ERIC Identifier: ED438338
Publication Date: 1999-12-00
Author: Majdalany, Gibran - Guiney, Susan
Clearinghouse on Urban Education New York NY.
Implementing Distance Learning in Urban Schools. ERIC/CUE
Digest, Number 150.
One of the greatest challenges confronting large urban school districts is
the ability to provide students with low-cost high quality educational services.
In addition, urban schools often face large numbers of adult learners with a
plethora of educational needs, from basic literacy to career planning, training,
and placement. Constricted by a shortage of resources, lack of public
transportation, and questionable street safety, these schools are increasingly
turning to distance education as a means of service delivery (Harrington-Leuker,
Distance learning can be defined simply as an instruction and learning
practice utilizing technology and involving students and teachers who are
separated by time and space. It can occur between schools, between schools and
colleges and universities, and even within school buildings and districts.
Distance education first emerged as a concept in the nineteenth century, when it
was characterized as a correspondence course. It reappeared as the open
universities of the 1970s, and then as the videotape, broadcast, satellite, and
cable productions of the 1980s. Today, distance education commonly refers to the
use of audio, video, and computer videoconferencing technologies as delivery
modes (Steiner, forthcoming).
This digest discusses how urban schools can implement effective distance
learning programs through customized development of the three elements crucial
to a successful distance education program: a sound instructional design;
appropriate technology applications; and support for teachers, students, and
collaborative partners (Steiner, 1999).
1. Initial Steps
Overall, a distance learning program must meet, and preferably enrich, the
educational goals of the institution and the needs of the students. To do so
most effectively, it is important to establish the policy, procedures, and
programming components prior to beginning the program. Urban districts, in
particular, confronted with limited resources of all types, need to build
capacity and support within schools from the onset by involving administrators
and teachers in the planning, implementation, and evaluation.
Early decisions determine whether distance learning includes one school
building or several within one or more districts. They also establish budgeting
and program scheduling arrangements. Additional initial planning includes the
creation of new forms for assessing students and providing feedback on their
work; the selection, development, and technology training of program staff; and
the development of effective instructional designs. Relationships with business,
government, and other educational institutions, such as colleges and
universities, are considered as possible future support for the program.
Finally, contingency plans for teachers and students are prepared to deal with
2. Goals and Benefits
Distance learning encourages students to be creative, to participate actively
in their own learning, to experience others, and to prepare for the kind of
world that they will enter as adults. Further, computer learning activities that
employ multiple interactive media (sound and video) encourage active listening,
focused attention, and the ability to work independently (Schlosser &
Anderson, 1997). Specifically, effective urban distance learning programs enable
some of the following (Reed & Woodruff, 1995):
*Student participation in honors and enrichment classes with low enrollment.
*Links to enrichment activities, such as an arts program in New York City
involving Lincoln Center and New York City schools.
*Teaming with businesses, community colleges, and tutors, and participation
of remote guest speakers and experts to augment learning.
*Shared resources and participation in multi-school projects.
*Participation in college level courses, English as a Second Language
instruction, alternate education, and special education, which allows children
to participate in regular education classes as well.
Student benefits include these (New York State Distance Learning Consortium,
*The breakdown of prejudices that divide communities, resulting from
students' experiences working with diverse populations in many locations.
*The opportunity for at-risk, special education, English language learners,
bilingual students, and alternative education students to participate in a
variety of settings that are manageable for them, including regular education
classes, without the stresses of the regular classroom and with the ongoing
option to take time out.
*The achievement of the Hawthorne Effect, whereby the performance and
behavior of children in distance learning classrooms exceed expectations.
1. Design Elements
Implementing a distance learning program requires time, people, funding, and
careful planning. The following factors have been identified as essential to
successful program development (Pearson, 1989):
*Identified need (perceived or real) for the program.
*Faculty support, given incentives for motivation.
*Funds for capital costs, production, equipment, facilities, and ongoing
*High quality educational content.
*Equal learning experiences and educational outcomes (i.e., credits, degrees)
for all students.
*Enthusiasm for, and belief by, the institution in the overall program.
*Identification of a visible, spirited key leader/administrator initiating
*Adequate facilities and staff at the receiving sites.
*Available equipment to deliver programming.
*Sufficient time for careful analysis of learner needs and demographics, the
optimum service range, and the most appropriate types of courses.
*Instructional design and TV production: the interactive components, length,
*A marketing plan for the network or program, and a public relations plan for
*Cost effectiveness: feasibility and justification for delivery system to
students and institution.
*Program support or partnerships enlisted from the public and private
*Ensured continued credibility of the program with the public, faculty,
students, and supporters.
*Administrator, teacher, and staff knowledge of what distance education is
and how to teach and use it effectively.
