Instructional Technology/Distance Education

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Beginning in the 1950s, the computer industry began using computers to train its own employees. Although able to provide self-paced, individualized instruction with feedback and evaluation, these computer programs were written in technical machine languages of the time, requiring the expertise of experienced computer professionals to design and create them.

With the relatively recent development of more approachable scripting languages such as Perl, ActionScript and JavaScript, it is now possible for instructional designers unskilled in computer programming, per se, to create branched feedback loops, testing modules and employ other methods of information exchange between computers and learners on the Web. In addition, high level authoring systems ease the process of creating interactive Web-based feedback loops, making it possible for them to create interactive Web sites and online instructional software, e.g. Macromedia Dreamweaver, Flash, Authorware, Director and Shockwave. As contemporary learning markets increasingly demand them, publishers are creating online testing and course content modules that compliment required texts as a means to online instruction effecting student learning. Course management and learning management systems are making it increasingly easier to develop large amounts of instruction and instructional material to an international audience.


Distance Education Defined[edit]

Teaching and learning in which learning normally occurs in a different place from teaching. Often used interchangeably with distance learning. Typically the learners and instructors are separated by time and place. Interaction must take place through some form of media, such as print (correspondence courses) or electronic (computers). Most distance education courses use a combination of media and technologies.

Distance Education is systematic, planned instruction that is delivered in a manner in which the learner and the instructor are separated by distance and/or time. The instruction should be hosted by an accredited organization or it can be delivered internally within a company or corporation. The deliver methods should conform to current technological methods; such as teleconferencing, web-based over the Internet, CD or DVD-ORM disks that are hyperlinked to the Internet.

This definition is based on a literature search via the Internet, that encompassed several institutions of higher education, including, [Holmes Community College] in Mississippi, [University of Wisconsin-Extension], [Penn State University]. The search also included other organizational entities, such as [Instructional Technology Council (ITC)], and the [Higher Learning Commission].

The rationale for this definition is that the general consensus among all of the researched definitions, which were organizations within the United States, is that distance education is mainly a geographic separation between the instructor and the learners. These definitions are a little more inclusive than the European definitions that make a strict requirement on separation by time (and geography). All of the definitions in the research allowed both asynchronous and synchronous models of distance education. All of the models allowed two-way video as an acceptable form of distance education.

Distance Education is not a new concept. It began in the 19th century with correspondence courses. As time went on technology was a driver of many new forms of distance education.

The major forms of distance education include:

History of Distance Education[edit]

Distance education offers a second chance at education for people who regret never having finished it. It also offers the flexibility to accommodate individual needs and meet a variety of learning styles and preferences. The earliest form of a distance classroom, an educational experience that separates the instructor and student from each other by distance and time, was paper-based correspondence. Issac Pittman introduced correspondence education in 1840 by sending his students instructions in shorthand through the mail (Curzon, 1977).

This form of distance education was just the beginning of what we are experiencing today. It was an educational experience that, at least part of the time, had the instructor and student at a distance from each other by transformation of the traditional classroom through a different mode. The technology of the time was paper and pen. The technology of today is the computer. “When the computer is used to move beyond traditional classroom walls, opportunities for learning expand. Education is becoming an experience of learning and sharing for students and teachers as a community of learners online [over the Internet]” (Brewer, DeJonge & Stout, 2001, p. 34).

With many degrees, programs of study and opportunities for formal and informal education available online, the world of distance education has been transformed by the Internet. While the Web has made it possible for students and teachers to easily access information from their personal computer, it is increasingly used to deliver instructional material and instruction inside and out of the traditional classroom.

Distant learning is becoming a more popular way of learning, than the traditional classroom. Many people prefere online classes and being able to complete homework on there own time. It saves them time on the commute there and back everyday. Traditional student might find it difficult due to there ability to operate a computer or not having the resources for Internet. Most people do not own a computer or can afford internet service in there home. Most students can adapt to change like online learning, for non traditional students this change might seem overwhelming to learn a new skill. Most student may choose to stay in classrooms and have contact with the teacher. Being able to ask questions and find answers in class from teachers or peers is benificial. With online learning the response time from teacher to student may take longer. (Morley, Deborah, Parker, Charles S."Understanding Computers, Today and Tomorrow". 2011 p.332)

K-12 Distance Education[edit]

Eighty percent of public school districts said that offering courses that are not currently available at their schools is the most important reason for having distance education in their schools. A new report just published by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the first ever to report data on K-12 Distance Education. It shows that about one third of all public school district had students enrolled in distance education courses in the 2002-2003 school year. In this study, distance education is defined as courses taken for credit and offered to elementary and secondary school students in a school district where the teachers and students are in different locations.

