Assessment of Distance
Richard E. Clark
University of Southern California
The history of positive claims for distance learning technology ( Benjamin, 1988; Cuban, 1986; Saettler, 1968) and, on the other hand, a number of negative reports ( Clark & Salomon, 1986; Clark & Sugrue, 1989; Gardner & Salomon, 1986) have led many to accept the need for a change in the way we evaluate new technologies for distance learning. The number of new and complex technological devices that could be applied to distance learning is increasing. Cuban ( 1986), in his history of technology use in schools, cautioned that "determining what levels of [technology] use now exist is like trying to snap a photograph of a speeding bicyclist" (p. 77).
With adequate evaluation in place, we may be able to "tune" existing technologies so that they meet our needs, anticipate new developments, and settle disputes, in time to plan and operate rational, cost-effective K-12 local, regional, and national distance learning systems. Underlying all evaluation plans are beliefs about how we employ technology so that we enhance the delivery of instruction and the quality of learning experiences. At the heart of every evaluation plan is a curiosity about how new technologies can increase students' access to quality instruction and thereby increase their academic achievement, motivation, and value for learning.
The purpose of this discussion is to (a) discourage evaluation questions that have not proved useful in the past; (b) suggest that future evaluations distinguish between the effects of delivery and instructional technologies; (c) offer some generic evaluation plans, questions, and examples associated with delivery and instruction; and (d) discuss issues related to the cost-effectiveness of distance learning.