ERIC Identifier: ED351008
Publication Date: 1992-11-00
Author: Willis, Barry
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Information Resources Syracuse NY.
Strategies for Teaching at a Distance. ERIC Digest.
This digest is based in part on DISTANCE EDUCATION: A PRACTICAL GUIDE, by
Barry Willis, 1993.
Effective teaching at a distance is more the result of preparation than
innovation. The distance educator can employ a number of strategies focusing on
planning, student understanding, interaction, and teaching to ensure a
successfully delivered course.
WHAT'S DIFFERENT ABOUT DISTANCE TEACHING?
teachers rely on a number of visual and unobtrusive cues from their students to
enhance their delivery of instructional content. A quick glance, for example,
reveals who is attentively taking notes, pondering a difficult concept, or
preparing to make a comment. The student who is frustrated, confused, tired, or
bored is equally evident. The attentive teacher consciously and subconsciously
receives and analyzes these visual cues and adjusts the course delivery to meet
the needs of the class during any particular lesson.
In contrast, the distant teacher has few, if any, visual cues. Those cues
that do exist are filtered through technological devices such as video monitors.
It is difficult to carry on a stimulating teacher-class discussion when
spontaneity is altered by technical requirements and distance.
Without the use of a real-time visual medium such as television, the teacher
receives no visual information from the distant sites. The teacher might never
really know, for example, if students are asleep, talking among themselves, or
even in the room. Separation by distance also affects the general rapport of the
class. Living in different communities, geographic regions, or even states
deprives the teacher and students of a common community link.
WHY TEACH AT A DISTANCE?
The challenges posed by distance
teaching are countered by opportunities to reach a wider student audience; to
meet the needs of students who are unable to attend on-campus classes; to
involve outside speakers who would otherwise be unavailable; and to link
students from different social, cultural, economic, and experiential
backgrounds. Many teachers feel the opportunities offered by distance education
outweigh the obstacles. In fact, instructors often comment that the focused
preparation required by distance teaching improves their overall teaching
ability and empathy for their students.
IMPROVING PLANNING AND ORGANIZATION
In developing or
adapting distance instruction, the core content remains basically unchanged,
although its presentation requires new strategies and additional preparation
time. Suggestions for planning and organizing a distance delivered course
the course planning process by studying distance education research findings.
There are several excellent research summaries available (see Blanchard, 1989;
Moore & Thompson, 1990).
developing something new, check and review existing materials for content and
the strengths and weaknesses of possible delivery approaches, in terms of
learner needs and course requirements, before selecting a mix of instructional
technology. Avoid "technological solutions in search of instructional problems."
training with the technology of delivery is critical for both teacher and
students. Consider a pre-class session in which the class meets informally using
the delivery technology and learns about the roles and responsibilities of
technical support staff.
the start of class initiate a frank discussion to set rules, guidelines, and
standards. Once procedures have been established, consistently uphold them.
sure each site is properly equipped with functional and accessible equipment.
Provide a toll-free "hotline" for reporting and rectifying problems.
course materials are sent by mail, make sure they are received well before class
begins. To help students keep materials organized, consider binding the
syllabus, handouts, and other readings prior to distribution.
off slowly with a manageable number of sites and students. The logistical
difficulties of distant teaching increase with each additional site.
the strengths and weaknesses of the instructional delivery systems available to
you (e.g., audio, video, data, and print) as well as the technical means by
which they are delivered (e.g., satellite, microwave, fiber optic cable, etc.).
MEETING STUDENT NEEDS
To function effectively, students
must quickly become comfortable with the nature of teaching and learning at a
distance. Efforts should be made to adapt the delivery system to best motivate
and meet the needs of the students, in terms of both content and preferred
learning styles (see Coldeway, Spencer, & Stringer, 1980). Consider the
following strategies for meeting students' needs:
students aware of and comfortable with new patterns of communication to be used
in the course (see Holmberg, 1985).
about students' backgrounds and experiences. Discussing the instructor's
background and interests is equally important.
sensitive to different communication styles and varied cultural backgrounds.
Remember, for example, that students may have different language skills, and
that humor is culturally specific and won't be perceived the same way by all
(see Sponder, 1990).
that students must take an active role in the distance delivered course by
independently taking responsibility for their learning.
students in becoming familiar and comfortable with the delivery technology and
prepare them to resolve the technical problems that will arise. Focus on joint
problem solving, not placing blame for the occasional technical difficulty.
aware of students' needs in meeting standard university deadlines, despite the
lag time often involved in rural mail delivery.
