Sustaining Two-Way Interaction and Communication in Distance Learning


Although distanceeducation is an effective delivery method for students lackingconvenient access to face-to-face instruction,[1] the missingpieces inevitably seem to be the student-teacher / student-studentinteractions and communications. Grambling State University's (GSU)distance learning program was no different. GSU had the technical andhuman resources to produce and deliver quality telecourses andteleworkshops over distance to regional and national markets.Generally, these programs used one-way video (satellite) and two-wayaudio (toll-free telephone connected to studio speakers), whichsomewhat limited interaction and communication.

Technology to increaseinteractivity and communication is available. For a number of yearslarge corporations and government agencies (e.g., Aetna Life &Casualty, AT Network Operations and Engineering Training, DigitalEquipment Corp., Ford Motor Company, Xerox, U.S. Department of Energyand U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) have usedresponse systems to encourage interaction and bi-directionalcommunication between students and instructors.

A response system is aninteractive network that uses phone lines and modems to facilitatecommunication. The benefits found in corporate America includeenhanced learning, systematic evaluation and validation of coursesand instructors, and real-time tabulation of viewer responses, whichenabled the instructor to better pace the instructionaldelivery.[2]

A few educationalinstitutions have used response systems, and preliminary research byWayne State University indicates that more students were served, morecontent was covered, and students using the response pads performedbetter on proctored examinations. Other research suggests thatinteractive instruction enhances learning[3,4,5,6] andimproves adult problem-solving abilities.[7] Althougheffective, response systems are expensive. For example, just oneviewer response keypad costs over $200, and keypads do not operate inisolation. Keypads are connected to a remote site controller whichcommunicates with a host system.

GSU, however, was able towrite a grant to fund the purchase of a One Touch system for 10remote sites with 60 viewer response keypads. Although there are manymanufacturers of response systems, GSU selected One Touch because theinstructor's tool kit was "user friendly" and the viewer keypads hadintegrated audio capabilities built into each student's keypad. Inaddition, the remote site technology was portable, an importantfactor because GSU's remote sites changed depending on the programdelivered and the geographic dispersion of the studentsenrolled.

The OneTouch System

The One Touch ViewerResponse System includes hardware and software to operate one hostsite and multiple remote sites. The host site includes equipment andsoftware to support an instructor's toolkit and a phone controller.Instructor's toolkit. The instructor's toolkit is aneasy-to-use Microsoft Windows-based authoring system. It allows theinstructor to design interactive scripts which are loaded into thehost computer to guide an instructor through a presentation. Forexample, the instructor can place questions strategically within thelecture to confirm that students have understood the materialpresented.

The results analysistabulates audience members' participation as well as theirperformance on questions and quizzes. The multi-tasking aspect of thehost site system gives an instructor immediate two-way audio and dataaccess to students. The toolkit promotes the design of qualityinteractive instruction, thereby increasing participantinteraction.

Phone controller. Atelecommunications control device, the phone controller, managesincoming phone calls from remote sites to the host. The phonecontroller also eliminates the need for switchboards and telephoneoperators and minimizes long distance telephone charges. Using a 20"touch-screen monitor or mouse-driven controls, the instructorrandomly calls on viewers, monitors overall audience comprehension,asks impromptu questions and conducts quizzes. Data collected fromthe remote sites is automatically stored by the system for lateroff-line analysis.

Each remote site has twocomponents: one site controller and multiple viewer response keypads.The remote sites are connected to the host site by modems and phonelines. This feature enables the participant to be in direct contactwith the instructor. A calculator-like keypad enables eachparticipant to communicate directly with an instructor or to answershort-answer questions presented during an instructional segment.Multiple keypads are hard-wired in a daisy chain configuration to thesite controller. The site controller, a compact communicationsdevice, coordinates voice and data transmissions between the host andremote sites through the Internet and telephone lines. Thus, theinteractive capabilities of the response keypads keep students alertand involved, thereby promoting learning.

