Measuring the Effect of Distance Education on the Learning Experience: Teaching Accounting Via Picturetel[c]

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

As we move into the 21st century it is imperative that we continue to advance our evaluation of Distance Learning initiatives. If we were to take some pundits serious, then the traditional residential campus of universities will see its demise within 30 years. While this may be overstating a serious condition, it does not lighten the need for comprehensive and thoughtful evolution of distance education (DE) if it is to become the education model of the future. In 1997, Mark Emmert, Chancellor of the University of Connecticut, quoted the U.K.'s Open University's rector, Sir John Daniel, "mega-universities (institutions with more than 100,000 students) will have a substantial percentage of their students located outside their national boundaries" (Hong Kong seminar, 1997). Emmert further stated that these mega-universities will rely heavily upon DE to reach this non-traditional student population.

Although different types of learning from a distance have been in existence for many years, technology has offered post-secondary education possibilities that are stretching existing boundaries and challenging the existence of boundaries. These new challenges are more than geographic. They are also based on time. DE may allow students to engage in learning activities at different times in a variety of locations, tied to the DE delivery system rather than the location and time of a specific class.

Evaluating DE by the old system of accreditation, relying on such things as student-to-faculty ratios, must give way to a more student assessment-based program. Using instruments designed to measure the impact of present technology on students we can begin to measure the effectiveness of our DE initiatives across the knowledge, attitude and behavior dimensions. The current study was undertaken to develop just such an instrument.

It was hypothesized that if a link could be found between the attitudes of The students toward the technology and their willingness to take another DE course, we could predict the importance of the technology in the effectiveness of DE in a specific course. Further, a direct link to specific necessary improvements can be achieved with the right formulation of constructs and questions thereby improving the effectiveness of future DE courses in meeting student needs and expectations.

METHODS

Sample

Seventy-three undergraduate students taking a 200 level (upper level undergraduate course) accounting class completed the DE evaluation instrument. The students took the class at six different locations within a single state, all of which utilized the PictureTel[C] system for two-way audio and video using compression technology. Students were aware that they would be taking the course using DE when they registered for this course.

Sites

All sites receiving instruction had identical equipment and accommodations physical and personnel) except for the host site. The host site class for the course was located on the main campus of a state university. The remote sites were located on regional campuses of the university, Location A (40 miles from the main campus), location H (35 miles away), location S (100 miles away), location W (50 miles away), and location T (80 miles away).

The professor taught all the classes (twice a week) from the host site at the main campus (location M) throughout the semester. All the instructional materials were delivered to the remote sites prior to each class. The remote sites were able to view the instruction on large, 27 inch, television monitors, as well as send information to other sites via voice or video using the PictureTel[C] systems. Additionally each remote site had a proctor to assist with the technology. The proctor was trained in using and monitoring the DE system. The proctor did not provide instructional support.

Apparatus

The equipment used to deliver the instruction was PictureTel[C] technology. …