EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Wireless technology can deliver Internet classes on an anytime, anywhere basis. It has the potential to vastly increase course accessibility, which will become more important as more students seek higher education while education funding declines. This article examines the technical considerations for utilizing wireless technologies in Internet courses, including costs, logistical limitations, technology availability and reliability, and the impact on faculty-student interactions.
Using technology to support higher education has become so commonplace that it is hard to find a course at most universities that does not use some form of technology. PowerPoint, for example, is replacing the overhead projector, and students may obtain slides, journal articles, and other instructional materials on the Internet rather than receiving them as printed reading packets. E-mail exchanges between instructor and student may replace in-person office hours and phone contacts. Technology used in these ways, however, does not cause fundamental changes in course organization or delivery.
Other support systems can be more significant. One example is Web-enhanced courses. These courses expand the face-to-face paradigm by adding online components that enhance course content and allow some unique course delivery options. (1) Course management systems such as Blackboard, Web CT, and Desire2Learn add conveniences and content delivery options by making class notes, quizzes, and course updates available on the Internet. They also may provide hyperlinks to rich information sets, establish forums for online asynchronous class discussions, and allow students to access taped lecture videos and assessments on demand. The traditional time- and place-bound classroom can be enhanced by these anytime, anyplace features.
Additional integration is available when courses are offered via the Internet. These courses are taught in virtual classrooms, with course delivery more similar to what is generally referred to as distance learning. Distance learning can be defined as any approach to education delivery that replaces the same-time, same-place, face-to-face environment of a traditional classroom. (2)
Internet courses are designed to take advantage of the virtual classroom setting by integrating traditional course elements, such as reading assignments, with methods and assignments that have no equivalent in the traditional classroom. (3) Although Internet courses have some clear advantages over traditional courses, research has not been able to discern whether the Internet has an effect on learning that is separate and apart from the instructional method. (4) At the very least, Internet courses provide learning experiences that lead to outcomes equivalent to traditional courses.
The addition of wireless technology to Internet courses is the next advancement available in distance education (DE). Wireless technologies provide the ability to offer Internet courses on an anytime, anywhere basis for both instructor and student, overcoming physical separation of the instructor and student while permitting mobility to both. The only restrictions imposed result from the limitations related to access to the technology.
DEMAND FOR FLEXIBILITY IN DISTANCE EDUCATION
Colleges and universities seeking to relieve capacity constraints on enrollment, capitalize on emerging market opportunities, and adapt to limited public education funding may benefit by expanding DE offerings. (5) DE can expand course access to underserved student populations such as those living in rural areas. Students who want to go home for the summer but still take summer school courses could use DE. Nontraditional students subject to job travel, remote assignments, job transfers, and other reasons to be away from home are also excellent candidates for DE course delivery.
One major problem with distance education is that Internet courses generally tend to be accessed through immobile computers. …