Partnering to Establish a Distance LearningProgram That Is Responsive to Needs
DR. BENNIE R. LOWERY, Director and DR. FELICIE M. BARNES, Educational Television Specialist Distance Learning Program Grambling State University Grambling, La. Grambling University, a nearly 100-year old historically black university in the rural deep south, found itself facing changing demographics, a globalizing economy and an advancing information age. Grambling needed to find new ways to respond: import information to its students and faculty, better serve its rural business and industry, contribute to changes occurring in Louisiana and the middle south, and serve niches in national and international markets. However, these initiatives needed to occur in a very short time span, in one of the most impoverished areas of the U.S., and in an era of dwindling state and federal resources to higher education. This article explains how Grambling is doing what seemed an impossible task -- readying itself for the 21st century. Administrators were led to examine distance education's potential to help meet Grambling's needs. Distance education practitioners apply singularly and in combination various types of media (print, audio, video, computer) and formats (satellite TV, ITFS microwave, compressed video, VSAT, e-mail, WANs, etc.). Given the myriad of technological possibilities, distance education seemed a plausible solution. It could possibly extend the university's market base; enable it to deliver its programs to isolated populations, including rural industry; and provide faculty and students access to outside educational experiences that would transcend the university's geographical isolation. Having decided to move forward with distance education, the problems then became how to select the most appropriate mix of technologies to meet the university's diverse needs, and, perhaps more importantly, how to finance such an ambitious plan. In 1989, Grambling had few technological resources and virtually no mechanisms to accommodate any sort of distance learning program. But, the campus visionaries had expansive aspirations and set about identifying the specifics involved in getting where they wanted to be. It was obvious that in addition to major acquisitions in physical infrastructure, the programmatic structure within the university to receive third-party programs and deliver Grambling-originated programs also needed to be addressed. The following programmatic and administrative areas were considered crucial to the success of a distance education program at Grambling: 1) technical and support staff, 2) policies and procedures, 3) instructor and facilitator training, 4) program identification procedures and marketing processes, and 5) instructional design and development systems. To establish a distance education program, Grambling needed a simultaneous two-pronged approach: 1) acquire the necessary equipment and facilities, and 2) implement the programmatic changes needed to make it all work. Partnering Builds Physical Infrastructure For almost 90 years, researchers have reported a "no panacea" effect for each new educational technology -- teaching machines, programmed instruction, educational TV, computers, and telecommunications.1 Not wanting to repeat mistakes of depending exclusively on one innovation, Grambling opted instead to integrate technologies to achieve an appropriate mix of distance learning approaches that could be combined to meet unique needs. To procure the necessary multitude of technological resources, an ambitious plan was developed that included aggressively going after federal and state funds; dedicating some very scarce operating funds; and finding new, creative ways to attain the technology. Administrators knew that Grambling could not garner the necessary expertise, political clout and fiscal resources by itself. Their plan called for establishing a series of collaborative efforts that benefited both partners. The first such partnership began in 1988 when Grambling collaborated with the Black College Satellite Network (BCSN) in writing a grant proposal under the federal Star Schools program. While this grant was not funded, the initial proposal was reworked and resubmitted the next year. The second attempt was successful and Grambling and BCSN delivered six pilot teleworkshops. The first live satellite telecasts were broadcast to over 60 school systems nationwide using a rented mobile uplink. These were followed by a series of workshops and telecourses delivered by a church-owned uplink in a city 75 miles from the campus. Recently, Grambling teamed up with BCSN again to secure a KU-Band satellite uplink from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (PTFP). Other equipment and personnel were also acquired through grants. A large source of external funds was a federal grant awarded under the Title III program. This grant enabled Grambling to make a substantial investment in campuswide physical components: fiber optic cabling to most buildings, centralized computing capability, a radio tower and a multitude of small but expensive equipment items. A collaborative arrangement with Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) significantly increased the university's computing power, adding e-mail, voice mail, Internet connectivity and more. Yet another creative arrangement was with Grambling's Student Body organization. The student government had been assessing itself a fee aimed at bringing cable TV to dormitories. Administrators piggy-backed on this cable backbone to develop a comprehensive broadband cable network to every building (almost every room) on campus. The university now operates an informational bulletin board for students as well as a campus news station. Further, a Campus Learning Channel has just been implemented. It downlinks outside programming, provides live TV tutoring sessions for students, and regularly airs information on test-taking skills, AIDS awareness, etc. Another partnership was formed with a wireless cable company that wanted to initiate programming in rural north Louisiana. The agreement called for Grambling to license unused ITFS (Instructional Television Fixed Service) microwave time to the for-profit corporate partner. In exchange for the unused air time, the corporate partner builds and maintains the microwave system. Both parties benefit immensely: Grambling has short-range microwave capability that costs little or nothing to operate and the corporate partner has air time. The university also acquired hardware and specialized distance learning management software developed in England from a state grant for innovative programs. Already having procured substantial distance education