This paper was originally presented at the UT2000 International Conference in Instructional Technology
Abstract Instructional technologies are impacting the relationship between instructors and students. This essay explores available evidence that shows both positive and negative implications of the use of computer technologies in education today, and analyzes its implications as it pertains both to pedagogical theory and practice. By analyzing experiences of instructors of different universities including that of the author, it concludes that new technologies place higher demands on instructors while transforms, in a positive manner its role from that of the dispenser of knowledge to that of a director of the learning experience, where the student is the main agent of its own success.
Introduction It is safe to say that the use of new media technology for computer mediated instructional environments has changed the characteristics of the instructor-student interaction. There is less agreement, however, in the determination of just what might have changed, or in the determination of what should be maintained from the traditional experience as distance education emerges as a legitimate alternative to classroom based education. This essay addresses this question from two perspectives. One is the perspective of instructors and students across universities in the different countries reflecting on what is happening to instruction with the emergence of computer mediated environments. Materials published in journals and publications in the area of education in the last two years show a growing concern for this issue. Secondly, I would like to introduce my experiences as a professor in a young university that has been designed from scratch as a technology oriented institution.
It is my contention that the role of the instructor changes radically with the coming of computer mediated instructional environments. It transforms the instructorıs role from that of the source and dispenser of knowledge in the classroom to that of the facilitator or monitor of a learning process that encompass multiple elements and interactions. These elements include participatory practice, prior learning experiences and materials and communication with other individuals well beyond the walls of the classroom. A teaching experience mediated by computers has a higher demand on the instructor in preparation time and it requires an important deal of institutional support. This process also expects a new type of learner, self-paced, self-motivated, and skilled in the use of new communication technologies. The learning process is one of critical exploration more than a passive process as it occurs particularly in crowded classrooms. But when the dust of the rush for the new cybernetic horizon settles we will understand that traditional instructors have been right all along: it is not the new technologies but the basic principles of good practice what make learning occur. In the computer mediated instructional environment, only those programs where the basic characteristics of sound teaching, learning and assessment are applied will stand firm (Hsu and Sammons 1998).
Setting up the conditions for the change.
Two questions lead to the discussion of the new interaction between instructors and students in education today. What exactly means that education is changing, and if so, what is the driving force of the change? Today in the US alone, there are more than 6 000 accredited courses offered over the Internet. In Europe, the international Centre for Distance Learning at UK lists hundreds of courses offered around the globe in a database searchable by continent, country, degree or subject. Broadly defined, Distance Education is any learning experience where the professor and student are not in the same place at the same time (Soo and Bonk 1998, Davey 1999). Distance education today is a combination of a number of different strategies and technologies to provide access to education. These techniques vary from the traditional mailing of instructional materials to televised courses, to Web-based instruction over the Internet.
But distance education is by no means a recent invention. It has been traced back to the 19th Century, when institutions in the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States and Germany developed solid programs to provide instruction, mainly to serve travelers around the world. An old timer in education, distance education experiences a tremendous surge in the late 1960, when the United Kingdom Open University is founded. To its credit, OU has become an international model for higher education today, as it has been capable of adapting to its advantage the easiness of communication offered by computer networking technologies. China and Australian models of distance education, just to name two that have been documented, have been directly influenced by the OU (Ding 1999) The Open University is now on a third generation progression (Thorpe 1999) which combines different technologies for instructional delivery.
The phenomenal push for distance education in the last few years does not come however from any particular educational institutions, but from the private sector, particularly from the computer industry. Software and Hardware companies soon realized the potential market for instruction over the Internet and an extraordinary number of instructional venues have been developed for it. The space of academic instruction traditionally held by Universities is now a contested space where companies are daring potential students to see beyond that tradition and to dare trying new ways of achieving education. Students that otherwise see no place for them in a traditional four year university, for example, feel welcome and liberated in distance education programs that offer quality materials and flexible instructional conditions. Publishers are now hiring reputable scholars to develop courses by contract, companies work as clearinghouses and/or point of access for course delivery. The universities, tied to financial commitments and fixed expenses seem to be now ready to compete for such open space, particularly concerned with the ramifications of increasing competition for enrollment, and clearly aware of the possibilities of new markets open with the Internet. For public education, the emergence of the World Wide Web has provided a new way of reaching out for new students with the same or less resources (Cohen 1999: 4).
