Forensic Science Education for the Civil and Criminal Justice Communities

Article excerpt

Effective planning and development of distance learning programs are discussed in this article. The focus is on differences between distance education and Web-based learning, factors to consider when planning distance education, course management system (CMS) features, deciding whether to use synchronous or asynchronous teaching tools, partnering with other institutions, and integrating multiple learning formats into distance education. This information is applicable to distance learning initiatives in other organizations.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN DISTANCE EDUCATION AND WEB-BASED LEARNING

The main difference between distance education and Web-based learning is that distance education is achieved through many forms and actually includes Web-based learning. One is a subset of the other.

DEFINING DISTANCE EDUCATION

There are many ways to define distance education, but it always involves a separation of teacher and learner and the use of technology. In its most broad definition, distance education implies any learning that does not take place in-person and does not necessarily include sharing ideas between teacher and learner.

However, the definition used by the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA, 2005) to define distance learning guided the author of this article. The definition is: "The acquisition of knowledge and skills through mediated information and instruction, encompassing all technologies and other forms of learning at a distance." The key word here is "mediated," which means that ideas between teachers and learners are exchanged and that learners are guided through material.

The technology used in distance education commonly involves two-way interactive telecommunications systems and communication that is synchronous, but most often asynchronous. Distance education actually combines both modalities. To achieve distance education, teachers and learners are connected via systems making instruction possible via video, data, and voice instruction in both synchronous and asynchronous formats. Examples include: course management software (CMS) such as Blackboard and WebCT; live e-learning and collaboration software such as Horizon Live, Elluminate, and Merlin; and Web-based presentation software such as Cast:Stream, Mediasite Live RL, WebEx, and Microsoft Producer. Other distance learning technologies include: CD-ROMs, DVDs, video and teleconferencing, audio and video tapes, live Web streaming, Web-based archived presentations, and Web-sites designed specifically for the delivery of distance education.

DEFINING WEB-BASED EDUCATION (WBE)

Also known as Web-based instruction (WBI), Khan's (1997) definition is "a hypermedia-based instructional program which utilizes the attributes and resources of the World Wide Web to create a meaningful learning environment where learning is fostered and supported" (p. 6). Relan and Gillani (1997) define WBI as: "the application of a repertoire of cognitively oriented instructional strategies ... utilizing the attributes and resources of the World Wide Web" (p. 43). The common theme of these definitions is that WBI takes advantage of the Internet and World Wide Web to deliver instructional information.

Note that the World Wide Web (Web) and the Internet are not the same. The Web is a graphical user interface (GUI) that sits on top of the Internet. The Internet is the infrastructure that enables communication between servers and computers worldwide.

FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN PLANNING DISTANCE EDUCATION

There are many aspects to consider when planning a distance education program, including: (1) identifying the needs of the target audience including their familiarity with technology, (2) the accessibility of various technologies such as videoconferencing or Web-based classes via a CMS, (3) the need for testing, progress tracking, and continuing education, (4) topics considered necessary and important, (5) cost of developing distance learning programs, (6) quality control, (7) accreditation, (8) marketing the program, and (9) hiring technology personnel who will implement the program. …