Indiana State's Multiple Delivery Approach:
Integrating Industrial Technology Education with Educational Technology
by Chris Zirkle and Hal Shoemaker
Go to original version, original version with two reviews, edited version
Colleges and universities across the nation have recently faced several changes impacting the nature of courses and degree programs they offer. Ever-increasing competition for students and calls for improved "ease of access" have driven institutions to create innovative approaches to course delivery methodologies and degree requirements. Many students want to pursue degrees without relocating to retain their current employment or for other reasons. Legislators and taxpayers have called for better quality and more accountability in postsecondary education. In response to these pressures, many institutions are seeking to improve their educational programs with new information technology tools.
A Search for Solutions
In October 1998, Indiana State University (ISU) christened the John T. Myers Technology Center, which houses over 30 specialized laboratories supporting five departments in the School of Technology: aerospace, electronics/computer, industrial/mechanical, manufacturing/construction, and industrial technology education. The Department of Industrial Technology Education (ITE), which employs six full-time faculty, offers bachelors and masters degrees in human resource development, technology education, and vocational-technical education. While many of the enrollees in these programs are traditional, full-time students, a growing number are employed professionals seeking new skills and knowledge. All may take advantage of the department's flexible scheduling and alternative course delivery methods.
The ITE department offers approximately 20 courses per semester, split equally between undergraduate and graduate courses. For students who prefer an emphasis on face-to-face interaction with peers and professors, all classes are offered on campus. But almost half of ITE courses each semester are also taught using three alternative simultaneous delivery methods: for students at remote sites who can accommodate live courses into their work schedules, a satellite system is available. For those who work irregular hours from week to week and cannot commit to scheduled classes, videotapes are a viable option. For those who need even more flexibility, an Internet-based instructional program is available for use at home at any hour of the day. Each course delivery option offers its own advantages; for example, students from out-of-state who take the courses on videotape have their out-of-state tuition waived. Students selecting the Internet option can complete an entire master's degree in Human Resource Development through online work. Many students experiment with different methods, taking some courses on campus and others via other delivery methods.
Each faculty member in the department teaches at least one course each week via multiple delivery. He or she teaches the traditional course to on-campus students in a specially designed studio while distance students at the various satellite sites participate simultaneously. After each class, videotapes of the session are mailed to those students who have requested that mode of delivery. The instructor then accesses the course Web site and posts lecture notes, presentation slides, audio/video files, and other information that students taking the course via the Internet may need. Some faculty use Blackboard Inc.'s CourseInfo software to support their Web instruction; others have custom-designed their own course sites.
ITE professors rely heavily upon the Indiana Higher Education Telecommunication System (IHETS), a state-funded consortium of eight member college and university campuses initiated by the 1967 Indiana General Assembly. This system utilizes digitally compressed satellite technology to reach over 325 sites across the state. IHETS sites include many of Indianas college campuses, public schools, libraries, hospitals, and other easily-accessible facilities; from these locations, ITE students are able to enroll and participate in classes via satellite. One of the several IHETS studios at Indiana State University serves as the classroom for on-campus students, from which they can interact with students at other IHETS sites as well.
The IHETS studio within the Myers Technology Center is built specifically to facilitate distance education. The new studio is equipped with both PC and Macintosh computers, there are four cameras: one focused on the instructor, two focused on the students, and one focused on the display of documents or notes. The control room contains a bank of VCRs for synchronous or asynchronous playback. In addition, the classroom has a 35mm slide projector, and microphones are attached to every table so that students can respond to the instructor and be heard by peers participating via satellite. An AMX touch control system allows the instructor to switch between the various audiovisual technologies. Also within the Technology Center is a communication lab for faculty equipped with scanners, a digital camera, and computers operating in both Windows and Macintosh environments; in this lab, professors can edit and copy videotapes and use a videocassette player interfaced with a computer, which enables them to stream video onto the Internet.
On-campus students can meet with professors before and after class meetings and have access to five computer labs to e-mail their instructors, participate in live chat sessions, and complete assignments. For students participating from off campus, faculty supplement e-mail and telephone contact with a variety of other options: IHETS students can communicate with faculty through satellite transmission, which allows for audio communications. Student taking courses via videotape send written reactions to their instructors via mail, fax, or e-mail on a weekly basis. Internet students utilize mailing lists, chat rooms, and discussion boards to communicate with faculty and other students. Faculty have also experimented with online "office hours" where students can log on at specified times and talk with the instructor via an office "chat room."
Teacher Training Issues
Many faculty in the ITE department have participated in training sessions to learn how to utilize the various technologies that support multiple delivery platforms. Indiana State University sponsors the Course Transformation Academy (CTA), a development program designed to give faculty members the time and resources they need to investigate, create, and utilize alternative instructional strategies. The CTA offers semester-long workshops for groups of 15-20 faculty members, as well as an intensive, one-week summer workshop. Participants use hands-on projects to learn about creating Web-based, broadcast, and interactive video courses and about incorporating supplementary technologiessuch as videotapes and audio-conferencinginto their instruction. As they work with the technologies, faculty members use asynchronous and synchronous tools to discuss pedagogical issues, course design considerations, and assessment strategies. They receive information about three important subjects: the University's policies on intellectual property and copyright fair use, its distance education student services, and University resources available to assist faculty members in course development and delivery. During the CTA, participants have opportunities to work on aspects of their own courses as they complete projects designed to enhance their technological competencies.
Indiana State University also has a Faculty Computing Resource Center (FCRC) designed to provide faculty with one-on-one consultations and conduct workshops and demonstrations on a wide range of topics, such as Web page construction, video and audio streaming, and graphics development. Full-time technical experts staff the FCRC, but much of the assistance provided to faculty is given by part-time student workers, who are in many cases very familiar with specific software applications, Web page development, and audio or video manipulation.
Indiana State University's foray into distance education has produced visible benefits. At the undergraduate level, the most notable achievement is the DegreeLink program. A unique partnership between Indiana State University and Indiana's Technical Colleges (IVY TECH), DegreeLink allows students to earn postsecondary degrees through a set of "2+2" articulation agreements. Students who earn an associate's degree at IVY TECH can transfer their earned course credit to Indiana State University, then enter ISU with junior-year status. Most of the DegreeLink programs are housed in the School of Technology; these include Electronics Technology, Industrial Supervision, General Industrial Technology, and the most popular program, Human Resource Development (part of the Department of Industrial Technology Education). DegreeLink gives students the opportunity to earn a bachelor's degree without having to move to a four-year, residential college campus. The DegreeLink program enrolled 112 students during the 1998-99 school year, many of whom were classified as "non-traditional" students because they were older or were returning to school while working full time. These students benefited from the unique advantages of multiple delivery methods.
ISU Technology Programs and the Future
The establishment of multiple delivery methods for distance education has thus enabled the School of Technology at Indiana State University to meet more students' needs. The multiple delivery approach has also made it possible to expand degree programs beyond the traditional campus setting, and has made possible innovative initiatives like DegreeLink. Such success has not been without specific challenges, however, such as the professional growth requirements that technology places upon faculty. By necessity, faculty must become experts in Web page design, the transfer of lecture-based courses to an Internet base, the operation of a university computer network, and a myriad of other distance education-related issues. Costs of such training are still being assessed.
In the near future, faculty will have to take on another challenge: examining the issue of quality of instruction. Are all students, regardless of their choice of instructional delivery method, receiving the same preparation, developing the same knowledge and skills, and exiting the programs with the same chance of success? Certainly this is a topic that Indiana State University, and any other institution with similar delivery methods, will need to address in its ongoing endeavors to keep meeting student needs.
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