Distance Education in Agricultural Economics: Perceptions of Department Heads
Jensen, Kim, English, Burton, Clark, Christopher, Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics
Heads of agricultural economics and agribusiness departments across the United States are surveyed to develop an inventory of distance education (DE) offerings by their departments. Perceived challenges, strategies for use, and future plans for DE are assessed. While the majority of the responding departments offer DE, the department heads believed that faculty time costs to develop/deliver DE are high relative to traditional delivery and that both strategic plans for implementing DE and financial incentives for faculty to adopt DE are lacking. The department heads did, however, have positive views about the technological ability of students to use distance courses.
Key Words: distance education
JEL Classifications: A2-Economics Education and Teaching of Economics
Introduction and Objectives
The development of distance education (DE), has, in large part, been driven by advances in communication technologies, that is, radio, television, and the Internet. These technological advances have prompted wildly enthusiastic predictions of both growth in distance education and fundamental changes in the nature of higher education. An overview of distance education development can be found in Barkley. To date, these technological changes have proven more evolutionary than revolutionary (Barkley; Moore 1997, 2003). However, each successive advance brings DE that much closer to being able to replicate the instructional methods traditionally employed in on-campus courses. The distinction between DE and on-campus instruction has also been blurred by the use of technological advances associated with the Internet in on-campus courses, primarily through asynchronous communication and online delivery of instructional material (Dahlgran; Howell, Williams, and Lindsay). In any event, the broad-based appeal of these new technologies is expected to increase demand for DE not only among its traditional clientele, that is, place-bound adult students, but also among on-campus students. The advantage of DE to traditional students lies primarily in increased convenience, as DE is now directed not only at students distanced by geography but also at those distanced by time.
The objective of this study is to provide a snapshot of the increased role of DE within agricultural economics departments. More specifically, this study develops an inventory of DE offerings by agricultural economics and/or agribusiness departments across the United States, measures perceived challenges to offering DE, assesses strategies for use, and ascertains departments' plans for future DE offerings. The role of DE across the spectrum of undergraduate courses, graduate courses, and extension programs is also analyzed. To obtain information required for the study, heads of agricultural economics and/or agribusiness departments across the United States were surveyed by mail to obtain their percep- tions of the types of distance offerings, including course topics and levels; the primary users of the department's distance materials; whether any distance offerings have been dropped and why; plans for future distance offerings; the adequacy of financial resources and technical support for distance offerings; faculty perceptions of DE and reward systems for authoring and offering distance materials; student or user learning through distance formats; and departmental strategies for using DE. However, prior to discussing the implementation of and responses to this survey, some background on DE is provided, including a review of relevant research.
Previous DE Research
DE has been defined as "institution-based, formal education where the learning group is separated, and where interactive telecommunication systems are used to connect learners, resources, and instructors" (Keegan). While the origins of DE can be traced back to the early 180Os, the nation's colleges and universities did not begin offering DE until the advent of the rural mail delivery system in the late 180Os. …