by Sharon McConnell
At first glance,
you may think that distance education is relatively new, an outgrowth
of recent advances in technology such as the satellite and internet.
In reality, teaching and learning at a distance are not new phenomenon
in education at all. The earliest radio stations, many operated
by educational institutions, were used to distribute information and
instruction to farmers on subjects such as crop management and farm
practices. Although the life of today's student is quite different
from that of a farmer in the 1800's, these learners do share important
characteristics that make distance education an attractive and convenient
educational option for them. What distinguishes their distance
learning experience is that the range of technologies available today
offers students much more flexibility; they have many more options to
choose from...how and when they learn; and which methods and technologies
are best suited to their lifestyle and preferences.
But what about
teaching at a distance? What challenges does a faculty member
face in preparing a course that will be taught at a distance?
As more colleges seek innovative and cost effective ways to serve a
broader range of its student constituency, increased emphasis will be
placed on using available technologies to extend educational opportunity
beyond the boundaries of the campus. That means teaching at a
distance is likely to become a routine expectation of faculty responsibility
sometime during your community college teaching career. This lesson
is designed to prepare you for the distance teaching experience.
Education: teaching and learning that occur when instructor
and students are physically separated.
The simplest definition of distance education is teaching and learning
that occur when instructor and students are physically separated.
Distance education courses are defined and identified by the the type
of class interaction inherent in the course made possible by a combination
of the course design strategies and course delivery technologies used.
Today, the widespread access to a broad range of telecommunications
technologies in homes as well as schools has increased faculty and student
options in distance education.
is Distance Education?" - Instructional Telecommunications
Education---An Overview - University of Idaho
Who Are Distant Learners?
There is no
doubt that there is a growing demand for flexible learning options among
today's students. There is no "typical" profile
of the students who benefit most from distance education opportunities.
In fact, the most successful distance learners do not fit into the narrowly
defined profile of the "traditional" college student 18-24
years old, living at home with parents or in a college dormitory.
Distance education benefits a broad range of individuals, including,
but not limited to:
student with a part-time job who needs to squeeze in one more class
adult studying toward an associate's degree to qualify for a job
who needs to upgrade job skills
with small children at home
grandmother seeking personal enrichment.
These are all
very different types of people, but they have some characteristics in
or family circumstances (e.g. family and job responsibilities,
schedule, transportation, disability) that limit their access to
or ability to participate in on-campus course offerings;
reasons for wanting the educational experience.
to having self-motivation and a need or reason for taking the course,
additional factors that contribute to student success in distance education
level - the ability to read and comprehend print-based content
material, often a major component of any distance education course;
discipline - the ability to establish and maintain a study routine,
often without an externally-applied class schedule;
to work independently - to become involved in and internalize
content material without face-to-face interaction;
level with technology - to be willing to work through the inevitable
technology gremlins that pop up from time to time without becoming
frustrated to the point of defeat.
that students who are interested in enrolling in DE classes be able
to assess their own strengths and weaknesses...factors that may influence
their success and level of satisfaction in distance education.
A simple "Self-Quiz" for Distance Learners was developed by
Teresa Donnell and Barbara Hatheway of the Extended Learning Institute
of Northern Virginia Community College. The Quiz, originally developed
for use by students in video-based instruction, has been modified
to broaden it for use by students in a variety of DE course types.
Help your students self-assess with the self-quiz, "Is
Distance Learning for Me?"
Benefits to the College/District
the flexible learning options it provides to the benefit of students,
distance education also gives colleges or districts new opportunities.
The college is able:
beyond the physical boundaries of the college campus;
educational opportunities to new student populations who otherwise
may not be able to participate in higher education;
more students with reduced strain on limited physical resources
such as parking and classroom space;
Effectiveness of Distance
education is new to you, one of your first questions will justifiably
be, "Does it work?" It is a question that has
been raised since the earliest distance education courses were offered,
and there is research on the effectiveness of DE that dates to the 1920's.
