Challenges in Teleinformatics (ICT in Distance Education)

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Challenges in Teleinformatics (ICT in Distance Education)

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Distance education has been  in existence from more than approximately one hundred years. Since its inception, distance education has acquired a dubious reputation, establishing a conflict with traditional college or university education. One of the challenges since the inception of distance education has been the continuous change in intonation and communication technologies and its ability to adapt to those changes. Another challenge has been the use of technology to enhance the educational process for the distance learners.

Generations of Distance Education

The four generations of distance education based on the technological changes that have occurred are: The first generation was based on the printed word and delivered by mail. The second generation was, ushered in with the advancement of broadcast media, primarily in the form of television and radio. The third generation of distance education occurred with the advent of computers and their use to deliver instruction materials (Chou and Sun 1996). As the third generation permeates the remote delivery of instruction, students now expect institutions to deliver courses “online”. Digital information has allowed for a. new generation of distance education called as fourth generation that will lead to the virtual campus, virtual labs and virtual libraries. It is based on the flexible learning, using interactive Multimedia, Internet and computer mediated communication.

Distance Education and Technology

The terms ‘distance education’ and distance learning’ have been used as synonyms for years and, in principle, have the same meaning and goals. Education incorporates a systematic approach to learning, including the institution and the creation of a collaborative learning environment. This has ultimately led to the formal definition of distance education as the acquisition of knowledge and skills through mediated information and institution, encompassing all technologies and other forms of learning at a distance (US, Distance Learning Association, 1998).

Computer- Mediated Communications and Computer-Based Instruction

Realizing that distance education has entered into a ‘fourth generation’, it becomes obvious, that the emergence of advanced, information technology is shaping the future and offers the means to create computer networks that becomes the communication channel for delivering instruction. Two terms that are used when discussing computer networks in distance education are computer mediated communications and computer-based instruction. Computer-mediated communications is a generic term that represents the ability of people to communicate with one another through the use of computers and networks. The most popular forms of computer-mediated communications are e-mail, computer conferencing, bulletin boards, and discussion lists. A derivative of this technology and technique is computer based instruction. The uniqueness of computer-based instruction is its capability to let a student communicate and exchange information with computer networks around the world and thus creating a learning environment. Just two of the many forms of computer-based instruction involve hypertext and hypermedia. Many of the pedagogical issues that arise in computer-mediated communications also occur in computer-based instruction along with its own set of issues. Researchers have been conducted for thirty years concerning computers, learning and instruction and the results indicate a successful interrelationship. Instruction has moved from ‘learning from media’ to ‘learning with media’ (Hannafi n et al, 1996. Romiszowski and Mason, J 996).

Asynchronous Learning

An asynchronous learning network is a form of computer-based instruction, taking place without the confinement of location and time. The central focus of an asynchronous learning network, according to Hiltz and Wellman ( 1997), is a teaching and learning environment, designed for any time/place use through computer networks.

Virtual Campus

The term vi1tual is used in recognition of the asynchronous population and the distributed learning process. The traditional model of knowledge delivery has changed and will continue to do so. Institutions will have to support the ‘distributed learning communities’ but also maintain a level of traditional interaction providing the sense of an academic community (Talley, 1997).

Distance Education and Current Challenges

Despite its growing popularity and success, distance education still faces the stigmas that got attached to it in its initial stage when its primary mode of instruction was correspondence course. The distance education still has to make an immense leap for bringing it into the mainstream of higher education, but higher education is at crossroads where fundamental principles are being reanalyzed partially due to the advancements in educational technology (Olcott, 1997). The technology has changed but the central issues and concerns of distance education especially in the area of superficial interpretation of course material, motivational and learning experiences and low retention rate still remain unsolved (Abrami and Bums, 1996). Another major negative issue associated with a distance programme that still lingers, is the elimination of face-to-face interaction among the students and instructors, causing the need networking and socialization (Moller and Draper, 1996).

Information Technology offers to distance education an opportunity to break loose of the century-old misconceptions. Higher Education is now challenged to finally eradicate the misconceptions by incorporating and providing high quality distance courses and to do so in an asynchronous environment,

Advancements in tele-informatics have created opportunities to extend the educational process beyond the traditional classroom and deliver instruction/ training to. Geographically diverse audiences locally, nationally and even internationally. The technological intrusion and the social changes caused by globalization have underlined the potential of distance education and has raised question regarding the effectiveness, and even the validity of traditional methods of knowledge transmission (Verduin & Clark, 1991 ). With the growth, diversification and decrease in the cost of interactive technologies, distance education is developing its own infrastructure to become  the emerging educational network of 21st  century (Romiszowski, 1990). In brief, there is a new paradigm that demonstrates, unequivocally, the need for –

(a)     the introduction of tele-informatics in education which needs new methods of knowledge transmission;

(b)   The social changes and job-prospects creating a demand for lifelong learning which requires need based programmers through distance mode according to the intere8ts and demands of the clientele.

In the present telecommunication age, with its vastly expanded employment ski ll and variety of courses, the student population has changed to include older (Beller et al., 1998), employees and non-residential students. With the rapid change in technology the workforce must continuously be retrained and as a result the employees themselves are more keen to enhance and update their knowledge to further their careers. The companies are also taking initiative in offering courses to their employees to upgrade their skills and knowledge sets. The demand of the day is compelling the universities to offer additional degrees as well as provide flexibility in course offerings. In brief, the changing demographics of students, requirement of new skills and new educational competitors are enforcing the adoption ‘of new educational delivery systems’ that bridge the time-place gap which traditional courses have created. Interactive-distance teaching, Distance Learning (DL) and world wide access of educational instruction through internet services: On Line Learning (OLL) offers non-residential educational services which are more suitable to student’s life style and needs.

