Is distance education training appropriate for our target audience?
Respondents agree that distance education training is indeed
appropriate. Moreover, it will continue to grow in importance for both
large and small school districts as relevant technologies continue to be
installed and made available throughout the Greater Denver area. Urban
and rural teachers alike realize that no school district can afford to
offer every class to every student who wants it.
Denver Public Schools regularly runs workshops in audioconferencing.
The rural areas currently use distance education courseware, provided by
Red Rocks Community College, especially for advanced placement high
PMN and UCD, with cooperation from DPS, should begin with a series of
workshops related to methods and strategies of distance education. The
target audience should be those teachers who plan to use distance
education in their curriculum, or who would like to become more
comfortable with distance education technologies. The needs of site
facilitators and teachers of bilingual students should also be addressed.
What kind of training is favored, by whom, and for whom?
When asked if they would participate in a pilot program, teachers were
generally enthusiastic. Most respondents stated that professional
development courses would have to be scheduled in such as way as to fit
into their extremely busy schedules, and that they might participate in
one or more courses rather than pursue an entire certificate program.
- Administrators: may not necessarily participate in a certificate
program themselves; feel a need for interested teachers in their districts
to have distance education training.
- Technology coordinators: may not need formal distance education
training themselves; could share expertise as distance education SMEs in
specific areas such as equipment acquisition, training of teachers and site
facilitators, and copyright issues.
- Teachers: often have a dual role as subject matter teacher and
technology specialist; would like additional training in all areas of
distance education; generally think that equipment maintenance is not part
of their job; if knowledgeable, could share expertise as distance
education SMEs in specific areas such as instructional design and multimedia.
- Site facilitators and media specialists: need hands-on training
with the equipment they have access to, or are expected to use in the
future; are users, not designers, of distance education courseware; may
need specific courses, but not an entire certification program; when
properly trained, have learned to deal successfully with equipment
problems; rarely experience classroom discipline problems.
- Technical support personnel: are primarily interested in
selecting, acquiring, and maintaining equipment, rather than designing
What content should be included in distance education training
The following nine areas were all considered important by the
respondents, and should be addressed in a curriculum development
program: distance education technology access and usage, media
selection, enabling participants to become comfortable with new
technologies, instructional design issues, learner support systems,
adapting traditional courseware for distance delivery, developing a
distance education team, managing a high-tech classroom, and policy and
Technology access and usage.
Hands-on practice and training should be appropriate for the mix of
technologies which is either currently in use or planned for the near
future. Technologies of interest include audioconferencing,
videoconferencing via satellite, microwave, and compressed video, and
- Videoconferencing us used most frequently. Clear Creek, Gilpin, and
Platte Canyon School Districts deliver distance education using the Red
Rocks Community College two-way video system and its courseware. Skyview
High School in Mapleton District has a satellite dish. Denver Public
Schools has one-way video, two-way audioconferencing now, and plans to
install two-way video soon.
- There is a growing interest in digital technologies for the
classroom, especially if nodes, servers, and phone lines are installed to
enable schools to become Internet sites. They would also be used for
sharing lesson plans, ideas, resources, and classroom activities, learner
support, networking with other classrooms throughout the district,
student bulletin boards, electronic mail and shared databases, global
networking for international and bilingual students, and other
collaborative projects. Presently, teachers are often hampered by the
lack of a dedicated phone line and high-speed modem in the classroom.
- Distance education technologies could serve the community as a whole,
not just students who are enrolled in the school system. Rural districts
could offer GED night classes, FAX access, CD ROM databases, Internet
access, directories of community services, and other highly desirable
resources to adult learners.
Respondents were evenly split on the issue of media selection. Many
considered media selection to be a question of media assignment or
accessibility. Since media selection is not up to the users, they need
hands-on training in whatever equipment the district provides to
individual schools and classrooms. Their opinion was that students will
learn the subject matter, regardless of the medium. However, it is
important to consider the medium's strength and limitations when
Others were definitely interested in media comparison. In particular,
they wished to know if digital technologies are practical,
cost-effective, and can facilitate distance education better than analog
Becoming comfortable with the technology.
Unfamiliarity with and fear of distance education technologies
represents the single biggest problem in distance learning today.
Teachers need to become comfortable with the hardware, to understand how
the signal flows through it, to become familiar with media production,
and to have guided, hands-on practice designing and delivering courseware
in a non-threatening environment. Then, they will be able to focus on
the learners rather than on the technology itself. They are also
polarized on the issue of finding resources and providers, with some
teachers desiring outside resources, and others requiring complete
autonomy in the classroom.
