College Quarterly
Fall 1997 - Volume 5 Number 1
Home

Contents
Developmental Issues for Telecourse Delivery: An Instructional Perspective.

by Ted Dunlop with Barry Forer

Introduction

Kenneth C. Green's thoughtful (1996) article on the relationships of change and technological advance in Leadership Abstracts makes the point that "it is still premature to talk about a technology-driven transformation of educational institutions which, in the main, are still in the early stages of applying various kinds of technology in their instructional functions." He suggests that it is hyperbole to discuss a technological 'revolution' in education because it falsely implies a sudden and dramatic departure from past practice.

While it is increasingly a focus of mainstream educational thinking, Green notes that the use of educational technologies "... has not yet radically transformed classrooms, the instructional activities of most faculty, or the learning experience of most students." And he notes that changes in curriculum design and delivery will be a continuing and incremental process, fostered by "the interaction between individual initiative (the way individual faculty design the syllabus and structure their classes) and institutional infrastructure (the hardware, software, and support services available to students and faculty)."

For college administrators, faculty and support staff, the question is how to move forward in the use of appropriate educational technologies at a pace which recognizes the concomitant need for change in the very culture of teaching and learning. Michael Fullen (1991) has observed that "cultural change requires strong, persistent efforts, because much of current practice is imbedded in structures and routines and internalized in individuals, including teachers."

That suggests the need to experiment with incubating small projects, to examine the infrastructure needed to support the use of new educational technologies and carefully plan for its implementation, to develop alliances to exchange information on classroom applications, and to rigorously evaluate what we do even as we do it. In simple terms, we need to walk before we can run.

The following first describes a joint small project undertaken by two British Columbia post-secondary educational institutions, the University College of the Fraser Valley (UCFV) and the University of Victoria, to develop and implement a telecourse delivery experiment. The discussion then reports findings from the evaluation of telecourses offered across UCFV departments.

The Joint Project Initiative

The qualities described above as essential to "walking before we can run" are characteristic of the collaborative process which has been followed by two British Columbia educational institutions which launched an innovative project using video-conferencing technology for course delivery. In June 1994, UCFV and UV submitted a joint proposal for Skills Now programme underwriting from British Columbia's Ministry of Skills, Training and Labour. The proposal, called Building for the Future, first described an ambitious plan enabling both institutions to pilot and together evaluate the delivery of two Child and Youth Care courses using full-motion interactive television (ITV). The project was approved in July 1994, and the required fibre-optic technology was installed at UCFV in time for the Winter 1995 semester's offering of the first pilot course; the second course was to follow in the Fall.

From the UCFV perspective, this project was to serve as a catalyst for other departments to embark on similar courses of their own, in partnership with their counterparts in other British Columbia universities. A kinesiology course on biomechanics and a computer information systems course on data communications were jointly delivered to students from both UCFV and Simon Fraser University, with UCFV acting as the remote site in both cases. UCFV and the University of British Columbia were also linked for an agriculture course on fruit production taught from UCFV.

The inter-institutional nature of these collaborations provided challenges beyond the design of instruction and required particular care in the management of joint course offerings, including timetabling, registration, and the installation of the needed equipment. Another set of concerns included course content differences, and variances in students' educational experience and qualifications, across participant institutions and departments.

Assessment Strategy

A two-pronged assessment of the original pilot project was undertaken and a summative evaluation was prepared by a University of Victoria research team, with UCFV contributing a complementary assessment of its experience across departments. This strategy was necessary because courses other than those planned in the original pilot project have been offered at UCFV. The purposes of the site-specific evaluation of interactive television (ITV) course delivery at UCFV were stated as follows:

  • to assess the students' experiences of taking an ITV course;
  • to assess the UCFV instructors' and facilitators' experiences of delivering ITV courses;
  • to examine technical considerations in ITV course delivery at UCFV;
  • to address ways in which ITV capability increases students' access and creates potential financial benefits for UCFV;
  • to make recommendations relating to the educational, technical and institutional issues that arise from the results.

Discussion of Findings

The rationale for the original pilot project was to demonstrate an innovative approach to increasing student access to postsecondary education employing interactive television (ITV) technologies, an approach which would share the use of existing resources. The following discussion focuses on evaluation of telecourses offered across departments at the University College of the Fraser Valley (UCFV).