*Ability to accredit courses and to offer or transfer credits across states
Several urban schools have implemented
effective distance learning programs. For example, the TEAMS Project (Los
Angeles, CA), for K-8 students, was chosen as a STAR School Project in
telecommunications partnerships by the U.S. Department of Education. It provides
instruction through a distributed learning system that allows students,
teachers, and parents in more than ten states to access information via
satellite, television, multimedia, and the Internet. Participating schools have
access to a variety of instructional programming that includes hands-on science
and higher mathematics, workplace skills, and life skills programs. Learners
served surpass the K-8 intended audience, encompassing K-12 students, adult
learners, limited English proficient students and disabled students.
The Learning Cafe is the home of a set of four 30-seat computer laboratories
in four Brooklyn, NY, high schools connected by a T1 line to the Internet
established through a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Brooklyn
College, and The College Board. Catering to at-risk students, the Cafe offers
web-based pre-college and college level courses to students who are
demographically less likely to pursue higher education. Students are able to
learn new technologies and explore career options in addition to pursuing their
college careers. Early college core courses are offered to students at no cost.
Students who successfully complete the Cafe courses are automatically admitted
to Brooklyn College. Engaging, easy to use, and non- threatening personalized
software is used to welcome students to online distance learning. A database
component was created to link students to work as well as to evaluate and to
monitor student access and performance (Case Studies, 1999).
Connectivity standards are key to implementing a
distance learning program. Connections must be widely and easily available,
reliable, and predictable. The most common ways to transmit a videoconference
today are these:
*Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS, which are expensive but can transmit
TV-quality broadcasts (30 video frames per second).
*Digital T1 or ISDN telecommunications lines, which offer the best value and
performance (25 video frames per second with ISDN) and have recently become a
more affordable option and by far the most common mode of videoconferencing
*POTS, which offers videoconferencing over regular phone lines or a local
Ethernet network. Quick movements are blurry, but facial expressions are visible
(5-15 video frames per second).
*The Internet, which offers the slowest option (5-6 video frames per second).
Cable modems that are utilized to deliver TV channels to 90 percent of American
homes offer tremendous potential for high-speed data connections through the
Basic hardware components for a videoconferencing system include a camera, a
microphone, a monitor for viewing, a CODEC (COmpressor/DECompressor) to code and
decode video signals for transmission, and a device that sends and receives the
signals over a phone line or network connection. Based on budget and need,
videoconferencing systems can be permanent (classroom or boardroom), portable
(group systems on a wheeled cart), compact (videophones), desktop- or LAN based,
or Internet-available (Heines, 1997).
A distance learning facilitator is needed to assist
student learning and ensure technology maintenance. Support for staff
participants is also an important factor in the success of a program, since the
introduction of distance learning can be intimidating, even for experienced
teachers. Online mentoring systems that match teachers with experienced distance
learning staff provide support and advice to new members. To be effective
distance educators, teachers become involved in the program's organization,
collaborative planning, and decision-making, and must be able to do the
following (Schlosser & Anderson, 1997):
*Understand the nature, philosophy, and goals of distance education.
*Identify the characteristics of learners at distance sites.
*Design and develop interactive courseware to suit each new technology.
*Adapt teaching strategies to deliver instruction at a distance and ensure
participation in on-air discussions of students at the remote site.
*Format instructional resources for independent study.
*Use telecommunications systems knowledgeably and skillfully.
*Evaluate student achievement, attitudes, and perceptions at distant sites.
*Deal with copyright issues.
Finally, in urban settings, additional fiscal and individual support of the
program can be secured from community distance learning events, such as sessions
covering public health or senior interests.
Case studies. (1999). Syllabus, 12(10), 48-49.
Harrington-Leuker, D. (1999). Urban tech. The American School Board Journal,
Heines, Scott. (1997, April). Videoconferencing. Presentations, 11(4), 34-36,
38, 40-41, 43-45.
Los Angeles County Office of Education. (1999). TEAMS distance learning for
all K-12 educators. Available: http://TEAMS.lacoe.edu/
New York State Distance Learning Consortium. (1999). NYSDLC discussion paper.
Pearson, V.W. (1989). Critical factors considered in the planning for the
administration and implementation of long-distance interactive video
instruction. Doctoral Dissertation, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater.
Reed, J., & Woodruff, M. (1995, Fall). Using compressed video for
distance learning. Distance Educator, 1(3), 2, 6-10. (EJ 518 481)
Schlosser, C.A., & Anderson, M.L. (1997). Distance education: review of
the literature (2nd Ed.). Washington, DC: Association for Educational
Communications and Technology.
Sherry, L. (1996). Issues in distance learning. International Journal of
Educational Telecommunications, 1(4), 337-65.
Steiner, Virginia. (Forthcoming.) What is distance education? Distance
learning resource guide. San Francisco: WestEd.