July - 2005

Book Review – Distance Education and Technology: Issues and practice

Editors: David Murphy, Ronnie Carr, James Taylor, Wong Tat-meng. (2004). Distance Education and Technology: Issues and practice. Open University of Hong Kong Press, Hong Kong Press. ISBN: 9 6277 0747 3

Reviewed by: Erin Keough, Executive Director of Open Learning and Information Network (OLIN), which is located at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada.

Distance Education and Technology: Issues and Practice consists of selected readings from the 21st World Conference of the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) held in Hong Kong in February 2004. The book contains 24 papers and is organized into three sections:

The first section deals with issues that face practitioners of open and distance learning in the 21st-century setting. It covers topics as diverse as the digital divide as a development issue the comparison of the environmental impacts of face-to-face and distance education, and the challenges of partnerships in this brave new world of transnational distance education. The papers in the second section focus predominantly on various forms of e-learning: “online,” “e-,” or “m-.” There is a range of issues and practices discussed, from a training programme for online tutors, to social presence, to development of identity online. The third section is the shortest, comprising six papers that, for the most part, describe new tools or learning environments to support learners or instructors in the online environment.

The papers are easy to read and are presented in clear, unambiguous style. The layout is pleasing, and each paper is a reasonable length, which facilitates reading ease even in areas that might be somewhat unfamiliar for some. The editors are to be congratulated on achieving this balance, because such balance not always an easy task when dealing with such a wide variety of issues and authors.

For the most part, the papers are reasonably well grounded in their respective literature, although a few are somewhat thin in this regard. While a number of the authors cite literature that was written before the dawn of the world-wide-web, others might have made a more significant contribution if had they likewise done so. Even though these papers deal with various forms of “e-” and/ or on-line learning, the authors would find a wealth of information from scholars and practitioners who worked with older technologies, on how to use interactive technologies to provide student support, develop a collaborative learning environment that might inform their current practices, and aid in the development of critical thinking skills.

Some highlights of the book, for me, are:


Teaching and Learning With Technology

Innovative Approaches

In fairness to the authors in this section, I only took one course in computer programming in the early 90s and quickly decided that it would be best if I just applied progammes that others had developed. The reader must therefore assume I am not that well equipped to analyze this section in depth, so with this proviso in mind:

Not unexpectedly, given that this volume is, in essence, a conference proceeding and not a scholarly journal, there is little ground-breaking research here. Some papers present primary research studies, but most are a result of the author’s reflection on practice and on literature. A few papers are rather shaky in their arguments but, for the most part, the papers are well presented, argued, and documented. Many offer good insights and tools, and I suspect that readers’ responses in most instances will be: “Hmm interesting. I think that this has broadened my understanding of that area, or I could try to apply that idea in my environment.”

In general, Distance Education and Technology: Issues and Practice is good book for practitioners and others looking for concrete examples of application and approach. The three themes give a variety of reading, and will provide something of particular or general interest to most of us practicing in this field.