Trainingand Pilot Testing

The first step towardimplementation was the training by One Touch of GSU's on-sitetechnical support personnel. This training was done in conjunctionwith the installation and pilot testing of the system. To this end,equipment was initially installed and pilot-tested at one technicalcollege and a remote campus classroom. During Fall 1996 and Spring1997, the interactive response system was used during a demonstrationproject, funded by the National Science Foundation, among threeuniversities and two technical colleges.

The One Touch viewerresponse system was used to promote interactivity duringtele-seminars delivered to students and faculty located at a localtechnical college and a remote classroom site on the GSU campus.Grambling State University faculty in the Industrial Engineering andTechnology Department were trained in the use of the host-remote OneTouch viewer response system.

Since the One Touch systemused multiple choice, true/false, yes/no questions, instructortraining included techniques for employing questions as presented byMcBeath.[8] Each instructor worked with an instructionaldesigner to develop questions and plan interactiveactivities.

Data on the effectivenessof the viewer response system was collected over a 13-week period inwhich the Louisiana Department of Economic Development contractedwith GSU to deliver 22 two-hour satellite-delivered interactivesessions. Eight Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) across thestate of Louisiana were remote sites. The sessions were part of aLouisiana Contractors Accreditation Institute for DisadvantagedBusinesses.

Prior to the Institute,remote site equipment was installed at sites having the technicalcapacity to receive and communicate. Of the eight Small BusinessDevelopment Centers (SBDC) across Louisiana, only two had thetelecommunications capability necessary for One Touch. At each ofthese sites, one remote site controller and ten keypads wereinstalled. GSU trained a site facilitator on the use and operation ofthe remote site equipment. GSU also conducted a two-day tele-teachingworkshop, and trained 17 instructors from across the state. The datacited below was derived from this Institute.

Instructor Perceptionsof Technology. During the Institute, 11 of the 17 instructorsused the host-remote interactive viewer response system. Eightinstructors responded to an instructor's survey given after his/hersession(s). Responses to the five questions are detailed in Table1.


Table 1: Instructor's Evaluation of the Instructional Interaction Enhancement


Number Responding Yes

Number Responding No

1. Did you check to see how many locations and students logged in?



2. Did the system make it easy for you to call on participants?



3. Was the immediate quantitative feedback on student performance useful?



4. Do you believe the system increased the interactivity of your presentation?



5. Did the short-answer questions enable you to better check the participant's understanding of the materials covered?



Viewer Perceptions ofTechnology. Viewer evaluations were faxed to the two sites thatused the response system during the Institute. Of the 12 students atone SBDC who responded to the survey, 11 had used a keypad. Of the 28students at the other SBDC, nine had used a keypad. Questions 2through 7, which pertain to the use of a keypad, reflect only thoseresponses from students who had used the keypads during a livetelecast. Responses to the seven yes/no questions are detailed inTable 2.

Table 2: Viewer's Evaluation of the Instructional Interaction Enhancement


Number Responding Yes

Number Responding No

1. Have you used a keypad during a live telecast?



2. When you used the keypad did the instructor ask questions that required a keypad answer?



3. Was it easy for you to log-in at your keypad?



4. Did you press the "call" button on the keypad when you had questions or comments?



5. Did you press the "flag" button on the keypad to anonymously communicate your confusion to the instructor?



6. Could you easily find the appropriate key to answer multiple choice, true/false, yes/no and numeric questions?



7. Do you think the keypad helped you to communicate with the instructor?



Interpretationof the Data

The physical separation ofthe learner and the instructor makes interactivity and communicationcritical components of a distance program.[9] Therefore,during the Institute data was collected on interaction andcommunication between students at all eight sites and instructors.There were two kinds of interactions: student responses toinstructor-generated questions and instructor responses tostudent-generated questions. During the Institute, instructors asked159 questions via the response system. Questions asked over theresponse system were broadcast on the air, thus providing the same159 opportunities for students with and without keypads to answer.Those students at sites not using the response system had a telephoneavailable, with a toll free number provided during each telecast.Keypad users responded 80 times more than did telephone users. Inaddition, keypad users asked five times more questions than didtelephone users.

