Editor’s Note: With popularization of the Internet, many institutions abandoned television studio classrooms and interactive television for online instruction. However, television continues to be a viable method of instruction and is often preferred for visual and process oriented topics such as engineering, science, and nursing. As the internet goes broadband and facilitates multimedia and video, there is a renewed interest in learning from television. This article emphasizes the need for planning and technical support, especially for legacy systems. There needs to be clear assessment of effectiveness of the chosen ITV format by the originating institution. Recommendations listed here should be implemented.
Teaching with Instructional Television
Kristine Holloway, Savvina Chowdhury
College and university educators may be required to teach with distance technologies such as instructional television (ITV). As higher education focuses more on asynchronous educational mediums such as the Internet, adapting to teach with ITV may seem unnecessary. However, many schools have invested heavily in technology and support systems for ITV that is not likely to be abandoned in the near future. Teaching with ITV continues to be a challenge for educators. Teachers from a small public university who have experience in teaching with ITV were surveyed to discover strategies adopted by educators to meet these challenges. This information may help institutions offering distance education via ITV to better support their teaching faculty.
Keywords: active learning, administrative support, classroom management, communication, course management software, distance education, higher education, instructional television, student evaluation, synchronous instruction, teacher attitudes, technology, faculty workload.
Teaching with Instructional Television
Institutions of higher learning use instructional television (ITV) for educating students located at a distance from colleges or universities. TheNational Center for Education Statistics 2003 canvas of colleges and universities in the United States found that (56%) of all two and four year institutions that grant degrees offered some instruction through distance education. More than half (51%) of the institutions used instructional television in distance education.
ITV typically involves filming an instructor at one site and transmitting that instruction on television in real time to one or more additional sites. Teaching with ITV has been improved by the addition of two-way audio and interactive video and the ability to display computer graphics at both sites (Bacon & Jakovich, 2001). ITV is synchronous interactive video and, as such, preserves interactivity between students in both classrooms and the instructor even for the distance classroom (Andrews, Gosse, Gaulton, & Maddigan, 1999). Technologies such as video streaming, telephone-conferencing, and internet allowed ITV to emerge as a powerful medium for teaching distance students (Mercer, 2004).
There is a tendency to regard the future of distance learning as belonging solely to online or web classes. However, Burrow and Glass (2001) found that courses offered in ITV were sometimes preferred by students even when the same course was offered online. Dooley, Lindner, & Richards (2003) found that the visual and interactive nature of instructional television benefited students. Student satisfaction with ITV has been heavily researched and generally confirmed (Anderson & Kent, 2002).
As a consequence of the boom in distance education, faculty members are often asked to teach using delivery mechanisms such as ITV. This can be a source of considerable strain. Seay, Rudolph & Chamberlain (2001) surveyed fifty-five instructors who taught with ITV. They found that 78.2 percent preferred to teach in a traditional classroom while 47.3 percent expressed strong opposition to teaching with ITV. Faculty who experienced difficulties teaching with ITV had problems with: technology, communication, workload, and lower student course evaluations in the ITV classroom.
Faculty members at a small public university in California who taught with ITV were surveyed regarding their experiences in teaching with ITV. The research presented in this paper is intended to give a better understanding of teaching from a distance through ITV so that distance faculty can learn from the experiences of their colleagues and be better supported by their institutions.
Instructors interviewed by Wheeler, Batchelder, & Hampshire (1996) found that there was considerable time involved in adapting to cameras and microphones, both for themselves and for students. Swift, Wilson, and Wayland (1997) stated that manipulating the control panel to direct the camera angles constituted a considerable distraction to the instructor’s attention. Seay, Rudolph, & Chamberlain (2001) noted that ITV instructors must adapt their courses to tools such as the Elmo, an overhead camera, which limits the display material an instructor can use to the size of a letter sized sheet of paper. This makes illustrating concepts difficult because all explanation must occur in that small space. In-class technological failures of ITV equipment disrupt the flow of a class and take up needed class time (Thyer, Polk, & Gaudin, 1997).
Communication issues for ITV instructors varied. Some instructors have difficulty with the lack of non-verbal cues. As Cooke and deBettencourt (2001, p.222) noted, “in typical college classes, the professor generally relies on nonverbal means such as: eye contact, facial expressions, and body language to gauge the reactions of the participants.” ITV instructors who adopt a learner-centered teaching style are challenged to elicit responsiveness from students at the distance site. Traditionally, viewing television is a passive act. “Most students have little expectation of, or experience with, television as an interactive medium” (Racine & Dillworth, 2000, p.349). Yet learner-centered teaching has been linked to academic achievement in distance education research (Dupin-Bryant, 2004).
