Distance Education Applications and Technologies
The use of telecommunications technologies
for distance education will continue to increase as educators
grapple with decreasing dollars. It will become even more apparent
that the ability to share resources through technology is a viable
alternative to building more buildings.
The need to retrain 50 million American
workers will be a driving factor in the continued adoption of
distance education. Distance education will be used to bring
credit and continuing education programming into the workplace
and into the home.
Just as the nation's workers have moved
to telecommuting two or more days a week, it has become an accepted
practice to telecommute for their education as well.
The impact of the new technologies has
been felt in all areas of education. Distance education has moved
to a different level of use and importance. No longer an alternative
delivery system, distance learning has become a mainstream method
which provides education to tens of thousands of students each
day. As predicted, desktop video conferencing systems lead students
into more involvement with one another as do courses offered
via the Internet. It has helped students develop a better sense
of the world. As the new technologies have stabilized, technology
costs have dropped and made distance learning accessible to a
growing group of learners .
Communication technology in use or on the
shelf today can enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of education
and the learning process in and out of the classroom. Intelligently
applied communications capabilities, including hardware, software
and network services, can be integrated to address the needs
of the education community. Awareness of how communications technology
can benefit education is increasing. Communications technology
linked with computers can improve communication between parents
and teachers, boost home learning and generate excitement in
In large quantities, equipment may seem
out of reach for schools operating with tight budgets. Yet scaled-down
applications are affordable and becoming increasingly popular
because educators are starting to look for ways to share resources.
That is crucial for urban and rural students because they often
do not have access to the educational resources they need. By
utilizing distance-learning applications, educators can ensure
greater equity in the way resources are distributed.
New technologies and applications are developing
even as we gain acceptance for older technologies and applications.
One category of computer software is called
groupware. It allows a number of people to work on the same document
at the same time. They are also called electronic-meeting systems,
group-support systems, computer-supported collaboration, and
collaborative technology. In 1986 with a $2 million grant from
IBM, the University of Arizona developed the electronic meeting
technology. By 1992 IBM had 64 rooms equipped with the technology
and the University had a Collaborative Management Room which
has been used by more than 30,000 people for demonstration and
research (Watkins, 1992). Computer-meeting rooms usually have
a workstation for each team member and the facilitator, a large
screen video at the front of the room and other audio visual
The GroupSystems software is a package
of two dozen tools for group activity, such as generating and
organizing ideas, establishing priorities and voting on options
(also called Team Focus by IBM). Team members sit at their workstations
which display two windows; one displays the question; one provides
space for typing in the solutions. Responses are sent to the
facilitator by pressing a function key. Using key words, the
facilitator organizes the solutions so that team members can
read the solutions written by others. If the project is a ranking
process, each member ranks the topics. In a one hour meeting,
when everyone participates simultaneously, everyone gets 60 minutes
to present their solution.
Jay F. Nunamaker, Jr., developer of the
electronic-meeting technology, calls the process "human
parallel process" because everyone talks simultaneously.
It is anonymous and allows everyone to honestly record their
feelings without fear of reprisal or without the meeting being
dominated by several people. Studies conducted by the University
of Arizona and IBM have shown that electronic meetings take 55
percent less time than traditional meetings (Watkins, 1992).
The process is efficient and team members leave the room with
a transcript of the meeting in hand. Nunamaker said that in complex
global organizations, no one person has all of the information.
"Groups have to have a shared vision if you are going to
accomplish anything. People have to challenge each other's ideas
and build consensus" (Watkins, 1992).
Educational uses of electronic meeting
technology has increased. It allows group brainstorming sessions.
One English professor at Gallaudet has used the technology for
several years in his freshman composition courses to brainstorm
topics for papers. As we move toward an increasingly interactive
model, groupware use will increase as well as the innovative
use of it. Nunamaker is also working on the Mirror Project which
will have teams seated at one-quarter of a round table in each
of four locations and make other teams visible on large screen
for distance meetings so that they all appear to be seated at
the same table.
