Moore and Kearsley (1996) define distance education as planned learning normally occurring in a different place from teaching and incorporating special techniques of course design, specialized instructional techniques, and special methods of communication. The purpose of the writer's project will be to critically analyze the overall effectiveness of the pilot staff technology training distance delivery program entitled Taylor Technology for Teachers (TTT), from a distance education viewpoint, as opposed to prior school district technology training conducted via traditional methods of delivery. The TTT program was the writer's eight-month long doctoral practicum project and involved 43 teacher-participants from the ten schools in the writer's school district.
Moore and Kearsley (1996) developed a set of variables that determine the effectiveness of distance education courses. Included in this set of variables were the following:
The writer will attempt to define the effectiveness of the TTT distance delivery course in terms of how each of the variables Moore and Kearsley described in their text Distance Education: A Systems View were met, as well as other criteria such as goal achievement and participant satisfaction, using other distance education reference sources. The writer will, therefore, show positive evidence that distance delivery was more effective in this particular training situation than prior training courses provided through traditional classroom-style teaching methods.
The 43 teacher-participants were grouped by school site and divided into four groups of eleven participants each. The initial training involved a two-day orientation training workshop consisting of sixteen hours of hands-on instruction in basic microcomputer skills including word processing, Windows, spreadsheet, e-mail, Internet fundamentals, and procedures for using the TTT web site monthly instructional modules. A set of goals and objectives was clearly defined for each segment of the training and pre- and post-tests were administered to determine competency achievement by each participant. At the end of the two-day training, the results of the tests were graphed, showing a 100% skill achievement by three of the four groups and an 85% achievement by the remaining group. This two-day session also provided a means of interfacing as a group and developing group relationships, setting the stage for collaboratory projects that were to be on-going within member-defined groups during the entire duration of this training.
After the initial hands-on training, students had the skills necessary to complete the monthly instructional modules by distance delivery. The web site included a two-hour lesson each month on incorporation of technology into the teaching/learning situation. Each participant could tailor the monthly module to fit their particular content area. The lessons were then submitted via e-mail. A feedback response was then returned by the instructor via e-mail.
Collaboratory projects were chosen by each school site and were on-going throughout the duration of this training. Each group chose to build a school web site, which was linked from the school district home page, for this project. Skills acquired for completing this task were covered in the face-to-face training and in the instructional module for the month of February.
At the end of each month, a four-hour hands on session, with groups coming in on the hour, was utilized to ensure learner satisfaction and progress on the collaboratory projects, and to receive further skills training, if needed.
An interactive threaded discussion board was created and linked to the web site. Each month a topic was posted by the instructor for student discussion. Students were also encouraged to post their own topics of concern in regard to technology to encourage group interaction and idea exchange.
Moore and Kearsley (1996) regard learner-instructor interaction as essential and highly desirable for distance education success. The TTT distance delivery course provided for this interaction through daily e-mail contact, electronic classroom (chat) contact and a four-hour face-to-face meeting each month. Telephone calls were also utilized as a means of communication when needed. Personal visits were made by the instructor to each school site represented among the participant population.
Resources used in the TTT distance delivery course were an important factor in the achievement of objectives. The Internet web site for the TTT training, which was linked from the school district home page, became the primary contact, resource, and reference for the participants in this training. This web site is located at the following URL address: http://fcae.nova.edu/~pahaldeb/main.html. The site featured a colorful school-related theme with the chosen logo, and icons such as school buses, chalkboards, apples, pencils, and books. The school district motto, "Get On the Bus," was carried out on many of the web pages. A news and announcements page kept the teachers and all visitors to the site informed of school district happenings and current events. The appeal of the web site design encouraged teacher participation and the design interface created ease in manipulation of the pages and modules.
Moore and Kearsley (1996) discuss the importance of a set of general design principles for success in distance delivery courses. These general principles included good structure, clear objectives, small units, planned participation, stimulation, variety, feedback, and continuous evaluation.
The web site used in the TTT training provided all of the above elements in one way or the other. Objectives were clearly stated and defined at the onset of the skills training and each lesson completed by distance. The course was broken down into small units with a combination of planned face-to-face training and monthly instruction with stimulating topics of interest to all teachers, variety of subject matter and reference selection, structured module development that built upon each unit in progression, immediate feedback via e-mail response by the instructor, and continuous evaluation by each participant and the instructor in the "Sound Off" section of each month's instructional module.
Outcomes Matched with the Literature
Based upon Moore and Kearsley's (1996) six variables for determining distance delivery course effectiveness stated in this paper's introduction section, the writer will compare the features and outcomes of the TTT training.
Learner Interaction and Feedback. Each month a two-hour lesson posted on the Internet was to be completed by the participants at their own pace and convenience. Learners interacted with the subject matter presented in the monthly distance education instructional modules on an individualized basis. Each module was designed to be "generic" in nature and could be adapted to the learner's own classroom teaching situation and particular content area, thus providing for intensive interaction between the learner and the subject matter. Feedback was obtained by each participant in a timely manner via e-mail and electronic classroom chat mode at the completion of each lesson turned in via e-mail. A "Chance to Sound Off" section was also built into each instructional module, whereby the participant gave the instructor feedback as to what they did or did not like about the lesson or parts of the web site that did not work.
Reason for Taking Course. Each particpant enrolled in this course was awarded continuing education units (CEU's) toward recertification of their teaching licenses for each hour of instruction received; therefore, the incentive to begin and successfully complete the course was high among the participants.
Preparation and Experience of Instructor. The instructor for the TTT distance delivery course is a second-year doctoral student and a twenty-two year veteran teacher. Preparation to teach this course began six months prior to its start date as the practicum problem, matches, outline, and proposal were prepared, submitted and approved. The web site development began with the instuctor's media and technology course at the 1997 Summer Institute and also went through major revisions as a front-end usability testing period was enlisted among doctoral colleagues and other teachers long before the participants began the actual training phase.
