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Kathleen Dodge Kelsey

Oklahoma State University


The growth of distance education course offerings is an indication of its importance to students;

however, criticisms have centered on its lack of ability to provide interaction among participants.

This case study utilized a mixed methods approach to examine the assumption that an increase in

interaction increases student satisfaction among distance learners in an applied animal genetics course delivered by interactive compressed video (ICV) technology to five far-end sites from a major land-grant university in the Northeast. A standardized questionnaire, interviews, and observations were utilized to assess interaction and student satisfaction among students. Students at all sites were satisfied with the course, although not overwhelming so due to technical limitations and failures. Students were very satisfied with the number and variety of opportunities for interaction provided in the course. The most frequent and enjoyable type of interaction was face-to-face communications with site facilitators. Recommendations for improving the course included providing advanced organizers to students, more time for questions and answers during the lecture, and resolving technology limitations and failures. Future research should examine social accountability as a factor for increasing interaction in ICV courses as well as a rationale for providing synchronous courses.

Introduction Distance education, where the student and instructor are separated by place or time or both (Cyrs, 1996), has a long history in the United States tracing back to 1728 (Holmberg, 1983). With the advent of two-way audio and video technologies distance education course offerings have increased significantly in the United States over the past few years. Students can earn Bachelor's, Master's, and Doctor of Philosophy degrees without ever stepping foot on campus. An emerging use for distance education is resource sharing among campuses. As federal and state funding disappear in higher education many departments are exploring avenues for offering students a quality curriculum while reducing costs. Such is the situation in the Northeast where members of a regional consortium teamed up to offer a course in applied animal genetics to students at five campuses synchronously via interactive compressed video (ICV) technology and one campus asynchronously (videotaped).

As colleges and universities gear up to meet the needs of distance education students, faculty and administrators have questioned educational effectiveness of distance technologies. Can students learn when they are physically separated from their instructor? This question has been addressed by a plethora of literature that shows no significant difference between learning outcomes when grades are used to measure performance between near- and far-end students (Russell, 1992), therefore faculty are turning toward student satisfaction issues as measures of distance education success. Student satisfaction criterion can be used to judge the effectiveness of a course and is an important element for providing feedback to faculty for improving future distance education courses (Biner, 1993).

Yet a research base for this significant variable has not been well established, particularly in animal science courses.

Theoretical Framework Interpersonal interaction has been cited as the crux of significant learning for nearly a century, so much so that success in the educational environment is positively correlated to interaction (Garrison, 1993; Stanford & Roark, 1974). Learning theory indicates that students perform better and remember more when they interact within the learning environment (Oliver & McLoughlin, 1997; Wagner, 1993). With the advent of interactive compressed video (ICV) technology, which allows for two-way audio and video transmission, distance educators are able to incorporate fully interactive design techniques into the teaching and learning environment. Researchers have hypothesized that fully interactive classrooms will lead to increased learning outcomes in terms of quantity and quality of questions asked and answered (Bauer & Rezabek, 1992; Boverie, et al. 1997; Sholdt, Zhang, & Fulford, 1995).

Moore (1989) held that interaction is the key theoretical construct in distance education and distinguished between learner-content, learner-instructor, and learner-learner interactions. Reciprocity is necessarily built into Moore’s theory in that interaction is both unidirectional and bi-directional. Learner-content interaction occurs when a student reads a book, views pre-recorded videotape, or in some way interacts with inanimate learning resources. Learners engage in an internal didactic conversation (Holmberg, 1983) in order to master the content. Learner-instructor interaction is what differentiates self-study from distance education. The instructor provides learners with a curriculum for mastering content and communicates with learners throughout the course. Learner-learner interaction 1 Acknowledgement: This research was partially supported by the United States Department of Agriculture Higher Education Challenge Grants Program.

40 takes the form of group projects and Internet-based discussion boards.

Hillman, Willis, and Gunawardena (1994) added learner-interface interaction, the concept of interaction that occurs between the learner and technologies used to deliver instruction to Moore's (1989) framework. Hillman et al. (1994) argued that a student's skill with the communication medium necessary to participate in a distance education course is positively correlated with success in that course. In order to gain any meaning from the course content the student must be literate in the communication medium's rules of interaction. This study investigated interaction from Moore’s (1989) and Hillman’s et al. (1994) theoretical base.

Purpose and Research Questions The major purpose of this study was to examine the assumption that an increase in interaction increases student

satisfaction among distance learners. The study was guided by three research questions:

1. Were students satisfied with the distance education course?

2. How did the level and quality of interaction impact student satisfaction with the distance education course?

3. What was the relationship between student satisfaction and synchronous interaction in the distance education course?

Methods Data Collection and Analyses Procedures The study used a mixed methods approach, incorporating both qualitative and quantitative data collection and analyses methodologies. A standardized questionnaire, interviews, and observations were utilized to assess

interaction and student satisfaction among students. Simply defined, a case study is "an empirical inquiry that:

Investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context; when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident; and in which multiple sources of evidence are used" (Yin, 1984, p. 23). Case studies are intended to catch the intricacies of a particular event, program, individual, or place. One of the most important uses of the case study is to "explain the casual links in real-life interventions that are too complex for the survey or experimental strategies". A second goal of the case study is to describe the context in which interventions occur (Yin, 1984, p. 25, emphasis in original).

