|by James L. Morrison
[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in
On the Horizon, 1992, 1(4), 5-6. It is posted here with permission
from Jossey Bass
interactive or two-way video, and other electronic delivery systems are being used more
and more frequently to reach distance-learners. The three components to be considered in
selecting delivery systems are programming, faculty competence in dealing with
non-traditional education, and evaluation of the success of student learning. The
University of Wyoming has utilized distance learning for several years and contends that
the success of the program depends on faculty development, class-by-class feedback forms,
midterm feedback session, and end-of-term evaluations by both faculty and students.
With respect to faculty development,
teaching via technology is different from face-to-face teaching. Much additional effort
must go into recruitment of and pre-course discussions with faculty, workshops and
seminars that teach instructional design and facilitation of distance learning programs,
and on-going coaching sessions for instructors.
Systematic formative evaluation feedback
must be gathered to monitor the distance learning progress of students early in the course
and throughout the course in order to make necessary adjustments. Small groups at distance
learning sites provide assessments at the beginning of each session, with a more extensive
midterm session, to keep learning on track.
Summative end-of-term evaluations by
faculty and students are used to help them become more comfortable with the technology and
improve the course in the future. [Shaeffer, J. M. & Farr, C. W. (1993, April).
Evaluation: A key piece in the distance education puzzle. Technological Horizons in
Education, 20 (9), pp. 79-82. Submitted by Sylvia Pierce, Fayetteville (NC) Technical
Two trends, the virtual corporation and distance learning, are inevitably going to
converge in a number of possible combinations. One of the most obvious is the virtual
university. If the campus is an electronic metaphor rather than a physical place, then
its various classrooms and learning resource facilities need not be those of a single
institution. In many respects, when students sit in a library on campus or at home and
search the catalogs of the National Library of Medicine, Ben Gurion University and a
commercially provided news service, they have already entered a virtual library. When they
download, over the Internet, self-study software developed by faculty at another
university, they are even closer to the virtual university. The challenge for
universities, as it is for any other institution, will be whether they can approach
virtuality with the required skills and commitments. Among these are:
- Task specific communication and coordination: This is the ability collectively
and rapidly to establish a vision of the task at hand, to understand the abilities and
limitations of all participating individuals and institutions, and to establish
responsibilities in such a way that each set of strengths is used best.
- Trust and autonomy: Bureaucracy and the unwillingness to delegate authority will
sink any virtual arrangement, because decision times will increase exponentially with
respect to the number of participating institutions.
- Customer centeredness: Once the virtual institution is a commonplace for the
user, competitiveness will dictate that all participants make the user's satisfaction
uppermost. The student or customer will no longer be a captive audience/market.
- Rapid, credible evaluation: This is as important to the virtual corporation as it
is to the distance learning program. For both, it is the measure of quality and of
customer satisfaction, and it is the most effective basis for continued cooperation and
In general, the more effectively we
create the virtual university, the more prepared our students will be for the virtual
We should, however, recognize several
questions. If campuses become electronic metaphors housed in multiple institutions, who
sets the standards? Who grants the degree? What kind of degree?
Other implications: in the virtual
university students can tap into the ongoing discussion of senior researchers and
scholars, and may contribute to these discussions. Will this clarify or further cloud the
research versus teaching controversy? Too, in virtual universities boundaries are even
more permeable; small research teams unconnected (or barely connected via adjunct
appointments) and therefore unencumbered by bureaucratic regulations, may function more
innovatively and efficiently than senior research staffs within the university. How will
established institutions respond to, take advantage of, or react against, these trends.