Course Pacing. As the monthly distance delivery instructional modules were designed to be completed by the participants "any time, any place," a deadline for submission of each assignment helped to keep the participants on track. Each assignment during the month of February, March, April, May and June was designed to build upon the prior month's learning and follow the discussions being presented on the Teacher's Discussion Board, as well as challenge thinking along lines of each group's on-going collaboratory project. Therefore, the course had a perfect combination of student-defined and teacher-directed pacing.
Nature of Instructional Strategies Used. Instructional strategies incorporated were a combination of face-to-face hands-on skills training, interactive discussion board topics, on-line handbook for skills remediation, extensive on-line technology glossary, planned electronic classroom (chat) sessions, daily news and announcements updates, and challenging monthly lessons using Internet search techniques and e-mail submission and feedback for any place/any time learning among the participants. This wide mix of strategies served to keep the training interesting throughout the duration of the course, as evidenced by feedback in the "Sound Off" Section.
Some of the participant responses are listed below:
Participant Educational Level. All participants had either some college or a college degree as all were either teachers or teacher's aids. All participants had basic microcomputer skill levels upon entry into the course. Skills were honed during the course for maximum satisfaction. Thus, training could progress at a rate which provided for high interest levels and success rates.
from Other Distance Education Sources
In a recent Internet-based Journal entitled Milken Exchange (Milken, 1998) an article entitled "Tips for On-Line Learning" emphasized several points which were also brought out by authors Moore and Kearsley. This article was a feature in the Professional Development Section of the journal and showcased telecommunications as being the most effective medium for training teachers in today's classrooms. Some of the advantages listed in regard to using telecommunications for training, which were all incorporated into the TTT course, were:
In an article published in Microsoft Corporation's on-line Journal for Higher Education (Boettcher & Conrad, 1998), a new paradigm labeled "interactive distance learning" was discussed. This type learning experience promotes the use of interactions between faculty and students, students and students, and students with dynamic electronic resources, occuring at any time and any place. One such group targeted by this article was professionals who are working to retain certification, such as in the case of the TTT teachers.
Some of the principles and learner characteristics of the interactive distance learning paradigm, which were incorporated into the TTT training were:
Jones and Okey (1995) discussed the concept of effective design for successful online course offerings. The design of the medium must be interactive and students should be skilled in the physical manipulation of the interface components. The technology delivering the instruction is a critical component in the student success factor. If a student spends more time "learning" to interact with the interface, valuable learning is lost in the process of manipulation. In the TTT program, skills training was an important component introduced BEFORE students were expected to use the distance delivery interface, thus relating to a high degree of student satisfaction and success.
Thach and murphy (1995) conducted a survey of 103 distance education professionals to produce a list of competencies, all of which were included in the TTT training, which provided for the best overall experience for the participants. Among these competencies were such things as:
The TTT training focused on team collaboration rather than competition with the inclusion of the school site collaboratory project. All elements of the training--hands-skills, collaboratory projects, discussion board participation, e-mail feedback, chat room interaction, on-line handbook, technology glossary,and news/announcements page--all worked together to form the overall "big picture" of the TTT training.
and Contrast of Prior Training Programs
Traditional technology training courses taught by the writer in the same school district in prior years provided appropriate and successful basic skills training; however, participants were limited by such factors as time or days that the class met, hindrances of having to spend valuable learning time in driving too and from class from remote distances in the county, having no release time to take classes other than at night or on Saturday's, lack of interaction between teacher and participant between class sessions, lack of collaboration with peer teachers, and curriculums being set for one particular type of content rather than varied to each individual teacher's content expertise.
Skills training in the previous school year provided a 100% mastery of skills for those teachers who followed through with the program from start to finish. However, due to the factors discussed in the previous paragraph, approximately 50% of the teachers who began the technology training were hindered by being located in remote areas of the county and dropped the program due to lack of time involved in travel to and from the training site, or were dissatisfied with the fact that training was limited to a specific software package which was business-oriented rather than content-specific or could not receive feedback and/or help with the skills being acquired once back on the job at the remote site.
The TTT distance delivery course, while providing excellent basic skills training in face-to-face hands-on format, successfully overcame the barriers facing participants in prior years in regard to time, distance, interaction, collaboration, and content variety. Because the TTT distance delivery course could be completed any time, any place, teachers could use their own classroom computer workstations and their planning periods to complete the monthly instructional modules and interact with their peers through the discussion board. The determining factor in this contrast was the mode of presentation, hence distance delivery.
The basic focus of distance delivery is rooted and grounded in the collaboration between students, teachers, and technology and its ability to overcome the restrictions of time and distance, while enabling students to learn more in less time and with far less overhead than traditional education could promise. The TTT distance delivery training is positive proof of that promise.
Boettcher, J. V. & Conrad, R. M. (1998). Distance education: A faculty FAQ. [On-line] Available: http://www.microsoft.com/education/hed/online/distfaq.htm
Jones, M.G. & Okey, J. R. (1995). Interface design for computer-based learning environments. [On-line] Available: http://www.hbg.psu.edu/bsed/intro/docs/idguide/
Milken Exchange. (1997). Tips for using telecommunications to support professional development. [On-line]. Available: http://milkenexchange.org/medev/s3/s3b/professional_dev.shtml
Moore, M. G. & Kearsley, G. (1996). Distance Education: A Systems View. Wadsworth: Belmont, CA.
Thach, E. C. & Murphy,
K. L. (1995). Competencies for distance education professionals. ETR&D,
Debra L. Pahal (July 1998)