Editor’s Note: In less than three decades, distance learning has evolved from correspondence school through television to online universities. Many traditional brick and mortar universities and their faculties have accepted distance learning as a way to bring quality education al programs to underserved and unserved populations of learners. Resistance to change is giving way to acceptance of the value of the new learning tools for on-campus and distance learning.
Faculty Attitudes towards Distance Education:
A Review of the Literature
Samuel Kofi Badu-Nyarko
The concept of distance education and its practice has over the years been shrouded in controversy. A controversy that stems from both instructional design and delivery. For many academics, the delivery of instruction via the distance produces little learning and discussions as well as interactions university education to them is basically an art of meeting the challenges of life and learning deeply from the instructor. The issues of university culture, autonomy, quality and accessibility have provided grounds for rejection of distance education in many circles.
To others, distance education offers the best chance for people to work and learn at the same time while exploring other avenues regarded as critical to their everyday activity.
These arguments have greatly divided faculty on the lines of how to participate in distance education endeavours. This review of the literature tries to bring into the fore the various positions of faculty on the issue of distance education in practice.
In writing this literature review considerable effort is given to the concept of change (innovation) and faculty attitudes in general. It describes the field of higher education and perceptions held by faculty members in relation to distance education.
The role of faculty
Research has studied faculty roles in distance education and educational change (Bradley & Habeshaw, 1991; Scott, 1993; Beaudoin, 1990; Pardy & Wright, 1992). Keegan (1990), focussing on faculty performance in both the dual mode educational system and that of conventional universities, found out that faculty in dual mode heavily tasked. Garrison (1989), in an examination of distance education, stated that “while it is currently fashionable to advocate for student-centredness, the crucial role of the teacher cannot be ignored” (p. 120).
Traditional roles of faculty
According to Badley & Habeshaw (1991), the only way to appreciate the changing role of the teacher in higher education is to understand the traditional roles. Beard (1976) raised two main traditional views of the faculty, philosophical and scientific. From the philosophical view, the lecturer is to engage the mind of the student by bringing him/her into contact with scholarly and cultural comparisons. The scientific view, which emphasizes the need to inculcate a body of knowledge, tends to undervalue the social and broad educational purposes of higher education.
According to Badley & Habeshaw “neither view of the traditional role of higher education presented us with an image of a professional teacher committed to examining the purposes of higher education and the methods and content to be used to meet these purposes” (p.15). Focusing on university teaching, Henderson (1969) identified the lecturer as performing a double role – that of pursuing research and teaching. This view was later supported by Titmus (1981). Fincher (1993) added a third dimension, that of carrying out its duties in an international context.
Traditionally, higher education teachers have been criticised as failing to encourage their students to participate in research and to express new ideas. Rarely challenged by the student, faculty members were authorities who assumed the roles of correctors of students’ errors and talkers rather than listeners (Freire, 1990). This traditional role emphasized the dominant, traditional teaching method, the lecture. The claims made for its continued use are based on the notion that it is the only way to make sure the ground is covered, and is the best method to deliver facts (Gibbs, 1982.) Many faculty members assumed that lectures were the best way to encourage students to think. It is argued that lecturers are inspirational and ensure that students have a proper set of notes. Furthermore, the attention of the lecturer is needed as some students are identified as being incapable of, or unwilling to, work alone.
Gibbs (1982) suggested that faculty members have clung to the traditional method because:
They are ignorant of the evidence about the effectiveness of lectures and of alternatives techniques;
They are overworked with the view that alternatives to lectures may appear to involve more work and changes take time to introduce;
There exist shortages of resources, particularly books and other material;
Lecturers’ attitudes obstruct change and so use lecturing as a coping strategy; and
Institutional constraints do support lecturing since teaching hours are counted especially in the relationship between individual courses. (p. 54).