The study found that a greater proportion of districts with students enrolled in distance education courses are located in rural areas (46 percent) than in urban areas (23 percent). 76% of students were in hhgh schools, 15% were in ungraded programs, 7% were in junior high schools, and 2% were in elementary schools. 14% of the total enrollments in distance education in K-12 were in Advanced Placement or college level courses. Distance Education in the K-12 environment has implications for the structure and organization of public education in this country. It moves us closer to the concept of Schools without Walls!

The report is titled "Distance Education Courses for Public Elementary and Secondary School Students: 2002-03" and is available online at: [1]

Michigan Virtual High School(MVHS)provides courses and other learning tools that students otherwise might not have access to. The courses are all taught by certified teachers. MVHS cannot grant a high school diploma. Visit the website for more information [2]

Principles of Good Online Practice[edit]

The lack of interactivity was a problem with many early Web designs. Early forms of Web instruction was limited to more or less electronic page turning. Hyperlinks generally didn’t change and they connected static pages that weren’t altered until a site administrator or developer updated the information on specific pages. The underlying problem was that hyperlinked paths through information do not necessarily produce better processing of information in memory or well-constructed personal structures of knowledge. In other words, learning doesn't occur just because the learner clicks on a hyperlink.

Arthur Chickering and Zelda Gamson (March, 1987) identified seven principles that can help improve undergraduate education. Although originally intended to improve teaching and learning of college age students in the traditional classroom, as well as the governance of higher education, this work is considered monumental to the improvement of online instruction. According to Chickering and Gamson, “each practice can stand on its own … together, they employ six powerful forces in education: activity, cooperation, diversity, expectations, interaction and responsibility” (p. 4). In summary, Chickering and Gamson’s principles of good practices in undergraduate education:

  1. Encourages contacts between students and faculty
  2. Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students
  3. Uses active learning techniques
  4. Gives prompt feedback
  5. Emphasizes time on task
  6. Communicates high expectations
  7. Respects diverse talents and ways of learning

Although Chickering and Gamson’s work came out in the mid-1980s (well before the introduction of online education), its relevance is renewed in light of increased interest in online teaching which has traditionally included presenting new information and then checked to see that learning has occurred. While teaching is principally an interactive process, the Web is historically a “push” technology, used to disseminate information of commercial and even educational value. Chickering and Gameson’s principles are useful in that they point out practices which inform approaches used in online education.

Distance Education in the Developing World[edit]

For a long time, developing countries have sent people abroad for university training. These individuals were expected to return to staff universities and government ministries, and serve as conduits of knowledge and skills from the First World to the Third World. Today, government funding has become more scarce, and university education more expensive. With the endless pressure to, “join the global information economy or perish,” is distance education the best way to train more people, better, and at lower costs? The interplay of technological, pedagogical, cultural, economical, and political factors — at both local and international levels — need to be explored.

One of the things to keep in mind is that as distance education becomes more widespread and accepted globally, the types and configurations of delivery methods grow proportionately. It is within this diversity that many of the possibilities, stumbling blocks, and solutions for developing countries will be found.

Developing countries have a rich diversity of university distance education. These institutions are found within single countries, across regions, and between continents. For reasons of cost and infrastructure, television broadcasting and written correspondence remain the preferred delivery method for most. The African Virtual University based in Nairobi, however, is using the Internet and educational software with content in English, French, and Portuguese to train students in a number of countries.

There are many benefits to be had from distance education in the developing world, but there are also many stumbling blocks that have to be avoided. Apart from infrastructure restraints, there are differences in cultural attitudes toward communications that are becoming increasingly an issue as technologies enter more traditional cultures.

Established social and cultural values also play a key role in the success or failure of distance learning programs. The more “impersonal” computer-based and all asynchronous technologies often clash in traditional societies with cultures that often prefer more “face-to-face” interaction. Many parts of the developing world still retain teaching styles that emphasize rote learning and memorization and involve less independent reading and ensuing critical writing and analysis. How does interactive technology meet this challenge? Is the answer to copy blindly what is being done in the United States? Doing so without taking into consideration economical, social and cultural factors would be a mistake. There should not be just one method of delivery, but maybe a “cocktail of choices” that fits each particular region’s needs. Geography, infrastructure, financing, culture and learning styles will have an impact on what delivery methods should and can be utilized.


Bibliography[edit]

Brewer, E. W., DeJonge, J. O. & Stout, V. J. (2001). Moving to online. Making the transition from traditional instruction and communication strategies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.

Chickering, A. W. & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, pp. 3-7. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED282491).

Curzon, A. J. (1977). Correspondence education in England and in the Netherlands. Comparative Education, 13(3), 249-261.


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