Student Perceptions of a Two-Way Interactive Video Class

by MARY BOZIK, Professor University of Northern Iowa Cedar Falls, Iowa Use of fiber optic cable to provide high-quality interactive distance learning is increasing. An August 1995 survey by the Software Publishers Association noted that, "School use of distance learning services, including ... fiber optic cable ... will increase dramatically in the 1990s.[1] A 1995 survey of senior administrators at 407 colleges and universities concluded that use of distance learning had increased over 1994.[2] Iowa is one of the states most heavily invested in this technology, leading Newsweek to publish an article entitled, "We've Seen the Future: It's in Iowa."[3] Iowa has completed a fiber optic backbone linking all 99 counties with 150 sites. When the third phase of the project is completed it will link 500 sites including all Regent Universities, Area Education Associations, high schools, many libraries, armories and other public sites. The University of Northern Iowa (UNI) is currently offering four graduate programs and 13 classes per semester over this system. The research reported here was designed to investigate students' perceptions of their experience in a class offered via the statewide Iowa Communications Network (ICN). The Survey In the spring of 1995 seven classes (six graduate, one undergraduate) were offered on the ICN by the University of Northern Iowa (see list in Figure 1). All were taught by a different instructor, each of whom had participated in a three-day workshop to prepare for teaching in this setting. All 168 students were surveyed; 103 responded. Survey Results Student demographics revealed that 76% of the respondents were male, 23% female. Students ranged in age from 21-57 and only 2% were classified as minority. Since UNI offers three graduate degrees via the ICN, only 24% of the students were taking their first class in this setting, with 19% taking their fourth or fifth. Students reported their instructors used a variety of teaching strategies -- with lecture (94% of the students reported its use) and discussion (95%) as the two most common. This mirrors the results of a study of instructional methods used by undergraduate instructors in which faculty reported discussion (70%) and extensive lecturing (54%) as the two most commonly used strategies.[4] In spite of this emphasis on lecture and discussion, a variety of strategies were used including: case studies (59%), demonstrations (47%), story telling (28%), simulations (22%) and role playing (18%). Student evaluation of teaching strategies over the interactive video medium indicated a general perception of effectiveness. Lecture was perceived as effective or highly effective by 61% of the students, discussion by 91%, demonstration by 80%, role playing by 76% and case studies by 79%. One concern expressed about the distance learning setting is the effect on student behaviors. Students taking an ICN class were asked to indicate how the setting influenced things like their attendance in class, asking and answering questions, and motivation to learn. For most actions the most common response was that the setting made "no difference" (see Table 1). Since the physical presence of the teacher in the classroom can be predicted to be an advantage, this perception was investigated further by asking students to indicate agreement to the statement, "There is a real advantage to being in the origination site classroom." While 59% did agree or strongly agree, 23% were neutral and 17% disagreed or strongly disagreed. To obtain an overall evaluation of the experience, students were asked to indicate their feelings about taking another class on the ICN. An overwhelming majority (87%) gave a favorable or very favorable response, 10% were neutral and 1% unfavorable. Not a single student selected very unfavorable. Implications of the Research Our research on student perceptions of a course taken in a two-way interactive video format provides insight into that experience. Generally favorable results should bolster those leading the movement to expand its use, and might also alleviate some of the concern by skeptics. The results provide evidence that the setting d'es not limit the instructor to a "talking head" mode of teaching and that a variety of instructional methods can be used effectively. Students appear to adjust to the setting and, for the most part, only a slight effect on their academic behaviors is indicated. The one result worthy of special comment is that the most frequent response to being asked about the likelihood of developing a positive relationship with other students was an indication that it was more likely to occur in the interactive video setting provided by the ICN's fiber optics. Perhaps it is safe to say that teachers who have been prepared for the interactive video classroom are able to provide a positive experience for most students. Mary Bozik is a Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Northern Iowa. E-mail: [email protected] References: 1.Iowa Computer Using Educators (1995), "Teacher and Students are Outpacing Schools in Familiarity and Usage of PCs," Interface, p. 22. 2.National Education Association (1995), Advocate, XIII (1), p. 2. 3.Kantrowitz, B. & Biddle, N. (1995), "We've Seen the Future: It's in Iowa," Newsweek, December 19, p. 55. Dey, E. (1995), "The Activities of Undergraduate Teaching Faculty," The NEA Higher Education Journal, XI (1), pp. 43-62.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.