Distance Education Programs

Telecommunications technologies support a variety of educational activities. Students have used teleconferencing to speak with scientists, interview government officials and talk rock stars and link with one another. Electronic field trips have taken them to China, Germany, France, Russia, and the ocean floor. We are witnessing the birth of new learning communities, which are defined by telecommunications links and not by the space in which they exist. They permit a level of geographic and cultural diversity in education that could only have been imagined previously. In these new communities, the roles of teachers and students are undergoing dramatic redefinition. Teachers have moved from centerstage to concentrate more and more on overall coordination, planning, the organization of learning opportunities, and the mentoring of individuals and small groups of students. At the same time, students have considerably more freedom to define their activities, choose the direction of their research, and collaborate with their peers in their own and other classrooms. The use of telecommunications technology redefines teacher and student roles and plays a major role in efforts to restructure American schools.

Courses delivered at a distance over a number of telecommunication platforms serve as important resources for the curriculum of many school districts. Growth in distance education has occurred in both K-12 and higher education. In the K-12 setting, there has been a special emphasis on courses in foreign languages, the sciences, and mathematics, but courses in the humanities, social sciences, business, and vocational education are also broadcast.

Networks range in size from relatively small district-wide networks to TI-IN, a national satellite-based educational network, which broadcasts whole courses, student enrichment programs, and professional development programs into 1,000 school districts in 29 states.

Distance education has been of particular benefit to rural communities that have a low demand for particular courses, difficulty in meeting state-mandated curriculum requirements, and problems in attracting teachers in specific areas of the curriculum. It has also been a solution for both insufficient enrollment and the lack of specialized teachers.

In addition to restructuring, telecommunications technology makes vast improvements in available educational resources. The inclusion of on-line databases such as Dialog, CompuServe, Prodigy, America Online and e-World in media centers and classrooms puts enormous research capacity at the fingertips of teachers and student. Comprehensive databases on scientific research, the social sciences, finance and current affairs can be accessed almost instantaneously. SCOLA, a satellite-based news service brings foreign TV new programming in 20 languages from 30 countries into schools.

The number of college and university students enrolled in distance education is in the high six figures nationally. Courses might be offered through interactive satellite courses with two-way audio hook-ups, compressed video with two-way audio and two-way video, interactive audiographics courses which employ two-way audio hook-ups, prerecorded video telecourses, cable, closed circuit, ITFS, computer and audioconferencing. For example 2,000 institutions of higher education use the Annenberg/CPB telecourses.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for the growth of distance education in higher education is the changing nature of work and society. Many students are working adults who have schedules that prevent taking classes at regular times, or they live so far away from any college or university that they would have to move to attend school.

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