IMPROVING INTERACTION AND FEEDBACK
interaction and feedback strategies will enable the instructor to identify and
meet individual student needs while providing a forum for suggesting course
improvements. To improve interaction and feedback, consider the following:
a variety of delivery systems for interaction and feedback, including one-on-one
and conference calls, fax, electronic mail, video, and computer conferencing.
When feasible, consider personal visits as well.
each site (or student) every week if possible, especially early in the course.
Take note of students who don't participate during the first session, and
contact them individually after class.
detailed comments on written assignments, referring to additional sources for
supplementary information. Return assignments without delay, using fax or
electronic mail, if practical.
telephone office hours using a toll-free number. Set evening hours if most of
your students work during the day.
in the course, require students to contact you and interact among themselves via
electronic mail, so that they become comfortable with the process. Maintaining
and sharing electronic journal entries can be very effective towards this end.
pre-class study questions and advance organizers to encourage critical thinking
and informed participation on the part of all learners. Realize that it will
take time to improve poor communication patterns.
students keep a journal of their thoughts and ideas regarding the course
content, as well as their individual progress and other concerns. Have students
submit journal entries frequently.
pre-stamped and addressed postcards and out-of-class phone conferences for
feedback regarding course content, relevancy, pace, delivery problems, and
on individual students to ensure that all participants have ample opportunity to
interact. At the same time, politely but firmly discourage individual students
or sites from monopolizing class time.
an on-site facilitator to stimulate interaction when distant students are
hesitant to ask questions or participate. In addition, the facilitator can act
as your onsite "eyes and ears."
USE EFFECTIVE DISTANCE TEACHING SKILLS
For the most part,
effective distance teaching requires enhancing existing skills, rather than
developing new abilities. Pay special attention to the following:
strategies for student reinforcement, review, repetition, and remediation.
Towards this end, one-on-one phone discussions and electronic mail communication
can be especially effective.
assess the amount of content that can be effectively delivered in the course.
Because of the logistics involved, presenting content at a distance is usually
more time consuming than presenting the same content in a traditional classroom
and pace course activities and avoid long lectures. Intersperse content
presentations with discussions and student-centered exercises.
aware that student participants will have different learning styles. Some will
learn more easily in group settings, while others will excel when working
independently. While the same is true in traditional classroom settings,
preferred student learning styles may be more difficult to determine at a
the course by focusing on the students, not the delivery system.
providing a strong print component to supplement non-print materials (see Graham
& Wedman, 1989).
locally relevant case studies and examples as often as possible to assist
students in understanding and applying course content.
concise. Use short, cohesive statements and ask direct questions, realizing that
technical linkages might increase the time it takes for students to respond.
instructor involvement, realizing that distance teaching does not replace the
value of face-to-face contact and small group interaction. If budget and time
permit, teach at least one session from each site. Typically, the earlier in the
course this is done, the better.
Finally...Relax. Participants will quickly grow comfortable with the process of
distance education and the natural rhythm of effective teaching and learning
Blanchard, W. (1989). TELECOURSE EFFECTIVENESS:
A RESEARCH-REVIEW UPDATE. Olympia, WA: Washington State Board for Community
College Education. (ED 320 554).
Coldeway, D.E., Spencer, R., & Stringer, M. (1980). FACTORS EFFECTING LEARNER MOTIVATION IN DISTANCE EDUCATION: THE INTERACTION BETWEEN LEARNER ATTRIBUTES AND COURSE PERFORMANCE. REDEAL Research Report #9. Project REDEAL Research and Evaluation of Distance Education for the Adult Learner. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: Athabasca University. (ED 249 346).
Graham, S.W., & Wedman, J.F. (1989). Enhancing the appeal of
teletraining. JOURNAL OF INSTRUCTIONAL PSYCHOLOGY, 16(4), 183-191.
Holmberg, B. (1985). Communication in distance study. In STATUS AND TRENDS OF
DISTANCE EDUCATION. Lund, Sweden: Lector Publishing.
Moore, M.G., & Thompson, M.M., with Quigley, A.B., Clark, G.C., &
Goff, G.G. (1990). THE EFFECTS OF DISTANCE LEARNING: A SUMMARY OF THE
LITERATURE. RESEARCH MONOGRAPH NO. 2. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania
State University, American Center for the Study of Distance Education. (ED 330
Sponder, B. (1990). DISTANCE EDUCATION IN RURAL ALASKA: AN OVERVIEW OF TEACHING AND LEARNING PRACTICES IN AUDIOCONFERENCE COURSES. University of Alaska Monograph Series in Distance Education No. 1. Fairbanks, AK: University of Alaska, Center for Cross-Cultural Studies. (ED 325 276).
Willis, B. (1993). DISTANCE EDUCATION: A PRACTICAL GUIDE. Englewood Cliffs,
NJ: Educational Technology Publications.