Preparing Technical Instructors Through Multiple Delivery Systems: A Working Model

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The nation’s colleges and universities are facing several challenges impacting thenature of courses and degree programs they offer. Ever-increasing competitionfor students and calls for improved “ease of access” have driven institutionsto create innovative approaches to course delivery methodologies and degreerequirements. Legislators and taxpayers have called for better quality and moreaccountability in postsecondary education. Instructors in all educationalcircles are in need of constant professional development and technical updates.In response to these pressures and many others, several institutions areseeking to improve their educational programs with new information technologytools.

The state of Indiana is in the process of converting thestate’s technical colleges (IVY TECH) to a system of community colleges. Theseinstitutions have historically offered a wide range of technically orientedassociate degrees in a variety of disciplines. The state already has onecomprehensive community college, Vincennes University, which also offers abroad array of technical associate degrees. The state has committed to thedevelopment of a unified community college system with articulation to thestate’s four-year colleges and universities. This has required many of theinstructors from technical disciplines at these institutions to pursueadditional degrees, namely bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

The Department of Industrial Technology Education (ITE) atIndiana State University (ISU) offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in humanresource development, technology education, and career and technical education.The department has recognized that many students interested in the programs areemployed professionals seeking new skills and knowledge, older students withassociate degrees seeking a bachelor’s degree, or adults simply wishing to makea career change. Many of these students are time-bound and place-bound. Theyare unable to come to campus and participate in a traditional on campus degreeprogram. Technical instructors from Indiana’s two-year colleges fit into thesedescriptors. They need a way to get a degree at a distance.

 

Multiple Delivery Methods

The ITE department began offering courses in 1990 throughthe Indiana Higher Education Telecommunication System (IHETS), a state-funded consortium of eight member collegeand university campuses initiated by the 1967 Indiana General Assembly. This system utilizes digitally compressed satellite technologyto reach over 325 sites across the state. IHETS sites include many of Indiana’scollege campuses, public schools, libraries, hospitals, and other accessiblefacilities. One of the several IHETS studios at Indiana State University servesas the classroom for the two-year instructors. From this studio, they cansimultaneously interact with instructors at other IHETS sites. This arrangementalso allows for videotaping of classes, which are distributed to the technicalinstructors with no access to an IHETS site, or who may themselves have toteach a class at their home institution at the very time the IHETS class isbeing broadcast. In 1997-98, the ITE department added Internet courses. As aresult of this addition, two-year instructors have the option of taking coursesthrough one of four delivery formats: traditional on campus delivery, IHETSsatellite, videotape, and the Internet. The Internet group is the fastestgrowing. Many technical instructors experiment with different methods, takingsome courses on campus and others via alternate delivery methods.

Each faculty member in the ITE department teaches at leastone course each week via multiple delivery. After each class, videotapes of thesession are mailed to students who requested this mode of delivery. Theinstructor then accesses the course Web site and posts lecture notes,presentation slides, audio/video files, and other information that studentstaking the course via the Internet may need. Some educators use BlackboardInc.’s CourseInfo software to support their Web instruction; others have custom-designedtheir own course sites.

 

Interaction Issues andAssessment Concerns

Delivering courses in a number of different formats hascreated interaction issues. With the exception of those technical instructorstaking the class on campus, lack of eye-to-eye contact is an issue for IHETS,videotape and Internet students. Faculty members are unable to view studentreaction to the presentation of material. There are also limitations on sometypes of learning activities. Cooperative group activities and hands-on,psychomotor activities are limited, especially for those technical instructorstaking a course on the Internet. Participation can be difficult to monitor, aswell. Finally, response time is a concern for those using the videotape option.They receive a videotape of the class several days after it is broadcast onIHETS. They have to view the tape, and then make any inquiries to ITE facultyafterward.

With technical instructors at various distances, it can beproblematic to assess performance. The issue of class participation is anassessment concern. The level of class participation can be difficult to judgewhen the technical instructor is in a satellite TV studio 150 miles away, orsitting in front of a computer screen. Since the ITE program curriculum isdesigned to assist technical instructors with the development of their teachingskills, it can be difficult to assess “stand-up” teaching skills at a distance.ITE faculty are also challenged to return technical instructor classwork in atimely fashion, especially when it arrives via regular mail, e-mail, fax, or inperson.

 

Faculty Development

Obviously, teaching courses through multiple deliveryformats requires a high level of expertise on the part of the ITE faculty.Faculty development is a top concern. Most need familiarization with theuniversity computer network, which is a mixed Novell and UNIX environment. Theability to create Web pages and Internet courses is a necessity. Perhaps mostimportant is the ability to transfer traditional, standard course material tothe satellite system and the Internet. These needs, along with others, havecreated numerous professional development challenges for ITE faculty.