Other roles performed by faculty included: supervising individual and group dissertations and projects, serving as tutors for solving students’ problems, assessing students’ work, evaluating teaching and courses, administering courses, and sharing in departmental and institutional administration, and maintaining subject expertise through research and staff development (Beaudoin, 1990; Wilson, 1979). Additionally, faculty may be involved in extension, community and international service.
Changing roles in distance teaching
The expansion of the university’s responsibilities to a broader constituency through distance education has created a new dimension in the role of the faculty. With this new vision, the pressures of shared academic values, professional status, and maintenance of common academic standards have increased. In the light of these, the lecturer has to adjust to the anticipated changing roles required. The anticipated changes include the acquisition of new skills, teachers becoming facilitators, and their involvement in distance teaching (Landstrom, 1995). In addition to the increased workload, the university lecturer has to be retrained or reoriented to adapt to the innovations.
Jordan and Layzell (1992) found that faculty at Arizona State University worked an average of 50 hours a week. Of this time just under 50% was spent in-class and in preparation of teaching, 33% was spent on research activity, 14% on administration and 6% on public services. Increasing workloads were also a problem for British academics. A recent survey by court (1994) found the average number of hours worked per week by UK academics to be 54, an increase of 6% from 1969 figures. Fisher (1994) found out that 75% of a sample of 268 British academics felt frequently or always overworked. A similar report was made by Siaciwena (1989) in Zambia. It is necessary, therefore, when considering other innovations like distance education to consider faculty workloads. In considering future trends, Allen (1994) concluded:
A generation ago faculty members resolved the conflict between teaching and research by expanding their work-weeks. But the eight-hour growth to a 53-hour work-week makes future increases unrealistic (p.26).
Where faculty consider themselves already heavily burdened with teaching responsibilities, they will not consider expansions of educational opportunities that involve further teaching and less time for research. Haughey (1986) noted that the professors who depend on the lecture format to carry out instructional intents do not understand what to teach at the distance and which style to adopt. Faculty often argue as to whether the workload of both off-campus and on-campus ought to be the same.
Similarly, Beaudoin (1990) maintained that “those faculty accustomed to more conventional teaching modes will have to acquire new skills to assume expected roles not only to teach distance learners, but also to recognise instructional resources suitable in content and format for independent study” (p.27). The main thrust of this statement rests on the premise that faculty members would have to be re-oriented to their new roles if they were to accept them. Further, faculty engaged in distance education must be adept at facilitating students’ learning by paying particular attention to process, unlike classroom-based teachers whose traditional role is largely confined to selecting and sharing content (Beaudoin, 1990).
To buttress this view and to promote effective strategies for distance learning practice, a few faculty with experience in distance education could provide orientation and training to enable new instructions to become acclimatised to the unique requirements of distance teaching. Beaudoin (1990) was apt in stating that:
Attempts to provide faculty with assistance or advice designed to acquaint them with program procedures and student needs may be resisted by some faculty who will interpret such efforts as telling them how to teach. But, it is essential that expectations be made clear from the onset, least faculty assume whatever previous experience they may have had with adult learners will carry them through this new assignment when, in fact, their new instructional roles may require drastically different activities and approaches.
It is therefore important that administrators seeking resources for the establishment of a distance learning programme take pains to cultivate the support and interest of faculty, since many faculty members may not be familiar with how the new concept actually works. Thus, the major refrain is that most innovations towards distance education fail to create an academically sound, degree granting program as many faculty members continue to remark “well, those new techniques may work in some other disciplines, but they certainly won’t in mine” (p.28).