Distance education is currently at a turning point in its evolution as the result of new technologies that are reforming the concept of education and knowledge transmission at a distance. The new technologies have significantly accelerated the changes I n education and have ‘also given rise to a new cohort of stakeholders’ and technocrat-technicians turned educators. Education is no longer a protected realism of traditional teaching professionals since they must now include the technocrat technicians who have already carved out their own place. The arrival of tele-informatics and the pressure from high-tech transnational’s are creating a situation that raises a question on the working of distance education institutions on traditional lines which means one way communication. Faced with such a threat for survival, a distance education institution has to decide the level of interaction between instructor and client, etc. as well as between technocrat technician and subject expert, to satisfy the clientele needs and provide efficient teaching/instructions, without having to sacrifice the foundations of social values and public education.

Distance education is becoming a more vital part of higher education because it reaches a broader student audience, addresses better to student needs, saves money and time, and more importantly uses the principles of modem learning pedagogy (Fitzpatrick, 200 I ). Public as well as political interest in distance education is especially high in geographic regions where the student population is widely distributed (Sherry, 1996). This has ultimately led to the formal definition of distance education as, “The acquisition of knowledge and skills through mediated information and institution, encompassing all technologies and other forms of learning at a distance” (US, Distance Learning Association, 1998).

The tele-inrormatics in distance education poses a great challenge to educational institutions which use this communication network. The speed at which this technology evolves generates the need for new and appropriate pedagogical strategies in reshaping distance education within a unique system of knowledge transmission. The arrival of electronic high way, the creation of a worldwide class room, lab, library, etc., are just a fow manifestations of accelerated evolution of teleinformatics in Education (Knight, 1995).

To meet the ever changing and varied needs of the clientele, an organization is required that can react to internal and external changes, while maintaining the integrity of the institutions mission. This requirement also implies a respect for the val ues and experiences of all the stakeholders, teachers, administrators, students, and other people directly involved or interested in education. This extension of institutional practice, therefore, covers course and service quality, as well as learning results. The study of both features and characteristics of distance education i n a technological age is becoming even more urgent.

In traditional classroom, the teacher gives lecture and students listen and write notes. The interaction between the two (teacher and learners) has been viewed as an essential learning element within this arrangement. But advances in IT (information technology) have ushered a new paradigm and advantage of on-line learning (OL) include more comfortable approach to their time as its schedule saves their time which enables them to take more courses at their door steps. As a result many institutions of higher learning have adopted distance and on-line education as the next logical step in educational delivery system.

Even today in this changing environment, faculty has a key role in the teaching and learning process. The responsibility for instructional quality and control, the improvement of learning and the aggregate effectiveness of distance education rests mainly on the faculty (Olcott & Wright, 1995). The faculty must be aware and familiar with the diverse technologies and be able to incorporate these technologies and alter their teaching styles used within the “traditional classroom” and develop new skills to reach the distant learner effectively. In other words, the faculty needs to understand the relationship between interactive learning and technology as well as how to operate the technology.

A research study on administrators and faculty was conducted by Rockwell et al. ( 1999) which revealed that administrators felt and expressed concerns about teaching via distance related to time, cost, instructional design, instructor-student relationship, reward structure, degree programmers, policy and faculty training. The study also revealed that faculty training should be centered around the technology and designing their instruction both via face to face or distance methods on a parallel basis. In the case of faculty, the following six items were identified as incentives.

  • Opportunity to provide innovative instruction,
  • Applying new teaching techniques,
  • Self-gratification,
  • Fulfilling personal desire to teach,
  • Recognition of their work, and
  • Peer recognition.

These are related to intrinsic or personal rewards for the instructor extending educational opportunities beyond the traditional walls of the institution. However, the major perceived obstacle relate to time requirements e.g. training, developing effective technology skills and research, all these demand adequate time as well as assistance or support. Monetary awards for faculty and cost to the students were found neither an incentive nor an obstacle. On the other hand, some educators resist distance teaching because they are concerned that distance courses will significantly increase the existing heavy workload. Distance teaching may require more time for advanced planning. In addition, class enrolment can increase significantly. The other reasons which cause resistance regarding the faculty participation is distance education, may be lack of institutional support, inadequate compensation and incentive structures, loss of autonomy and control of the curriculum; lack of technical training and support and lack of release time for planning (Clark 1983; ‘olcott & Wright, 1995).

Many studies and evaluations confirm that the well planned distance education programmers are equally effective (O’Malley, 1999), if not more than a traditional face-to-face approach, as well as often available at a lower cost (Braun, 1990; Duning, Van Kekerix & Zoborowski, 1993; Knox 1993; Rowntree, I 994; Thompson et.al. 1996). A study conducted by Malley ( 1999) on a limited sample of one university based only on business course students, attempted to assess the effectiveness of DL and OL over traditional classroom learning. The study revealed that the student perceive that DL/ OL are as effective as the traditional methodology.

According to Fox (1998), what is in dispute is not whether distance education is ideal, but whether it is good enough to merit a university degree, and whether it is better than receiving no education at all. He alludes an argument that states “students learn far too little when the teacher’s personal presence is not available because the student has more to learn from the teacher than the texts”. Thus in order to educate and trai n a tainee well, does the teacher has to be finally present? What need to done to enhance teaching learning effectiveness by using technology is a challenge.

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