UCFV was an ideal participant in this pilot project. As one of the fastest growing regions of the province and country, the Fraser Valley population includes an increasing number of adult learners requiring access to part-time educational opportunities. Success in the pilot project would be seen, in the words of the Building for the Future proposal, "to represent a first step in the development of a more extensive provincial educational technology infrastructure." It was recognized from the outset that the design of such an ambitious initiative required the integration of a rigorous evaluation process.

Thus, the evaluation undertaken over 5-months, from December 1995 to April 1996, was based on a variety of methods to develop a very broad database, and information was gathered using evaluation surveys, semi-structured interviews, group discussions, direct observation, institutional documents and published reports and articles.

For example, as part of their course evaluations 136 students from all three participating campuses completed the ITV Evaluation Questionnaire, developed by Christine Sorenson in 1994 as part of her doctoral dissertation at Iowa State University. (One class - the Data Communications course at Simon Fraser University - was inadvertently missed.) The ITV Evaluation Questionnaire solicits demographic data on gender, age, years of post-secondary education and 'home' university, and then includes 26 elements which help to measure 5 dimensions of student attitudes about their experiences in an ITV classroom: instruction, membership/affiliation, technical aspects, course management, and course satisfaction.

Additional important information was gathered from standard faculty course evaluations and interviews with participating students, faculty, administrators, technical support personnel, colleagues from the University of Victoria, and members of the UCFV Distributed Learning Advisory Committee which co-ordinated all electronic delivery of courses across the institution. The final grades of students in ITV classes also were used to assess differences in student achievement between host-site and remote-site students.

The strongest finding emerging from multiple regression analyses of this data was that students relate satisfaction with ITV courses to the characteristics of instruction and class membership, rather than to the technical aspects of telecourse delivery. That finding was supported by analysis across all student subgroups (female/male, younger/older) and across the variety of specific telecourse offerings in courses taken at host and remote sites at UCFV and other institutions.

Thus, while there is an understandable tendency among (even some well-informed) observers to focus on the effects of the technology on students taking ITV courses, and while technological considerations remain a critical aspect of the interactive television classroom, this research showed that students' satisfaction with ITV learning was much more directly associated with the key variables of instruction and membership. Focusing on and improving the interaction of instructional practices and technology, and creating a sense of common class identity across sites, are likely to be the most significant predictors of student satisfaction with ITV courses.

The Lessons

The experiences of the students and instructors in the courses assessed in this study provided information which will make ITV telecourse delivery more effective. It is anticipated that technological issues will become less important as telecourse delivery becomes commonplace, and as we develop better knowledge of how instructional design can be modified to reflect the ITV environment's impacts on both instruction and membership needs. In addition to a number of institution-specific recommendations, this study articulated 14 "lessons" gained from the experience:

Lesson 1:

For ITV teaching, instructor preparation is a critically important aspect of ITV-specific instructional strategies. Ideally, instructors should have formal training on these strategies. Before teaching an ITV course class for the first time, it would be advantageous for instructors to have taught the course first in the traditional format.

Lesson 2:

Instructors and facilitators are enthusiastic about telecourse delivery, both with the experience of teaching through ITV and with its potential to enhance the educational experiences of learners.

Lesson 3:

Telecourse students appreciate the greater availability of courses, and the variety of instructors and specialists, which otherwise would not be accessible. Even in the absence of much student interaction, this is a particular source of satisfaction for students at remote sites.

Lesson 4:

The record of academic achievement is similar for host and remote site students.

Lesson 5:

Courses with a significant practical component can best be taught through ITV if remote site students have timely access both to the relevant materials and to any hands-on instruction that may be necessary.

Lesson 6:

Audio clarity is critical to student satisfaction, especially for classes which emphasize student interaction. This attribute should have priority in the design and acquisition of equipment and technical support.

Lesson 7:

Relatedly, meaningful student interaction in the ITV classroom is much affected by class size, and telecourses designed to achieve high levels of student participation should have sufficient numbers of microphones to serve predetermined enrollments.

Lesson 8:

In telecourse interactivity the students, rather than the instructors, need to be the primary operators of the microphones. Learning will be enhanced if instructors are not required to divide their attention between teaching and technical demands. Push-to-talk microphones would relieve instructors of these technical duties.

