by Melissa Doak
REMEMBER THOSE OLD t.v. commercials for correspondence courses? I do. At eleven years old, I was fascinated with all the things I could choose to learn by mail. Why did anyone go to college when they could call a toll-free number for information about how to earn more money and respect than they had ever imagined? Incredible professional opportunities awaited me—medical transcriptionist, veterinary technician, refrigeration specialist…. Distance education has come a long way from those correspondence courses advertised after dinner on Saturday night to poor unemployed souls. Then, as now, instructors were separated from students by time and distance, but now, high tech resources dominate distance education. The new technologies can enhance the learning experience of traditional students, connect people not enrolled in courses to educational resources, and offer an entirely new way to communicate with and teach students, replacing face-to-face interaction altogether. Why should adjuncts put in all the effort to get up to speed on distance education? The answer is simple. More and more universities are looking for adjunct faculty to teach distance education courses; you, as the instructor, can potentially work for institutions around the country without leaving the home office in the corner of your bedroom. It makes sense to take the plunge, learn about distance education, and seek out these new opportunities. What follows is a tour of some of the best resources for beginning and experienced distance educators.
Distance Education Clearinghouse
This comprehensive Web site, maintained by the University of Wisconsin-Extension, is one of the oldest on-line resources for distance educators. It brings together information about distance education from all over the Web, and even a novice can find a place to begin here. Unsure whether you want to make a move into distance education? Try the interactive questionnaire, “Is On-line Teaching for Me?” Convinced you want to take the plunge? Read “Strategies for Teaching at a Distance,” by Barry Willis, or “A Teacher’s Guide to Distance Learning,” by Ann Baron. There is a lot to explore here–have fun!
Visit the instructor channel of
Distance-Educator.com to find links to a variety of articles that provide help with designing, developing, delivering, and evaluating distance education courses. Visit the resources section to link to academic publications about distance education, as well as to distance education associations. And there is an extensive list of links to other Web resources organized by subject to save you time.
American Center for the Study of Distance Education
This center was founded in 1986 to provide educators the support they need to incorporate new distance education technologies into their teaching. The resources section is particularly rich. There you will find a comprehensive list of useful distance education links, reports on Center research on distance education, and PowerPoint conference presentations. The publications button provides access to several links to articles that may also be helpful to beginning distance educators.
Teaching and Practice of On-line Learning, edited by Terry Anderson and Fathi Elloumi (Athabasca, CAN: Athabasca University, 2004). [Available on-line at http://cde.athabascau.ca/on-line_book/contents.html
This excellent book is published by Athabasca University, an on-line university based in Alberta, Canada. The book takes would-be on-line instructors from start (how do we conceptualize on-line learning) to finish (what is required to be an effective on-line instructor?). The book is strong on the theory guiding distance education, as well as effective in showing how to put that theory into practice. It will guide instructors considering on-line course development through the process, and help seasoned on-line instructors improve their understanding of theory, technologies, development, and delivery of course material.
The American Journal of Distance Education
This journal, published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, provides the latest in scholarly research into distance education. It covers many aspects of distance education, including how to design effective distance education programs, research into the success and satisfaction of students enrolled in distance education courses, reviews of changing technologies, and issues facing administrators of distance education programs. It is available on-line at http://www.ajde.com/.
The Chronicle of Higher Education.
“Issues in Depth” [http://chronicle.com/indepth/distance/] For subscribers to The Chronicle, this on-line resource collects the newspaper’s extensive coverage of distance education into an easy-to-navigate table of contents. It includes links to dozens of articles on “the players”: government, virtual universities, companies, and other distance education programs; to other articles tackling “the issues,” including accreditation, teaching with technology, the impact of distance education on traditional institutions, and others; and to reports, studies, and opinion pieces about distance education. This index provides an almost inexhaustible supply of information about distance education in higher education as reported by The Chronicle.
The Distance Education On-line Symposium, run through Penn State’s American Center for the Study of Distance Education, is the best of the best. Begun in 1991, it currently has subscribers all over the world. This moderated listserv focuses on distance education in higher education. The quite active discussions include conference announcements, current developments and news, and networking and job announcements. Visit the Web site for instructions on how to subscribe.
Conferences and Workshops
The Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning (http://www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/), organized each year since 1985 by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, combines informal roundtable discussions, how-to sessions, workshops and keynote addresses, course-design showcases, and in-depth forums. Beginning and experienced distance educators are welcome–there is something there for everyone.
The Association for Educational Communications and Technology Conference (http://www.aect.org/events/chicago04/), held this year in Chicago, October 19-23, 2004, offers over 500 conference presentations as well as half-day and full-day workshops for in-depth training for beginning and experienced distance educators. A couple workshops that caught my eye were “Cool Tools Emerging” that organizers promise will give attendees a chance to view new technologies and “kick the tires on some of the best,” and “Designing Instruction for On-line or Hybrid Learning Environment,” a place for novices to get started designing their own distance education courses. Take a look at their program and, if you like what you see, you can register on-line.
Some final thoughts about distance education. It may seem like a lot of effort to develop and teach your first distance education course–and it is. But once you develop these skills, they will give you an edge and open up a world of opportunity well beyond the confines of that corner-of-the-bedroom office (without requiring you to change out of your pajamas!).