Considering Product Life Cycles and Business Models in Distance Education

Article excerpt

In this article, the authors outline the experience of teaching and learning in an interactive television (ITV) classroom. Both the instructor and the students experienced significant challenges. The authors relate ITV, thought of as a very mature technology, to product life cycles and business models. Business models focus on expectations of clients, standardization of a process, performance, and efficiency of product delivery. These elements are typically present when a product is in the mature stage of the product life cycle.

INTRODUCTION

Educators have taught courses in interactive television (ITV) classrooms for quite some time. These interactive distance learning classrooms are typically equipped with two-way audio and video and connect at least two sites: the main site at which the instructor is housed and one remote site (Reed & Woodruff, 1995). Some of the universities that use this technology own the connected sites; other institutions form a consortium consisting of sites owned by a number of universities or colleges.

Many educational institutions have adopted the technology. Interactive television-based classrooms clearly have been at the maturity stage of the product life cycle for some time. The vast explosion of the World Wide Web and Internet technologies have led to an increase in Web-based course offerings and, therefore, driven ITV classrooms into the maturity, perhaps even into the declining, stage of the product life cycle.

BACKGROUND

The institution is a comprehensive university located in Minnesota and has approximately 15,000 students. It has used ITV for approximately 20 years and is a member of a Distance Learning Network. The network consists of two separate networks and has six members and numerous sites. Members are responsible for providing technical support to users and for the maintenance of the classrooms.

Several of the ITV classrooms at this university are less than 3 years old and are equipped with video cameras, a smartboard, and one computer at the instructor station.

The instructor carries a microphone, and the room is equipped with microphones in the ceiling. The remote ITV classrooms are owned by colleges or universities within the Minnesota State Colleges and University System and also have video cameras and microphones. This technology allows the transmission of real-time compressed audio and video. Some of these classrooms are equipped with a computer; other classrooms are not.

The cameras in all ITV classrooms are voice activated and allow for interaction between students and instructors at the different sites. However, the instructor is able to view only one of the remote sites at a time if more than one remote site is connected with the main campus. On the other hand, audio is transmitted from all remote sites. Instructors control the volume and may mute the microphone; students at the remote site may only mute their microphones. The instructor has the capability of switching between two cameras at the main campus: one camera displays either the instructor or desktop applications in use; the second camera shows the students facing the instructor station.

Many students find an ITV course convenient because it eliminates the need for commuting to a distant campus. Individuals who reside in rural areas might not have access to the courses if they were not offered via ITV Unfortunately, there are several disadvantages to this delivery system. One disadvantage is the limited instructor-to-student and student-to-student interaction identified as extremely important in distance education (Moore & Kearsley, 1996). Another drawback is the dependency on technology, which is the case in any technology-supported distance education setting.

EXPERIENCES IN THE ITV CLASSROOM

The instructor who taught in the ITV classroom of this university during spring semester 2003 had previously taught in this educational setting. …