Distance Education Programs in Texas Community and Technical Colleges Assessing Student Support Services in a Virtual Environment
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This applied research project serves as a preliminary evaluation of the status of distance learning at Texas public two-year community and technical colleges. The project includes a survey of the literature relevant to distance education, compares traditional classroom environments with distance education settings, and presents a number of attributes unique to distance education. Characteristics that distinguish distance education from traditional programs include the separation of teacher and student, the use of some type of technology to facilitate communication, and the learner's role as director of the learning process. Pertinent theories and definitions and the chronological development of distance learning are summarized. A discussion of distance education and public administration examines internal and external influences on the development of distance education and summarizes the benefits and challenges distance education presents to postsecondary educational providers.
The four patterns of organizational structure for postsecondary distance ducat ion are identified as technology-assisted instruction, consortia or collaboratives, contracted or brokered arrangements and virtual universities An examination of organizational structure describes administrative and management concerns such as programming, the instructor's role in the teaching and learning process, and faculty-student interaction. Asynchronous and synchronous technologies used to facilitate communication and interaction in a distance learning environment are identified and described.
The project organizes and summarizes the data collected from content analysis of 54 Texas public community college and technical institute Web sites. Web sites were analyzed September 20 - October 12, 1999. Of the 54 Web sites analyzed, 44 colleges refer to distance education. There is almost equal distribution between colleges that offer distance education courses (43%) and colleges that indicate a department or unit responsible for overseeing the distance teaching and learning process (39%). Seven distance education providers indicate participation or membership in consortia] or collaborative efforts.
Student support services that provide effective interaction are a significant component of the organizational structure and facilitate the distance learner's role as director of the learning process. A review of traditional campus-based support services identifies admissions, registration, assessment, counseling and advising, learning resources, and other services as key factors in a successful distance learning experience. A practical ideal type, based on criteria derived from the literature and guidelines provided by accrediting agencies, professional organizations or distance education consortia is used to assess the types of support services provided for the distance learner.
An assessment of the level of student support services provided for students enrolled in distance learning courses or programs reveals that few services are available. Admissions is assessed as poor in providing services for the distant learner. Colleges are using the Web to provide current information on the teaching and learning process, however, colleges often transfer print-based documents to the college Web site with little or no revision. Evidence indicates that although colleges are providing informational services, many institutions require students to acquire assessment, advising and counseling services on campus. Four components, Information, Assessment, Registration, Advising and Counseling, and Other services were assessed as 'very poor' in providing services defined by the practical ideal type.
Learning Resources is rated as 'adequate' in providing services defined by the criteria. Learning Resource services at community and technical colleges indicate an awareness of the distance learner's need to access library learning resources and services that support the teaching and learning process. Library catalogs and electronic databases are accessible through 77% of the college Web sites analyzed.
An institution's commitment to providing appropriate use of technology to met students' needs and learning styles is reflected in the methods of interaction or systems of delivery utilized in providing student support services. Interactive technologies enable colleges to maximize social interaction for the distance learner and a diverse selection of technology- based alternatives effectively adapt the method of interaction to a student's particular learning preference. schedule or special needs. Evidence documented by the research indicates community and technical colleges are using technology-based alternatives to provide student support services. E-mail and web-based services such as on-line request forms and tutorials combine with the more traditional technologies such as toll-free telephone numbers to provide students with student support services.
The project concludes with recommendations for increasing access to student support services and for future research. The study also includes examples of representative Web pages for each component of support services.