Philosophy and Organization of Distance Education
The organizational pattern and operating practices of a distance education facility are generally based upon the educational philosophy of that institution as well as economic and political restrictions (Verduin & Clark, 1991). Most educators would prefer a more student-centered model while politics and economics might dictate a more institution-centered approach with greater control and a larger number of students.
Three different modes of operation under which distance education can operate are identified by Rumble (1986), including:
Sole responsibility - where the institution and its administration have distance education as their sole responsibility and purpose, such as with the Open University in the United Kingdom. Administration and faculty focus on distance education teaching methods and student needs, and are not controlled by other programs or purposes. Development of teaching techniques and innovative practices are seen as primary benefits.
Mixed mode - institutions where both distance and conventional education occur, such as the University of New England in Australia and most traditional American universities. Organization may fall under a single department with university administration being responsible, several departments may offer distance education with each department administering its own program, or a distinct unit may offer distance education in a variety of areas and be solely devoted to this purpose. The mixed mode approach may have the advantage of being able to draw upon the resources of the resident faculty and services, but a disadvantage is that some faculty and administrators may consider distance education to be less effective and less important than campus-based instruction.
Consortium - a group of institutions or distance education programs devoted to distance education as a means of broadening or sharing distance education programming. Students may register with their own institution and use centrally-developed learning materials with credits being easily transferable. This is one of the fastest growing segments of distance education (Verduin & Clark, 1991) but it also experiences administrative problems when it comes to collaboration between universities and conflicts in philosophical differences, teaching resources, and cost sharing. The University of Mid-America failed in its attempt at a consortium but efforts such as the Mind Extension University(r) are viewed as a success.
Any organizational or administrative structure must have effective communication for it to succeed. Distance education, with its diversity of activities and staffing, the nature of its students, and externally based instructional programming, requires very effective communication. According to Verduin and Clark (1991), information must flow in such a manner that all involved are aware of common goals, activities and procedures, and the appropriate feedback is possible whenever necessary.
Kaye and Rumble (1981) cite the problems of educational institutions in introducing distance learning programs, and suggest that a major issue confronting many universities is how to resolve the conflict between distance education, which often requires the management and structure of a business enterprise, and traditional academic areas which have a completely different style of governance. These differences "often find expression in a conflict between academic 'freedom of action' and the necessity for maintaining effective production mechanisms" (p. 179) necessary for distance education course development and distribution.
The separation between innovation and organization can "converge" as the innovation moves toward institutionalization through boundary expansion and resolution of conflicts (Levine, 1980, p. 14). It is this integration process which is the goal of most distance education programs at traditional universities, but studies suggest that there are often institutional barriers to the convergence of distance and mainstream education.
To focus on technologies without considering their role as a catalyst for change can adversely affect the ability of technologies to enact change (Heinich, 1982). Heinich suggests that we tend to treat all technological innovations almost the same, yet technologies such as television can affect the power structure in education, and faculty prefer the power structure the way it is.
Power and politics are primary forces in the implementation process; and school systems, like other social systems, have to be viewed in terms of the seeking, allocation and use of power (Meyer & Rowan, 1978). According to Sarason (1990), the communication network, which is dependent on personal contact and on who knows whom, often identifies the path for implementation of an innovation.
Innovators have been accused of being so passionate about their innovation that their reality is distorted and they fail to consider the importance of building constituencies to help support their cause (Sarason, 1990) and Rogers (1983) even identifies a "pro-innovation bias" which often appears in the implementation of an innovation and any related research which follows. Educational innovations seem to receive strong support from a relatively small segment of adopters but may have limited support from the group effected. Bardach (1978) suggests that even when an effort is made to develop support from constituents, it is difficult to find a cause with "a broad commonality of interest that would form the basis for coalition building" (p. 42).
Educational change is technically simple and socially complex, and definitely not a linear process. Educational innovations such as the early distance education programs were probably motivated by a "vision" that Fullan (1991) would suggest "permeates the organization with values, purpose, and integrity for both the what and how of improvement ... its formation, implementation, shaping and reshaping in specific organizations is a constant process" (p. 81-82). For a vision to become a reality, Miles stresses that it must be "shareable" and be shared with others; "it provides direction and driving power for change, and the criteria for steering and choosing" (1987, p. 12). And this vision must include a shared vision of the change process which can provide a strategy for implementation.
Although there are clear strategies for implementing innovations, change is often at the mercy of organizational culture. "Attempts at innovation in schools have usually ignored the cultural and structural traditions of the sociocultural system ... If a school has a culture in place, and there is ample evidence to suggest it does, those involved in the rigorous maintaining of the status quo are not going to be eager candidates for innovation" (Schrum, 1991, p. 37).
A case study of Athabasca University in Alberta, Canada by Shale (1985) showed some surprising results. Although the university was an "open" distance education facility and with a commitment to trying innovative educational approaches, over time it had become more and more traditional. In the beginning, the core of the academic program was the instructional designer with few academic staff, and multi-media was used heavily. But this emphasis on innovation changed and now the role of the instructional designer is not as important as that of the teacher, courses follow a more traditional lecture approach, and little use is made of media except to enhanced written materials.
Shale suggests that understanding this shift back to the traditional lies "in a deeper understanding of what a university is" (1985, p. 11) and whether a traditional university allows for change and innovation. The educational technology point of view appears to regard education as "packageable" while universities are traditionally characterized by process, academic staff, and research. Costs andthe time required to produce distance education courses are two factors suggested for this tendency to the traditional, but Shale also feels distance education has not dealt with some of the natural boundaries such as jurisdiction and coordination, factors which impact on the institutionalization of distance education programs.
Directions in Research
Much of the research done to date has centered around the use of new technologies for teaching and distance education's effectiveness as a teaching medium. A predominance of this research has used survey questionnaires with closed-ended questions with the range of options determined by the researcher (Morgan, 1984). This empirical research is useful for studying drop-out rates, learning about student preferences, and attempting to compare the variety of media used for delivery, but Morgan (1984) has urged that qualitative research methods be used to study distance education as a whole. Coldeway (1988) acknowledges that the focus of most distance education institutions is on the technology but suggests that the research is shifting to "the more human side" of the system as the programs age.
Holmberg (1984), as an international authority on distance education, strongly urges undertaking inductive studies of distance education "organization" to look at administrative framework, processes of developing and distributing learning materials, interaction between system members, and other activities required by society and the educational establishment. This type of study has not been done and seems to have value for establishing new distance education programs or making comparisons with other traditional and nontraditional programs.
Department of Real Estate
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