technology was helpful in securing further funds to purchase more esoteric equipment and software. Yet another partnership was formed with the regional electric utility company and a neighboring university. This partnership netted Grambling a high-tech mobile van (worth $250,000) equipped with computers and interactive videodisc technology. The mission of this Mobile Automated Learning Lab (MALL) is to assist regional economic development by focusing on basic skills enhancement and technical literacy of the workforce. The MALL's positive effect on the educational needs of the labor force in North Central Louisiana has achieved both local and national acclaim. It has been the focus of newspaper articles, a PBS show segment and a Business Week story. And it won NARUC's (National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners) 1992 Excellence in Education Award. In each of the partnering arrangements described above, both parties benefited immensely. Moreover, it is likely that in several of the cases neither organization would have been able to accomplish the objective by themselves. Grambling also looked inward to find equipment or facilities to complement the newly acquired capabilities. Administrators found an underutilized fully outfitted television studio that was easily modified for distance education purposes. Adding a TV studio to all the new telecommunications equipment placed Grambling in the desired posture: Possessing a variety of telecommunications media to meet its future needs and those of its clientele. A Responsive Programmatic Infrastructure Distance education involves not only equipment and programs, but also involves programmatic structures to both receive third-party programs and to deliver Grambling-originated programs. Success of a distance learning program depends on adopting policies, procedures and processes for effective operation, and on mainstreaming distance programs into existing university structures. Grambling's distance programs fell within three categories: third-party programs produced by independent vendors, university-produced academic credit programs, and university-produced continuing education programs and workshops. Procedures for receiving third-party programs were created to facilitate communication and cooperation between academic departments and technical support areas. These procedures delineated departmental responsibilities as well as established guidelines and forms for scheduling live or videotaped teleconferences. For example, each department bore the expense of teleconference fees and the responsibility of reserving a room in which to view teleconferences. Since programs were distributed on the campuswide Learning Channel, the latter was not difficult. For university-produced academic credit programs, mechanisms for admission, advisement, registration and getting books were devised to incorporate distance learners into existing university systems. Methods for promptly handling large groups not physically present on campus were developed. This required advance planning, coordination among departments, and standardizing forms and communication procedures. For example, telecourse instructors had to order telecourse books a semester in advance so that book prices could be placed on a bookstore order form. This form was inserted in each student's completed registration packet and mailed upon fulfillment of their registration. Telecourse registration forms were designed to contain all the information needed by both academic and administrative departments. To market telecourses, this form was mailed in advance of each semester early registration period to past and prospective students. In addition, departmental responsibilities were specified. In a telecourse, for example, each department was responsible and bore the salary expense of telecourse professors and teaching assistants. The distance learning program had responsibility for development, design, marketing, production and delivery. Both the academic department and the distance learning program worked as a team for mass registration. In a workshop, however, the distance learning program did everything, sharing the net revenue with the sponsoring academic department and other contributing departments. Communication processes were critical as frequent communications with learners were identified as a key success factor. Learner communication was necessary between the instructor, advisor and numerous support staff. Computer-generated personalized form letters were developed to impart basic information to newly admitted students. Fax and e-mail were frequently used to communicate directly with individual students. Techniques were also developed and incorporated within the instruction that increased learner-instructor interaction. For example, feedback forms were created to promote more effective communication between instructors and students. These provided instructors with a response-outline specific to their pre-established criteria. It also accelerated an instructor's personalized response on student-written assignments. Evaluation was also seen as vital to success. Evaluation forms were devised for telecourses and workshops, and included in the instructional materials given to students. At the end of each telecourse or workshop, revisions were made. Thus, as the university continually responds to identified needs (by students and instructors on design, delivery, support and content), the instructional quality and logistical delivery of the distance programs improves. Developing and Marketing Content One factor contributing to the success of Grambling-originated programs was the ability to capitalize on its academic assets. Early in the venture, Grambling identified its unique programs and meticulously proceeded one-by-one to adapt these programs for distance delivery. The process included identifying programs and vertical markets; selecting and training instructors; formulating a marketing and implementation plan; choosing appropriate media for delivery to identified audiences; and designing quality instruction for delivery over various combinations of media. A university-wide needs assessment was conducted. Grambling offered several unique programs of interest to regional, national and international audiences (see Figure 1). Four colleges within the university had programs that were unique (offered by less than four universities in the state), and these needed to be disseminated via telecommunications to state and national audiences (Figure 1). Two of these programs could be disseminated to local and regional audiences as well (see Figure 2). Finally, three other areas identified regional needs not currently being met, such