A careful analysis of the research reveals that there is no "significant
difference" between the student learning that occurs in
traditional classroom instruction and that which occurs in distance
education courses. A summary of the findings is published
by researcher, Thomas L. Russell in the "No
significant difference" Studies. (Note: If
password dialog box appears, just click cancel.)
As with any
course, whether classroom based or distance education, the overall course
design and the selection of teaching strategies are influential
factors in the effectiveness of the course. In order to
develop an effective DE course, you will need to know some of the general
characteristics of DE courses as well as some of the more specific characteristics
of several common forms of DE courses you may encounter.
Because the forms that DE courses may take are evolving as quickly as
the available technologies used to deliver them, it is not possible
to list the characteristics of every form of DE course. However,
your understanding of fundamental characteristics will be applicable
to any new forms of DE you may encounter or wish to develop in the future.
of DE Terms
If you encounter
a term that is unfamiliar to you, use these glossaries of DE terms to
of Distance Education Terms - Texas A&M University
of Distance Education Terminology - College of Engineering
University of Idaho
in DE Courses
One of the
most important characteristics that distinguishes DE courses is the
type of interaction it employs as a function of technology and course
design. In a traditional classroom course where students and teacher
are located in the same place at the same time, face-to-face interaction
is the dominant (but not necessarily only) form of communication between
teacher and students. In DE courses, students and teacher are
physically separated and may not participate in the learning experience
at the same time. The instructor's ability to provide feedback
to the student and the students' need to be a part of a learning
community are two important reasons why thoughtful consideration
must be given to course interaction in DE. The separation of time
and place requires a deliberate plan using innovative combinations of
available technologies and carefully selected teaching strategies.
or student-to-faculty interaction in DE courses may be:
- instructor and students may engage in real-time interaction.
Despite physical separation, students and teacher participate in
the teaching/learning experience at the same time, interacting via
telephone or audio bridge, two-way video, or internet discussion.
- instructor and student interact with each other independent of
both time and place. Asynchronous interaction may occur via
e-mail, surface mail, internet message board, voice mail, or fax.
As an instructor,
you must consider:
type(s) and what level of interaction are necessary to accomplish
the course objectives in a DE course given the technology options
available to you?
Challenges for Distance
Ed Teaching Faculty
or teaching a DE course is challenging because there is so much more
to consider than course content...all the factors of course design,
technology and human dynamics are interdependent and interrelated.
To get started,
the capabilities and limitations of the development medium
and the course delivery technology in the DE course. (e.g.
video based instruction delivered via instructional cable.)
appropriateness of course content for development medium and course
appropriate teaching strategies.
- to achieve course content objectives
- to exploit the capabilities of
the development medium and delivery technology
to college policy and governance while sometimes maneuvering in
uncharted instructional territory.
- community college system
Emerging Set of Guiding Principles and Practices for the Design and
Development of Distance Education - Penn State University Innovations
in Distance Education
Types of Distance Education Courses
courses may be developed using any single medium or any combination
of media; it is the form in which the message is carried or the content
is stored, e.g. print, audiocassette, videocassette, CD-rom, web.
The delivery mode is the technology used to distribute the content to
students, e.g. internet, mail, fax, satellite, newspaper, radio, television,
cable, telephone. Most types of distance education courses, regardless
of the media and delivery technologies used, include a print-based component.
The medium, delivery technology, and course design are interdependent
elements that determine overall course effectiveness. Characteristics
of the most common types of DE courses are summarized in the following
table. You are most likely to encounter telecourses,
online courses, or hybrid courses in the community college environment.
You may be faced with planning the development, delivery, and approval
of such a course, or you may be asked to teach one that is already developed.
The three most common types of DE courses are described in more detail
Type of Course
Inexpensive to produce;
- Easily revised.
