Distance Education Planning

There is little variance of opinion about the value of coordinated telecommunications planning. Hezel's (1987) study showed that most distance educators recognize economies of scale in the development and installation of services for multiple institutions. Even though the use is extensive there is a growing feeling that telecommunications is not being used to its full capacity. As a result, educators have strong inclinations to develop uniform systems that can equitably provide education to dispersed populations (Hezel, 1987; Ladd, 1989). Because of the high front-end costs of telecommunications, the cost of building new campus buildings, and the reduction of faculty and staff, there is a renewed interest in forming regional and state consortia. It is the community development model raised to an expanded geographic area so that educational communities can share their limited resources.

Brey (1991) observed that one of the most important consequences of distance learning during the 1990s will be the accelerated removal of the traditional barriers to competition among postsecondary institutions for students and institutional resources. Most states are confronted with conflicts between institutions that want to limit this new competition, and hence prevent the growth of distance learning programs, and those institutions that want the removal of all barriers. This will be a problem at the interstate and national levels, where the power of state agencies to regulate the delivery of distance education programs into their states may not exist, and will undoubtedly lead to calls for intervention by the federal government and regional accrediting associations. It is hoped that the Western Governors' University will create a model that will show how educational institutions can collaborate and grow an even larger need for education.

There are already a number of national programs including the National Technological University (NTU) University of Phoenix Online, Nova University, and the Fielding Institute to name only a few. The accrediting agencies are still grappling with courses that cross state borders as well how to accredit distance learning programs. Which accrediting agency has jurisdiction over the program will also pose a problem.

The technological concept of digital fusion is driving the installation of a wide bandwidth infrastructure. Digital fusion describes the merger of telecommunication technologies through computer control and the ability of laymen to use them more easily. The components are wideband transmission services; fiber optic or coaxial cable in homes and offices to deliver audio, data, and video educational programming; computer desktop video to produce programming; and high definition television (HDTV) which is digitized video. Through merged technologies, video, audio, and data can be delivered by fiber optic cable to the computer, stored on disc, and utilized to produce educational programming.

At this writing, we have moved technologically to the telecommunications dream - audio, video and data - anytime and anyplace. Many high level examples of this telecommunications ideal exist. Since it is most likely that more video will be used, it must be used judiciously and correctly. To date, most educators have not learned how to use media, and this has resulted in media not being used effectively as a learning resource (Knowles, 1983; Lane, 1989). We do not know enough about media and how to use them in an educational context; educators are not technology literate, and worse, very often, are afraid to admit it. Historically and currently, there is little emphasis on how to plan, prepare, and utilize media in education. If the use of media and technology is to increase, educators must learn how to reach educational goals and objectives through electronically mediated instruction.

Brey's 1991 study found that community colleges and universities may double the average number of telecommunications technologies used for live instruction. The total number of technologies used by community colleges will increase 51 percent between 1991 and 1994; for universities it will increase 79 percent. Importantly, this illustrates that educators are not focusing on only one media such as video. This will allow components of a program to better address the varying learning styles of students. By using a mix of media now, educators will provide themselves with an understanding of each individual medium while the national infrastructure is being built. This will enable them to fully utilize multimedia when it is easily available.

The use of telecommunications has increased and hundreds of telecourses augmented by print materials now exist and are offered for graduate and undergraduate credit. Of the 3,000 United States colleges and universities, user institutions increased from 25 percent in 1978 to 32 percent in 1986. A total of 902 (32 percent) colleges and universities offered one or more telecourses during 1984-85; 10,594 telecourses, an average of 12 per institution, were offered to 399,212 students by 1986. Courses are produced by at least 56 institutions and video production houses and are offered in departments which range from business to computer science. Faculty in these areas seldom have media expertise.

Brey's 1991 study indicates that the number of colleges and universities with distance education programs will increase during the 1990s. Approximately two thirds of higher education institutions have distance education programs now. By 1994, 80 percent of community colleges and 78 percent of universities had distance learning programs.

Since the mid-1970s, improvement has been made in distance education but the concept and use is still evolving; all of the problems have not been solved (Hewitt, 1982). In the face of growing trends in electronic education, institutions will expect quality distance education programs, however, the literature does not show that all are of equal quality. There has been an ongoing demand for quality since telecourses appeared. In 1952, Newsom stated that programming must be first-rate or instructional television will fail. Eash (1972) evaluated 1960s materials and notes that he became painfully aware of the shortcomings of many glossy, highly advertised materials. Evaluation is important because of the lack of quality programming (Berkman, 1976) and, unfavorable student attitudes, and thus the success of the learning experience rides on it (Berkman, 1976; Curtis, 1989). Bates (1974) contends that the wrong criteria are applied to judge the value of a program.