Site facilitators feel that anticipating equipment problems and
planning alternate strategies represents a major issue for them, though
they consider that maintaining the equipment and troubleshooting hardware
problems are the job of technical support personnel or service providers.
Instructional systems design.
Respondents were scattered with regard to the various stages in the
instructional systems design (ISD) process. Site facilitators who
deliver pre-programmed courseware and distribute and collect ancillary
materials are not at all involved in the design process. Administrators
who acquire equipment, as well as technical support personnel who
maintain it, are primarily interested in the technology rather than the
Teachers, on the other hand, are interested in specific areas of the
ISD process, such as deciding how much content to put into a single
lesson, diversifying types of presentation and course activities,
designing ancillary materials, developing courseware, assessing teacher
effectiveness and student learning, and revising learning modules to
increase student relevance. They are of the opinion that developing
courseware for collaborative work is more important than for independent
work. Surprisingly, they showed less interest in designing effective
feedback and remediation. They felt this should be part of a normal
teacher training program and a prerequisite for a professional
development certificate, rather than an instructional design consideration.
Learner support systems.
This area deals with both synchronous support (tutoring and mentoring,
telephone conversations, online chats, audio and video teleconferencing)
and asynchronous support (electronic and surface mail, BBSs,
computer-based conferences and discussion groups) for new distance
learning students. Most respondents discussed this topic very
enthusiastically, and indicated that they were very interested in it.
Those who had never heard of a learner support system recognized its
various aspects once they were presented, and considered all of them to
be important. They also felt it was necessary to have a varied mix of
learner support systems, because some students readily participate in
asynchronous communications such as electronic mail and bulletin board
systems (BBSs), whereas others prefer telephone conversations and other
Teachers wished to find out which students don't participate and how
to encourage them, and how to use facilitators and aides effectively for
mentoring and support at the distant site. They also wanted to learn how
to implement telephone-based and computer-based teacher-student and
peer-peer networking and support systems. Site visitation was considered
important, because when the distant students meet the studio teachers for
the first time, they get an entirely different impression from what they
have seen on television.
One respondent related an experience in which some students did not
participate in interactive videoconferencing until they were required to
carry on a telephone conversation with the studio teacher. Suddenly, one
student perceived the studio teacher as a "real person" rather than a
"talking head", saying that "real people talk on the telephone; talking
Adapting traditional courseware for distance education.
Teachers expressed a general interest in methods and strategies for
either developing new courses or adapting current courses for delivery at
a distance. These include adapting teaching strategies for delivering
instruction on-camera, using advance organizers and study questions
before participating in a distance learning lesson, organizing and
managing support materials to be used at distant sites, and problems of
For audioconferencing or one-way video, dealing with the lack of visual
cues from distant students is an important issue. One experienced
teacher consulted with a blind professor before adapting his mathematics
class for one-way video, two-way audio, because he wanted to understand how
the blind professor guided the discussion around certain key questions
and elicited responses from reticent students.
Developing a distance education team
This is an area which has been emphasized by many other Far View
educators, as well as by those respondents who were already serving on
distance education committees. The following areas were considered
important by the majority of our respondents:
- identifying "key players" in a team consisting of teachers,
administration, and staff,
- shifting from an individual teaching style to one of collaboration,
- setting up training sessions and pre-class preparation for new
- becoming more involved in the decision-making process.
Managing a high-tech classroom.
This is an area which has been cited by ACOT researchers (Apple
Classrooms of Tomorrow, 1992) as being a major stumbling block in the
diffusion of new technologies. However, our site facilitators felt that
they were both experienced and comfortable with managing their distant
classrooms. Teachers indicated that dealing with discipline problems may
be a critical area for new distance education teachers, but diminishes in
importance with experience.
In some districts, because of lack of space, students are assigned to
distance education classes on a competitive basis. Because of this,
students who lack motivation, inner discipline, or time management skills
are automatically eliminated. Though this does tend to facilitate
classroom management, it could bring about a class distinction between
those students who either lack or are denied access to advanced placement
courses via distance education, and those who are enrolled in such courses.
One technical support person agreed with one of ACOT's findings:
requesting student assistance in troubleshooting equipment problems helps
those students to become more comfortable using the equipment and more
involved in the class itself.
Teachers, too, are often assigned the dual role of technical
coordinator and subject matter teacher. They have limited time to manage
resources, deal with equipment problems, and still prepare effective
lessons. They need assistance from LAN administrators and technical
support personnel. They feel that their job is setting up guidelines and
procedures for the distant classroom, enabling students to feel more
comfortable with new communications patterns, making effective use of
site facilitators and aides to help the lessons run smoothly, and keeping
up student enthusiasm, motivation, and responsibility.
