An Evaluation of Teaching Direct Practice Courses in a Distance Education Program for Rural Settings

By Coe, Jo Ann R.; Elliott, Doreen | Journal of Social Work Education, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

An Evaluation of Teaching Direct Practice Courses in a Distance Education Program for Rural Settings


Coe, Jo Ann R., Elliott, Doreen, Journal of Social Work Education


This study presents the results of an evaluation of a graduate-level direct practice course taught through a distance education program that utilized face-to-face satellite television instruction. The study also compared the learning process and delivery system of a distance education direct practice course with that of an on-campus direct practice course. The evaluation indicates positive findings for the distance learners in terms of grade outcomes, interaction with instructor, classmates and perceptions of the instructor. The evaluation also indicated some barriers in the learning environment and access to support services. Recommendations are made for improving the barriers for social work practice courses taught by distance learning methods.

"DISTANCE EDUCATION" DESCRIBES those formal teacher-learner arrangements in which the teacher and learner are geographically separated most or all of the time, and the communication between them is through a technology medium such as a satellite, computer, compressed video, or fiber optics (Blakely, 1994; Conklin & Osterdorf, 1995; Kahl & Cropley, 1986; Verduin & Clark, 1991). Distance education is not a new concept. It has been offered for 13 years at the Open University of the Netherlands and over 25 years at the Open University in the United Kingdom, and through many programs in the United States (Perry, 1985). Distance learning is increasingly being used in schools of social work to bring undergraduate and graduate education to students located far from a university. Recent technology advances have created many more opportunities for social work programs to deliver education to persons who, for a variety of reasons, are not able to complete a full schedule of campus-based courses.

With the expanded interest and growth among schools of social work in distance education, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Commission on Accreditation established a special committee in 1994 to determine how to respond to growing concerns about ensuring the quality of distance education programs (Raymond, 1996). In October 1995 CSWE conducted a survey to determine the usage of distance education technology among social work programs. Of a total of 126 programs responding, 22 (17.4%) indicated that they offer distance education courses and 42.9% indicated a moderate to high probability of offering distance education courses in the future (Lockhart & Wilson, 1997).

Schools of social work are slowly developing distance learning programs that utilize a variety of approaches. In a 1995-96 national survey of 429 accredited social work programs, Siegel, Jennings, Conklin and Napoletano-Flynn (1998) found that the systems most commonly used for distance learning delivery were satellite transmission, television and compressed video. In a subsample of 259 institutions, 41 (15.8%) indicated that they used distance learning in their program. This represented about a 5% growth from their previous survey in 1994.

As these programs have increased, evaluating the distance learning programs and the delivery system have become a great concern among social work educators (Bibus & Rooney, 1995; Blakely, 1994; Heitkamp, 1995). In 1991 Blakely proposed a model for evaluating distance education programs in social work education. The model is based on literature for part-time education in social work. This work largely began in 1981 with the CSWE symposium on part-time education at the annual program meeting in New York. During this time, social work educators expressed concerns about the quality of part-time social work programs compared to full-time programs. Papers presented at the meetings suggested that the evaluation measures for part-time programs should be as similar as possible to those of full-time programs. As part-time programs proved themselves similar to full-time programs in terms of admissions, curriculum, faculty, course grades, student evaluations, field education evaluations, professional socialization, library materials, computer services, and other support services, this led to part-time education in social work being viewed as increasingly acceptable within the profession and programs with substantial part-time elements becoming accredited. …

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