A Paper Presented to the Southern Association of Agricultural Scientists
Agricultural Communications Section
University of Florida
The rapid growth of distance learning technologies designed to deliver academic programs has had a major influence on most facets of higher education over the past decade. However, as institutions of higher learning have come to embrace the increasing use of technology in the classroom and at a distance, it has become apparent that providing the tools is only half the battle. Certainly, the number of faculty innovators on the cutting edge of using technology in the classroom has grown in recent years. But providing new services for instructors who want to develop more technologically sophisticated course projects, but may have limited background in the high-end technologies and instructional design expertise typically needed to do so, is often a challenging and complex task. And while instructional designers can avail themselves of formal course preparation or immerse themselves in on-the-job training, faculty instructors often enter the technology-mediated ! cl! assroom with little in the way of preparation and training specifically designed to facilitate the distance learning experience.
Agricultural institutions and the land-grant system, as a whole, have an especially important stake in this issue, due to their institutions' emphasis on utilization of course-enhancing technologies and distance education methods as efficient mechanisms to deliver formal and non-formal education. As one of the tenets of their mission to provide "life-long learning", the 75+ land-grant universities and other agricultural institutions have been at the forefront in developing extensive infrastructures to facilitate distance education delivery of courses to a diverse community of learners, both traditional and non-traditional (Miller & Pilcher, 1999). Most of these academic programs involve technological delivery of distance education coursework in a variety of majors at both the graduate and undergraduate levels using such tools ! as! teleconferencing, videotape, and the Web.
However, the efforts of colleges of agriculture at universities across the country to develop systematic and strategically focused distance education development plans have not always kept pace with the evolution of new delivery technologies. As might be expected, technological infrastructure alone is not necessarily enough to encourage faculty members to teach at a distance. Providing incentives, instructional design support, and training on how to use emerging technologies has been shown to be essential to creating successful distance education training and development programs.
Indeed, many researchers have identified that new teaching techniques are necessary in the distance education environment and that training is essential for instructors to be able to use these new techniques (Thach, 1993; Willis, 1993; Wolcott, 1993). King (1999) said distance education training helps provide faculty with a "reserv! oi! r of ideas" to teach and encourage critical thinking skills in students (p. 170). Moskal, Martin, and Foshee (1997) indicated that faculty at Central Florida colleges and universities have an interest in learning to use a new educational technology, given sufficient time and resources to do so. Few of the faculty members involved in the study, however, had any formal training in instructional design, indicating they would perhaps benefit from more training in this area, specifically as it relates to distance education. The authors stated, "University faculty receive little or no formal training in the art of teaching; such training may improve teaching in both distance education and traditional courses" (p. 20). Spotts (1999) indicated that if instructors are expected to use instructional technologies - including distance education technologies - they need technical support and training support. But what should a distance education faculty training program loo! k ! like? What topics should be covered, and how should training be conducted?
In 1998, the University of Florida's (UF) agricultural distance education program, which has been in existence since the early 1990s, initiated an interactive two-way audio and video videoconferencing network composed of ten sites throughout Florida. Currently, nine sites are located at agricultural research centers, and one is housed in the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences' Communication Services facilities on the university's campus in Gainesville, Fla. (IFAS encompasses UF's agricultural teaching, research, and extension programs.) In addition to videoconferencing, distance education instructors at UF also have the opportunity to use a variety of other interactive media for their courses, including online Web-based applications such as discussion forums, bulletins boards, chat, and multimedia.
In late 2000, the associate dean of UF's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) approved a plan to develop a comprehensive training program ! fo! r faculty teaching courses at a distance. The idea of a training and development program had been suggested in the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences' Distance Education Task Force Report (Telg, et. al, 1997). Up to this time, although individual faculty training courses, primarily focused on technology training, were available at both the college and the university level, a structured training plan had not been developed. The project, primarily conducted during the spring and summer 2001 semesters, was designed to develop a comprehensive distance education training program, focused on faculty development for the college. A secondary objective was to develop enhanced support information for distance education students themselves.
The products generated during the spring semester as a result of this project included the following:
· Three studies to help determine how a CALS faculty training program should be structured. (Research findings of these studi! es! are outlined below.)
· An interactive Web site and CD-ROM detailing the instructional design and technological elements necessary to develop an effective distance education course. The site and CD-ROM also include video segments from instructors who have taught distance education classes. The Web site for the project - titled the Distance Education Faculty Training (DEFT) Program - is found at http://training.ifas.ufl.edu/deft.
· A revised and updated IFAS Videoconferencing System Handbook to be used by site facilitators. (This is in a print-reproducible format accessible from the interactive Web site and CD-ROM.)
· A training plan for suggested courses/workshops for faculty to learn more about distance education topics. Many of these workshops currently are offered through IFAS Communication Services and UF's Center for Instructional Technology and Training.
Given the above, the purpose and objective of this study was to utilize a case study approach! t! o describe and document the DEFT project elements and findings, in an attempt to explore its evolution and provide a model for development of similar programs at other institutions engaged in distance education. As such, the methodology utilized was an exploratory case study research design that combined field analysis and data collection in the form of preliminary survey data (Berg, 2001).
