Issues in Classroom Management in an Interactive Distance Education Course

Article excerpt

Distance education is a growing phenomenon in education. Primary grades through post-secondary education institutions to businesses incorporating continuing education have utilized technology and distance education to facilitate learning. An obvious benefit from all distance education is that access to specific material and instruction is gained. For example, a rural school district may wish to provide instruction to students seeking college credit. The school district can invest in distance education equipment in order to provide the same benefits that many metropolitan districts have. Thus, the use of interactive-distance education has the added benefit of classroom equity within the K-12 school system (Barker, 1989). Chang (2001) identified many benefits stemming from distance education. Advanced technology can be utilized to "manage learners' portfolios, control learning flow and construct collaborative learning activities" (p. 133). Furthermore, the learning experience within the classroom may be enhanced through the incorporation of distance education. Web-based instruction allows for classroom time to be utilized differently and perhaps in more beneficial ways. Learning may become more student led than teacher led. Thus, the teacher becomes more of a facilitator, while students become more active learners (Salopek, 2002).

Distance education can assume different forms. Education can be Internet based, in which the teacher and students are separated by time and place. When utilizing the Internet for classroom education, some of the benefits may include "increased access to information, opportunities to communicate with experts, access to external resources, and greater motivation and opportunities for teachers and students to learn" (Castellani, 2000, p.297). However, the difficulty in managing such a system is embedded in classroom preparation. Significantly more time must be spent organizing material and placing it on the Internet in order to be utilized by the class (Chang, 2001). Interactive distance education is another form of distance education, in which the teacher and students are separated by geographical place, but the instruction occurs in real time. Through such developments as compressed video, a two way audio-visual communication is provided in order to provide a real time teaching and learning environment (Carter, 2001). Teaster and Blieszner (1999) identified this type of distance learning as the "fastest growing instructional medium" (p. 741). In addition to the benefit of real-time discussion, PowerPoint presentations, slide presentations, videotaped excerpts, and other audio-visual media may used to present material and initiate classroom discussion (Davies & Quick, 2001).

However, such a medium is not without its challenges. Sherry (1996) identified that finding ways to present abstract ideas and concepts through a concrete image may be difficult for teachers as well as time consuming. The distance learning system has to artificially recreate the teaching-learning interaction and reintegrate it back into the instructional process. Research on distance education has supported course designs that use a variety of interactive activities that engage the learner in analyzing, integrating, applying information within a context of "real world" problems, case studies, or simulations (p. 91).

In implementing interactive distance education, teaching preparation and classroom management has been identified as significant challenges. Swartz and Biggs (2000) noted definite structural differences between distance education classrooms and traditional classrooms. Independence of movement, classroom discussions and accommodations for differences in time and place required modifications from both the instructor and students. Roach (1998) evaluated a distance education course in which two colleges were linked together to teach students for a literature class. Coordination between the teachers, the amount of time to prepare the course, and the lack of experience with team teaching contributed to problems with delivery of course material. …