Policy and management issues.
Management issues often become policy issues, such as cost-effectiveness
of different media, acquiring dedicated telephone lines in the classroom,
and dealing with videotape copyright issues. Assessment is an especially
important area, because authenticity of student work cannot be verified
when assignments are uploaded, and because evaluation is often the job of
the site facilitator rather than the studio teacher. For distance
education, student portfolios, papers, projects, class discussions,
postings on class bulletin boards, and teacher-student audioconferences
become more important than tests.
Scheduling is an issue of paramount importance, especially when each
school in the district has a different schedule, and within the same
school, each teacher is given the freedom to set up his or her own
schedule. Some schools follow a 4-day week, yet they are expected to
match their classes with a 5-day satellite program. Also, since there is
always teacher turnover at the beginning of the school year, a teacher
who has been trained to use the courseware may not be available at the
time a course is to be offered.
How should the proposed curriculum be arranged?
As originally proposed, an approximate 50-50 mix of practical and
theoretical courses would be advisable. Teachers are interested in
learning about all types of distance education technologies. Since these
are site-specific, hands-on training courses would come under the
jurisdiction of DPS, leaving UCD to provide the theoretical framework.
Issues such as team building, training facilitators, developing
site-specific learner support systems, and dealing with administrative
issues can be handled more appropriately through partnerships with
district administrators and technology coordinators, service providers,
and local community colleges.
Presently, UCD and DPS are cooperating to develop a professional
development certificate in multimedia, with additional certificates under
consideration for distance education and Internet communications. A mix
of these courses could represent a starting point for formulating a
Distance Education Professional Development Certificate.
Denver Public Schools
Teachers need time to experiment and get to know the equipment, time to
prepare templates and computer-based lessons for delivery, some basic
video production and editing skills, and plenty of practice using all of
these to deliver instruction in a non-threatening environment.
To begin, teachers need to learn some multimedia fundamentals such as
using computers, digitizing sound and images, and working with
state-of-the-art software. By learning how to use presentation graphics,
animation, and simple authoring tools, as well as by designing templates
for lesson modules, teachers would be able to generate materials for
on-air and on-camera use. They could prepare presentations, graphic
illustrations, introductory screens, and some animated sequences for
lessons they would actually teach in class, and then practice using them
over the existing DPS distance learning system.
University of Colorado at Denver
The UCD programs in multimedia, distance education, and Internet
communications are currently in the preliminary design stages.
Therefore, the scenario presented below is only one of a number of
possibilities for the theoretical courses in a Professional Development
- Design fundamentals for distance education, including learner
analysis, media and strategy selection, collaborative courseware
development, and project management.
- Instructional message design for distance education, including
graphic design for television and the use of multimedia via
- Strategies and methods for interactive distance education, including
strategies for building interactive activities that foster higher-level
thinking skills, increasing student responsibility, and making learning
authentic; also covers learner support systems.
- Assessment and evaluation in distance education.
- Independent study: guided, collaborative projects in distance education.
The following checklist has been developed to serve as a resource for
planners of distance education training programs:
- Identify major issues, including demographics, learner
characteristics and needs, educational aims and goals, expectations of
participants, current and future training programs, and comfort level of
educators with distance education technologies;
- Identify critical team players, including administration, staff,
teachers, SMEs, instructional designers, site facilitators, technical
support personnel, service providers, local businesses, other schools and
educational institutions, and interested parties from the community;
- Identify technologies and infrastructure currently in place, as well
as those planned for the foreseeable future;
- Analyze opportunities for technology implementation and interactive
learning strategies, as well as problems with technology adoption,
funding, scheduling, management and policy issues;
- Involve all members of the distance education team in developing a
design and implementation plan which meets the content and context needs
of students, teachers, and community;
- Negotiate assignments and responsibilities, timelines and funding;
- Develop a plan for formative evaluation and ongoing program revision,
especially for situations where information is volatile or technologies
are in the process of being upgraded;
- Develop a support system to motivate and encourage educators who are
new to distance education, including peer-to-peer networking, mentoring,
observation of master teachers, and guided, hands-on practice in a
- Disseminate information concerning low cost/benefit relative to
alternative forms of delivery, ability to offer courses previously
unavailable to dispersed populations, effective information access,
equity of opportunities, ubiquity of content, relevance to the community,
and benefits to all partners in the distance education team.
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