Vol. 16 : No. 3< >
Editors Note: Experience is dispelling many myths about
learning from the World Wide Web. Students throughout the world benefit by
distance education. In rural schools it greatly increases the resources
available for student research and independent learning. In this instance, the
students’ educational opportunities were almost doubled, leading to
improvement in academic achievement.
Distance Education in Rural Public Schools
Jason L. Hicks
With technology becoming more and more user friendly, educators have been using computers, IETV, and the Internet to teach students in new and interesting ways. Rural schools benefit from distance education in the fact that it allows those schools to give students the same opportunities as larger, more urban schools. Students were allowed to participate in more complex and diverse subjects. In some instances, those subjects were taught from other public schools or from regional universities. Drawbacks such as technical difficulties and fear of technology by educators and community members hindered the widespread use of distance education. The hypothesis that there was an improvement in academic achievement for rural school students who learned through distance education was accepted.
Oklahoma schools found that student academic needs were not being met. Benson (1998) noted that a lack of educational opportunities has been problematic for rural schools. He stated that “test scores were abysmal, communities were losing faith in their schools, and with students performing well below their ability, teacher morale had hit an all-time low” (p. 42).
It has been noted (Benson, 1998, p. 42) that the lack of available courses and credits has denied rural students the opportunity to grow as individuals and attend the college of their choice. Rural school administrators, under pressure from the community and state, found a way to give their students the chance to compete with bigger school districts. To be able to provide the courses and credits necessary, rural administrators turned to distance learning.
This study determined if distance education prepared rural school students for academic success.
There is an improvement in academic achievement for rural school students who learn through distance education.
Review of Literature
The Dover Public School had toyed with the idea of using distance learning for some time (Benson, 1998). It was finally decided that distance education would be the tool necessary to meet the needs of the students. Dover and eight other school districts created a network to link students and instructors to other classrooms.
According to Benson (1998) a series of problems, unique to distance education, was overcome by administrators in the schools. With no adult in the receiving classroom, discipline became one of the more important factors of distance education. Administrators reported that there were no problems with discipline in these classrooms, due partially to the fact that the technology used stimulated the students and held their attention to the subject. “Moreover, students hesitate to cause problems in front of students from other schools” (p. 42).
Homework and the way that the instructor would receive it was another problem that arose. The fax machine was the answer. The students would send homework to the teacher via fax. Cheating was a concern in that teachers believed that students would simply copy and fax each other’s homework. Placing a camera focused on the fax machine solved that problem.
Other problems arose such as community and teacher acceptance. Both of these problems were solved by a simple open house of the classrooms used in distance education.
A perspective of how to get students to become interested in education has been shifting to a more student-centered system. “For many years, marketers have recognized that the way to improve satisfaction levels and commitment in consumers is to identify desired traits and tailor their products to include those characteristics” (Phillips & Peters, 1999, p. 351).
Educators have finally realized that they can no longer just offer the courses and expect people to enroll in the classes. They have realized that education is a product and that they must sell the product to the student. In the study by Phillips and Peters (p. 354), two groups were set up to identify and evaluate the needs of distance education students. One, the control group, was made up of traditional, on-campus students. The other nontraditional group was made up of off-campus students from a rural area. Surveys were handed out to the students in the off-campus group to compile what their needs in education were.
One of the concerns by the faculty was that the off-site students would not have personal interaction with the instructor (Phillips & Peters, 1999, p. 353). The faculty was fearful that the student would not receive feedback as often or as quickly as the on-site students, lowering the motivation of the students. The instructors were afraid that there would be a lack of satisfaction in the education process (Phillips & Peters, 1999, p. 353). With that lack of satisfaction, instructors were afraid that attentiveness would fall and the students would simply not be happy with their education.
The satisfaction of the students was a big factor in the determination of the course. Each student (or customer) has a different idea of education (or product) outcome. With different ideas of how the class should be taught and what they should get out of the course, each student’s needs must be met or student and instructor must reach a compromise.
In their study (Phillips and Peters, 1999) the on-campus students had access to the professor most of the time, though the professor would sometimes travel to the off-site locations to teach. The results of the study found that the on-site students felt the “professor was less accessible because of the style and technique adjustments made to accommodate the remote students” (p. 355). The study found that if there was a continued rise in the number of remote students, then on-site students might grow increasingly dissatisfied with their education.
Universities have continued to change their approach in getting students interested and enrolled in distance education courses. Whether these courses were taught in a traditional classroom or by distance education, the needs and/or wants of the students must be taken into account and the marketing strategy must be changed to accommodate those needs or wants.