Lesson 9:

ITV-based course offerings should be clearly advertised in the institution's calendar and in the information packages made available to all students by individual departments, so that students will have an informed choice of what is available and some encouragement to consider telecourses. Developing and distributing a "survival guide" for students in both print and video formats would help students optimize learning in the ITV environment.

Lesson 10:

Instructors in telecourses which will include extensive student interaction must be particularly careful to attend to their host site students' membership needs, and this may be particularly important at smaller institutions where students often are familiar with their instructors prior to course enrollment.

Lesson 11:

For remote site students, feelings of within-class involvement increase with the consistent presence and involvement of a facilitator.

Lesson 12:

Participant perceptions of inter-class mutual involvement and collegiality are enhanced by increased cross-site interaction among students.

Lesson 13:

Appropriately careful consideration of effective classroom design and equipment installation are essential to creating an enriched learning environment for telecourse delivery.

Lesson 14:

Telecourse-equipped classrooms have great potential for cost savings and applications other than in direct classroom instruction. Use of such specialized facilities by other public sector or private 'consumers' may enable the ITV-equipped educational institution to strengthen relationships with external partners, and to generate new sources of revenue.

Conclusion

The experience with telecourse delivery discussed above and other reports (e.g., Cyrs and Smith 1990) have demonstrated that there are components to the telecourse process which are quite different from traditional teaching and learning. In considering ITV-enabled telecourse delivery strategies, while it might be tempting to fix the locus of inquiry on the administrative elements of 'tele-classroom' teaching, a better case can be made for maintaining a clear and strong focus on teacher and learner needs. This was supported in the 1995 'white paper' examination of Learning-Centered Education in Ontario Colleges which emphatically reaffirmed that despite financial pressures and the promise of new technology-based efficiencies, "... the essence of the debate must be about education - about teaching and learning."

From the outset, the ventures in telecourse delivery at the University College of the Fraser Valley have been primarily faculty-driven, accompanied by substantial administrative and technical support. As a result, while sensitive to the significant political and financial pressures which inevitably influence developmental strategies promoting electronic course delivery systems, UCFV has been able to maintain the clarity of perspective which concentrates on teaching and learning issues. That viewpoint is essential for the successful development and sustained application of ITV and other classroom technologies.

The principal finding in our evaluation of telecourse delivery is that learner satisfaction is driven by aspects of instruction and membership. It follows that professional development programs will need to support the use of this and similar educational technology through addressing a number of interelated elements: telecourse organization, presentation skills, selection and design of visual materials for ITV teaching, design of interactive study guides, questioning modalities for effective interaction, packaging of courses for self-directed study, and development of consumer assessment instruments for measuring teleclass teaching effectiveness (Cyrs and Smith, 1990). Although the pace of technological change makes it difficult to generalize about what works best and there are no simple prescriptions for success in developing telecourse or similar electronic delivery programs, the UCFV experience has been a valuable contribution to understanding the means and measures required of the development process.

References

Cyrs, T.E., and F.A. Smith, (1990). Teleclass Teaching: A Resource Guide. (Second edition) Las Cruces, NM: New Mexico State University.

Forer, B. (1996). An Evaluation of the Delivery of Five UCFV Courses by Interactive Television. Abbotsford, BC: University College of the Fraser Valley.

Fullan, M. (1991).The New Meaning of Education Change. Toronto: Ontario Institute for the Study of Education.

Green, K.C. (1996). "Technology as a Metaphor for Change." Leadership Abstracts/i>, 9 (7).

ACAATO Council of Presidents (1995). Learning-Centered Education in Ontario's Colleges. Toronto: Association of Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology of Ontario.


Ted Dunlop, a member of the faculty at the University College of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, British Columbia, served as UCFV Project Leader for the 'Virtual Classroom' Project developed in partnership with the University of Victoria. Barry Forer, As of this writing, Barry Forer was a sessional faculty member at the University College of the Fraser Valley and the Research Consultant responsible for the evaluation of UCFV telecourses which formed the basis for the article above.

Contents

• The views expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The College Quarterly or of Seneca College.
Copyright ©
1997 - The College Quarterly, Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology