Closing Remarks: Redefining Needs Assessment

We have used a traditional needs assessment model throughout this project. However, we felt that there were some significant issues which were not given sufficient emphasis due to the limitations of the instrument itself. Wilson (in press) suggests that we reflect upon four important areas which may not be covered by Rossett's traditional needs assessment model.

Consider the consensus as well as the gaps

Every new program should reach consensus on key elements. This means involving key constituencies in the planning, implementation, adoption, and evaluation process. For example, media selection is considered part of a traditional instructional design course. However, the consensus of many of our respondents is that media selection is often media assignment at the district level. As a result, they require training in the actual equipment which their respective school districts will provide, rather than a traditional, theoretical analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of various distance education media.

Consider unintended outcomes

We must consider the "environmental" or systemic impact brought about by introducing changes to existing instructional systems. One unintended outcome of implementing distance education which uses two-way audio, telephone support, or digital technologies such as Internet, is the fact that many teachers cannot obtain dedicated telephone lines for their classrooms. Another is the selection of active learners with good time management skills for enrollment in distance education classes, with the possible exclusion of other students who lack these skills but are otherwise interested in learning the subject matter. These are important policy issues, not technology issues.

Consider learning outcomes which may not be easily measured

We must also consider subtle, yet highly valued outcomes and effects when implementing a new system. This is especially noticeable in language instruction, where interactive, conversational, foreign language classes require participation with immediate feedback, rather than the one-way audio-visual link plus electronic mail which is popular with many providers today.

Consider other perspectives

Finally, we must consider the needs of all our professional educators, not just those who plan to become studio teachers. Teachers of bilingual classes represent one part of the target audience for this program: how shall we deal with those classes in which English is a second language for a large portion of their students? How can we address the needs of site facilitators who are end users of distance education, but who have neither the need nor the desire to design and develop courseware themselves? How can we incorporate technology specialists into the program, when their interests encompass only its technological aspects?

These, plus as-yet-unknown and unanticipated outcomes may arise as the program continues to progress through its design, development, and delivery phases.


This article was prepared as part of the Far View Distance Learning Project, funded by the Office of Educational Research and Innovation, under a STAR SCHOOLS grant to the Pacific Mountain Network (PMN).

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