The Internet and the World Wide Web refer to interconnections between networks of computers. Originally developed as a tool for intelligence and defense, the project leading to the emergence of the Internet was intended to develop a protocol to interlink networks of various kinds. The Internet was embraced by universities as a liberating and refreshing public domain instrument. Because of its non-hierarchical structure, and because of its relatively inexpensive accessibility. Today the backbone of the Internet has left behind the original networks where it emerged to become mostly the kingdom of large private corporations. The private enterprise soon realize and cashed in the outstanding ability of the computer mediated communication systems to reach out. It is important to acknowledge at the same time that the WWW is feared by many not so much as a window open to the world, but as a device invading the privacy of the individuals and families, that are now open and vulnerable to different influences. Yet, despite all of its imperfections and pitfalls, the World Wide Web and its very real potential to offer access to education to many more is still a powerful driving force moving faculty, staff, and administrators in the universities to eagerly participate in such brave new world. The so called digital divide is a harsh reality as the increase in technological opportunities in the developed country solidify paradoxically in less opportunities for the poor.
Here we stand today, only a handful of years after the popularization of the Internet with the introduction of Mosaic, driven and interested in participating. But universities and teachers need to reconsider the driving forces and demands of the commercial domains over the public domain. What do they see in it, and what are the institutions pushing faculty and students to do. What are the pedagogical implications of the use of this technologies a-critically?
Driving teachers and students towards use of new technologies
There is growing evidence that on-line computer mediated instruction is here to stay. Recent studies show how rapidly US colleges are marrying distance education as the only viable option to serve the growing demand for education (Cohen 1999, McKinney 1999). This tendency is seen in all most other region of the world. Canadian universities have successfully created a vast network of interrelationships as documented recently by Laferriere (1999). Some universities have started strategies of partnership with media companies in many different ways, as they feel compelled to have presence in a competitive market and find the advantages of distance education too important to be missed. Distance education can bring a great deal of flexibility in programs that otherwise will tend to be regional and isolated (McLendon 1999). Distance Education in Latin American countries has been for a number of years now the only way to deliver content rich materials to rural areas, and remarkable programs for Distance and Distributed Education have emerged. An example of excellence in distance education programs in the continent is the Monterrey Technology Instituteıs virtual university, offering courses throughout Latin America with a program fully accredited in the US. Other important venues of international cooperation have emerged whereby programs and institutes become truly international, in the sense that both faculty and students, and even administration and ownership are no longer confined to the boundaries of national states. This true internationalization of education has a real potential to enhance and create new materials and possibilities for education essentially different from the pre-Internet distance education programs.
But just as a large number of individuals and institutions praise distance education for its advantages, serious issues of concern have emerge as distance education becomes a central practice in Universities around the world. What does this new technology do to education? An initial, often well grounded concern, is that the quality of education suffers to the embellishment of high graphic environments with questionable pedagogical value. A large number of companies offering courses have been flagged as "degree mills" and a fierce battle is taking place between traditional institutions and the many of new educational ventures that populate the Internet as alternatives for distance education. What makes then distance education reliable? Traditional institutions of education will and do rely upon their established reputation to lure students to their de programs. But the truth of the matter is that such reputation alone does not necessarily provide certainty of a positive educational experience, and many new institutions are emerging today a true alternative to the traditional teaching practice
No matter what the medium, quality education needs to be lead by sound basic pedagogical principles. Such principles include the encouragement of contact between faculty and students, the development of reciprocity and cooperation among students, the use of active learning strategies, the procurement of prompt feedback, the communication of high expectations in learning, and the understanding and respect for diverse learning styles. Can these principles be practiced in a computer-mediated environment? I believe so and educators are today exploring ways in which this can be achieved. In different universities we can find individual faculty and curriculum development teams applying concepts borrowed from different theories to enhance distance education practices. That is the case of transactional distance theory that supports the contention that pedagogical principles of distance education can be achieved and even enhanced with the use of new Web based technologies (Jafee 1997, Chen 1998). Educators have indeed borrowed from this and other general theoretical formulations to design and carry out instructional programs for computer-mediated distance education. But despite the fact that computer-mediated environments are being created with principles and practices borrowed from traditional education, it is important to acknowledge that there is a clear difference between outcomes defined for traditional versus distance education (Merisotis 1999, Heinecke et al. 1999).