Survey Research Findings
Specific project elements evolved from the findings of three descriptive survey studies conducted in spring 2000. Essentially needs assessments, the three studies were conducted in attempt to benchmark other land-grant institutions' practices, as well as gather information from institutional stakeholders (UF/CALS faculty and students), necessary to develop a training program at UF. The research objectives of the three surveys were as follows:
· Survey distance education developers in colleges of agriculture at other land-grant universities (n = 14 institutions) to determine how they conduct faculty development/training.
· Survey on- and off-campus CALS faculty (n = 65) to determine what they want to know more about - in terms of distance education theory, practice and technology - and what distance education/technology-related training they would like to receive,
· Survey currently enrolled students in CALS distance education cours! es! (n = 32) to determine what they liked/disliked about the distance education experience and what they would have liked to have known about the distance education experience.
Summaries of the findings from the distance education developers and CALS faculty studies follow:
Land-grant Universities' Distance Education Developers
· The primary form that distance education training takes is a formal, regularly scheduled prescribed course or set of training materials (46.2%). Training also takes the form of informal, "brown-bag-style" meetings (15.4%) and a combination of formal, informal, and self-paced (CD-ROM-, Web-, or video-based) programs (38.4 %). No training program is entirely self-paced.
· Program content across all universities surveyed consists of instructional design methods; training on the use of particular technologies, such as videoconferencing, and training on the use of specific software. Technology training emphasizes computer mult! im! edia, digital photography, and videoconferencing. Software training focuses on presentation software (PowerPoint) and Internet-related functions: Web page development/editing (FrontPage and Netscape Composer), Web course tools (WebCT), and interactive online elements (chat rooms and electronic bulletin boards). More than half of the respondents noted that the most important technology or software for faculty to master is Web course tools.
· All respondents noted that if faculty members at their universities choose to teach a distance education course, they are not required to take distance education training prior to teaching the course; training is completely voluntary.
· Training is offered at most institutions at basic, intermediate, and advanced levels or at the basic and intermediate levels.
· Respondents indicated that the length of the training program was quite varied. No programs are full days or self-directed/self-paced. They consist of two- to four-! ho! ur workshops; short, multiple sessions held once a week over many weeks; or personal sessions at the faculty member's discretion.
· Instructional designers - with no faculty appointment - conduct most of the distance education training at respondents' universities.
· Most universities have a distance education coordinator for the entire university. Universities also have a facility on-campus where faculty can get one-on-one help on distance education training. At most universities, the facility does not charge for its assistance.
· Training also is shared across the institution; in few instances is training done solely in one unit or college. Although most universities have a distance education coordinator or center, distance education training is not coordinated by one person or center. Multiple training programs are offered by different colleges across the university, without coordination from a central location.
· Respondents indicate that their institu! ti! ons provide incentives for faculty who teach distance education courses. Incentives include monetary compensation, teaching assistant support (during the development of and implementation of a distance education course), release time (reduced course load) to develop a distance education course, software, and hardware.
· Respondents indicate that training has resulted in improved teaching methods and better interaction with students being taught at a distance.
· Sixty-five faculty responded, of which 53 said they would participate in a distance education training program. (The remaining results are based on the 53 respondents who indicated they would participate in a training program.)
· Nineteen (35.8%) said the training should take the form of formal training - a regularly scheduled prescribed course or set of training modules; four (7.5%) said informal sessions - "brown-bag-type" meetings; 24 (45.3%) said self-paced/self-dir! ec! ted (CD-ROM-, videotape-, or Web-based); and six indicated "other," including a combination of formal, informal, and self-paced training.
· When asked which of these formats most appeals to them, 12 (22.2%) said formal, four (7.4%) said informal, 20 (37%) said self-paced, and 15 (27.8%) said a combination of self-paced, informal, and formal formats.
· Faculty would like training sessions that occur occasionally and are held over several weeks or are self-directed. Few wanted day-long or full-week sessions. The 23 faculty members not on the main university campus overwhelmingly said that they would prefer a self-paced training program, by CD-ROM, the Web, or videotape.
· Faculty were almost evenly split when asked if the training should be mandatory, with 51.9% saying it should be mandatory, and 48.1% saying it should be voluntary.
· Faculty indicated that training should include instructional design, technology use, and software use. When asked ! wh! ich technology or software was most important for faculty to master, respondents indicated that Web-related software was most important.
· In terms of adeptness with the primary technology they plan to use to teach at a distance, 34 said they were beginners, 15 considered themselves intermediate, and only three considered themselves advanced.
· Faculty members said, if given an option, they would prefer to receive graduate assistant support as an incentive to completing distance education training.
· Faculty members believe the university receives benefits - better interaction with students at a distance, better teaching methods, and more students accessing courses result from distance education training - as a result of faculty completing training.
· The primary benefit for individual faculty members to complete training ranged from being able to reach more people, reducing their teaching load, and making a greater impact across the state to issues of per! so! nal satisfaction and professional development - "being more comfortable with the technology," "promoting education," "improving my abilities teach in general, and in distance education in particular," "increasing my skill^Åmeans job satisfaction," and "allowing me more opportunity for professional development."