Adding support to this assertion, Purdy & Wright (1992) stated there should new approaches, techniques, or styles in situations were communication with the students is through written lessons or computer exchange in asynchronous time formats. Of particular interest: these factors have suddenly changed the role of the faculty to a new form of teaching and learning. According to Dillon & Walsh (1992), little has been written about the faculty although lecturers constitute the basic source of distance education. To them, “the view to understanding distance education as an innovation provides an important means for understanding the phenomena of distance education, particularly from the perspective of those upon whom its acceptance depends: the faculty.” (p. 53)
These salient issues have moved the concept of education from dissemination to development. According to Boot & Hodgson (1989), the role of the teacher invariably changes from a subject expert and guardian of knowledge to a facilitator, serving more as resource person and a co-learner. This dissemination to development model has far reaching implications for both curriculum and faculty roles. Meacham (1990) examines the issue differently from an innovative point of view. Regarding distance education, he was concerned about the faculty acquiring information and having an awareness of the innovation, and the “consequences in terms of lecturer action and intervention.” (p. 250)
The shift from the traditional campus has resulted in tension with regards to the functions and roles of lecturers. Croft (1992) writes that the absence of the lecturer’s freedom to develop and present subject matter has affected both instructional and research integrity, academic freedom and the authority derived from expertise in the field. Her notion is that much of distance education is in direct conflict with the autonomy of the faculty member. Distance education has been seen as an innovation that “changes the nature of the classroom in a manner which may seem to undermine the teacher’s central role and autonomy in the instructional process and limit his/her freedom” (p.54). The faculty takes a ‘back seat’ role in developing courses and allows the media to take his place with regards ton instructional delivery. Faculty, according to Croft, see distance education as threatening the integrity of traditional instruction and learning processes:
Nothing dispels the attitudinal aspects of discomfort with distance education –a fear of technically complex devices used to deliver courses; concerns that students may not get the education they deserve, about one’s own reputation, about job security, that distance education will make faculty superfluous, a resistance to learning new things, a worry that students will not adapt, skepticism about the abilities of distance education to deliver what it promises, and previous negative experiences. (p. 54)
Demonstrating the importance of institutional support for increased faculty participation on the basis of tenure and promotion, Olcutt & Wright (1995) emphasized that participation goes beyond merely providing instructional leadership. They argued that
Institutional leadership suggests that faculty are intimately involved in the instructional design process, the design of student support services, in student advising and in the rigorous evaluation of technologically mediated instruction. Moreover, faculty participation includes engaging in discipline-based research and the serving of the academic community (p.19)
The functions may exert pressure on faculty while participating in distance education.
Faculty attitudes towards distance education
Traditionally and historically, academics have held a less than positive attitude towards distance education (Black, 1995; Johnson, 1984; Rishante, 1985; Dillon and Walsh, 1992; Clark, 1982). Mcafee (1972), for instance, stated that the immediate objections to using correspondence courses in universities and colleges probably centre on one or more of the following:
A belief that students taking distance courses will not learn as much as those in regular universities;
The fear that distance education courses cannot be used to meet the entrance requirements of institutions of higher learning;
The belief that the use of distance education courses will adversely affect the accreditation of the degrees; and
The belief that distance education courses are poorly prepared by unqualified persons (p.34).
In contrast, Meachem (1982) indicated that the goal of innovations such as distance education is perceived as development of effective distance teaching materials by staff who have little or no experience.
The acknowledgement of faculty support or resistance towards distance education shows that faculty may support innovation even when unfamiliar with the system (Black, 1995). The literature on higher education, according to Johnson (1984), showed that faculty have often appeared unfavourable to innovation and resistant to change. Recent studies on faculty attitudes have empirically confirmed this (Black, 1995; Landstrom, 1995).
In writing about faculty attitudes towards distance education, Verduin and Clark (1991) maintained that attitudes play a significant role in decisions about who will use it, and how and when it will be used. Faculty may be resistant to public exposure, fearing that their course materials/content or their teaching styles may come under attack. According to Levis & Wall, (as cited in Verduin & Clark, 1991),
Some instructors are resistant to dealing with students who cannot get to campus, having little or no sympathy for the student whose life situation does not permit attending college in the traditional manner. Among these re teachers who believe they cannot teach if they “cannot see the students’ faces,” or who are [even] reluctant to try interactive transmission systems in classrooms located distance across the campus. Some believe that ‘you can’t teach this way’ no matter what (p.12).