New software is constantly being developed
to take advantage of expanding telecommunications conduits. ILINC,
Convene, and ICHAT are representative of the new software that
enables students to take courses and participate in classes when
it is convenient for them. Audio conferencing will also become
an important part of national distance learning as it is enables
through the Internet through software.
Electronic mail and desktop videoconferencing
is part of the group solution.
To date, it has been suggested that multimedia
will become a market only when the telephone companies provide
us with a national fiber optic infrastructure capable of handling
the massive bandwidth that each of us will need. On the other
hand, we may not have to wait years for multimedia to become
a telecommunications reality.
AT&T Paradyne has devised a system
that uses standard existing telephone copper wire to deliver
interactive multimedia applications into the home. The new system
- carrierless, amplitude-phase modulation - can transmit data
at a bandwidth suitable for meeting huge data capacity video
Bell Atlantic's prototype Project Edison
uses a digital technology called ADSL - asynchronous digital
subscriber loop. Through Project Edison, Bell Atlantic is creating
a technology that will enable multimedia - voice, data and video
- to be available over the traditional copper cable (or twisted
pair) that is already in place. Pacific Bell is also working
with a new housing developing in the San Francisco Bay Region
to make it one of the first communities with this type of access
for homes, business and education.
The promise of multimedia is to move more
information more easily by doing it electronically and to provide
more resources to everyone. The enabling technologies are not
all in place, but it is becoming clear that the true multimedia
platform is more likely to be something different. It will house
a microprocessor, but we probably won't think of it so much as
a computer as we will think of it as a telecommunications instrument.
Computer simulations will continue to increase
in use as multimedia improves. Computer simulations give students
a hands-on experience in working with the content. It has the
advantage of helping students learn the content as well as apply
it. Simulations are already used extensively in chemistry and
physics computer labs which has been a major change in the last
ten years. Computer simulations can act as a bridge between the
theoretical world of simplified equations and actual experiments.
They characterize the complexity of the real world. Using a simulation,
the complexity of any system can be maintained and it is transformed
into graphic display. They are a valuable way of learning about
many types of subjects and can open a completely new way of looking
at things with all of the variables in place.
Cable systems have a major advantage over
broadcast television; the audience has a larger choice of programs
to watch at any given time. This advantage is gained because
a single cable can carry more than one-hundred channels. This
is achieved by selecting a portion of the possible spectrum available
on the cable and dividing it into frequency bands each of which
can carry a full video program. In order to receive the desired
channel, a converter is used. A cable company can send digitally
coded signals to the converter and program them to disable or
enable the reception of any channel (Rahimi, 1992).
Digital cable systems are part of the new
buildouts that are in process now. Cable companies have led the
telcos a wild chase to become the telephone systems of the future.
@Home, an Internet access provider has been in pilot form for
over a year in Fremont, CA. It provides Internet access through
the cable. Oceanic Cable in Hawaii is working on a similar system.
Instructional Television Fixed Service
The instructional television fixed service
(ITFS) frequencies are located in the microwave region of the
spectrum at six megahertz spacing. They work almost exactly the
same as broadcast television. In order to receive these frequencies,
special inexpensive antennas are required that are three feet
across, lightweight and easy to install. The signal requires
line-of-sight access between the transmission antenna and the
receiving antenna. In flat terrain this could translate to between
thirty to fifty miles or more with a reasonably tall transmission
tower. The transmission power is much lower than broadcast television
and usually varies between ten and one hundred watts. In a typical
situation, where ITFS frequencies are assigned to different institutions
in a given area, care is taken not to assign adjacent frequencies
so as to avoid interference. Interference often occurs when the
transmission sites of these frequencies are different and the
strength of the signals received at a receive antenna from each
transmission site, is different. In such a case, the more powerful
signal will interfere with the weaker signal. Broadcasting all
signals from the same antenna and at the same power eliminates
this problem, allowing the assignment and operation of adjacent
frequencies. Even for non-adjacent frequencies, transmission
from separate towers will create problems with the positioning
of the receive antenna that can only be solved by substantial
increases in cost at the receive sites.
