My kids are out trick-or-treating tonight. They left filled with that same sense of wonder that I remember from my childhood..."you mean all I have to do is ring someone's doorbell and they'll give me candy???" I love seeing them so happy, enthusiastic, optimistic. It gives me hope.
And it makes me realize how very, very lucky I am to live somewhere where my children can safely go door-to-door, where I know my neighbors and trust them, where someone down the street can take my kids out into the night without causing even a flicker of fear in me. Important to remember that, especially when I get caught up in the frustrations of daily life and academic politics.
I value the online communities that I'm involved with, but I'm not nearly as dependent on them for my (and my family's) well-being as I am on my physical community. I don't see that as being likely to change in the foreseeable future. Nor do I want it to.
I was thinking about that as I was post-processing this year's Pop!Tech (more on that this weekend, after I get this $%^& NSF grant proposal done). Every year they put streaming video of the conference up on the net after the conference is over. Between that and the real-time blogging, why do I need to go? Because the real connections and energy that happen in the opera house during and between presentations is every bit as important as the content being presented. They feed back on each other.
That's what makes me so certain that "distance education" will never completely replace what we do now on campus. The ability to deliver information will improve, and the quality of virtual campus communities will improve, as well. But that won't replace the environment that a good teacher--and a responsive class--can build in a brick-and-mortar classroom. I know there are DL proponents who would argue with me about that...but much as I love and thrive in virtual communities, I simply can't see them replacing the physical classroom in entirety.