Those technical instructors taking classes on campus canmeet with ITE faculty before and after class meetings, and can access fivecomputer labs to send e-mail, participate in live chat sessions, and completeassignments. For technical instructors participating from off campus locations,ITE faculty supplement e-mail and telephone contact with a variety of otheroptions. Technical instructors on IHETS can communicate with ITE facultythrough satellite transmission, which allows for audio communications, whilethose taking courses via videotape send written reactions via mail, fax, ore-mail on a weekly basis. Technical instructors utilizing the Internet optionuse mailing lists, chat rooms, and discussion boards to communicate with ITEfaculty and each other. ITE faculty have also experimented with online officehours where participants can log on at specified times and communicate via anoffice chat room.

ITE faculty members have become well versed in streamingtechnologies, where videotapes can be converted to audio/video computer filesand placed on the Internet. When assignments require a performance component,off campus class participants can videotape themselves and send the videotapeto the ITE faculty member, who then streams the file onto the course site forviewing.

Many faculty in the ITE department have participated intraining sessions to learn how to utilize the various technologies that supportmultiple delivery platforms. Indiana State University sponsors the CourseTransformation Academy (CTA), a development program designed to give facultymembers the time and resources they need to investigate, create, and employalternative instructional strategies. The CTA offers semester-long workshopsfor groups of 15-20 faculty members, as well as an intensive, one-week summerworkshop.

Participants use hands-on projects to learn about creatingWeb-based broadcast and interactive video courses about incorporatingsupplementary technologies, such as videotapes and audioconferencing, intotheir instruction. As they work with the technologies, faculty members useasynchronous and synchronous tools to discuss pedagogical issues, course designconsiderations and assessment strategies. They receive information concerningthree important university subjects: policies on intellectual property andcopyright issues, distance education student services, and resources availableto assist faculty members in course development and delivery. During the CTA,participants have opportunities to work on aspects of their own courses as theycomplete projects designed to enhance their technological competencies.

Indiana State University also has aFaculty Computing Resource Center (FCRC) designed to provide faculty withone-on-one consultations, and to conduct workshops and demonstrations on a widerange of topics, such as Web page construction, video and audio streaming andgraphics development. Full-time technical experts staff the FCRC, but much ofthe assistance provided to faculty is given by part-time student workers, whoare in many cases very familiar with specific software applications, Web pagedevelopment, and audio or video manipulation.

Much faculty learning is on-the-job and from interactionwith other instructors. Faculty share experiences, ideas, and new discoveries, many made by trial and error, as they work withthe multiple delivery format.

 

Other Issues

All these issues have created other concerns for faculty,not the least of which is the time constraint that is imposed by the multipledelivery modes. While the maximum number of students in an ITE course isgenerally capped at 40, the number of distance students can easily be 75% ofthat total. This results in a significant number of e-mails, phone calls andother requests for information from distance students who do not have immediateclassroom access to the instructor. Instructors are given the equivalent of atwo-course load for each multiple delivery format course they teach. As theprograms have grown in popularity, class size continues to be an issue.

Faculty members are often the first point of student contactfor technical problems. While technology has certainly allowed the departmentto deliver the courses, it is not foolproof. Students have periodic problemswith the satellite transmission, and many experience difficulties withaccessing course sites on the Internet and performing such tasks as live chat,or online office hours. While the university has established a toll-freetechnical support line, students still turn to ITE faculty for many concerns.This creates yet another time constraint.

The ITE department is also concerned with issues of qualityand consistency. Are all four groups receiving the same level of instruction?Is there enough interaction for those at a distance? Do on campus participantsget the same exposure to technology that distance students receive? Theseissues are discussed on a frequent basis by ITE faculty.

 

Positive Benefits

The multiple delivery format has produced several positivebenefits. The department has experienced increased enrollment; most classesoffered by the multiple delivery format in the fall of 1999 were closed due tohigh enrollment. Technical faculty members from Indiana’s two-year institutionsrepresent a significant number of students. In the spring of 2000, over 30 ofthese individuals were pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree in HumanResource Development or Career and Technical Education, the two programsoffered through the multiple delivery format.

ITE faculty members, despite the increased workload, see themultiple delivery format as a professional growth opportunity. It requires themto keep current with the latest instructional technologies and computerhardware/software changes. It also allows them to extend their sphere ofinfluence from beyond the traditional campus. Currently enrolled in thedepartment are students from Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Texas. Moststudents believe this instruction has helped strengthen both the content anddiscussion in classes.

The multiple delivery format is firmly established in thedepartment. It has enabled the department to deliver courses to meet thespecific learning needs of their students, no matter where they are located.Most importantly, for Indiana’s two-year college faculty, it has provided a wayfor these individuals to obtain the required degree credential.

 

 

 

 

 

Chris Zirkle is anAssistant Professor in the Department of Industrial Technology Education atIndiana State University, Terre Haute, Indiana. He teaches two courses persemester utilizing the multiple delivery methods described in the article, andis currently conducting research in the area of access barriers to distanceeducation courses and programs. He holds a doctoral degree in education fromOhio State University, and has teaching and administrative experience at thesecondary and postsecondary levels.

 

E-mail: C-Zirkle@indstate.edu

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.

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