Wireless cable systems work exactly the
same as a cable system, except that the wire is replaced by a
portion of the airwaves spectrum. The portion of the spectrum
that lends itself to this application is in the microwave region.
The frequency range in this region, dedicated to educational
and other public uses is the ITFS. A portion of ITFS channels
were reallocated by the FCC for commercial use in the early 1980s
as Multi-channel Multi-point Distributed Services (MMDS). MMDS-based
wireless cable systems for entertainment do exist, but for the
most part they have not proven to be financially successful.
To build a wireless analog cable system, one needs to acquire
a large number of ITFS frequencies, which no single institution
can do. FCC rules prohibit the allocation of more than four frequencies
to any one institution. Thus, multi-institutional cooperation
is necessary both to acquire the frequencies and to operate from
the same transmission antenna. In nearly all other respects,
creating and operating a wireless system is the same as with
a cable system. The one major difference is working with the
FCC instead of local governments (Rahimi, 1992).
New interactive devices will allow viewers
to play along with their favorite game show, sporting event,
or murder mystery. Interactive Network of Mountain View, CA,
has tested a product in Northern California. The heart of the
system is a $200 portable control unit. GTE InfoTrak has a similar
product in development for educational use. While TV shows are
being broadcast, Interactive Network employees sit at computers
and program the information that is sent to the control unit.
For example, during a show when an answer is shown on the TV
screen, the Interactive Network technicians send four possible
questions over an FM radio signal that is picked up by the handset.
The questions are shown on a small liquid crystal display screen
and one answer is chosen by pressing a button on the control
unit. When the correct answer is given on the show, the Interactive
Network technicians immediately send the information over the
radio waves to the handset. The handset adds points to the score.
When the games are finished, the control unit adds up the points.
By connecting the telephone cord that comes with the unit to
the phone outlet and calling the score to Interactive Network,
a player can compete with other interactive players for prizes....or
in our case, for grades. The applications for education are exciting.
The company loaned units at Giants and
Athletics games in an effort to get people familiar with the
technology. To play, you first predict the outcome of the batter's
trip to the plate. If you guess an out, you then predict how
that will happen. If you guess a fly out but the batter grounds,
you'll receive points for being half right. Throughout the game
the control unit displays the latest scores from other baseball
games, much like the scoreboard at the ballpark. You can also
get information on a particular player's batting statistics -
number of hits, strikeouts, etc. - and team statistics at any
time during the game.
How it works: Interactive Network producers
watch the telecast and enter game calls and statistical information.
From the central computer of the Network, game control data is
shipped to FM stations and Interactive Network game data is simulcast
along with the television broadcast. The control unit uses a
telescoping antenna to receive the FM radio signal that carries
the information (it may be necessary to use an FM booster). At
the conclusion of an event, subscribers connect the handset to
their phone cord for a 20-second call which is transmitted over
a telephone digital switching network. All participants' scores
are collected, results and standings tabulated, and then broadcast
back to each subscriber in four minutes. The control unit has
a long-lasting rechargeable battery.
Many desktop videoconferencing products
have been introduced which have the ability to project an image
of the person who was called in a small window on the computer
screen. The software programs allow users see one another and
to share and work on documents at the same time. Common components
include a software program and tiny cameras that set on top of
the computer screen. Each product enables the user to see another
user with the same equipment. These products enable one to leave
video mail messages, answers to students questions, and provide
another way to increase interaction.
Desktop video will transform the video
post production industry, and computers are already having a
huge impact on producers of video programming. The recession
forced people to take a look at alternatives to produce video.
The traditional video production studio with several rooms and
$2 million in equipment may be history in five years. Break throughs
in digital storage technology and better video compression techniques
will continually advance desktop video.
Computer conferencing software is improving.