“In an effort to collaborate with Broward County teachers, Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and the Department of Educational Technology and Research in South Florida have implemented an innovative program to encourage public school teachers to embrace the new technology and utilize it in their daily curricula” (Ariza, Knee & Ridge, 2000, p. 22). This program allowed teachers to gain a master’s degree in educational technology so that they could help their cohorts in their schools become more familiar with the uses of technology in the classroom. The group was more confident because they knew that they had teammates to help them with any problems that may arise.
The teachers themselves took courses using distance education from FAU so that they would not have to travel each night to the university. Administrators, lacking knowledge, started to lag behind the teachers as they became more familiar with the vernacular of technology. Administrators soon began to rely on others to explain exactly what was happening with technology and could not keep up with the teachers. Many administrators also took the courses in order to become more knowledgeable and understand exactly what was happening in their schools.
The professor of the master courses had to be certain to allow additional support to these teachers because many of them only had a rudimentary knowledge of computers. The professor also followed a group of teachers from one semester to another, allowing a familiarity in the classroom in the form of the professor. The teachers were more comfortable with this because the professor knew the learning styles of the teachers and the teachers knew the teaching style of the professor.
The classes were mixed with those of limited knowledge of technology and those who were more advanced. This allowed “teachers to do what they do best – teach each other” (Ariza et al., 2000, p. 26).
At the time of publication of the article the teachers were a third of the way done with the program. There was a twenty percent dropout rate that occurred in the program, with various reasons given as to why. The most common of those was a conflict of time. However, the teachers who stuck with the program were very committed to the program and each other.
The integration of technology and media into classes did improve student learning. However, the teacher must be trained correctly for these results to take place. The teachers have continued to incorporate the use of the Internet and web pages in their classrooms.
The last decade has seen a surge in interest of distance education by higher education institutions, state and federal agencies, corporations and the public at large (Barley, 1999). Distance education itself has been around for hundreds of years, but with the World Wide Web, its popularity and use have increased greatly. Therefore, as with any new technology, questions have arisen as to how practical distance education is.
One of those questions was how prevalent were the new forms of distance education? There was an increase in the number of users of distance education, but were those people new users or has it reached “those who already take advantage of most other educational opportunities” (Barley, 1999, p. 56). The goal of distance education was and will be to reach those who want an education, but for some reason or another cannot make it to the traditional classroom.
Were there any practical or cultural obstacles that one must overcome was another question that arose. Socioeconomic status has had a large play in distance education. One of the questions posed was “how do we overcome those barriers?” (Barley, 1999, p. 57). Lower income students were unable to purchase the technology needed to participate in distance education.
Background knowledge of information for subjects was a large factor. Some students were required to take prerequisites before computers or other technological devices can be used. Distance education required a basic knowledge of computers, the Internet and other equipment.
“All teaching and learning takes place in a context” (Barley, 1999, p. 57). Educational outcomes were very dependent upon the context of learning. The teacher knew traditional classroom students personally. A student’s learning an instructor in the traditional classroom often knew style and home problems. Distance education teachers did not always have that information, leaving them at a disadvantage to teach students.
“Most empirical studies have found a range of positive as well as negative finding.” (Piotrowski & Vodanovich, 2000, p. 48). There has been a large impact on how students learn by computer-related instruction. The Internet was leading the way for distance education in all levels of education. Instructors have found it possible to teach students throughout the United States and around the world via the Internet.
The Internet offers the benefits of quick and remote access to knowledge, a convenient way to learn, adaptability, speed and a large audience. However, as with any technology, there were shortcomings that arise such as: a lack of privacy, lower interactions with the instructor and technical difficulties (Piotrowski & Vadoanovich, 2000). The technical difficulties may be anything from a server going down to the incompatibility of software between the professor and the student. Five potential problem areas discovered were “a) credibility of Web information, b) computer network reliability, c) computer availability for students, d) differences in student technological skill and e) lack of ethical knowledge (of students) regarding use of Web information” (Piotrowski & Vodanovich, 2000, p. 50).
“As teachers and students turn to the Internet, distance learning is dismantling classroom walls across America” (Barker, 2000, p. 88). Technology advancements, especially in the communication area, has allowed distance education to become increasingly interactive, either via IETV or the Internet. The digital revolution has given a large rise to online classrooms. With technological advancements, time-sensitive materials can be delivered much more rapidly, and teachers and students can communicate much quicker. This allowed for feedback that gave students a better knowledge of how they were doing in a subject.
Some of the advantages of distance education were more apparent than others. The long bus ride to a remote area was avoided and some students were attracted by the technology that was used. “Students with physical or mental disabilities sometimes turn to distance learning to avoid the stigma they fear they might encounter at a more traditional school” (Barker, 2000, p. 90). Parents have also turned to distance education because of the rise of violence on campuses.