The implication is that many faculty members do not recognise the university operating outside the domain where it traditionally belongs.
Opinions, however, do differ among faculty members. Verduin and Clark (1991) pointed out that attitudes are related to status. Scott (1985), reported that although admission and graduation requirements may be similar for both off-campus and on-campus programs, most external degree instruction was performed by adjunct professors who were paid less and who often felt slighted in terms of professional advancement. Faculty who participated in distance education perceived their teaching as of higher quality than that of colleagues in conventional programs (Landstrom, 1995).
Similarly, Dillon & Walsh (1992) established that faculty teaching at a distance are positive towards such teaching and their attitudes tend to improve with experience. Clark (1993) found that familiarity and previous experience were moderately predictive of respondents’ receptivity to distance education. Generally, faculty motivation to teach distance students is derived from intrinsic rather than extrinsic incentives (Siaciwena, 1989); Black, 1992; however, lack of commitment has been identified as a basis for rejection of distance education by faculty (Siaciwena, 1989). Mani, (as cited in Siaciwena, 1989) found that it is the perception among faculty that distance teaching is neither rewarded by academic departments nor perceived as a scholarly activity by a significant number of colleagues.
Smith (1979), writing on the Australian distance education system, explained the reaction of the University of Sydney professorial board as saying:
External studies are necessarily greatly inferior to internal studies and even with the most carefully organised and well-staffed external department so little could be achieved and so imperfectly that the establishment of external studies cannot be recommended … indeed, there is a pressing danger that external studies will give the illusion of a university education without the reality. Students will go through the motions of study and believe that they have had a true university education when they have not (p. 26).
This marked reaction later proved untrue as the development of distance education continued to progress in Australia. Chick (1992) saw Australian faculty as being ambivalent and with the exception of a few, those at Queensland had been hostile towards distance education.
With regards to decision making processes, faculty members have been identified as having ambivalent attitudes about participation (Wilson, 1979). Haughey (1989) and Croft (1992) found that faculty were concerned about their own disciplines rather than the importance of institutional growth.
Attitudes towards quality and accessibility
Recent studies on faculty attitudes towards distance education had centred on the need to maintain the quality of students graduating from the universities. Clark (1993) highlighted the issue of faculty in part-time studies by pointing out that for faculty “the most demanding part of their environment is other academics in the same field.” (p. 207) In arguments between discipline-driven faculty and consumer-oriented sectors, the latter would be effectively blocked by an inward-looking faculty.
For many academics, the question rests on quality. If more students are admitted, will not standards fall? This seems to reflect the economic principle that what is scarce is valuable. The basis for this viewpoint is the traditional admission and examination system, where entrance requirements and grading procedures are presently monitored. An additional concern is that the high student-lecturer ratios will involve more work, equipment and other facilities (Guition, 1992; Blix, Cruise, Mitchell & Blix, 1994).
Central to these questions is the issue of ‘parity of esteem.’ criticisms on distance education have generally centred on the quality of instruction and the degrees obtained. Garrison (1989) wrote that distance education has long sought ‘parity of esteem’ with conventional education. However, recent issues have focussed on equal and quality learning packages and content of courses targeting specific segments of the market instead of mass production of materials. Ellis and Chapman (1982) suggest that institutions of higher education must make “changes in their regulations and ways of dealing with remote adult students before [they] can be accepted as having received an academically equivalent course.” (p. 276)
This revelation, similar to what Black (1992) and Tight (1993) identified, calls for serious considerations. Tight noted the positive and negative aspects of access in relation to flexibility and relevancy to restructure further education. Those in support of elite education “are anxious about the fluctuation and decline in the use of conventional further and higher education.” (p. 62) These anxieties have provided an impetus for limiting the number of students because of the fear of ‘falling standards or ‘more means worse’.
