Interactive television is proving to be a distance education technology well-suited for the delivery of instruction to adults. A major appeal of interactive television is the ability of students to attend a class in which they can interact with the course instructor transmitting from a different location, and in which students may carry out activities as though they were in the same classroom. This article provides an overview of interactive television technology, a brief history of the development of interactive television, a description of the ways in which interactive television is presently used for adult education, and a review of the current issues and future trends in the delivery of distance education via interactive television.
What is interactive television?
Interactive television is a distance learning technology that links two or more geographically separated classrooms so that students and teachers in these classrooms - although miles apart - can see, hear, and interact with each other. In essence, two-way interactive television allows teachers and students from different locations to meet in a "virtual" classroom where they interact as though they were in the same classroom (Hobbs & Christianson, 1997).
Interactive television has been further explained by Hobbs and Christianson as "the linkage of several classrooms or sites over fiber optic, coaxial cable or dedicated copper telephone lines, which enables participating schools to share teachers and electronically combine students" (p. ix). When used for educational purposes, interactive television has students at a "home" site and students in one or more "remote" sites. The instructor may choose to originate from one of the remote sites from time-to-time (Major & Levenburg, 1997).
Various delivery modes employing a number of technologies have been described as two-way interactive television (Kitchen, 1988). Various terminologies have also been descriptive of twoway interactive television (ITV). Live interactive television (LIT) is a term that has been applied in Australia to a one-way video link between, the teacher and student through conventional television delivery and two-way audio between student and teacher brought about through standard telephone communication (Oliver & McLoughlin, 1997). DeCicco (1997) described a program in the UK that allows people at different remote locations to talk to each other live via electronically linked telephones while also seeing each other on a video screen, and referred to this process as videoconferencing. She described three types of videoconferencing systems available ta the UK: (a) desktop videoconferencing, where participants sit at their desks in their own offices or lecture rooms and call up other individuals via their personal computer; (b) roll-about systems that are complete videoconferencing packages contained in a wheeled unit; and (c) room and studio systems which include all the same equipment found in a roll-about, but instead of being in a cabinet on wheels, they are installed ta a permanent or semi-permanent form.
More recently, Neeley, Niemi, and Ehrhard (1998) discussed video-teleconference distance education (VTDE) being delivered from Northern Illinois University since the spring of 1995. Distance education, videoconferencing, virtual teaching, teleconferencing, interactive technology, compressed video, and interactive television are terms that have been casually exchanged (Cyrs, 1997). The term interactive television [TTV) is used throughout the remainder of this article to include the various modes of technology and the various terminologies previously described.
History of interactive television
The history of ITV is closely aligned to the history of distance education. Bates (cited in Merriam & Brockett, 1998) identified three stages or "generations" in the development of distance education technology. First generation, initially correspondence by mail, then radio, then TV, is characterized by the predominant use of a single technology and a lack of direct student interaction with the teacher originating the instruction. …