Resources can be very organized on the Internet, which allowed for easy information access and exchange. Students and teachers alike used the web because someone has already done the work of finding the information for them. The Internet allowed students and teachers to “exchange greetings, engage in intellectual discourse, conduct meetings, share knowledge, offer emotional support, make plans, brainstorm ideas, learn about other cultures, and otherwise broaden their mental horizons” (Barker, 2000, p. 91). The Internet allowed them to do anything that they might do in a traditional classroom.
The Internet provides an activation of all of “sight, sound, and cognitive reasoning, engaging students and creating active learners” (Barker, 2000, p. 91). Many different activities can be assigned to the student that will enhance their education. Anything from having discussions with a foreign student to research about the universe was possible.
The Internet was double-edged sword, as students can access any educational database, learn about any country, but can also be subjected to perverse and deviant topics. Schools and parents must work together to screen and prevent access to any thing that might hinder the moral education of a child.
This paper was written using the same technique that it is about – the Internet. All of the resources used were found using FirstSearch, WilsonSelectPlus and EBSCO educational databases. This approach was taken to prove the point that distance education and online resources are viable for the education of rural students. This content analysis paper was written in APA style. Accidental sampling was used to gather information from available cases.
The hypothesis, that there was an improvement in academic achievement for rural school students who learned through distance education was accepted. It has now become possible for learning to take place anytime and anywhere. From home to school to across the globe, students have greater access to knowledge and instructors, which has allowed them to expand their educational horizons.
The greatest accomplishment of the network that Dover Public Schools co-created was that students in those rural Oklahoma schools now have access to over seventy-three units of credit in various subjects, versus thirty-eight units offered in 1994 (Benson, 1998, p. 43). Distance education was started in kindergarten that allowed the students to gain the skills that they needed to become successful. “Test scores are consistently up. Teacher morale and community perception of the quality of education at Dover is at an all-time high” (Benson, 1998, p. 43). High school students in Dover have taken advantages of the challenging courses that were not available before.
In a recent study Education week (as cited per Barker, 2000) published that researchers found that “fifty-one percent of American classrooms reported having Internet connections in 1998, an increase of twenty-seven percent from the previous year” (p. 90). That same study showed that forty-nine percent have high-speed connections to the Internet. These figures proved that the purchase of technology was on the rise and that families now have more access to the Internet, allowing them, if they choose, to take advantage of distance education.
According to Barker (2000) many online classes have greater advantages than the traditional classroom. Field trips to the local museum have become digital, new information in the classroom can be expanded upon through the internet, lesson plans were available to teachers, students can collaborate with other students from around the world, and students were privy to large collections of information.
The author’s hypothesis, that there is an improvement in academic achievement for rural school students who learn through distance education is accepted and supported by the literature. The subject of distance education is very important to the author. Rural schools often do not have the resources available to give students an education that will allow them to succeed in higher education. As in the case of Dover Schools, the students’ educational opportunities were almost doubled according to Benson (1998) from thirty-eight unit credits to seventy-three.
Students throughout the world benefit by distance education. Students can learn from both teachers and other students from across the globe or from across town. Distance education can be best summed up by the statement made by Barker (2000) that technology will continue to grow and places “the information of the world…at their fingertips-anytime, anyplace” (p. 92).
Ariza, E. N., Knee, R. H., & Ridge, M. L. (2000).
Uniting teachers to embrace 21st century technology: A critical mass
in a cohort of colleagues. T.H.E. Journal,
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27, 2001, from FirstSearch, http://www.firstsearch.org/
Barker, B. O. (2000). Anytime, anyplace learning. Forum for Applied Research & Public Policy, 15(1), 88-92. Retrieved September 25, 2001, from FirstSearch, http://www.firstsearch.org.
Barley, S. R. (1999). Computer-based distance education: Why and why not. Education Digest, 65(2), 55-59. Retrieved September 25, 2001, from FirstSearch, http://www.firstsearch.org.
Benson, G. (1998). Opening opportunities by closing the distance. High School Magazine, 6(1), 42-43. Retrieved August 27, 2001, from FirstSearch, http://www.firstsearch.org.
Phillips, M. R., & Peters, M. J. (1999). Targeting rural students with distance learning courses: A comparative study of determinant attributes and satisfaction levels. Journal of Education for Business, 74(6), 351-356. Retrieved September 25, 2001, from FirstSearch, http://www.firstsearch.org.
Piotrowski, C., & Vadonovich, S. J. (2000). Are the reported barriers to Internet-based instruction warranteed?: A synthesis of recent research. Education, 121(1), 48-53. Retrieved September 25, 2001, from FirstSearch, http://www.firstsearch.org.
About the Author
Jason Hicks is currently a graduate student at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. He is working on a Master of Education Degree in Educational Technology and currently employed by Southeastern Printing Services as the Composition and Graphics Design Specialist.