Black’s (1995) study of faculty support for distance education illustrated the different roles, conflicts and compromises associated with a mass versus an elite conception of university education based on accessibility and quality. A mass system places value on more open access to larger numbers of the population. This conflicts with the values of an elite system, which is more selective and focuses on preparing a smaller number of individuals with the highest of academic credentials.
Griffin (1983) argued that:
For although attitudes in further and higher education may be opportunistic in certain conditions, there are not logical barriers to open learning systems but rather material ones. However, in terms of access, the open university committee report acknowledges ‘the fact that any proposal made for increased scope in continuing education are substantially reduced in value if significant numbers of students do not have access to what is produced.’ (p.58)
Griffin was of the opinion that accessibility to adult education means people will be able to take courses of their choice at recurring intervals. This implies that these courses will be available when and where the student can use them; however, some academics believe that allowing students to take courses in a system of recurrent education lowers the credibility of the courses. Recent studies in support of the accessibility of distance education have emphasized the need to make education more equitable, so that other people would have access to university education (Black, 1995, p. 17). Yet, those who oppose mass distance higher education have maintained that it is important to get good quality people into the system, not necessarily denying educational opportunities to people.
Black (1995) acknowledges the views held by many faculty who oppose distance education. The opposers view campus experience as essential. They argue that university campus experience is the most “ideal community of scholars where students from a variety of disciplines bump into each other and debate issues from various points of view.” (p. 20) As well, it forms an arena for socialization, the shaping of character and developing scholarly outlook (Black, 1995).
Verduin & Clark (1991) hold the view that increasing faculty knowledge about distance education is the key to gaining acceptability. Faculty may also influence committee decisions about proposals to offer distance education even though they have limited knowledge about, or involvement in distance education (Black, 1992; Johnson, 1984). This view adds support for black’s (1992) premise that distance education is often dismissed on the grounds of prejudice.
The concept of university culture like any organisation provides insights into the beliefs, structure and processes within its organisation. Such knowledge helps to consider the ways innovative teaching methods and distance education may or may not fit into the culture of the traditional university (Croft, 1992). Harris (1987) contended that most faculty members refuse to cooperate on the grounds of the ‘culture industry’. The culture industry constitutes the status quo that university learning must occur on campus where the lecturer controls the instruction. Their main concern was that the credibility of the open university of United Kingdom is based on the argument that face-to-face contact between teacher and the taught is not essential. This is criticised, however, by current research by Haughey and Fenwick (1996). Their study established that “when the tutor made personal, frequent, face-to-face contact with the students, the perception was that students learned more and generally had a more positive experience with distance education” (p. 6).
According to Trow, 1987
Elite higher education is marked by high selectivity, a close student-teacher relationship and intense, structured study of arts and science subjects associated with a liberal education. It is concerned with shaping the mind and character of professions (p. 269).
For faculty members, maintaining the status quo that their courses cannot be taught at a distance had been the basis for resistance. Paul (1989) for instance, criticised faculty’s role at Athabasca University towards distance education based on university culture by saying that
Several unfortunate experiences with external academics led to a deliberate decision not to develop courses in a disciplinary area unless there was at least one resident academic in the field in question to plan and oversee the overall development of courses in that discipline. (p. 148)
In most instances, the Athabasca faculty regard distance education as a second rate, low level job. Athabasca University faculty resisted administration’s efforts to hire full-time academic staff for distance teaching by employing retired professors and paying them less or allowing junior lecturers to handle the courses.
Many faculty members, according to Grossman (1989), see distance education as playing a ‘second fiddle’ to on-campus study. This second-class status of distance education is attributed to the fact that distance educators fail to understand the traditional academic culture that prevails in institutions of higher education. Distance education, to Dillon and Walsh (1992), has failed to become integrated into the academic culture, not as a result of the commonly cited factors of cost and faculty resistance, but rather due to the insistence of distance educators on perpetuating a culture that is out of touch with the driving force of higher education. (p. 17)
Similarly, Croft (1992) supported the issue of ownership and compatibility that traditional academic values prevent lecturers to “(p. 17). The issues of ownership and compatibility were also of interest to Dillon and Walsh (1992) as a means to successful diffusion of distance education.
