Friday, May 6, 2011

The Death of Distance

"Physical distance has vanished." - Yong Zhao, in Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization

My friend Pierre Thiry teaches high technology classes to students in Paris, France from his office in San Francisco. He does this in real time using CCC Confer's technology, and he tells me the students are enthusiastic and he is having a great time with the class. This venture could not have been attempted without the positive experiences Pierre and his colleagues at MPICT (Mid-Pacific Information and Communication Technologies) have had over the last two years using CCC Confer to make distance disappear.

Pierre's MPICT colleague Michael McKeever discovered that CCC Confer makes it possible for him to keep students in his classes even when they are unable to attend the physical classroom. He has had students travel to India for weddings, move out of state for jobs, or leave his college's district for various reasons. With Confer, they've been able to finish their classes by attending them online. Michael also teaches some classes so specialized that his own college does not have enough students qualified or interested in taking them. But he can get sufficient enrollment for these classes by drawing from five or six other colleges who offer a similar curriculum.

Michael even shows students how distance is dead by demonstrating the network routes Confer uses to provide real-time interaction across the ocean. From his classroom in Santa Rosa, California, he locates the 22 hops the data take to get to the network location of a student in Shanghai, China. He uses traceroute to locate the province router, the CHINANET backbone, the "leap" across the Pacific to San Jose, and the final jumps to Santa Rosa Junior College.

To the instructor and student in the Confer classroom, there is no distance. Each sees the other (if cameras are in use) or the other's data from a front row seat. Interactions between students in the next room or in the next county have equal impact. There are no geographical borders, barriers, or limitations to interfere with the teaching and learning process.

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