Student satisfaction was measured with the Telecourse Evaluation Questionnaire (TEQ), a 43-item Likert-type sale (Biner, 1993). This instrument was developed with test construction standards consistent with test development in the field of educational and industrial psychology (Biner, 1993). The instrument was organized into three dimensions: 1) instruction/instructor characteristics, 2) technological characteristics, and 3) course management and coordination.

Qualitative and quantitative data collected for analyzing interaction were based on researcher-participant observations, in-depth semi-structured interviews with students (N=47) and faculty (N=5), and postings to the course discussion board. Videotaped recordings of all course sessions were captured and analyzed for quantity of interaction between students and instructors, and students and students. Measures for interaction between groups consisted of quantifying the number of questions posed by individuals during the live lecture and the number of times a student posted a comment to the discussion board.

All students were invited for interviews via e-mail. Students who responded to the invitation were interviewed between mid-October and mid-December, 1998. An interview schedule was developed and used during face-to-face interviews. Further questions evolved during the interview process as the researcher attempted to understand why students did not fully engage in the various types of interaction provided in the course. Interviews lasted no longer than one hour each and were audiotaped, transcribed, and coded following Miles and Huberman’s (1994) suggestions for qualitative data analysis. Because of their focus on a particular situation case studies do not seek to make statistical generalizations, rather they rely on analytical techniques and are limited in their ability to generalize to a greater population (Yin, 1984).

Course Context Applied Animal Genetics was designed as a capstone seminar for animal science majors. The purpose of the course was to expose students to the genetics industry through 12 seminars, which presented current research being conducted in the field. Seminar topics included genetic definition and control of qualitative and quantitative traits, genetic conservation, and new developments in molecular genetics. Speakers from across the United States and Canada were practicing geneticists who presented their research projects as compelling examples of science in action. Opportunities for interaction within the course context were provided in five forms. 1) Ten minutes were allotted at the end of each lecture to pose a question directly to the speaker from all sites. 2) A discussion board was linked to the course web site where students and guest speakers were invited to participate. 3) Most students had access to e-mail and were advised to communicate with site facilitators regarding content related questions. 4) Luncheons with guest speakers were provided at the near-end site. 5) Face-to-face interactions with site facilitators 41 occurred within the context of normal interactions between students and professors at traditional campus-based universities.

The course was also supported by an extensive Internet web site that contained links to a student photo gallery, course outline, course rules and


information, journal articles (accessed through Adobe Acrobat reader), contact information for all site facilitators, and a link to the discussion board. Near-end students could also access their current standing in the class through the web site.

The near-end class was held in a newly constructed building designed specifically for offering courses at a distance with ICV technology. Classrooms at far-end sites were equipped with ICV conferencing equipment that ran at 384 kilobytes per second (kbps). One site used ICV conferencing equipment at 128 kbps. Far-end sites employed some technical help in connecting to the bridging service each week, but site facilitators were primarily responsible for managing communications between sites.

Findings Participants Participants in this multi-site study included all students (N=81) and site facilitators (N=5) receiving the course fall

1998. Seventy-three students (90%) (of whom 20% were male and 80% were female) and five site facilitators agreed to participate in the study. The average age of the cohort was 21.7 years and the average number of years in college was 3.6 years. None of the students had participated in a distance education course prior to this one.

Interaction Students were satisfied with the level and quality of interaction that they received in this course and found it to be consistent with other on-campus courses. Their expectations for interaction were generally met through four types of interaction offered in this course (live broadcast, discussion board, e-mail, and face-to-face interaction with site facilitators). Students were most satisfied with the time that they spent observing and participating in the broadcast.

Students valued content experts' knowledge and responses to questions posed during the live broadcast as well as on the discussion board. Students sited the quality of interaction as excellent.

Participating in a synchronous (live) distance education environment was far superior in students' minds than receiving the same course videotaped. The effect of receiving the course synchronously served to heighten students' overall sensory awareness of their environment and motivated students to pay attention to the speaker. Students reported that the value of synchronous interaction with the guest speakers was high and that receiving the course live increased their satisfaction. Other students contributed to the learning environment by posing interesting questions for all to hear.

Several factors contributed to student dissatisfaction with interaction in the course. They included technology failures at far-end sites (which occurred during 36% of the broadcasts), the short amount of time allotted for questions and answers at the end of the period (a total of 10 minutes), lack of participation by other students, and the fact that the 40-minute presentation could not be interrupted for questions.

Student Satisfaction Descriptive statistical analysis of the TEQ administered to students at the conclusion of the course provided quantitative data regarding students' level of satisfaction. Of the 81 students who completed the course 61 (75%) completed and returned the TEQ. The TEQ asked students to respond to each question using a 1-5 Likert-type scale, 1 being very poor and 5 being very good. Had the student rated each question as 5 (very good) the total score would be 175. For ease of interpreting results a letter grade was assigned for each dimension of the TEQ based on total points possible. Grades assigned followed the traditional format for a five point grading system using 90% and above as A, and so forth. The results of the data analysis for the TEQ are presented in Table 1.

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