As evidenced by the numberof interactions, students at sites with keypads participated morethan did students at other sites. Students found the keypads easy touse, and most of them used the keypads to both respond to questionsposed by the instructor and to ask questions of the instructor.Instructors responding to the survey perceived the viewer responsesystem as easy to use and useful. Instructors also believed thesystem increased the interactivity of their presentation and gavethem a better way to check students' understanding of the materialscovered.

Thus, it appears that byinstalling the One Touch system, GSU made a giant step toward thegoal of most distance education programs: to make the learningexperiences for distance students similar to the experiences ofstudents in traditional, face-to-faceinstruction.[10]

The Louisiana ContractorsAccreditation Institute was aimed at small, disadvantaged businesses.Through distance learning, approximately 149 disadvantaged personsfrom rural and metropolitan locations received training to assistthem in becoming a successful contractor. Because of the highretention of students, the interactive distance learning initiativeis expected to continue and reach more disadvantaged persons in thefuture.

Based on the datacollected, the One Touch system effectively increased interaction andcommunication. The implementation of this project has madesignificant inroads in enhancing the quality of GSU's distancelearning unit. The National Science Foundation's project evaluationreport cited GSU's distance program and GSU's Department ofIndustrial Engineering and Technology for their innovative andeffective efforts in providing technology transfer through distancelearning.

Felicie M. Barnes isthe Educational Television Specialist for Grambling StateUniversity's Distance Learning Program. Dr. Barnes received aMaster's in Education and a Bachelor's in Business Administrationfrom Northeast Louisiana University, and she earned a Doctorate inDevelopmental Education from Grambling State University with aninstructional systems and technology specialization. Her area ofexpertise is the instructional design of distance-delivered programs.She co-authored and co-administered the grant which funded theinteractive enhancement to Grambling's distance program. E-mail:[email protected]

Bennie R. Lowery is theDirector of Grambling State University's Distance Learning Program.Dr. Lowery received his Bachelor's and Master's Degrees from SanDiego State University and his Doctorate from the University ofSouthern California. His area of expertise is the use of technologyto increase access to education and training. Dr. Lowery co-authoredand was the principal investigator for the grant which funded theinteractive enhancement to Grambling's distance program. E-mail:[email protected]

1. McNabb, J. (1994), "Telecourse Effectiveness: Findings in theCurrent Literature," Tech Trends: The Magazine of the Associationfor Educational Communications and Technology, 39(5), pp.39-40.
2. Perkins, L. B. (1992), "Response Systems," in P. S. Portway and C.Lane Teleconferencing & Distance Learning, pp. 249-253,San Ramon, CA: Applied Business Telecommunications.
3. Eidgahy, S., and J. Shearman (1994), "Keiretsu Approach toEducational Technologies in Distance Education," Tech Trends: TheMagazine of the Association for Educational Communications andTechnology, 39(5), pp. 21-27.
4. Niemi, J. A., and DD. Gooler (1987), "Themes and Issues,"Technologies for Learning Outside the Classroom, edited by J.A. Niemi and D. D. Gooler, pp.101-108, San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass, Inc.
5. Kozma, R. B., L.W. Belle and G.W. Williams (1978),Instructional Techniques in Higher Education, EnglewoodCliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
6. Vazquez-Abad, J., and L.R. Winer (1992), "Emerging Trends inInstructional Interventions," Handbook of Human PerformanceTechnology, edited by H. D. Stolovitch and E. J. Keeps, pp.513-527, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc.
7. Lee, W.W. (1990), "Bridging the Gap with IVD," Training andDevelopmental Journal, 44(3), pp. 63-65.
8. McBeath, R. J. (1992), Instructing and Evaluating in HigherEducation, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational TechnologyPublications.
9. Venduin, J. R., and T.A. Clark (1991), Distance Education:Foundations of Effective Practice, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-BassPublishers.
10. Schlosser, C. A., and M.L. Anderson (1994), DistanceEducation: Review of the Literature, Washington, DC: Associationfor Educational Communications and Technology.

One Touch Viewer Response System; One Touch Systems, Norcross, GA,(770) 246-0555, [email protected].

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.