In 1984, the Center for Learning and Telecommunications reviewed over 900 telecourses for possible inclusion in their Telecourse Inventory (1984). Out of the 900 submissions, they were able to recommend only 139. The 1985 Annenberg study (Lewis, 1985) showed that faculty valued technology's potential but were highly critical of the quality of most video and computer software. Kressel (1986) notes that the quality and evaluation of telecourses continues to plague educators and policy makers; material is being "cranked out" (pp. 4-6) everywhere from obscure garage-top attics to high-tech production facilities. Kressel asks if the issues of educational quality will be addressed so that distance education will thrive? She warns that without evaluation and quality control, distance education will fail; failure is preventable if good practice is ensured by dissemination of effective models, quality criteria, evaluation methods, and assistance to state planners.

More than 95 percent of the nation's public schools now have one or more computers, according to a report by the Office of Technology Assessment. School reform movements emphasize the importance of technology in instruction and computers are common in a growing number of homes. Despite this, many teacher-training programs produce graduates who are less proficient with technology than their future students. While many schools of education offer media courses, most did not require media courses for graduation.

David G. Imig, executive director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education says that roughly 20 percent of the nation's teacher-training programs are on the cutting edge of technology. About 60 percent offer one or two courses which introduce students to technology or concentrate its use in a few areas, while the remaining 20 percent have not taken the first steps.

Ideally, schools of education should try to weave technology throughout a teacher's education through modeling the use of technology in courses, research and administration. If technology is not used throughout, future teachers will perceive technology as isolated and not relevant to a teaching career or a valid instructional method. To date, schools of education have had varying degrees of success in integrating technology into their curricula. Many professors are reluctant to use technology in their classes and are equally reluctant to use computers in their work. Many schools cannot afford the equipment that would let them make technology a priority. As the cost of equipment drops, this situation should change. However, the case can be made now for the cost effectiveness of delivering instruction through distance education technologies.

Stages of Acceptance or Adoption

Rogers (1962) analyzed the stages of acceptance and adoption used to accept things which are new and different. He identified five states which included awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, and adoption. Acker (1985) analyzed Rogers' work and its application to education technology. To Rogers' process he added six other conditions which included the perceived and actual relative advantage of the innovation, complexity, observability, ability to hold a trial, compatibility, and other issues which include cost, type of equipment, equality, difficulty of use, other uses, evaluations, comfort, and culture.

Conditions for the success of educational technology include a recognized existence of a need for the programming, articulation of purpose, identification of structure, leadership of the innovation, teacher participation and support, appropriate technology, and evaluation mechanism, and continuing adequate resources (Armsey and Dahl, 1981).

Human Factors

In 1983, Olgren and Parker established that dealing with human factors required as much or more time for planning than technical design and order to build user acceptance and the sustained use of the new applications. Park (1983) suggested that the innovation should be introduced by an influential person prior to use. He noted that teleconferencin users must "clear a hurdle" to get from their first teleconferencing experience to familiarity and acceptance of current teleconferencing technology. That is, you must lose the mystique and fear that they feel for teleconferencing. Those users who don't get across the hurdle tend to drop their teleconferencing commitment and become poor ambassadors to others contemplating adoption of the technology.

Bell and Weady (1984) suggest that human factors and systems should be developed simultaneously. People will not use a technology simply because it seems like a good idea, or because it will save them time and money. To accept and adopt teleconferencing and distance education, the technical structure and the human interface must be both initially and lastingly rewarding. Much remains to be done before education defines its objectives and the world of communicators, in turn, opens its mind to the problem of education (Souchon, 1986). Imaginative planning and vigorous action are necessary to maintain a viable educational system. The educational system of the future will be shaped by planners in purposive fashion, or it will by default, be shaped by accident, tradition and the senseless forces of environment (Irvine, 1983).

