In rural communities in Indiana and many other states, there are very limited continuing education opportunities for teachers. One reason is that the sources of expertise for training are usually located great distances from the schools in which teachers work. Offering a wider range of professional development activities in rural communities presents many challenges for universities.
One particular challenge is setting up a communication link with rural schools that allows for comprehensive and high-quality continuing education coursework. For the past four years at Indiana University, we have been offering continuing education coursework in partnership with several rural school corporations. These courses are field-based and deal with the concepts, issues and teaching practices that pertain to teachers' everyday teaching responsibilities. Instructors teach these courses from Indiana University's campus in Bloomington and interact with the rural teachers through teleconferencing and computer-based audiographic technology.
The courses are designed to increase the skills of teachers who work with high-risk or mildly disabled students. Major goals of the coursework are to: Improve the level of communication and cooperation among school personnel; show how effective teaching practices can be used with their students; and assist in altering classroom, school and community settings so children have a wider range of educational opportunities. Teachers can upgrade their skills in such professional areas as assessing learning and behavior problems, improving social skills, and increasing self-management and motivation. They also participate actively in planning and organizing the class sessions and in structuring the field-practicum activities.
We set up the remote sites so teachers from neighboring schools form cohort groups for the program. This approach encourages greater communication and collaboration among teachers who normally work with one another, but who do not have the time or opportunity to regularly share ideas and solve instructional problems. Over the last four years, we have offered 20 courses to teachers from over 50 schools and agencies in 17 different communities in southern Indiana.
In this article we will discuss five considerations for using distance education to offer continuing education coursework to teachers in rural settings. These considerations are described under the following headings: setting up a communication link, delivering class presentations, making the coursework functional for teachers, promoting carry over of the training to job situations, and encouraging communication among teachers.
* Setting Up a Communication Link
In a distance education course, a variety of teaching methodologies are needed, both to assist the instruction and to encourage an interchange of ideas and examples among students. The communication link between the university and remote sites must be diversified and flexible enough to meet training demands.
In our courses, we use an audiographic two-way communication link between our sites because this technology can support a wide variety of instructional approaches. The audiographic communication link allows us to give verbal and graphic presentations, to share print materials, to lead small- and large-group discussions, and to set up and supervise field activities so teachers apply the concepts they learn.
Audiographics is a computer-based technology that allows instructors and students to transmit graphic images and textual information between two or more computers using standard telephone service. We selected audiographics for our program because it is a very cost-effective and adaptable method for delivering coursework. The audiographics software enables us to scan overheads and other documents for a class session into a computer and to transmit the images via modem to a screen at a remote location. …