Thursday, February 19, 2009

From a Distance?

Like me, I believe many of you didn’t enjoy your early school age due to some interesting reasons or perhaps you did. I think I didn’t like the idea of always carrying my table and chair on my head from home, walk like half a mile to school feeling tired already. Truly I have experienced different kinds of educational setting including classrooms, lecture halls, conference halls and virtual classrooms. Among these, the most interesting but challenging for me was the virtual classroom which I think was due to the intensive integration of technology. Living in my home country, Ghana and obtaining a degree from California, USA was not possible some few years back.

As they say, the technology era has brought tremendous change in our life and work. One major change which I think needs to take effect soon is the definition of “School” in most dictionaries including the Collins Dictionary. A school does not need to be only physical structures but could be virtual which even comes with better educational facilities.

I was very glad about my online program but I was also a little hesitant initially because of difficult access to the technologies that comes along with it especially internet. Internet access has always remained limited and expensive with mostly slow connectivity in Ghana. I ended up hopping from internet cafes then landed on a Company’s internet service at night hours when the workers are closed and gone home. The night was also favourable for me because I was 8hours ahead of the University I enrolled, which made me able to interact with my instructors and course mates online when it was midday for them. I did enjoyed living like the nocturnal during that period.

Unlike the traditional classroom setting, the technologies used in delivering distance education are synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous technologies required students to be present online at that same time as the instructor. We used text chat, audio and video chat sessions, to interact. Usually, this medium required arranged time for meeting online. Asynchronous on the other hand is where we access course materials or post to a discussion board at our schedule. Asynchronous was my favourite for the course because I could quickly download and save all my materials on my laptop and get time to look at them at home where there was no internet. But the frustration part on both technologies was slow internet speed.

Distance education has come to stay for good especially in the 21st Century where technology rain is falling all over the world with nonstop innovations. Above all, I think distance learning pros outweigh its cons. There is self-paced learning in distance education. You can quickly browse materials you have already mastered, and concentrate time and effort in areas containing new information and skills, study materials at a personal speed and intensity, without having to wait for slower pace of the traditional classroom.

There is also flexibility to join conversations on the discussion boards at any hour, and to review your course mate comments since the previous visit. Distance learning does not require commuting. This saves money and time that would otherwise be spend on travel back and forth to school. You can schedule learning around other aspects of your personal and professional life. Online classes address physical accessibility issues that some people with limited mobility encounter when taking traditional classes. You don’t have to worry about gaining access to a classroom or sitting on uncomfortable desks. Instead, you can use your comfortable furniture in your home while enjoying free movement and a chance to further your education.

Some of the cons may be lack of social interaction. If the classroom environment is what you love most about learning, you may want to take a step back and reconsider distance learning. You’ll likely get some interaction on chat rooms, discussion boards and through email, but the experience will be quite different than traditional classroom. The format may not be ideal for all learners. In other words, not everyone is an ideal candidate for distance learning. If you know you have problems with motivation, procrastination and needs lots of individual attention from an instructor you may want to think long and hard before enrolling in a distance learning program.

From a distance? Absolutely! Beside educational institutions, a lot of corporate and government institutions are delivering resources and services from distances like health care, training, maintenance and support services. A new age of education for a new generation indeed.

© Harry Tetteh

Monday, February 2, 2009

Feeling The Cloud?

I recall my first experience with the internet in year 2000 when I didn’t know what to really do online after all my curiosity and eagerness to experience the internet cafe which was about 10 kilometres from my school. From that time till today, there hasn’t been any single online time for me without trying to learn a new thing on the internet. Just like recently, I have been following the new metaphor in the computing world, “Cloud Computing Technology”.

Speaking at Oracle OpenWorld, Oracle Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Larry Ellison said that the computer industry is more fashion-driven than women's fashion and cloud computing is simply the latest fashion. Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer used “the cloud” more than 3 times in his opening address at the 2009 Consumer Electronic Association (CES) tradeshow, referring to internet. Many technology executives including Christophe Bisciglia - Senior Software Engineer at Google, Marie Hattar - Cisco’s Vice President of Network Systems and Security Solutions, are dancing to the tune of cloud computing recently.

“Cloud” in IT generally refers to the Internet and I think it evolved from the cloud-like symbols in the network topology or diagram which is used to reduce an entire network communication into points of entry and exit. Basically, the cloud symbol represents a communication network without specific details of its architecture. The cloud technology enables resources to be provided as service on the internet, which is popularly known as Software As A Service (SAAS).

Internet companies such as Google and Amazon are working hard to offer more web services for all internet users. At 2009 CES, Steve Ballmer said “Microsoft is transforming what Windows is, from a Personal Computer (PC) operating system to a connected platform and experience across the PC, phones, TV and the cloud”. Microsoft says it’s Software-Plus-a-Service.

I am always thrilled to hear about new innovations in IT and its impact on the global economy. I believe one of the purpose of cloud computing is to be able to reach all customers in any part of the world. But the question is “are we all feeling the cloud?” Or “are we all connected to the internet?”

During this leap forward are the proliferation of high-speed internet connection, cheaper and more powerful chips and drives and the construction of data centres that houses thousand of computers. Seems like it’s time to build an infrastructure for the 21st Century where broadband value of speed and price would be a national innovational policy for most countries if not all.

© Harry Tetteh