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Faculty Development and Distance Education

Faculty Development in Instructional Technology
Helps Extend Access to Instruction at Southeast Missouri State

David A. Starrett, Michael L. Rodgers
Southeast Missouri State University
Cape Girardeau, Missouri

Abstract: One of the findings that made this faculty development study worthwhile was the discovery that, as intended, technology based distance learning is indeed increasing the institutionís ability to serve distant learners rather than only making education more convenient for students on or near campus.

Our campus is a regional comprehensive institution serving a 26 county area in Southeast Missouri including some of the most socio-economically depressed counties in the U.S.  Our 1995 Strategic Plan included integration of technology into the curriculum with the ultimate goal of using technology- enhanced teaching to increase access to learning via online course development and delivery.  In 1997, we initiated a faculty development program aimed at increasing the use of technology by faculty to enhance teaching in the classroom and, ultimately, facilitate the development of online courses. As a result of the program, our campus has been delivering online courses since 1999. 

In 2001, we began to assess the impact of the faculty development program on student learning and access to education.  We used a wide variety of indicators to determine the increased technology competence of faculty.  In order to assess the impact on student learning and access, we decided to survey students who had taken online courses at Southeast.  After a preliminary survey in 2001, we developed a 42 question survey that was administered in spring of 2002.  The survey was developed by the Center for Scholarship in Teaching and Learning in conjunction with a Graduate student in Information Systems (MBA, Southeast Missouri State University, 2002).  The questionnaire was put on our instructional Web site as a simple form designed with FrontPage 2000.  Data were saved to a text file with an email message generated and HTML file saved as a back-up.  An email inviting students to participate in the survey was sent to 2,134 students who had taken at least one online course at Southeast in the previous 3 years.  In the end, 408 students from 1,854 viable email address responded. 

  One goal of delivering online courses is to increase access to students in the service region.  A concern on campus had been that the majority of students in online courses were taking these courses while living on or near campus, rather than from the counties out in the service region.  Access can mean access in time as well as distance; an asynchronous course provides increased access across time.  Many of our students are non-traditional students, often with full time jobs and other commitments.  Convenience of scheduling is therefore a promising way to increase in access across time.  Nonetheless, the mission is increased access via distance education opportunities to the region.  We hoped that the survey would tell us the geographic distribution of our online students. We also wanted to find out whether students felt that online courses provided quality education and a viable alternative to on campus face-to-face courses.

The survey showed that only 5% of students took online courses while on campus, but more than 50% took online courses from outside the county.  Students in our online courses consisted of a greater number of non-traditional students (over age 24) and a greater number of female students than in face-to-face courses.  On all 22 questions relating to teaching/learning, students reported that they felt our online courses were providing quality instruction.  Students also reported that convenience of access across time and distance were the primary reasons for taking online courses.  In summary, the survey showed that our goal of providing quality education to the service region was met by our online courses.

These results reassured us that the resources invested in developing and delivering online courses were not being wasted.  We have continued to create online courses all across campus, increasing the number offered each semester and developing an extensive summer online program.  Additionally, the data encouraged us to develop another survey to be administered this semester and also to obtain data on grade distributions as well as other types of data from the Institutional Research databases.  It is expected that this data will substantiate our claims of delivering quality instruction to desired target audiences in our 26 county service region.


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