Distance educators fear an increased workload. The National Education Association poll of distance learning faculty found that distance teaching required a greater time and work commitment from instructors than traditional courses (2000). Much of the literature recommends that the instructor periodically teach at the distance site in order to improve the experience for the distance student (Bader & Roy, 1999). Depending on the location of the sites, this can result in a considerable amount of lost time for the instructor. Beattie et al (2002) noted that an increase in class size due to multiple sites equaled an increase in teacher workload as additional time to grade and prepare course materials is required.
Student evaluations of instructors have a major impact on promotion and retention decisions. Negative evaluations from the ITV classroom may be more indicative of problems with the medium than with instruction. Fetzer (2000) in her comparative analysis of nursing student evaluations from a traditional and an ITV classroom where the class and instructor were the same found that the teacher received higher ratings in 12 out of 13 categories from the traditional classroom than from the ITV group. Thyer, Polk, & Gaudin (1997) in a similar study of social work students found that the traditional classroom rated the instructor higher on all counts except for course management. Beattie et al (2002) however, noted that results were similar for the traditional and distance sites in their study of special education credentialing students. They suggested that altering teaching style and incorporating interaction in order to include the ITV students resulted in more positive evaluations.
Currently, a substantial number of college instructors teach with ITV. Johnson and DeSpain (2001) surveyed Deans of Education and found that (61%) expected newly hired professors to teach with ITV while (22%) stated that faculty currently employed could not refuse to teach with ITV. Musial and Kampmueller (1996) found that the start-up cost to launch an ITV program can be more than $100,000 dollars and that ongoing maintenance charges contributed to the total cost to the institution. The demand for distance education, the need to support students who are not geographically located near a college or university, and the financial investment in equipment and support make it important for faculty to find ways to adapt to this technology and determine which ITV technologies should be implemented as more instruction/learning is supported.
Sixty faculty members at a small public university who taught with ITV were sent surveys in Spring 2006. These faculty members teach in diverse subjects including Social Work, Education, Science, and English. They represent varying ages and experience levels in teaching and with technology. Thirty-three faculty members completed and returned the surveys for a fifty-five percent return rate. Instructors exhibited much enthusiasm in their impressions of ITV regardless of whether those impressions were positive or negative.
The survey instrument consisted of 46 questions that provided for structured and free text responses. The surveys were designed to elicit faculty attitudes toward ITV, problems faced, and strategies developed for coping with those difficulties. A variety of concerns that emerged in a review of the literature were covered including: technology, communication, workload, and student evaluations. Demographic data regarding: gender, ethnicity, subject discipline, and experience in teaching and ITV were used as variables in evaluating survey results. Survey results were inputted into Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS). The data gathered was intended to discover how the ITV teaching experience could be improved for instructors.
Survey respondents included 19 female and 14 male faculty members. The median age was 49.5 years. The oldest person surveyed was 74 and the youngest was 33. The average time spent teaching at a college or university was 14.6 years with only one respondent having taught for less than one year. The average number of ITV courses taught prior to the survey was seven. The ethnic breakdown was: (78.8%) Caucasian, (6.1%) Japanese, (3%) Hispanic, and (12.1%) who preferred not to answer.
Subject disciplines represented were: science (15.2%), nursing (15.2%), education (15.1%), social work (12.1%), economics (12.1%), business (9.1%), English (6.1%), psychology (3%), criminal justice (3%), theater (3%), history (3%), general studies
Percentage of Instructors Surveyed
All courses taught by faculty included in this survey were either at the upper division or graduate level. Of instructors surveyed, (61.5%) said that they preferred to teach in a traditional classroom.
Of the ITV instructors surveyed, slightly more than half (51.5%), indicated that the equipment they were using was not satisfactory for teaching. Problems mentioned specifically by instructors were: lack of equipment updating (27.3%), inability of students at the distance site to see both the teacher and lecture slides at the same time (18.2%), lack of range of movement with the microphone and camera (12.1%), that the cameras did not focus on the distance students while they were speaking (6.1%), and that all students in the distance classroom could not be seen.
ITV instructors when asked about the loss of class time due to technical difficulties such as losing sound and buzzing noises reported that this happened frequently (33.3% of the time) or occasionally (45.5% of the time) in their classrooms. It was reported that classes were cut short or classrooms needed to be changed due to problems with the technology. An instructor noted as a “distraction in class” [that] “cameras do not work with microphones” preventing students and the instructor from seeing who is speaking in the other classroom. These incidents suggest that technological difficulties have a significant impact on teaching through ITV.