The Web based versus the traditional classroom fares differently as the resources available to the student are substantially different both in nature and volume. Even though the studies today are inconclusive as to demonstrating whether students do better in one or the other systems (Jones 1999, Dehoney and Reeves 1999), it is clear that the nature of engagement is different. In some instances distance education courses fail to engage students. In other cases, the technology component of the experience is either overwhelming or out of the reach of the same students the system is expected to serve. In many more cases distance education is both satisfactory and the only opportunity for students to access education.
Teaching styles such as those supported in a constructivist approach may also be constrained in a computer mediated environment (Bednar and Michael 1999). Computer software packages becoming the standard for course delivery (very much so as MS Word and WordPerfect became the main word processors utilized by all, tend to homogenize courses and to limit the practice to a limited number of options and resources available to the instructor. The expression "canned courses," refers to this rigidity imposed by the software to the instructor, making of them more rigid and difficult to change according to certain events and conditions that always occur as the instruction takes place in a given term (Tillman 1998).
Regardless of the theory and techniques at use in any given institution, distance education requires a consideration of such practice and its adaptation to a different environment in the basic areas of instruction, design, delivery and assessment. In design, instructors tend to both be better prepared in terms of the overall organization of instructional materials, but also tend to compartmentalized in distance education in different sets or units that sometimes is hard for students to identify as a whole. But the clear distribution of work by units in web-based instruction also brings a sense of control for the student (Bowman 1999). Compartmentalizing courses can be some times troubling for instructors with a teaching style where the abstraction needs but the non-linear. In this respect it is important to acknowledge the possibilities offered by hyperlinks, making of this web-based instruction a very flexible ground. But it implies a heavy load in instructional design that classroom based education does not impose on the instructor necessarily.
It is certain that Web- based instruction means a higher overall load to the instructors, but it also brings higher flexibility for them during the term. Instructors who have completed their instructional Web sites spend less time preparing for individual sessions during the semester and more time monitoring the process of students and communicating (See table 1). It is clear that distance education, if anything, implies a heavy initial investment both institutional and individual that needs to be pondered as the design implies additional factors affecting the outcome of distance education (Boaz et al. 1999). The Web has been re-created as an opportunity for different styles and discourses (Blair 1997) but before the instructor can create that new practice he/she needs to be able to deal with the very practical issues of reliability: the message "web page can not be found" kills the charm and expectations of your distance learners.
Reliability, Interactivity and Assessment
Reliability, interactivity and assessment are the three key issues that I believe need to be given careful consideration when determining the new role of the teacher / student interaction in a computer mediated environment.
For a distance education to be successful the first issue has to do with reliability, that is the consistency with which the instructor and student "meet" in a structured event where learning can an do takes place. In the traditional classroom this presence is given in the physical proximity between instructors and students in the same place and time. Distance learners often have to face the frustration of imperfect links and failed transmissions. Despite the presence of problems, Video Technology is without a doubt a very effective way of creating the sense of a shared space. Universities and instructors arriving now to the use of computer mediated instructional environments are generally doing a good job in terms of borrowing from other's experiences, avoiding costly trials and errors (Correl and Carlson 1998).
For the most part Web based instruction is a system that has proven consistent and reliable. We must admit, however, that the direct contact with the student is, by definition, mediated. On the other hand, the face-to-face communication is often far from perfect in the traditional classroom as well, and there is a lot of idealization as technology undergoes scrutiny (Roszak 1998). Except for graduate seminars that tend to have a reduced number of students, instruction in most large universities tends to be impersonal. As a matter of fact, interactivity is often augmented when instructors add bulletin boards and other tools that structure communication among students (Lever-Duffy 1999, Freitas at al. 1998).
The third most important issue to be addressed by universities in distance education is that of assessment. There are positive and negative considerations related to on-line assessment practices, and programs and instructors will never be satisfied unless students can actually be assessed under controlled and carefully monitored conditions. There is a lot of ground to be broken in this area, but I believe it is no coincidence that the UK Open University makes such a determined emphasis on independent learning and on the integrity of the students. (Converge 1999) Assessment needs to be designed so that it is not only summative, as in the case of a comprehensive or final exam, but so that it provides a sense of level at the beginning of the learning experience (diagnostics) and of progressive acquisition of the knowledge, skills and competencies, or formative assessment. This implies often changes in teaching cultures (Barajas et al. 1998) and proactive mentoring of faculty in the use of new instructional technologies (McElmeel 1997).