Computer conferencing software can run over the Internet or off
of regular dial-up phone lines. Off-line processing is an important
feature for students who do not want to run up big long distance
bills. Most institutions provide an 800 number for faculty so
reducing faculty on-line time is also important. As a result,
read and respond off-line features are important as well as automatic
filing features. When the student or faculty member uploads messages,
the best programs automatically dial the service, upload the
new messages to the appropriate mailboxes and download new messages
automatically to the appropriate files on the student's or faculty
member's hard disk, then disconnect from the service. The new
products are easy to use because all of the telecommunications
settings are preformatted on a disk which the student transfers
to his or her hard disk. Older programs required students and
faculty to spend a minimum of seven hours learning the system.
Training on the new programs take 30 minutes or less. An easy
user-interface is quite important as we continue to move into
lifelong learning and provide continuing education in technology
based synchronous (real-time) and asynchronous (not in real-time)
program applications. It becomes ineffective to offer the equivalent
of a one day seminar via technology if it takes two days to learn
how to run the telecommunication/groupware program. Ease in acquiring
the program is mandatory as it should be small enough for users
to download it. It should install easily, and it should be easy
to use so that the technology becomes seamless or transparent
to the user.
Personal Digital Assistants
Apple Computer wants you to call its Newton
product a personal digital assistant - or PDA, rather than a
computer. It weights about a pound, uses a special, unattached
pen for data entry and runs on standard penlight batteries. The
core of the Newton is a powerful microprocessor, an advanced
(object oriented) operating system, a liquid crystal display
and the ability to process data and electronic mail. While it
can't run conventional business software, it can capture handwritten
notes and sketches, sort them and organize them using artificial
intelligence techniques, then send the information to facsimile
machines, electronic mailboxes or other computers using wireless
communications. The operating system is constructed so that it
can be trained to recognize what the user is trying to accomplish
and complete much of it.
The runaway best seller in this field is
US Robotics Palm Pilot. It will synchronize with programs on
a computer , hook up with a modem and generally do most things
that people wanted from the early PDA devices. Instead of trying
to get it to recognize your handwriting, you have to learn how
to write so that it recognizes letters or figures.
Perhaps the greatest impact on civilization
since the creation of the printing press will come from the ability
to digitize information regardless of format. Digitization allows
for the transformation of information from one form to another
(e.g., print to sound) and for a range of retrieval options (Stahl,
1992). Technological advances have resulted in many changes in
the library and is both a cause and cure for the information
explosion. Digital technology has enabled us to generate information
at faster rates and 90 percent of all information produced since
1979 has been produced in digital format. Digital retrieval systems
offer the only hope of managing the information. All libraries
will have to adopt new information technologies to survive; the
transition rate will vary by library based on resources, need
for the most current information and understanding of the paradigm
shift in information technologies (Stahl, 1992). The focus has
shifted from acquisition, to access through telecommunications.
Rather than every library in a system buying a periodical or
book, only one will buy it in electronic form and make it available
to others on the system. Libraries will be able to build virtual
collections and reference works specifically tailored to their
users. As the ability to build comprehensive collections declines,
the importance of building virtual collections using relative
strengths of several libraries will grow.
Great strides have been made by the library
community in sharing descriptive cataloging through systems such
as OCLC and Research Library Information Network (RLIN). New
electronic access software programs make it easier for patrons
to do their own reference searches, then download the abstracts
or full text articles from CD-ROMS attached to telephone lines.
Electronic access means that libraries can remain "open"
24 hours a day. More journals and magazines are becoming available
for electronic access because of the move to electronic desktop
publishing. Once the publication's content has been digitized,
it can be easily accessed if the publisher makes it available,
or the material can be scanned into a digitized format. To get
copies of visual materials, many libraries will provide fax or
mail service for specific pages if necessary. Students studying
at a distance from an institution need electronic access. The
University of Phoenix Online Division provides an Academic Information
Service (AIS) through which students request searches. Results
are sent to them through the ALEX computer E-mail system.
Until now, most data could only be moved
as text (ASCII) files. The future for moving print electronically
is in moving text as images. A page treated as an image preserves
the layout. Table 9.1.4 shows the amount of time to transmit
a 25 page article with ten color images (960 megabits) over networks
of different speeds (Blatecky, 1991).