General Barriers to the Use of Educational Technology

A number of barriers to the use of educational technology have been identified in recent years. They include: lack of information about technology (Baer ,1978), length of time for widespread use (Baer, 1978), inappropriate match between technology and service (Lucas, 1978), and an approach where a technology solution is seen as a Panacea (Benne, 1975). Pacey (1983) identified a machine mysticism where there was a misperception that technical advances lead unalterably to progress. This was based on a myth that a cultural lag occurs everywhere as we try to keep with progressive technology. A better solution is to use technology to answer new patterns of problems. Dirr (in Barron, 1987) identified barriers of lack of money, lack of faculty commitment, and a lack of trained support staff. Barron (1987) identified faculty concerns as barriers to adoption which included the class size, the lack of support for faculty from their peers, and the lack of discussion and face-to-face involvement between faculty and students. There is a perception that benefits are assumed to accrue to students from face-to-face interaction with the instructor which has not been validated in the research. There is also a perception that distance education prevents students from having hands-on experience in subjects such as chemistry when the campus reality is that more students are performing chemistry and physics experiments on computer keyboards instead of at laboratory benches.

Holt (1992) suggests that "many who wish to discredit the use of telecommunications claim that there is no student-teacher interaction, as if face-to-face contact is the only kind of interaction. Such criticism ignores the potential of available sophisticated computer hardware and software or the utility of the telephone line. It also assumes, erroneously, that significant one-on-one interaction occurs in a classroom of 25 students or more in a 50-minute period." He also validates the "ain't made here" syndrome saying that "Local control of the curriculum is highly cherished at all levels in the educational establishment. Rather than relinquish any control over either the subject matter or the teacher to outsiders, preference is often given to local staff, even if they are poor instructors or teaching outside of their field."

Holt suggests an astute selection of the on-camera teacher backed up by an invitation (rather than a demand) to teach and a reward for participation will start off the collaboration effectively. He states that because some programs treat distance education as an extension of the traditional classroom (lectures in front of the camera), there is a perception that television-taught classes take the same amount of instructor time as a traditional class. In programs that make fuller use of the medium, time should be allowed for a quality program to develop. The need to organize the program, collect material, and script telecasts increases the workload. Holt recommends that instructors in such classes should be held responsible for no more than two class preparations per day. He also believes that the educational philosophy should be to use the medium to its fullest extent and make extensive use of preproduced footage of illustrative material, music videos, pretaped demonstrations, as well as the computer and video effects. This brings a visual richness to the program that students expect of commercial television.

Class size may demand that other faculty members and non-faculty assistants be employed. This was the case for Dr. Harry Wohlert, the ASTS German by Satellite teacher who typically had 1,500-2000 students. For interaction an 800 number was provided for off-air hours. Holt says that two-way video with six to eight class sites will lose an interactive advantage. According to data currently available, student performance is the same whether interaction is accomplished using two-way or one-way video, but is strongly affected by other factors, such as the quality of classroom management and the commitment of the on-site teachers and administrators.

The barrier of teacher certification borders on the "absurd" according to Holt. Some K-12 program providers report that to obtain certification in certain states, the teachers are required to take a physical examination, even though they will never stand in front of a class in those states. ASTS has had it's courses accredited in 48 states, without faculty holding certification in those states. He points out that they are viewed differently because they are university based and all hold a doctorate.

Teaching partners at the distance sites can ensure success or failure; "Appropriate training and a positive attitude toward distance learning virtually ensure success; lack of training and a negative attitude almost always ensure failure" according to Holt. He recommends training in management of instruction and operation of the equipment which may vary in length from one day to a week depending on the complexity of the receive system. Training for the on-camera instructor should emphasize a tightly organized and well-paced program and working in the studio environment to develop a sense of confidence in handling the medium.

Faculty support for the distance education teacher can be surprisingly negative. To avoid this, Holt suggests that highly vulnerable non-tenured faculty should not be hired. Older tenured faculty are often receptive to new methods and their acceptance of distance learning by virtue of teaching in the program may increase acceptance by associate and assistant professors.

Holt concludes that "Convincing people of the efficacy of the medium, working with accrediting agencies, cajoling good faculty into participating as teachers, convincing site coordinators that their role is crucial - all these and more are crucial if a program is to be a success. It takes tact, determination, commitment, and good humor, but given these, no barrier is too high to overcome.