Faculty / Student points of view
The point of view of faculty regarding these changes in role and workload is as varied as it could be expected. Iıd like to start with the résistance. Roszak has warned that "instructors falling back on flashy software as a convenient classroom entertainment are wasting their students' time and demeaning their profession." (1998: 284). More importantly perhaps, he has questioned the true ability of new technologies to reach those students that could benefit the most with access to education, and pointing at a hidden agenda of dependency created in favor of the always-expanding computer industry.
These questions raised by Roszak and others are important reminders of the very specific nature and ramifications of changes in education today, but have not been considered insurmountable. Colleges and institutions are devising ways of assessing the instructional programs effectiveness, as well as the worth of the instructor-student contact in Distance Learning (CCC Academic Senate 1999) How will the future affect the practice? People creating these instructional environments tend to be optimistic about its overall advantages (Welsh 1999, Daugherty and Funke 1998). Instructors write often about the different stages as they participate in computer-mediated experiences sometimes portraying technology as an aid for instructions (Stone 1999) other as a pathway of stages of virtuality from confusion to illumination (McGonigle and Eggers 1998). The general sense is that you better be prepared because this change is here to stay (Hodgson 1999).
Student perceptions in distance education tend to be positive in a social constructive environment (Jianf and Ting 1998, Chao 1998) but the main concern is often the actual ability to access the materials. A very interesting note came to my attention last year when a group of students in UCLA reported their instructor missing, after three or four weeks of instruction (MAM 2000). The case certainly speaks about the effectiveness of the system to engage a group at a distance, but is reflective of the very real danger of disconectiveness that distance education has. Recent surveys exploring student attitude emphasize the importance of building robust systems to serve students, but this I read not only as a speed fast server but more importantly as a dedicated group of pedagogues behind the screens (Everett 1998, Hudson et al. 1997). Student satisfaction has been solidly established in recent research literature (Rhodes 1998). The key has been a carefully structured environment for collaboration (Cowie 1999).
Issues: copyrights, and the double burden
What other aspects affect the instructor/student interaction? It is clear in recent literature that two are the main obstacles to be still resolved as the universities develop their distance education programs. The first one is the copyrights of materials develop by instructors and the second the additional burden that computer mediated instruction lays on the shoulders of instructors. The issue of the copyrights is no small matter. In recent times, the public universities of the state of California participated in a failed project to create a consortium for education with the main software and hardware companies in the US. In a very broad summary, the consortium was envisioned to provide access to the best programs in the educational system of California with the best technology available. The project came to a screeching halt over the issue of authorship rights of faculty, as they perceived the conditions of the project as taking away their rights over the content developed for the different courses that would be offered through this consortium. Resisting control over copyrights is seen crucial for faculty to further develop their scholarship, to maintain their jobs, and to preserve their legal rights over their authored materials.
The practice today tends to be of two kinds. One is that of companies hiring qualified scholars to develop materials for courses. The companies pay for that work and the authorship of the materials is bought at that one time. An alternative arrangement consists of the instructor maintaining rights over the course materials but not over the media and design provided (usually by their universities) to offer the course as a distance education one. While I see as a positive trend new spaces open to young scholars in distance education companies buying courses, it is clear that a trend that utilizes part-time low wage instructors on a term contract basis should certainly be of little interest to an instructor taking care of his or her own development as scholar. It is also important for institutions offering these distance ed degrees to keep in mind that the quality of the programs ultimately depends on the commitment to its continued enhancement that you usually find in career scholars -- tenured or tenure track professors.