While access to materials in electronic
format via networks will likely become a viable substitute to
ownership of materials, convincing various campus constituencies
is not always easy. Both libraries and academic program-accrediting
bodies will need to find measures other than volume counts to
determine library quality. The degree of access a library provides
to needed materials will be much more meaningful than the number
of volumes on the shelves (Stahl, 1992).
Research and discussion is underway to
determine how charges for access to digitized materials can be
handled to ensure that authors and publishers receive appropriate
compensation. Software can be adapted to keep track of fees due
to authors and publishers. The creation of wide area networks
(such as Internet and NREN) are vitally important to libraries
if they are to provide access to the growing array of electronic
resources that are available (Stahl,1992).
Compressed Video - Digital Satellite Transmission
One of the solutions to the high price
of satellite time is a group of products which compresses and
digitizes NTSC video, transmits to a fraction (usually 3-6 MHz)
of a satellite transponder. Depending on a system's configuration
12-18 channels of educational programming can be carried on one
Compressed Cellular Computer Networks
Cellular computer networks will provide
new options to educators as they rebuild campus infrastructures
to access new telecommunications services. The national networks
that are planned will extend the outreach of distance learning
and continuing education so that education truly becomes an anytime,
any place service. As more adults enroll, they will expect to
use the technologies that are available to them every day in
Major computer marketers, regional Bell
operating companies and other technology vendors have targeted
wireless, mobile data communications as the next hot growth area.
For educators it is expected to spawn a new class of consumer
product; the personal digital assistant that provides computer
and communications capabilities. The market potential for cellular-based
data services is huge; the field is attracted 2.6 million customers
Five factors are driving cellular growth:
increased use of laptop computers; availability of small notebook
and palm-top machines; introduction of personal digital assistants
for the mass market; reduced prices for wireless modems; and
expansion of wireless data services. Wireless modems are capable
of the same speeds as other modems.
Richochet is a system that has had great
success in the San Francisco Bay Area. Once the signal repeaters
are up and close to you, the system is flawless and operates
without attention. It should be noted that the farther the wireless
modem is from the signal repeater, the slower the signal.
Direct Broadcast Systems (DBS)
Direct broadcast systems (DBS) broadcast
television programming to high powered satellites. The satellite's
strong signal gives it the capacity to be received by a small
satellite receive dish that is unobtrusive and easily mounted
on most homes. There are even portable models for recreational
vehicles. To date, DBS has not been heavily used by educational
institutions, but corporate training systems are taking advantage
of the inexpensive dishes.
Fiber Optic Networks
Fiber optic networks permit the flawless
transmission of a course to many locations at once as well as
permitting the instructor to send different kinds of materials
- including multimedia presentations - to receive sites.
Recommendations for Further Research
The review of literature suggested that
there is very little research done in distance education. Because
the area continues to expand and is perceived as a viable way
to offer educational programming to the masses of Americans that
must be educated or retrained, it is imperative that more research
be conducted in the following areas.
The literature suggests that distance education
is in an expansion phase with many new postsecondary institutions,
early childhood, kindergarten through twelfth grade, and businesses
joining the ranks of those which offer courses through distance
education technologies. Because many telecourses and internet
courses are now available, adopters must make decisions about
the quality of the programming and related components. As a form
of media, distance learning materials have an equal need for
effective evaluation. Research is needed to determine the ratio
of hours required to have equivalency between telecourse hours
and traditional classroom hours. Research should determine whether
30-minutes of telecourse programming is equivalent to one hour
in a traditional classroom. Traditionally, student classroom
contact is set at 45 hours for three hours of credit. The telecourse
norm for student contact is 15 video hours.
There is little understanding of adult
education principles as they relate to distance education. Research
should determine if adult education principles do work in distance
education. Specifically the areas of interaction, self-directed
learning and the use of learning contracts need to be researched.