They emphasized that distance educators must respond to the needs of the faculty as they, in turn, respond to the needs of the students. Their conclusion emphasized that the ingredient most neglected in diffusion of distance education is leadership, the very foundation of change. They stressed that current distance education literature “fails to view faculty development within the framework of a system which supports professional development (faculty growth).” (p.18)
Academic independence and credibility
Faculty members in higher education greatly value the tents of academic freedom and its corollary of independence (Croft, 1992). Croft (1986) maintains that the major problem facing distance education is a “reluctance to accept someone else’s course because the “slant” or emphasis does not correspond exactly to one’s own” (p,35) most often faculty members hold tenaciously to the notion that ‘if we didn’t make it, it cannot be good enough.” (Smith, Daniel & Snowden, 1984, p. 84)
According to Smith and others (1984), the method of establishing academic credit often creates problems in distance education. Time-based formulae that equate contact hours in lecture, laboratory and field placement to course credits do not apply in distance education. Based on this many faculty members dismiss distance education with ease.
Biggs et al. (as cited in Konrad and Small, 1989) indicated that:
Some academics still claim that distance education lacks legitimacy, arguing that it can give the shadow but not the substance of a university education, that it provides predigested instruction rather than the open-ended dialogue that is the essence of good education, and that its students miss the intangible but priceless benefits of residence on campus. (p.38)
The fear of the loss of credibility of the universities becomes real when many of the traditional trappings of university education are not present. This adds to the reluctance of some academics to support distance education ventures (Konrad & Small, 1989). The fact that it is normally conducted as overload work and the perception that it is not integral to the institution’s primary purpose strengthen misconceptions
Studies of faculty involvement in distance education
The relative importance of faculty resistance had been investigated extensively by Johnson, 1994; Siaciwena, 1989; Taylor & White, 1992; and Black, 1995. Black (1992) studied faculty-voting behaviour towards distance education at committee meetings in university of British Columbia, a large research-intensive university.
Support for distance education has been thoroughly reported by Black (1992). In her study faculty support for distance education was explicit, even when they were unfamiliar with the system. The study was one of beliefs and values. Faculties who were concerned about maintaining the elite status of universities were resistant to change. In the study of 487 respondents and 50 interviews, 78% indicated they would vote in favour of distance education courses for undergraduate credit although the general consensus was that” they could not be in favour of more extensive endeavour” (p.168). The implication, here, is that faculty with high familiarity of distance education spoke more favourably about distance education than those with low or some familiarity.
Most of the faculty support for distance education in Black (1992) centred on accessibility. They believed that university education should be more accessible to a large section of the people. Black’s (1992) study concluded that faculty support for distance education was largely determined by factors related to compatibility of distance education with faculty beliefs and values about the purpose of higher education. Faculty beliefs about accessibility of face-to-face interaction and campus experience were the most important factors. However, the large section of the study on qualitative analysis failed to address vividly the interrelationships among the variables used. Evidence should have been made to draw categories of support in terms of age and influence of other significant factors.
Clearly related to Black’s (1995) study but using quantitative analysis is Clerk’s (1993) survey of 317 faculty members in the United States. He reported that faculty members using distance education in their programs were more favourable toward the use of distance education in college credit courses and held very positive attitudes towards their personal participation in the programme. Approximately, 40% of college instructors had very positive attitudes towards using distance education.