The second important aspect that needs to be addressed carefully by institutions as programs are moved into a distance education mode is that of the load of instructors. Most institution with complete programs on line have (a) created a task force to create the basic profile of the on-line or distance education degree program and (b) tutored faculty in order to develop course materials for computer-mediated delivery. Even when a strong team of production is carrying most of the load for the production of the course (digitizing materials, writing code, graphic design, layout) the instructor needs to spend a good deal of time re-structuring its materials to fit the model of instruction delivery designed for that particular program. Number of assignments, length of lectures, volume of materials, etc. which involves a time consuming process particularly intense. Instructors often resent that such additional investment may positively reflect the ability of the program to capture FTE, but it does not provides any immediate benefit to them. The option has been to provide incentive to faculty for development of new materials. Often this is done in the form of instructional development grants that have been a succesful incentive in the University of California System, for example. In many other cases it is only the initiative of faculty who have seen the potential of the new media as an instructional tool that has motivated them to invest the extra time in the creation of such materials. Often, institutions fail to acknowledge and reward such effort and this in turn generates resentment and lack of participation in further development of individual on-line instruction efforts into complete programs (OıSullivan 1999, Williams et al, 1999). The reluctant, the fearful and the buffeted (Steinger 1998) see this as a confirmation of the inadequacy of computer mediated instruction.
We can think of the Internet as an invention in many ways comparable to the press. The press brought a revolution of tremendous proportions. It allow knowledge in Europe to leave the monasteries and reach a broad audience in an emerging humanist society. The press impacted the religious and civil powers in ways that Guttemberg could have not imagined. The hand writers were condemned to extinction. I want to propose that they did not disappeared but became the publishers. And that is my message to the traditional instructor. It is not that computers will exterminate instructors, but they will certainly acquire a new role as we role into the new century. Instructors will endure, but their look will be slightly different.
As the competition for distance learner will become fierce, universities must be prepared to support faculty to do what they do better, curriculum development and research and consequent teaching, while the packaging of these instructional materials should be made take off the shoulders of faculty. To achieve industry standard quality to be able to effectively compete with the many organizations private and public is central. Likewise, private endeavors should invest a considerable budget to attract renowned faculty which will in turn bring quality and accreditation to their enterprises. Some companies like Archipelago are hiring faculty to develop a course and paying a certain amount to own the materials. Faculty are this way maquiladores. Faculty become more effective when they continue in the traditional classroom setting to improve and actualize their materials.
The new role of the instructor implies also greater sensitivity and ability to deal with issues such as gender differences, underserved populations and diversity, as they intersect the disciplinary areas of expertise in their courses.(Jarvis 1999, Barrett 1999, Kim 1999). Instructors will no longer be serving a captive audience but will be dealing with larger learning communities that will have to be engaged by the relevance and actuality of the issues addressed in the different courses (CLN 1999).
Educators have traditionally been imagined as people with a particular dedication to the enhancement of the quality of life of the peoples of the communities where they work and live. Today, as the commercial domain driven Internet strengthens its presence in the world education seems no longer to be the great equalizer (Roach 1999). The commercialization of education is a fact today as it is a fact the increasing role and weight of corporations in education (Noble 1998). Regardless of the implications of such change, the Universities and / or the institutions granting degrees should invest and rely upon its top fields of expertise to attract full time enrollment and to make its distance distributed education programs economically viable. For example, fisheries administration in Iceland can be a program of excellence to be offered not only locally or to European students, but globally. Distance education can be effectively combined with actual practice in the field in collaboration with strong exchange programs whereby students from all over the world can go through a program and undergo an intensive training session in situ. A third world country may not be able to support a large number of students to live abroad, but it can certainly support short stays for a larger number of students. This stay will allow the university to assess thoroughly its students a major hurdle in distance education. By focusing on its programs of excellence universities can sustain broader programs of distance education that can well serve the local population.
To make distance education sustainable faculty eager and capable of investing in distance education should be actively hired, rewarded and supported by the institution as they become the leaders for quality and excellence of programs. Faculty rewarded will be eager to invest in a non-traditional line without fear of being rejected by other faculty investing in a traditional mediums of scholarship (Nixon and Rodgers 1998)
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About the Author:
Juan Jose Gutierrez is assessment specialist and a founding faculty member at the Monterey Institute of Graduate studies at California State University, Monterey Bay. He has his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He was consultant to the National Hispanic University for development of Distance Distributed Education Programs. His publications include "Web Based Assessment and Self Assessment Instruments" and "Research and Development Website for the creation of the Center for Rural Development in Mexico."
He can be contacted at Juan_Gutierrez@monterey.edu, Ph: 831 582-3520 or Fax: 831 582-3566