Not suitable for visual content
Broadcast, TV Tape rental/ checkout
Pre-recorded professionally produced video;
- Suitable for visual presentation of content.
Content selected for national audience may differ from local content;
- Expensive to produce, revise;
- Not suitable for rapidly-changing content.
- Usually difficult to change telecast schedule sequence
Real-time audio interaction;
- Can be delivered locally, nationally, internationally.
- Content delivered by college faculty
No schedule flexibility for students
- Time zone considerations
- Interaction limited by number of participants
Consistency of content message
- Effective for skills development
Limited interaction, personalization
Widespread, easy & flexible access
- Suitable for variety of content
- Easily revised, customized
- May be combined with other technologies
- Accommodates variety of file types: graphic, audio, animations,
- Learning experience may be personalized
- Vast access to the Web's information resources
Labor intensive development process
- Bandwidth to home limits file size
- Support staff needed for student technical issues
Combines the advantages and strengths of 2+ media and/or delivery
- Customizable to course content
are broadcast quality video-based instructional lessons produced
for use by a national college audience, i.e. the content has been selected
according to course content guidelines gathered at many different colleges.
They typically consist of 26-30 half hour video lessons per 3-unit course.
The video lessons are part of an integrated package of course components
that almost always includes a textbook and instructor as facilitator
and resource, and may include a study guide and/or limited face-to-face
instruction on campus.
are usually licensed from the producer or distributor by a single college
or a group of colleges that make up a consortium. Telecourses
are licensed by terms: semester, year, or life-of-the tape.
In addition to the licensing fee, colleges must pay a "per student"
fee for each enrolled student (approximately $15.-$25. per student);
the fee varies by producers. Some of the most recognized telecourse
producers and distributors are:
What is a Telecourse License - PBS Adult Learning Service, the
largest distributor of telecourses
telecourse lessons in a variety of ways:
cable access channels - Contact local cable television provider.
check-out from libraries, college media centers or commercial video
- Provide an expanded syllabus.
- Assume nothing; spell everything
- Include the answers to all the questions
you usually get on the first day of class.
- Give students a calendar with important
- Clearly stated course and lesson
- Clear description of assignments.
- Establish clear and realistic
- Time commitment for study, viewing, tests,
- Offer options for viewing missed video-lessons
alternate, repeat viewing times
library, media center
tape rental (RMI, Los Angeles Community College, others)
VCR to videotape lessons for student convenience, review
- Maintain regular, periodic
contact with students.
- faculty initiated (phone, mail, email,
- student initiated
number, office hours, email
- progress check
with grade book function (WebCT, Blackboard)
- Align telecourse course
content with college-wide course content outlines.
- Add supplemental lessons if necessary.
- Delete inappropriate content.
- Inform students; remind students
of additions, deletion, sequence changes.
- Make sure tests and quizzes match
- Involve students in the
- Use community as resource (field trips,
- Assign projects that enable students to
personalize the content.
use the power of the Internet and the World Wide Web to give students
the flexibility to learn anytime, anywhere. Widespread access
to the Internet using home computers and ongoing advances in broadband
technology have made online education a technical reality. The
vast resources of the Internet and its flexible, interactive teaching
capabilities afford online instruction great potential for teaching
and learning excellence.
are frequently developed and taught by faculty, although commercially-produced
online courses are now common in the marketplace. Consistent with accepted
best practices in online instruction, many institutions have developed
a course template designed to standardize the online learning environment
for the student. Once developed, online courses reside in a course
management program such as WebCT or Blackboard. These course management
"shells" give instructors the functionality needed to manage
grades, administer quizzes and exams, communicate privately or on a
class discussion board, gather statistics, and track student interaction
with content and with each other.
who undertake the task of developing an online class may face very different
experiences depending on the institution in which they work. The
fortunate ones have the great benefit of a supportive administrative
structure that provides ongoing opportunities for professional development,
technical assistance to both faculty and students, and a telecommunications
infrastructure that adequately supports online instruction. Less
fortunate, but commendably-determined, pioneers may face the development
process without benefit of some or all of these favorable conditions.
