4. The evaluation of distance learning must be continual and systematic. This evaluation must target the unique issues found in a distance learning environment and therefore may be different from the standard university student/course evaluation. The faculty should also be encouraged to evaluate the course and provide recommendations for adjustment and improvement. Student observations of this type of course could include the typical university evaluation format but must also ask for information regarding quality of the remote environment, quality and quantity of student/faculty interaction, effectiveness of course content delivery through distance-learning technology, satisfaction with the course administrative activities (examinations, equipment accessibility, communication systems) and satisfaction with distance learning as compared to traditional learning.
The faculty involved should be asked to evaluate their experience with this different teaching/learning orientation. Questions about the amount of preparation and administration requirements, the effectiveness of equipment and facility layout for both origination and remote locations, student performance and responsiveness as compared to the traditional mode, and resource needs for this approach must be asked not only upon completion of but also during the course. All information collected from the student and faculty evaluations should be considered by the distance learning coordinator, faculty committee, or administrative body responsible for developing and maintaining policies and procedures.
5. Policies regarding recording and distribution of televised distance learning courses and faculty/student interactions during those courses must be established. Although most universities have policies regarding intellectual properties, the created matter or processes developed and used by faculty in distance learning may or may not be owned by the participating faculty members. Careful consideration must be given to the interpretation of the university’s intellectual-properties policy prior to involvement in this approach.
For instance, if faculty members create material while teaching in distance learning courses, was that material developed as part of regularly assigned duties, thereby giving the university ownership, or was the material developed at the faculty member’s initiative, giving ownership to the faculty member? Also, if university equipment and resources are used during the development of this material, what portion belongs to the university and what portion belongs to the faculty member? Perhaps faculty members venturing into distance learning may wish to have a signed statement from the appropriate administrative official prior to developing material used in their course, clarifying ownership of intellectual properties. At the very least, some sort of legal clarification should be sought.
Special attention should also be given to the recording and distribution of any faculty or student interaction as a result of participation in a distance-learning event. Signed release forms may also need to be given to students, guest lecturers, observers, and faculty prior to class "air time."
Conclusion and the Future
Distance learning has moved from the early days of correspondence courses with limited interaction to an electronic multimedia, multi-site, real-time, two-way communication event. With the variety of distance learning approaches currently in use, attention must be given to technology, environment, faculty, students and delivery issues involved, insuring effective implementation and monitoring of courses using this approach. The future holds many opportunities and many questions that must be addressed if this teaching/learning mode is to produce optimal benefit for all participating. Those journeying down the televised distance-learning highway must know where they are going and must be guided by a vision of possibilities for tomorrow’s classroom.
Authors’ Note: The authors shared equally in this effort and would like to acknowledge the members of Distance Learning Task Force, Virginia Commonwealth University, for their comments regarding distance learning.