as continuing education units for working professionals in the field (Figure 2). Telecommunications was the means to encourage cooperative relationships with other universities in the region and state. The first program developed for distance education delivery was the doctoral degree program in Developmental Education. In 1988, a national marketing survey for the program was conducted, with results suggesting that five courses had market potential as distance courses. Instructors were selected based on their subject-matter knowledge and their ability to adapt to a teleclassroom. An instructional designer was hired. Staff development workshops were created to provide "first-time teleteaching" instructors with the practical skills necessary for a televised medium and to design quality instruction. As new programs were considered for distance delivery, a system gradually evolved to determine the feasibility of delivering potential programs. The process systematically and comprehensively examined the needs and methodologies required to deliver quality programs. First, information is collected and analyzed on: targeted audience needs, faculty and other resources, actual and potential market competitors, and strategic vision of the department. If initial data supports a distance approach, a plan for delivery is developed in the second phase. Vertical markets are identified, marketing strategies are proposed, and priorities and timelines are established for each stage (marketing, instructional design and development, delivery and evaluation). Media are selected by analyzing potential markets (for examples see Figures 1, 2). The most appropriate, cost-effective delivery medium or combination of media is chosen. For example, a microwave ITFS system's range is most cost effective for regional audiences. Alternately, a satellite uplink is cost effective as a delivery medium to national audiences, but too expensive for regional-only audiences. Videotape- or modem-delivered instruction is appropriate and cost effective for getting programs to audiences that do not have satellite or microwave technology or for courses in which all or part are best delivered through lecture or text. A second university-wide assessment was conducted to determine internal needs for third-party programs. All colleges, schools and departments indicated a need to receive satellite-delivered programming: to enrich faculty, staff, administrators and external partners; to supplement instruction and enhance student life; and to foster and support research efforts (see Figure 3). Figure 1: Deliver to State and National Markets Need To Deliver Unique Telecommunications Programs to National Audiences Medium College of Business KU Uplink · Masters of Science in Data Transmission & International Business Network Connections and Trade VSAT College of Education Master of Science in KU Uplink Developmental Education Data Transmission & Doctor of Education in Network Connections Developmental Education VSAT Master of Science in Sports Administration College of Liberal Arts Master of Science in KU Uplink Criminal Justice VSAT College of Science and Technology KU Uplink Manufacturing Engineering Technology Data Transmission & Drafting & Design Engineering Technology Network Connections Automative Engineering Technology Compressed Video Figure 2: Deliver to Regional Markets Need To Deliver Programs Telecommunications to Regional Audiences Medium College of Education Master of Science in Microwave ITFS Developmental Education Data Transmission & Doctor of Education in Network Connections Developmental Education Master of Science in Sports Administration College of Liberal Arts Master of Science in Criminal Justice Microwave ITFS Continuing Education Units for Law Data Transmission & Enforcement with emphasis in Rural Law Network Connections
Enforcement, Probation and Parole School of Nursing Continuing Education Units approved by Microwave ITFS the Louisiana Hospital Association and the Data Transmission & State Board of Nursing Network Connections College of Science and Technology Microwave ITFS Electronics Engineering Technology Data Transmission & (North-Central region) Network Connections Manufacturing Engineering Technology Compressed Video (North Central region) Manufacturing Engineering Technology Automotive Engineering Technology School of Social Work KU Satellite Uplink Masters of Social Work Program Microwave ITFS (Alexandria/Shreveport region) Data Transmission & Continuing Education Units to Network Connections Social Workers in Region Compressed Video Summary From 1988 to 1995 the vision has evolved into reality. Grambling has an impressive physical infrastructure and programmatic foundation. The campus is inundated with technology -- fiber optic connections campuswide, coaxial cable/broadband connections in all buildings, multiple downlinks, microwave ITFS, two full production multi-camera TV studios, a KU-band uplink, and numerous computer networks with Internet connectivity. Moreover, future plans to increase campus-based access to distance learning programs include at least one electronic classroom per academic program. Distance technology has and will continue to extend the university's market base, enable it to deliver its programs to isolated populations, and provide Grambling faculty and students with access to outside educational experiences to overcome the university's geographical isolation. What Grambling was able to accomplish in just a few years can be duplicated by any institution. The key is a willingness to do things differently. Specifically, the institution must be ready to honestly determine its needs relative to distance learning and then develop and methodically execute a plan that links up with external partners in mutually rewarding ways. Bennie Lowery, Director of the Grambling State University Distance Learning Program and an Associate Professor of Education, has taught at the elementary, community college and graduate levels. His area of expertise is the use of technology to increase access to education and training. E-Mail: email@example.com Felicie Barnes is the Educational Television Specialist for Grambling's Distance Learning Program. With over 15 years of management experience in the air transportation industry, her expertise is instructional design and marketing of distance-delivered programs. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org References: 1. Thompson, A., Simonson, M., & Hargrave, C., (1992), Educational Technology: A Review of the Research, Washington, DC: Association for Educational Communications and Technology.
This article originally appeared in the 12/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.