When asked about technical support at the distance site, more than half (66.7%) of ITV instructors surveyed indicated that it was sufficient. Those who were dissatisfied indicated that they were bothered by: slow or erratic courier service for delivering graded papers or materials to students (9.1%), lack of resources available to students at the distance site (9.1%), and lack of technical assistance at night (6.1%). In terms of pedagogical support of active learning, instructors surveyed expressed a desire for a class aide (3%) and a better audio connection (3%) between sites.
Most instructors expressed comfort in their use of ITV technology (87.9%). More than half, (57.6%) had received training on teaching via ITV. More concern was expressed over what was available in terms of the technology than any real discomfort in using the equipment. Almost half (45.5%) of instructors, stated that they had camera and video feed needs not being met by the existing technology. Instructors who did not find the Elmo and the whiteboard sufficient for their instruction constituted a substantial percentage (27.3%). More than one instructor expressed a desire for a mobile microphone that could be worn when moving around the classroom. Technology to enhance video coverage and apply greater zooming capability can make the ITV pedagogical experience more closely resemble that of a traditional classroom.
I. Active Learning
Active learning is generally considered to be an effective method of teaching. When queried regarding whether their teaching style was traditional, active, or a mixture of traditional and active learning, more than half of instructors surveyed (54.5%) reported using a mix of the two. Only (6.1%) of instructors used active learning as their primary teaching method. Group work is used in active learning. One instructor could not hear or see what the distance class was doing so group work in the distance classroom went unmonitored. ITV was not considered a favorable medium for group projects by (42.4%) of instructors.
The traditional lecture method of teaching may look like the most practical choice for ITV given the static nature of filming. In fact, (33.3%) of instructors stated that data-driven courses were best for courses taught through ITV. An instructor wrote that she did not have the “knowledge/ skill to do small group activities and full classroom discoveries” in an ITV classroom. However, as the literature review has shown, the synchronous nature of ITV can lend itself effectively to encouraging interaction among students. Of the instructors surveyed, (24.2%) indicated they had reduced or eliminated interactive projects in order to make the course fit better into the ITV framework. One instructor stated that she had altered her course for ITV by using “less active learning because it is much harder with the 10 second time delay.”
When asked about strategies to manage group work more effectively, (18.2%) thought that course management software such as Web CT was effective for encouraging discussion between students at both sites and between students and the instructor. Overall (60.6%) of instructors teaching with ITV reported that they used tools such as Web CT to complement classroom instruction and encourage interaction.
II. Classroom Management
As illustrated in Table 2, (57.5%) of ITV instructors surveyed said they encountered more problem behavior from students in the distance classroom. Problem student behavior included: poor attendance, sitting in seats that were off camera, failing to press the microphone button so that students at the other site could hear, cheating on examinations, distracting behavior such as talking to other students or on cell phones, working on other projects during class time, and rudeness to students at the other campus. Many teachers (42.4%) had more problems with attendance in their distance classrooms.
Strategies developed to address problem behavior included: asking students to turn off cell phones, emailing students privately later regarding their behavior, asking students to change their seats, learning the names of students, informing staff about issues, and using personal websites. The idea of using a seating chart was also mentioned as a solution to the problem of students sitting out of camera shot.
Two-thirds of faculty (66.6%) reported that they spent more time preparing for their ITV classes than for their traditional classes, while one-third (33.3%) indicated that the same amount of time was taken to prepare for an ITV class as compared to a traditional class. The vast majority (88.5%) of instructors made alterations to make their courses more suitable for ITV. Email and transferring materials to a course management program were mentioned as a means of improving communication. It was noted, however, that email in particular tended to be very time consuming.
Only (15.2%) of instructors were required by their departments to visit the distant site. However, almost one-third of instructors (30.3%) stated that they found visiting the distance site an effective means of encouraging communication between themselves and their distance students. One instructor was emphatic that visiting the distance sites was necessary but that the time it took was very draining since she taught a course that was broadcast through ITV at multiple sites. Another instructor wanted to visit the distance site but could not because her courses were scheduled back to back, and she taught a mixture of ITV and traditional courses.
Survey comments indicated that instructors put additional effort into including their distance students in the class. One instructor mentioned the “intense work [of] getting materials ready for Web CT.” Class size is an obvious factor as with more students there is more work involved in grading and advising. Instructors may generally place caps on the number of students registered in a class. However, the number of students admitted in a course, course scheduling and workload assignment may not be decided by the instructor.
