of time.  The hardware and software has changed, to be sure, but the challenge of using technology as a leadership tool still remains.  Enjoy!  *extra credit if you answer the questions at the end of each interview! 

 

Tell me about how you use computers.  

I actually use computers quite frequently, perhaps most significant is the fact that I actually teach college level courses online. I’ve taught several online courses for UCLA Extension. I’ve also taught distance education programs on television for Cal State Dominguez Hills. I use text-based messages most frequently, a lot of electronic mail (e-mail) to my students. I use electronic mail with my traditional courses as well. Of course, I use basic word processing programs, and do some graphics work as well. I’ve used PhotoShop to retouch graphical images for my web pages. And I use Netscape Navigator and Composer to layout the HTML pages.

 

So you’ve taught in traditional classrooms, distance learning television, and online courses. That’s quite a diverse background. What in your opinion is the role of technology in education? What is its value?

There are two main things. The first is greater access to resources. The second is greater access to courses. Let me explain. Distance education is a great benefit for people with disabilities. No travel is required because you are not physically present in a classroom. The Internet is a great resource for information for students. My son is in high school and wants to take French 4, an advanced French course, but his high school doesn’t offer it because they can’t find anyone to teach it. There is no reason that a course like French 4, which fulfills the advanced placement national standards, couldn’t be taught online for high school students. You might not be able to find enough students or teachers in any one given school, but nationwide, distance education opens up opportunities to reach these students that doesn’t exist without technology. The same is true for courses in advanced physics or literature.

A second big reason for technology is the ability to reach students at an individual, self-paced level. By self-paced I don’t mean that a student is using a computer without the assistance of a teacher, but that computer technology used in conjunction with a teacher is an appropriate use of technology. When you combine self-paced computer instruction with more general instructor input, the result is a better learning experience all around.  

I find it interesting when individuals criticize the online environment, for example, as being “non-interactive.” The opposite is quite true. Some of the college courses my oldest son is enrolled in have 150 or more students per course. How much interactivity are you getting from that? Online courses actually have better access and greater interactivity than most traditional large lecture college courses. This can be very beneficial to students, since the ones who need it get personalized attention. Of course, its hard on the instructors because it is a lot more work as well.

 

So what are the drawbacks of technology? You mentioned the difficulty in using equipment in your traditional, on-the-ground courses. What kinds of problems does technology introduce into college courses?

First there is the lack of institutional support. Modern classrooms are not equipped to handle technology. This is true in both the university and the K-12 sectors. Another problem is the much higher level of scrutiny online. People are watching your every comment and are highly critical when something is perceived as offensive or inaccurate. In traditional classrooms, we think people understand what we are saying but this isn’t always the case. No matter how carefully crafted your words are online, this is also the case. What would be a passing comment said in context during a live class becomes a “recorded” comment that can be read over and over again. A final drawback is the reliance on technical personnel. Like I mentioned before, I don’t view myself as a “technical” person. I rely on others to make sure my equipment is operation and functioning. I focus more on using the equipment, not on fixing it.

 

Do you have any advise to aspiring educational leaders? What should they know about technology?  

The most important thing to remember is the importance of training. The nature of technology is such that it changes rapidly. If you expect the people in your organization to understand and use technology than you must expect to train and retrain them every two years or so. In the world of online teaching, I’ve trained faculty members to use one software platform one year only to have it change the following year. Constant change in educational technology is a fact of life. Those who don’t understand this are at a real disadvantage.  

Also, once you learn a computer program for the first time, it is much easier to learn the second and the third program. You build up a common knowledge about how computers work in general, and this helps with learning the next generation of applications. The learning curve for some of the newer programs is actually less steep than the applications we were using five years ago. Technology is not as much a time saver as it is a time exchanger. Instead of spending time driving to class or finding parking, I’m spending time actually conversing and responding to student’s questions and assignments. Sure, you save time on some routine tasks, but the bottom line is does take time to learn the software, keep the equipment working, and stay ahead of the learning curve.

 

Reflective Questions:

  1. What are the advantages of incorporating technology into a traditional college classroom? What are the drawbacks?
  2. How might online courses open doors for students with visual or physical handicaps?
  3. What legal issues are raised by disabled access to online college courses? 
  4. Is the idea of offering courses online for high school students realistic? How would a school institute such a program? How would it be regulated?
  5. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of online courses.
  6. Does the fact that online students and instructors must be more careful in what they “say” online create an environment in which certain subjects may never be raised in a frank and open manner for fear of reproachment? Or does the anonymity created in the virtual learning environment create the opposite affect? 
  7. Has your experience in learning new software applications benefited from prior knowledge of older software applications?
  8. Dr. Ko mentions that technology “is not a time saver as it is a time exchanger.” Does using technology save time and reduce workload, or does it merely substitute one kind of work for another?