Educational Policy Recommendations

Education and the use of technology are at a point of evolution. Schools and institutions are being forced by changing demographics and tightening budgets to establish new priorities and re-evaluate how education can serve the needs of rural and metropolitan needs. K-12, higher education and corporate training all have issues and interests which cross. Educational technology has become so sophisticated that it permits improvements in teaching productivity and the quality of education. Further investment in research, equipment and educator training are needed to realize the potential. The primary burden to date has been carried by local and state institutions. The burden of developing the national infrastructure has been carried by the telephone companies. Additional issues include policy and licensing which will improve the cost-effectiveness of distance education programming.

Educational organizations have been dealing with policy recommendations for their members, local/state/national legislators. In July, 1991, USDLA as part of its mission to provide national leadership, convened a National Policy Forum.

The Problem

The early 1980s found the country in a severe recession. We were deeply concerned about our economic future. Many Americans were persuaded that our economic prospects were dim as long as the quality of education continued to decline. A litany of private and public studies and reports documented the decline and offered a vast array of solutions. The early 1990s find the country again slowly recovering from a recession. While there has been much debate, there has been only scattered success in restructuring and improving America's schools. Many now recognize that the decline of our educational system at all levels from K-12 through higher education, is only one of many areas of growing concern in our economic infrastructure. The nation's highways and railroads, water and waste systems, communication networks, education and corporate structures all represent areas requiring attention if we are to meet the challenges and global competition of the 21st century.

The global economy of which we are a part is information driven and operates at a pace in excess of our prior experience. A new understanding of the infrastructure standards necessary to support the kind of information based work force our nation must have is required. The new infrastructure requirement challenge the most basic premises of the American economic system.

Our current infrastructure developed the world's most productive economy. Our success was based on a national communications system unequaled by our competitors, mass production technique that made it possible to employ modestly skilled workers to produce high quality, inexpensive goods in large volumes and a transportation system that was fast and efficient. Today, communications and transportation systems are more competitive worldwide, and workers in other nations are willing to work longer hours and for lower wages than their American peers. We can continue to compete in this manner, but only at existing global wage levels with a corresponding massive decline in our standard of living; or we can revise our view of the market and the role of the worker.

High wage level societies will be those based on the use of highly skilled workers backed by advanced technologies and with ready access to a deep array of knowledge bases. Economic advances will be dependent upon improvement in intellectual rather than manufacturing productivity. In order to compete we must rebuild our economy to match the needs of the information age.

This restructuring is clearly linked to economic success and it depends on a strong education system. Redefining our national resources is not only necessary to prepare Americans for work but, even more importantly, to prepare them as citizens in a self-governing society. We must provide access to shared cultural and intellectual experience to enable citizens to make informed judgments about the complex issues and events that will characterize the 21st century. The cost of not doing so may be more than a decline in our standard of living, it may also cause erosion of our democratic tradition at an unprecedented time in history when the world is moving closer toward the democratic model. We cannot fail in our leadership now.

The critical natural resources of the information age will certainly be education and access to information. While the nation cannot ignore the pressing problems of health care, environmental waste or decaying cities, we must create a national vision that will focus on the long term economic health of the country. Without this we will not have the resources needed to combat the myriad problems facing us in our increasingly small world. A new national vision has begun to recognize the interdependence of education, information access and economic development. We're at the beginning of this now. We've had several national Net Days, the national Technology Literacy Challenge Fund, the Star Schools Projects and the Challenge Grants from the US Department of Education, and th PTFP and TIIAP grants from NTIA. We're on the way to creating the vision of the future for education, but still millions of dollars short of the vision. At least we've begun.

The Opportunity

The United States Distance Learning Asociation (USDLA) represents universities, K-12 schools and corporate training interests in an association of thousands of members. USDLA is in the midst of completing its chapter expansion to all states. USDLA is uniquely suited by purpose, membership and experience to help articulate the vision that it has helped to create. Thus, when it called upon distance learning leaders from all over the nation in July, 1991, and again in January, 1997 for its National Policy Forum, the organization was able to gather together some of the most experienced practitioners in the U.S. to help explore policy issues and establish guidelines for new policy and legislation in the US and in the separate states

Distance learning facilitates high performance education by encouraging new instructional techniques and by allowing electronic access to information from any location. Educational technology, in class or at a distance, is beginning to have a profound impact on the organization of schools, the way students are taught and coursework they can access. It is not only an educational tool, but also a driving force behind restructuring efforts in member organizations.

Many successful corporations and schools have already reorganized with technology in mind to capitalize on its potential as a problem solving and information leveling device. Many of our members represent national leadership in distance learning and their institutions do things differently to accomplish better results, often at the same or less cost. Recognizing the many demands on our national resources, educational technology can be the key to improving student and teacher performance while maximizing the use of resources. While in no way a replacement for the teacher, distance learning can cost effectively be a factor in reducing the monetary burden of rare and traditionally expensive specialized resources to the classroom. Distance technologies can expand teaching resources to include practicing scientists, business people, government leaders, health care specialists, parents and seniors and that helps to involve students. The restructured school must bring these resources to the classroom and substantially supplement or replace the dated, non-interactive material used today if we are to realize the goals of "American 2000" as set out by the President and Secretary of Education.

That students learn in a variety of ways is an accepted fact. Yet, most instruction today uses group lecture techniques that fit the learning styles of only a few whose primary learning style is listening. Educational technology allows facilitators to customize learning and to move toward individual and small group collaborative learning. These are the very skills needed for high wage earner societies hoping to compete in a global economy.

Distance learning might better be described as personal learning, for it removes the barriers of space, time and location. Since Socrates, effective education has relied on conversation and debate between students and facilitators. Personal learning technologies facilitate both, through a wide variety of resources. Interactive dialogue can happen via interactive television, audio conference calling or computer conferencing and interactive Web pages. Interaction with the content can be carried out through CD-ROM, computer, simulations and other interactive technologies. Delayed dialogue can happen via voice or electronic mail. No one technology, delivery system or mode of dialogue is best suited to meet the needs of all students in a class. It takes all technologies to meet all the needs and provide a depth of learning that ensures that the material is learned, applied, and is retrievable when the learner needs it.

The ubiquity of all distance learning technologies will ensure that we can reach all individuals regardless of their location, learning style or when they are available to learn.

The Barriers

There are, however, significant barriers to using these powerful new tools. Today's education, communication and information policies and regulations were developed long before the advent of distance learning capability. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the Snowe-Rockefeller amendment that creates a universal service fund for education corrects the inequities of the past. New technologies, particularly computers and digitally processed and transmitted information, have blurred or eliminated institutional boundaries in the once discrete world of voice, image and video. New policies must be put in place that remove these barriers so the nation can realize the benefit of distance learning.

The Recommendations

To define these new policies, the USDLA has convened two National Policy Forums. Over ninety leaders in distance learning representing educational and corporate distance learning providers and users, equipment and transport providers and federal and state policymakers convened to debate the changes in education and communications policy needed for the 21st century.

The recommendations that follow represent their concerns and were unanimously approved by the USDLA Board of Directors as representing the interests of the membership. They encompass both education and communications policy, the inexorably linked cornerstones of our new economic infrastructure.

In order to accelerate and fulfill the tremendous potential of distance learning and educational technology, federal, state and local government should:

    1. Develop a vision for national infrastructure recognizing the critical importance and interdependence of systemic educational reform and advanced telecommunication services.
    2. Bring coherence to educational technology and distance learning funding and focus those resources on educational restructuring projects. All future education initiatives or policy should include distance learning as an option.
    3. Develop national demonstration sites for educational technology and distance learning that disseminate research results, educational applications and effective teaching strategies.
    4. Provide incentives for teacher training institutions to restructure pre-service and in-service programs recognizing the importance of communication and information technologies.
    5. Provide incentives for regional and professional accreditation associations to recognize and encourage appropriate uses of distance learning technologies.
    6. Ensure that financial aid programs recognize distance learning as a peer to traditional course delivery.
    7. Address educational use via distance learning technologies as an issue for special attention within copyright laws.
    8. Provide incentives for states to remove barriers to distance learning around teacher certification, textbook adoption and accreditation practices.
    9. Provide incentives for faculty who maximize resources and achieve quality instruction through use of appropriate educational technologies.

Recognizing that all forms of advanced telecommunication services are critical to supporting distance learning and educational reform, federal, state and local government should:

    1. Facilitate the development of a broadband educational network utilizing the public network with an open system architecture and guarantee equal access and governance responsibilities for all educational constituencies.
    2. Provide incentives for telecommunications carriers to develop special pricing for educational applications.
    3. Provide incentives for telecommunications carriers to provide dynamically allocated broadband service on a common carrier basis to schools, libraries, and other learning sites.
    4. Remove the regulatory and business restrictions on telecommunication carriers for distance learning and educational applications.
    5. Maintain "set asides" for educational applications in "RF" frequency allocations.
    6. Provide incentives to ensure adequate, cost-effective access to satellite transponders for educational applications.

Restructuring American education, like all systemic change, will require significant, long term commitments of time, energy and resources from teachers, parents, students, administrators, business and government leaders. Change must and can occur in virtually all aspects of our current educational system simultaneously. Each recommendation will affect all of the learning constituents in some way. Acted on individually, their implementation will affect each constituency differently and there agenda will be undermined. If acted on as a whole, all of the learning community will benefit and the consensus needed to sustain the complex change process required for restructuring can be achieved.



from "A Technical Guide to Teleconferencing and Distance Learning," 3rd edition