Providing Access to Graduate Education Using Computer-Mediated Communication

Article excerpt


Students today have different needs than those in the past. They need to have flexible class times and access to instructors and research facilities. However, they need to have access to these learning opportunities where they work and live (Maxwell, 1995). Lever-Duffy (1991) said, "Distance education can provide instruction to individuals whose location, personal circumstances or family obligations would not allow them to take courses otherwise" (p.2). Doucette (1993) indicated that with economic and demographic changes, higher education will be asked to serve more students without an increase in funding. Many state legislatures have been pushing for higher education to become more efficient and productive, as well as providing greater quality access (Gilbert, 1996). Access is a great concern especially for those states with populations spread over vast areas of land.

Although technology is being used to deliver college courses at a distance, more research is needed, particularly in the pedagogical uses of technology (Baily & Cotlar, 1994; Kuehn, 1994). Wells (1990) reviewed over one hundred articles and found that many of the studies were lacking "empirical evidence" (p. 3). The existing literature consists mostly of either case studies offering recommendations for implementing computer technologies or reviews of the various types of technology available (Barnes & Greller, 1994; Berge, 1994; Smith, Kim, & Bernstein, 1993).

Chickering and Gamson (1994) reviewed fifty years of research on teaching and learning in higher education. Their research resulted in "Seven Principles of Good Practice for Undergraduate Education." In order to foster good learning they believe that good teaching should include: (1) interaction between faculty and students, (2) opportunity to develop collaboration and cooperation among students, (3) active learning, (4) timely feedback, (5) an emphasis on time management, (6) high expectations, (7) different ways of learning.

Chickering and Ehrmann (1986) reviewed the seven principles and addressed the implementation of these principles using technology. First, technology has increased the opportunities for students and faculty to communicate via e-mail and electronic conferencing. Second, students can participate in on-line study groups or participate in collaborative projects utilizing communication technology. Third, students can interact with the WWW conducting research or utilize computer programs that offer simulations in order to gain a better understanding of concepts. Fourth, technology enhances feedback to students. Communication technologies allow immediate feedback to students regarding questions, assignments or revisions on papers. Fifth, technology can make studying more efficient. Student can work at home at times convenient for them. Sixth, different types of learning challenges can be simulated using computer technology. Some types of communication are much more public when utilizing electronic communication. Both of these portray higher expectations. Lastly, various types of technologies provide multiple delivery systems allowing instructors to offer students different methods more suited to their learning styles.

Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC)

Hiltz has conducted several studies that examine the use of CMC in classroom instruction. Through an examination of students' perceptions of courses in which CMC was used to supplement a face-to-face class, Hiltz (1986) found students perceived CMC as allowing for more student interaction, better access to the professor, greater learning, more involvement in the course, and a better overall learning experience. Hiltz (1988) also looked at the effectiveness of CMC on collaborative learning activities. She compared collaborative learning activities in a face-to-face classroom with CMC and a mixed mode where face-to-face and CMC was used. Students using the CMC had better access to the professor and increased participation compared to the face-to-face classroom. …