CAUSE/EFFECT

This article was published in CAUSE/EFFECT journal, Volume 22 Number 3 1999. It is the intellectual property of the author.

Are Teacher Training and Compensation Keeping Up with Institutional Demands for Distance Learning?
by Gerald B. Dickinson, David M. Agnew, and Reita Gorman

In March to April of 1998, researchers at Arkansas State University distributed a survey to 60 faculty who had taught at least one course by compressed video to distant sites on behalf of the university to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of such courses and their accompanying workload and compensation. Forty-four subjects (73.33 percent) responded. A brief summary of results appears below. For a more complete description of the survey and its results, see http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/CSD1194.pdf.

Distance education serves many good purposes from an institution�s point of view. Through technology, students who live great distances from the institution can be served. Adult learners can enroll in college course work at convenient times and in more convenient locations. Administrators recognize that instructors can teach more students without increasing the need for additional staff. Full-time enrollment also increases with distance education, thus providing schools with additional state income with marginal additional expense.

The purpose of our study was to determine how instructors viewed the strengths and weaknesses of distance education and whether instructors felt they had been sufficiently trained in adjusting their curriculum and instructional design to meet the needs of the distance learner. Finally, the effects on workload and compensation were assessed to determine whether teaching loads were still being measured in traditional ways.

The faculty members surveyed indicated that the ability to hold class discussions was the single most prevailing weakness they had encountered in meeting the students� needs in the distance learning classroom. They also indicated that testing and the ability to give feedback to students were continuing concerns. More than 90 percent of the respondents indicated that substantially more preparation time was needed to teach distance or multiple sites adequately. Seventy-five percent of the respondents had no additional training or professional development opportunities related to distance education, other than an introductory session on how to use the equipment. More than 88 percent of the respondents indicated they received neither extra compensation nor a reduced workload for developing and/or teaching distance courses.

Despite the respondents� concerns, few stated that they adjusted their teaching strategies or testing methods for their distance learning classes. The majority of instructors used the lecture method and standard paper-and-pencil tests. One professor indicated that she had solved the feedback problem with e-mail and listserv correspondence. However, she also noted that the additional time she spent responding to e-mail compared to the time required to respond to the students in her traditional classroom was �overwhelming.�

These findings suggest the need for more training for faculty members who are expected to teach distance education courses as well as more opportunities to develop more effective instructional designs because of the time requirements for class preparation and the instructors� inability to use many of the teaching strategies perfected in the traditional classroom. These findings also indicate a need to investigate how serving increasing numbers of students will impact the research and service roles expected of faculty to help determine if tenure and retention criteria need to be re-evaluated to reflect the increased demands of teaching distance education. Finally, this study suggests that effective faculty training will increase mutual understanding of both faculty and institutional educational objectives.

Given state funding issues and student demands, distance education is likely to become more important to colleges and universities. The demands on faculty resources and retention must seriously be considered by administrators as they continue to search for effective educational means to meet public expectations for accountability, accessibility, and low-cost educational programs.

Gerald B. Dickinson ([email protected]) is an associate professor of educational administration, David M. Agnew ([email protected]) is an assistant professor of agriculture education, and Reita Gorman ([email protected]) is an adjunct faculty member at Arkansas State University.

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