Graduate Distance Education in Family Relations: A Case Study

By Piercy, Kathleen W.; Lee, Thomas R. | Family Relations, January 2006 | Go to article overview

Graduate Distance Education in Family Relations: A Case Study


Piercy, Kathleen W., Lee, Thomas R., Family Relations


Abstract:

This paper discusses graduate distance education in family relations and related disciplines, using a case study approach. Challenges that occur in distance graduate programs are outlined and illustrated by examination of a new master's degree program in Family and Human Development. The program delivers courses by satellite broadcast and interactive television and requires two on-campus meetings. Graduates gave the overall program high marks, with instructor/instruction factors most important in their ratings of most and least favorite courses. We examine the implications of various strengths and weaknesses of the program for graduate program development and teaching pedagogy and offer suggestions to address logistical and pedagogical challenges of distance education in family relations.

Key Words: education, family relations, professional development, teaching pedagogy.

Introduction and Literature Review

Although many family studies programs have a rich history of graduate education, little has been written about graduate program development and teaching pedagogy. Most discussion of graduate education in family relations has focused on career development issues, such as preparing graduate students to teach (Blaisure & Walcheski, 1997; Lamke, 1998), mentoring graduate student research (Benson & Piercy, 1997), and the preparation of graduates for the job market (Futris et al., 1999). There is a need to increase our understanding of graduate education in human development and family relations, especially as ways of delivering such education are changing.

The Council of Graduate Schools (1998) recently noted that because of changing needs of professions and employers, the master's degree had undergone significant refinement in the latter half of the 20th century. One result of these changes has been an increased number of applied master's degree programs in a variety of disciplines, including family studies (Hans, 2002).

Another recent focus of higher education has been the offering of advanced degrees for adults living at a distance from major campuses or with schedules that do not permit on-campus class attendance. Courses, certificates, and degree programs are delivered online through the Internet, through use of videocassettes, or via interactive television. The U.S. Department of Education (2003) reported that during the 2000-2001 academic year, 56% (2,320) of all 2 and 4 year Title IV-eligible, degree-granting institutions offered distance education courses. By 1995, 7,500 graduate, technology-based distance education courses were offered by institutions of higher education (Council of Graduate Schools, 1998).

Confluences of demographic trends and technological advances have increased the numbers of advanced degrees offered at a distance. For more than a decade, real growth in graduate education has come from "nontraditional" students who are most likely to be female, part-time, and older in age. These students often gauge the value of their education in terms of securing jobs and promotions (Council of Graduate Schools, 1998). Thus, they look for applied programs that offer the flexibility of part-time study at times and locations that are most convenient to them. These new learners increasingly are choosing technology-based distance education programs (Council of Graduate Schools). Competition for the new "majority" student challenges traditional universities, which must contend with the offerings of comparable institutions and virtual universities, as well as other providers (i.e., University of Phoenix). In a special issue on distance education published in Family Science Review, Day and Baugher (1999) argued that degree programs delivered via distance education would likely increase in the future because of shrinking state appropriations for higher education and increased demand from the public.

Several applied master's degree programs now are delivered by means of distance education. …

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