IV. Student Evaluations
Almost half (45.4%) of instructors reported that student evaluations of their ITV classes were noticeably worse than student evaluations of their traditional classes. The remainder either indicated that there was not a difference in student evaluations of their ITV classes (33.3%) or chose not to answer (21.3%). One instructor stated that her evaluations had been worse before she began the practice of visiting the distance site each quarter. Lower student evaluations carry a tremendous weight for instructors because retention and promotion decisions are largely based on these. A poor student response may have a profoundly negative impact on an instructor’s career.
An instructor stated that she saw a correlation in her classes between technical problems at the distance site and poor evaluations from students at the distance site. This was borne out by comparing the data in SPSS. When a question regarding class interruptions due to technical failures such as loss of sound or buzzing noises was compared with poor student course evaluations for the distance site a highly moderate correlation of 0.484 was identified.
When asked if they preferred to teach in a traditional or ITV classroom, the overwhelming majority of faculty members surveyed, (61.5%), said that they would prefer to teach in a traditional classroom. Only two instructors stated that they would prefer to work in an ITV classroom. One teacher noted that she preferred the traditional classroom “because I am not well trained in ITV or Online.”
Instructors’ concerns were generally for the students at both sites and how to effectively help them. One instructor created a PowerPoint presentation to introduce her students to the process of being on camera and speaking into a microphone. Repeated comments and needs expressed were for better and more current technology, more training in how to use the technology, better scheduling (so that teachers could visit the distance site), and more staff to provide technical, proctoring, and classroom support.
Teaching faculty should be supported when they are working with ITV just as they are supported in the traditional classroom. Issues such as: technology, training and collaboration to improve pedagogy and communication, workload, and lower student evaluations due to issues with the medium rather than the quality of instruction need to be addressed by any university that offers a distance education program.
Distance education administrators can take steps to improve the instructor’s experience. The literature and the data presented suggest that it would be helpful to have more and better communication between the administration and the faculty. Technical issues that are on-going, disruptive to learning, and experienced by multiple teachers should be tracked and addressed by school administration. The need for ongoing funding for equipment maintenance and upgrades to distance technology should be dealt with as a necessary expense. Teaching faculty should be consulted in evaluating the need and potential efficacy of new technology.
Instruction in how to use the technology should be standardized and required for all ITV instructors. As the technology changes, there should be ongoing instruction provided to faculty to address these changes. If desired, the instructor should have the option of asking for a technical assistant to be present in the distance classroom. Centralized support should be available for faculty teaching with ITV or with other distance education technologies. Faculty should have a clear communication channel to an administrative body that can resolve issues involved with teaching via ITV.
Technology is the solution for many problems with ITV. Several instructors wanted to be able to move freely in the classroom. Classroom management software, the use of class websites, and email are all useful as tools for classroom support and foster communication between the instructor and the students. Instructors should be supported in using technology which would mitigate the problems inherent in geographical and cultural distance between traditional and off-site students.
There is a significant body of literature on how to adapt teaching to the ITV or online environment. School administrators should be responsible for making this available to instructors, sponsoring workshops on how to teach with ITV, subsidizing attendance of faculty at off-site workshops that provide instruction on teaching with ITV, and creating a mechanism for ITV instructors to communicate with each other across departments so that they can more effectively share best practices. Communication between instructors and distance students could also be fostered by supporting the instructor to visit the distance site through better scheduling of ITV courses and payment of travel expenses.
The workload of an instructor should not increase simply because he or she is teaching a distance class. The greater time factors involved with the initial start-up of a distance course should be weighed when class assignments are made. The time issues involved with communicating via email or with commuting to the distance site should be considered as part of the distance educator’s workload. Courses offered via ITV should be capped at both sites so that class size does not become overwhelming. Other remedies should be considered, such as offering the support of a student assistant, offering the option of a team-taught class so that the work burden is shared between instructors, and offering release time to instructors.
Student evaluations should be written to distinguish the medium from the instructor where possible. Evaluations of distance teachers should be compared to their traditional class’s evaluations before significant weight is given to them. Administrators need to be cognizant of the difficulties that are inherent in teaching over a distance. With this knowledge they can provide stronger and more comprehensive support to faculty teaching through ITV technology.
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Kristine Holloway has her Masters in Library and Information Science and is the Distance Services Library Coordinator for California State University Bakersfield. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Savvina Chowdhury, Ph.D. is a professor of economics with California State University Bakersfield. She has taught several courses with Instructional Television. Her email address is email@example.com.