Teaching over Television: Indiana University's Distance Learning Program

By Austin, David R. | Parks & Recreation, June 1997 | Go to article overview

Teaching over Television: Indiana University's Distance Learning Program


Austin, David R., Parks & Recreation


The thought of graduate school may conjure up images of picturesque, ivy-covered buildings and classrooms with teachers' lecterns facing rows of student desks. Yet hundreds of students have taken Indiana University (IU) graduate courses for the past 13 years without ever seeing the beautiful Bloomington campus or stepping foot in a traditional classroom. These students have taken their coursework via interactive television at remote sites located throughout the State of Indiana, as well as at sites in Upper Marlboro (MD) and Cincinnati (OH).

The Department of Recreation and Park Administration at Indiana University Bloomington initiated its current graduate-level Distance Learning program in 1984, using the Indiana Higher Education Telecommunications System (IHETS) to reach sites across the state. This was not, however, the first time the Department's faculty employed the IHETS system for teaching. In 1982 and 1983, Professors Don Martin and John Ross pioneered televised teaching over IHETS as they co-taught a park planning course with faculty from the Department of Landscape Architecture at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. The course was taken jointly by students of both IU's Department of Recreation and Park Administration and Ball State's Department of Landscape Architecture. It was telecast between the two campuses using a split-screen technique that permitted students at both locations to see and hear one another.

The IHETS system was originally developed in the late 1970s to enable state universities to offer interactive televised courses to locations throughout Indiana. Today IHETS has grown so that it can transmit telecourses to more than 250 sites over a two-way audio, one-way video system. Conversion of the IHETS network from fiber optic cable to satellite transmission, in 1994, has allowed courses to be transmitted to sites virtually anywhere in the continental United States and parts of Alaska and Puerto Rico.

Residential students at IU Bloomington participate in the televised courses by attending class in a studio/classroom located in the Radio-Television Building. This specially designed classroom seats 24 students around tables equipped with microphones. Three cameras mounted in the classroom permit students at the remote sites to see the on-campus students and instructor, while a sound system allows them to hear from students at the remote sites.

The first distance learning class to be offered by IU's Department of Recreation and Park Administration to remote sites was a course in therapeutic recreation (TR) televised over IHETS to Indianapolis and Evansville (IN) in the fall of 1984. The program quickly expanded. The next semester a third site was added in Richmond, Indiana. Over the program's 13 years of operation, IU recreation telecourses have been received in 11 Hoosier communities, ranging from South Bend, in the far northern part of the state, to the southern cities of Madison and Evansville, both on the Ohio River.

Two years ago, with the advent of satellite transmission, satellite dishes were installed in Upper Marlboro (MD) and Cincinnati (OH) in order to allow students in the Washington, DC area and the Cincinnati/Dayton area to have access to the IU program. Practitioners in these regions had requested that IU offer coursework in therapeutic recreation for them because no graduate programs existed in their communities.

The vast majority of courses instructed have been in therapeutic recreation. To date, hundreds of students have taken TR courses and more than 40 students have completed their entire masters degrees in therapeutic recreation through the televised distance learning program. It has generally taken the part-time students in TR three to four years to complete their masters degrees. Faculty members Drs. David Austin, Ed Hamilton and Bryan McCormick have been regular instructors for the TR telecourses. Other faculty have supported the TR program by teaching telecourses in their areas of specialization. …

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