Challenges and Issues in Distance Education
Visual Education Technologies are expanding throughout the country, especially within the education and government sectors. This has required educators and trainers to examine numerous issues that contribute to the success or failure of visual communications, also known as videoconferencing. Considerations, such as: room design, classroom management, scheduling, training, trouble shooting equipment, and cost/benefit tradeoffs must be considered.
Without well thought-out planning, schools and government entities will experience the “white elephant syndrome”. You know, it just becomes another piece of equipment that sits there and collects dust. Just locate your equipment in one teacher’s classroom and it becomes identified with that teacher only. Locate it where everyone has access to it and provide the hands-on professional development and watch its usage grow.
Those of you that embrace the existing and emerging technologies into teaching and learning know of the numerous benefits. The integration of multi-media into video communications enhances dynamic presentations and utilizes both the verbal and auditory strengths of viewers from host and remote locations.
Distance Education is about change and the roles of instructors and administrators are different compared to traditional classroom instruction. Some instructors are very reluctant to give up their physical presence with students and having to prepare materials without being initially involved in interaction with students. There are also significant changes within schools and training organizations. With distance education, schools must identify suitable space for a designated distance learning classroom. Because there is no geographic boundary, organizations will be more focused on content and geographic expansion. This is being seen with Universities that are now offering classes at school sites throughout the country. This also means that all educational providers need to rethink their marketing strategies.
The following two pages identify the major issues and challenges that institutions and organizations are facing. Although you may have gone through the planning and preparation for this technology enhancement, you may benefit from a few things that have been identified by teachers, trainers and administrators over the past four years.
- Type of Equipment (PC or non PC-based, dual monitor, cameras)
- Location of room and location of equipment
- Who troubleshoots the technology?
- Who are the users, champions and pioneers?
- What are your applications? (classes, content providers, meetings, training)
- Do you need to establish guidelines or policies?
- Who sets up the system?
- Who schedules the conference and test calls?
- Who schedules the room?
- Troubleshooting during a videoconference
- Type of connectivity (T1, ISDN, DSL, ATM, Fiber, Satellite, IP)
- Setting of line speeds
- Accessible communications such as: room phones, cellular phones, fax machine, and Email
- Arranging and testing of multi-point connections
- Is it the teacher, trainer, library media specialist or technology coordinator?
- Are the physical environments arranged properly? (Is everyone in view of the camera?)
- Are the camera pre-sets adjusted?
- Have handouts been deployed of your materials?
- Have times been arranged with all sites including beginning, ending, breaks
- What is the plan “B” if the technology fails?
- Needs to understand the classroom dynamics
- How are inappropriate behaviors handled?
Management and Policy Issues
- Scheduling of conference, class schedules, possible interruptions
- Cost-benefit tradeoffs – costs to prepare and deliver class, connectivity fees
- Giving up classroom or office space
- Outfitting the classroom for chairs, tables, proper lighting, air conditioning, etc.
- What accessories are needed? document camera, microphones, VCR, White Board,
- Who makes up the planning team – does it represent a cross section of presenters?
Technology Adoption and Training
- Who provides the training and skills needed to work with the technology?
- Who provides the instruction in the pedagogy of teaching and training?
- What are the dynamics of instructional design?
- How do you support innovation and experimentation?
- Arrange for preparation time for learning, practice, and camera transitions.
- Provide opportunities for communication, interaction and peer support.
- Organizational support to allow for flexibility, time, and new instructional methods.
- Leadership development for embracing the integration of new technologies.
- Copyright and Fair Use Laws – Have sign-off sheets for minors and make sure you have permission to record educational content providers
- Effective Speaking – Lecture, engaged learning techniques, breakout groups, use of document camera and video, use of power point and white boards.
- Appearance – blues and grays – avoid white and black and busy colors.
- Larger Font Sizes – especially for the document camera and power point slides. Remember that you will usually have at least a 32” monitor at site locations.
- Pacing the Presentation – You need to allow for interaction between remote sites.
- Instructional Method Design – Use of multi-media, groups, e-mail, oral presentations.
- Assessment and Evaluation – What is the level of learning, how has this engaged your audience?
- Limiting the “Talking Head” syndrome – Use the collective wisdom of the multiple sites to enhance learning, ask leading questions, allow for interactive dialogue.
- Use hands-on experiments – The document camera is especially useful for this.
- Incorporate text and graphic art – Include creative web sites and incorporate video streaming technologies.