Psychological Barriers to Distance Education

A number of psychological barriers to the use of educational technology have been identified. In addition to "It's never been done that way before," other psychological barriers include suspicion and fear of change as well as telephobia which is a suspicion of change which involves television. Others fear that they will make a fool of themselves in front of their peers. "People who have watched TV for 20 years have built up all kinds of cultural expectations about people ... on the screen. They expect to see a polished performer reading a script without a hair out of place. In contrast, executives or managers on a videoconference tend to have their ties askew, don't always look at the camera ... and seem unsure of what to say" (E.C. Gottschalk, Jr., Wall Street Journal). Goldstein (1991) says that he is certain that the "move from the tutorial to the lecture that accompanied the rise of the modern university was greeted with similar outcries.

I am equally certain that the differences in learning outcomes are as overstated today as they were then." Educational television and videoconferencing have been categorized as only hype or show biz and there is still an unsubstantiated fear that television may only entertain rather than inform. "As long as that attitude exists, teleconferencing will be limited to that use ... there must be a recognition that teleconferencing is used not in a show biz environment but in a day-to-day environment, married to applications" (Jack Fox, Western Union).

Distance learning is perceived as being somehow fundamentally different from traditional instruction. What is the difference between a live lecture delivered to 600 students in a campus lecture hall and the same lecture delivered over a telecommunications system? This is an "intellectual trap" that leads us to believe that distance learning is so inherently different from what we have come to define as traditional instruction that it demands entirely different rules or it cannot possibly meet the established standards and therefore it is not worth fixing (Goldstein, 1991).

While distance education has become well established, there is still skepticism within the academic community about whether this form of education is of comparable quality to the more familiar classroom-based learning, as well as opposition from those who regard it as a threat to traditional faculty roles and classroom enrollments (Reilly and Gulliver, 1992). As long as regulators and accreditors continue to apply measures intended for classroom-based instruction to distance education, the skepticism will be reinforced. This uneasiness with distance education is heightened by the sense of a "competitive threat from the entry of an "outside" institution into a state. The "Not Invented Here" syndrome reflected in this response is one of the greatest potential barriers to the national expansion of distance education" according to Reilly and Gulliver.

Others have noted that television does not transmit a personal high touch environment, but is rather a cold, high tech medium which looses body language, chemistry, electricity, does not maintain a lengthy audience attention span, is not interactive and is known for low quality. In addition to those problems, educators have noted that it lacks central grading, testing and measurement elements.

The advantages of educational technology have been noted as being cost efficient, providing access to programming and having the ability to enrich education (Seidman, 1986; Wilson, 1987; Lewis, 1985). Changes have occurred. In 1994, the Goals 2000: Educate America Act and the School to Work Bill were passed; it appeared likely that the 1994 Communications Act would also pass. Each bill provided major new educational funding. Equally important was the embodiment of education's system reform in the first two bills, and the recognition by Congress that education needs continuing support for educational telecommunications if we are to avoid creating a nation of technologically literate haves and have-nots.

Strategic Planning for the Implementation of Distance Education Programs

The literature lists major barriers to distance education program implementation (Pearson, 1990). Lack of successful institutional planning for the delivery of distance education programs at educational institutions represents a major barrier to implementation and success. The problem is that there was no validated process for planning for implementation of successful distance education programs. Pearson's study determined what critical factors leaders of successful distance education programs considered to be important prior to, during, and following implementation of the program at their institution.

Thirty administrators in education, distance education specialists and program providers were invited to participate in a three round Delphi to determine the 20 critical factors that should be considered in the planning process to implement a distance education program at an educational institution. The 30 key leaders were asked with each Delphi round to refine and rank those critical factors that they listed. The final round produced 20 critical factors in rank order.

Panelists also indicated that the factors were dependent upon each other for the ultimate success of the implementation of the program. The critical factors they generated contained a planning model which included the steps of purpose, philosophy, organizational structure, people, finances, equipment and facilities. The experts indicated that successful implementation depended upon the completion and thorough investigation of each of these critical factors.

The model set a high priority on human and fiscal resources that can serve as a model for the strategic planning of administrators of new programs in long distance instruction. Planning for the implementation of the program requires a major investment in time, people and funding. Serious consideration should be given to the number one critical factor: "identification of the need for the program." All the experts agree that without this identified need, an institution should not move ahead to purchase equipment, hire people, or even think about delivering a long distance program. Faculty involvement, incentives, motivation and training were ranked as serious issues for these successful institutions. According to these experts, the educator is a high priority in the delivery of long distance coursework. While the fear of teachers being replaced by the technology appears to be an overriding concern and barrier for many institutions, the importance of the teachers remains critically high in the electronic classroom.

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