Technology, Distance Education, and Honors

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Few people would deny the advancements that have occurred in educational technology in recent decades. Scarcely a generation has passed since educators have gone from 16-mm projectors, slide projectors, overhead projectors, and opaque projectors to video players, DVD players, computers, and power-point presentations in the classroom. Indeed, for many teachers these "modern" technologies have become "traditional" and indispensable classroom features.

This "educational technology revolution" has likewise been extended to the offering of honors courses in honors programs and honors colleges across the country. The preliminary results of a survey of member institutions of the National Collegiate Honors Council, conducted by the NCHC's Technology and Distance Education Committee during the spring semester 2002, indicated that of the 139 colleges and universities responding, 102 (73.4%) reported utilizing technology in the delivery of their honors courses.

Again, a preliminary review of the survey data showed that there is a wide range of technology employed in the delivery of honors courses: from the standard to the complex. Since the survey questions were open-ended, the responses were not specific enough to allow for solid conclusions. Nevertheless, the 102 honors programs/ honors colleges reporting the use of technology in the delivery of honors courses did identify several educational technologies as the most popular.

Forty-five of the 102 (44.1%) honors programs/colleges utilized personal computers, specifically PowerPoint, in presenting course content. The next popular technology involved web sites/web pages designed to include course syllabi and course materials (31 respondents or 30.4%). E-mail to communicate with course participants was listed by 30 schools (29.4%). Various other technologies were used to facilitate discussions about course topics: "Blackboard" (27 respondents or 26.5%); listserv (8 respondents or 7.8%); chat rooms (5 respondents or 4.9%).

Honors programs/colleges also employed the internet with on-line (internet-based) courses (12 respondents or 11.8%); courses via Web CT (10 respondents or 9.8%); and accessing the internet for course resources (15 respondents or 14.7%).

Other technologies included VCR, CD, and DVD players (29 respondents or 28.4%); interactive television (5 respondents or 4.9%); and document cameras (2 respondents or 2.0%) to deliver course materials. And four respondents (3.9%) identified their subscriptions to the NCHC/Phi Theta Kappa Satellite Seminar Series as a use of technology.

Finally, fifteen honors programs/colleges reported that multimedia or "smart" classrooms were available for their faculty to present courses. In these situations, a combination of educational technologies is available in the classroom. Typically, a "smart" classroom would include computers that are internet connected, personal computers, VCRs, DVD players, CD players, document camera, overhead projector, slide projector--or any combination of these.

TECHNOLOGY AND DISTANCE EDUCATION

Besides the application of educational technologies to deliver honors courses on campus, the possibility or necessity exists for some honors programs/colleges to offer their courses to students at a distance. The occurrence of distance education in higher education in the United States has increased markedly in the past fifteen years. About one-fourth of the accredited colleges and universities in the U.S. are presently providing some form of distance education to students, ranging from individual courses (credit or non-credit) to entire degrees (Connick, 1999). The Peterson's Guide to Distance Learning Programs listed nearly 900 accredited schools offering courses and programs in the U.S. and Canada.

The concept of "distance education" has historically had several meanings. Some people preferred the term "distance learning," which tended to focus on the end product ("learning") of distance education (Willis, 1993). …