One of the main issues established by Clark relates to interaction. Criticisms were based on the notion that distance education precludes interaction. One professor in his study disliked distance education on the grounds that “face-to-face interaction is part of what he considers education - distinct from transferring information or skills.” (p.29)
In Clarks’s study, concern for access and quality of education were positively identified by 48% of the respondents. Major criticisms centred on socialization and affective development (14%), class study (15%) and learner access to resources needed for college study (9.9%). Acceptance for distance education was based on the type of content and the type of students for which distance is appropriate. Other issues for disinterestedness in distance education by faculty were “the inability of rewarding faculty adequately for their work, research and publication and distrust of administrators” (p.31). Clark established that support for greater access was mixed with concern about (i) quality, especially quality of interaction, (ii) about ensuring effectiveness through the use of distance education in appropriate circumstances with adequate administrative support; and (ii) technical support and professional rewards. Both supports and skeptics agreed on the need for high standards, adequate resources, and personnel, whatever the mode of transmission.
Concluding Clark (1993) indicated that department and division chairs were relatively positive in their attitude towards distance education when compared to their professors. In his opinion, respondents who held positive option towards distance education despite their little or no experience with teaching at distance were likely to “support the growth of distance teaching in higher education” (p.32)
Taylor and White (1991) also studied faculty attitudes towards teaching in distance education in Australia with emphasis on job satisfaction. Using the valence model developed by vroom (1964) and a questionnaire on eighteen factors, they found out that five factors were rated consistently as being important to faculty in achieving personal job satisfaction. These were:
Quality of interaction with students;
Working with motivated students
Satisfaction from the act of the teaching
Feeling of personal achievement, and
High level if student outcomes (p.8)
Their conception rested on the notion that
Faculty could be attracted to the increased flexibility in their work schedule
Associated with the distance education mode, since they are not tied so much to regular schedule classes. This possibly could enhance research and consultancy opportunities during normal working hours. (p. 11)
The finding clearly demonstrates that faculty placed more of a premium on intrinsic rewards associated with teaching than with research-based activities. Benefits perceived to be associated with off-campus teaching include autonomy, flexibility in work schedule and contribution to the needs of the broader community. To them, working with distance students “provides extensive opportunities for interpersonal interaction.” (p.11)
Taylor and White noted that the attractiveness for distance teaching centres on the flexibility of the instructor. Of much concern to instructors in distance education is the quality of the interaction with the students, described as the most rewarding feature of teaching.
In another study at a Canadian university, Landstrom (1995) used questionnaires to interview twenty instructors involved in distance education on their preferences and needs. This study, although not extensive as the others, established that in most dual mode institutions, there are some detractors among faculty who fear or suspect that the courses are not as rigorous as regular courses, and that student contact will be less rigorous than classroom-based programs. Even among those who have written course guides, there exit some ambivalence about being involved in the program. There have also been some questions about the academic standards in distance education raised at faculty meetings.
From the instructors point of view, the lack of contact and the anonymity of distance students were the major drawbacks to distant courses. To some, lack of student contact prevents the instructor from testing his/her command of the subject, and limits his/her ability to teach effectively and to engage in discussions. Thirteen out of twenty respondents did not change their minds or attitude towards distance education during the length of time they taught at distance.
Haughey and Fenwick (1996) provided yet another insight into the attitude of tutors towards distance education. Their study of 181 school superintendents and staff established that “face-to-face learning is essential to the learner.” (p.5) Some of the superintendents they studied felt in-school facilitators provided more of the necessary encouragement, assistance and guidance than learners separated from their tutor-markers. In the survey, 45% viewed distance education as a desirable replacement for traditional classroom instruction but many were skeptical as they indicated that on-campus studies may be an old-fashioned concept, “but we feel that the best opportunities for students are in the classroom with a teacher, because this situation offers immediate feedback and immediate assistance” (p.11).
The majority of respondents felt that ‘face-to-face’ contact between students and teachers was the best way to mediate learning effectively. Others felt classroom instruction ‘spoon-feeds’ students and that distance education helps even passive students to develop self-reliance and become more self-directed, independent, and resourceful as learners. Haughey and Fenwick’s study suggested that supplementing distance learning with face-to-face instruction could be a useful innovation.
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About the Author
Samuel Kofi Badu-Nyarko is at the Institute of Adult Education. University of Ghana, Legon.