· Regarding the primary, critical issue to distance education training, faculty provided two primary answers: lack of time and resources. Faculty members also indicated that incentives, motivation, and control over the distance education class were concerns.
The DEFT Program - A Self Paced Hybrid CD-ROM Faculty Training Tool
From the results of the survey, it was recognized that faculty workload demands and time considerations would be a key challenge in terms of developing an effective training program that faculty could utilize efficiently. Initially, meetings with project team participants resulte! d ! in the idea of developing self-paced training that faculty could access at their own time and pace, supplemented by voluntary face-to-face training which could be taken at the faculty members' discretion. For maximum utility and faculty access, it was decided that both CD-ROM and Web versions of the instructional materials would be developed.
Development of the DEFT Program was assisted by the fact that project elements were built on the foundation of a previous text-based faculty distance education handbook, which had been written and revised by the co-authors over the past five years. Project development was divided between the faculty co-authors who wrote and updated the existing text materials, and the IFAS Communication Services' Distance Education Unit, which handled technical development for the Web and CD-ROM versions.
The DEFT Program was designed to be a comprehensive Web and CD-ROM based training tool for faculty engaged in teaching at a! d! istance. The information was arranged in a modular format, so faculty could access and complete the components most needed in their distance education development. (See Figure 1.) Specific content areas included:
· Instructional/course design
· Course development
· Distance education technologies
· Copyright issues
· Library resources and campus help
· Suggested training courses available around campus
· Videoconferencing network handbook for site facilitators
Figure 1. Home page screen from the DEFT Program.
Interactive course "shell" format. The project team members agreed the training materials should be
designed in interactive modules, so faculty could have a "finished shell" of a course template when they completed the training. The DEFT Program layout, therefore, was designed with online form boxes, so faculty members taking the training could input data (course goals and objectives, media! p! lanned for the course, etc.) as they interacted with the online materials and then have the data sent to them electronically. (See Figure 2.)
Figure 2. DEFT Program online form box.
Recipes for Success. The Recipes for Success were adapted form the text-based faculty handbook. Initially developed in the handbook as a series of questions to which faculty could "fill in the blanks" with their answers, the interactive format of the DEFT allowed for this technique to be realized even more successfully. Faculty users could respond to the set of interactive questions with their answers, which would be collected into an online database that could be compiled and disseminated later to the faculty members via electronic mail, or printed out in hard copy form.
Teaching Points. The Teaching Points were developed as a set of digitized video clips showing interviews with fellow faculty colleagues who commented on their experiences with d! is! tance education, as well as provided guidance and tips for how to use the distance environment successfully.
Distribution and Reaction. IFAS Communication Services mastered the CD and made copies available to faculty who expressed an interest in teaching a course at a distance in late summer 2001. In addition to the self-paced training, a face-to-face training plan was outlined and is located on the distance education training Web site and CD-ROM. Faculty members are encouraged to take the listed courses.
Initial reaction to the DEFT Program has been very favorable, with featured faculty calling it a "great resource," college administrators saying it "was needed," and UF faculty outside the college commenting, "This is something UF has needed. It can be seen as a model." Based on the reaction, a decision has been made to implement the DEFT university-wide, an extension of the initial project which has received full institu! ti! onal support. In addition, the university has agreed to fund a second project for development of a hybrid CD-ROM focused on providing support services and information to all UF distance education students. This project's design will be similar to the DEFT, incorporating Web and CD, as well as digital video "teliographies" of interviews with distance education students, links to support service information, online forms etc. Development of the "virtual distance education student survivor" CD is currently underway. As in the DEFT project, the conceptual foundation will be provided through analysis of the results of the survey of UF/CALS distance education students, using data that was collected for the initial project.
Discussion and Recommendations
The results from the distance education developers' study showed that while IFAS Communication Services' Distance Education Unit's faculty training and development was on-track with other similar units across the country, UF faculty needed to be able to access the services more efficiently and effectively. The primary objective of this project was therefore to develop training materials for UF/CALS faculty interested in developing distance education courses that would meet this need. That objective was met for UF with the development and implementation of the DEFT Program. However, to adequately provide effective distance education courses to students, training materials and programs must be in a constant state of evaluation and improvement. New technologies call for continual updating of materials. To this end, it is important for all of those interested in distance education faculty training and development to continue to support faculty ! wh! o teach courses at a distance. As has been noted in the project's research findings, incentives are important to faculty. And since faculty members' time and resources are in short supply, support - especially in the form of support that maximizes limited time and provides flexibility in terms of access and content - may be worth considering for many, if not all, faculty who teach distance education courses.
Based on the experience of researching and developing the DEFT Program, it seems clear that emphasis on training and support services, for both faculty and students, will continue to be an important need for institutions of higher learning engaged in distance education programs. Developing sound strategic planning and creative and innovative training and support services is, however, an ongoing challenge, one that could undoubtedly benefit from the collaborative sharing of good ideas. Finding an effective and efficient forum for such cross-institutional coll! ab! oration could be a logical next step in terms of advancing the capacity for agricultural institutions to continue to achieve programmatic success in their distance education efforts.
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