Distance Education: A Synthesis of Research from Agricultural and Extension Education

Article excerpt

Abstract

The purpose of this investigation was to synthesize the distance education research from the agricultural and extension education researchers to provide a single source of information for practitioners, administrators, and researchers. The Journal of Agricultural Education, Journal of Extension, Dissertation Abstracts International, and Proceedings from the National Agricultural Education Research Conference/Meeting were used as sources for this study. This was deemed appropriate, as they are the primary outlets for educational researchers in the context of agriculture. The research synthesized in this study was conducted by researchers in agricultural and extension education and examined a variety of agricultural distance education, ranging from technical subjects such as soils, to more social subjects such as education. Research was synthesized into three areas: planning, instruction, and evaluation. In the area of planning, research indicated faculty need training, technical support, administrative support, and incentives. Students' needs were: time to devote to coursework and a variety of delivery methods. In the area of instruction, research indicated that student/instructor and student/student interaction are concerns of both faculty and students. In the area of evaluation, off-campus courses are generally not perceived to be as effective by faculty, while students reported mixed perceptions.

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Introduction

Distance education has become commonplace on many university campuses throughout the United States. As of 1998, 54% of all higher education institutions either offered or planned to offer distance education courses (Lewis et al., 2000). Additionally, nearly 10% of all college students in the United States have taken distance education courses, defined in this report as being strictly off-campus, which included video conferencing, internet, videotape and other technologies used when students take courses off-campus (Sikora, 2002). Delivering coursework to students that are off-campus has also become common in Colleges of Agriculture across the country. As a result, researchers have studied many associated areas of agricultural distance education.

Materials and Methods

The purpose of this investigation was to synthesize the agricultural distance education research from the last decade to provide a single source of information for practitioners, administrators, and researchers. Four sources were used to gather data to meet the objectives of this study. They were the Journal of Agricultural Education, Journal of Extension, Dissertation Abstracts International, and Proceedings from the National Agricultural Education Research Conference/Meeting. Relevant research published from 1990 to 2003 was used in this study. In total, 58 articles were examined (Figure 1). Examining distance education holistically, findings were grouped based on relevance to the planning, instruction, or evaluation of distance education.

Results and Discussion

Planning

While planning for distance education, faculty members generally perceived a need for training, technical and administrative support, and incentives. Nti (1997) reported that institutional policy, distance education skills, and a need for assistance all affected faculty interest in using distance education. Born and Miller (1999) found that 40% of the faculty members were not familiar with distance education programs. For distance education diffusion to take place, Murphrey and Dooley (2000) reported that faculty perceived a need for administrative support, training, and incentives. They also found that faculty members expressed a need to expand policies that address incentives, support, training, quality control, careers, and communication. Similarly, Murphy and Terry (1998a; 1998b) reported that lack of time, faculty reward system, and technical support were obstacles to distance education. …