Research should be done with telecourse
students. About 25 percent of distance education program administrators
conduct post-course evaluation with telecourse students. A number
of post-course evaluation studies have been conducted with students
taking telecourses produced by the Annenberg/CPB Project. However,
no other studies of this magnitude have been conducted by other
telecourse producers and made available for public use.
There is minimal understanding about how
learning styles apply to distance education. Educators perceive
that visual and auditory styles can be addressed through telecourses.
They do not perceive that interactive, tactile or kinesthetic
styles can be addressed through all components even though this
is becoming apparent through simple observation. Research in
this area should ascertain if all learning styles can be addressed
Some research has shown that student attrition
rates are reduced if local instructors write the study guide.
Research should ascertain if this is a factor in attrition as
well as what type of information a student needs in the study
guide to motivate the student to course completion.
Some research has shown that the student's
sense of isolation contributes to high attrition. Research should
ascertain what the specific factors are that contribute to isolation
and how they can be effectively addressed by a distance education
program. Some research has shown that telephone meetings with
the instructor, letters from the instructor and other contacts
can reduce the sense of isolation as well as lower attrition.
Further research is needed to determine
whether the textbook must be specifically written to accompany
the telecourse or whether other texts are as effective for the
student. There is a perception that the text should be written
specifically for the telecourse which was not substantiated by
this study. In light of the extensive resources that are available
on the Internet, some instructors are questioning the usefulness
of textbooks for some content. Content that needs to be regularly
updated to be useful is certainly not best relegated to a textbook.
This leads to textbooks that might contain stable materials enhanced
by a web site which contains the most recent information and
pointers to other related web sites. Certainly, this is an intriguing
idea that may bring alive the content for many students and instructors.
Another component that makes textbooks
more interesting is a web site that provides direct content to
the author(s). Setting up students with students in other areas
of the country (or outside the country) is also compelling for
students. It begins to integrate the content with technology,
the use of telecommunications, geography, and even world politics.
As there is confusion over who should produce
portions of the faculty guide dealing with distance education,
self-directed learning, student isolation and distance teaching
strategies, further research is needed.
Further clarification is also needed for
the optimal size of assignments, frequency of assignments and
time frames in which assignments should be filed. There is some
research which suggests that if students turn in assignments
from two to ten days from the beginning of the course, they will
complete the telecourse. This research needs to be replicated
and the acceptable filing dates of the first assignment should
be narrowed. Smaller assignments that can be easily accomplished
are used well at the beginning of a course. They help the student
establish a track record of success with the distance learning
course. The University of Phoenix Online requires graduate students
to produce a business research project which is the equivalent
of a graduate thesis in all respects. Students complete all work
online for the thesis. The number of successful graduates from
the University of Phoenix Graduate Program shows that it is possible
for students to work with massive quantities of pages. UOP Online
students give one another feedback and work together in ways
in which other thesis or dissertation students never have the
opportunity. Stdents enjoy the collaboration as well as the collegial
The realm of student motivation to complete
distance education courses needs research. There is a perception
that only motivated students
will complete the course. There is some research which suggests
that instructor contact is the motivating factor.
In the area of production, further research
needs to be done on effective education strategies where only
video is used. Producers need to know when graphics intrude or
contribute to instruction, when music is effective in setting
the pace or motivating the student to continue to pay attention,
whether instructors should be paid actors or instructors, when
certain treatments work, if learning from television is different
form other types of learning and finally, if a "talking
head" is effective and if so what makes him or her effective.
Evaluation of software is critical to ensure
that quality materials are purchased which meet course objectives.
This media selection model and its evaluating instrument should
be an aid in the adoption process and ensure that standards of
quality and excellence are considered.
The media selection model evaluating instrument
(Lane 1989) contains nine sections so that evaluators using it
will be required to apply specific evaluating criteria to the
telecourse to determine the suitability of its use in the video
instructional program (Teague, 1981). The model and the evaluating
instrument consider the combination of media and factors related
to the general organization of the instructional program, factors
relating to the video programs and factors related to the learner
from "A Technical
Guide to Teleconferencing and Distance Learning," 3rd edition