Assess your college's environment as part of the initial planning for
an online course. Then, assess your own readiness to undertake
the development effort, including the time commitment and the requisite
skills necessary. Some suggestions for professional development
that will help prepare you are:
of the hybrid course model can be best explained by a simple comparison
to hybrid plants in the gardening world. A hybrid plant is
bred to incorporate the strengths of two plants into a unique variety.
That is exactly what a hybrid course does. A hybrid course is
a unique combination of two or more types of course components carefully
selected to achieve a set of particular instructional and/or other objectives.
The possibilities for hybrid courses are limited only by imagination
and creativity. Because a hybrid course is designed to achieve
particular objectives, it is difficult to use as the basis of a model
for other courses. Some can be replicated while others are customized
to a particular set of course requirements. Some of the more common
hybrid courses are:
courses - videotaped content combined with online interaction
courses - classroom content and/or interaction combined with
online content and/or interaction
Hybrid courses - ideas for the considerations and
possibilities of uniquely-designed hybrid courses.
Ed Code Requirements
for Distance Education
that regulate DE in the California Community College System are contained
in Distance Education Code Title 5. The most significant changes
to Title 5 took effect in 1998 and are due for revision in 2002.
The CCCS is in a period of intense scrutiny and data collection about
the effectiveness of DE. The data collected during this
period may result in an increased emphasis being placed on the use of
technology in the delivery of education, with as many as 10% of all
courses required to use some form of DE technology. The major
changes from 1998 are:
Course Approval - Curriculum Committee review with a specific
emphasis on regular effective contact between instructor and student.
For college-specific information, refer to the Curriculum Committee
process at the college where you are employed.
Courses - non-transferable and certain non credit courses may
be offered as DE courses.
Contact - credit transferable courses offered as distance education
must include regular, personal, effective contact between
instructor and students. Changed from regular face-to-face contact,
this change broadens guidelines to include technology options for
Steps in the Distance
Ed Course Development Process
course for the first time:
DE course idea with colleagues, department members. Build
DE course idea with any existing office or department responsible
for the development and delivery of distance education courses.
Determine how your course fits into any college-wide DE plans.
course content to determine what delivery modes are best suited
to course content. Determine what delivery modes are accessible
at your institution.
existing materials, other similar courses. Identify what you
like and don't like.
the content of any existing materials identified; compare course
content with college-wide course content outline.
for College Curriculum Committee review of revised Course Outline.
the licensing fees and budget implications for offering the course.
You may find it necessary to plan a year in advance to accommodate
budget cycle approval requirements.
Once the course has department and
curriculum committee review/approval, the course development process
review all course materials for content accuracy and completeness.
Develop additional course content modules to cover any topics missing
from existing material.
hands-on training or professional development necessary.
the learning environment according to "best practices."
If there is more than one of the same type of DE course at your
institution, try to agree on some consistent format for the delivery
of the instruction.
course sequence, assignments, exams, schedule.
A Note on Accessibility for
Our campuses should only be contracting with distance
education providers whose software meets both the Priority
One Guidelines of the Web Accessibility Initiative (http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10/full-checklist.html)
as well as the web accessibility guidelines outlined in Section
Subpart B -- Technical Standards § 1194.22 Web-based intranet
and internet information and applications). Assuming your campus
is using accessible software, your only responsibility would be
to ensure that your additions to the distance education software
are consistent with universal access (e.g., Provide text for all
audio content). Universal web access is discussed in the California
Community Colleges Distance Education: Access Guidelines for Students
with Disability (http://www.htctu.fhda.edu/dlguidelines/final%20dl%20guidelines.htm).
For more information and support for making accessible web pages,
contact the Disabled Students Programs and Services (DSPS) office
on your campus.