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Evaluating a digital distance2


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June 13 paper by Poucher & King ACENETC2011

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Evaluating a digital distance2

  1. 1. Evaluating a Digital Distance Learning System for Latin America: A Central American Success Story BY: Don Poucher, University of Florida (Retired) and Dave King, Oregon State University; Association for Communications Excellence; Denver, Co. June 13, 2011. IntroductionZamorano University is an international university in Honduras with an academicfocus on agricultural and natural resource development.Over 18-months, June 2004-March 2006, Don Poucher from the University of Floridaand Dave King from Oregon State University helped Zamorano University facultycreate, from scratch, the foundation for a distance education program and form supportnetworks for problem- and knowledge-based learning communities of interest. Subjectmatter expertise, content, and technology were selected and adapted to develop fivemodules for use across Zamorano’s academic, service, and outreach/research areas. Themodules included: • Ruminant Nutrition • Basic Marketing • Developing and Marketing New Food Products • Water Quality and Management • Experiential Small PlotsThrough a series of five day workshops, the goal was to provide information thatallowed local faculty and staff at Zamorano to effectively build their own program, and,at the same time, create a network of resources that they access for information andsupport. The program supported resident as well as distance academic programs andoutreach. Seven workshops were held over the 18-month period.In addition, the effort focused on bridging the cultural uniqueness of educationalprograms in Latin America and the United States. With a goal of establishing a longer-term network of contacts, participants in the workshops established the humanconnections needed to share information, programs, and learning modules in bothdirections to and from learners. 1
  2. 2. Dave King (L) and Don Poucher during e-learning class break at Zamorano University. PAC @ D: Zamorano’s Distance Education (e- learning) ProgramIn the end, Zamorano University faculty created an effective, scalable, world classdistance education (e-learning) program for serving learners throughout Latin Americathrough digital access. The program is known as PAC @ D (Programa de AprendizajeContinuo a Distancia). The program is administered by Zamorano’s Global Center forDistance Learning. The Center was created in 2006 and began developing the PAC @ Dwith assistance from a program advisory committee comprised of the following: DaveKing, Associate Vice Provost at Oregon State University; Don Poucher, Assistant VicePresident, University of Florida; Rolando Flores, Professor of Food Science andNutrition, University of Nebraska; Luz Marina Alvare, Head Librarian, InternationalFood Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); Jim French, International Institute forCooperation in Agriculture; and Jan Poley, CEO, American Distance EducationConsortium (ADEC). King and Poucher serve as co-chairs of the advisory committee. 2
  3. 3. Dave and Don with PAC @ D Director Antonio Flores (back row) as ADEC CEO Jan Poley and Zamorano President Ken Hoadley sign ADEC membership agreement.PAC @ D is a training program, on-line. At the crossroads of excellence and experience,Zamorano with its partners, corporate and individual, in the development orimprovement of professional and business skills of Latin American agribusiness andagro-industrial interests, to improve the competitiveness and sustainability of theagricultural and natural resource sector within current and future economic and marketmodels. PAC@D I Programa de Aprendizaje Continuo a Distancia I 3
  4. 4. PAC @ D is part of the education offered by Zamorano; it is led and coordinated by theCenter for e-Learning Zamorano. PAC @ D is open to entrepreneurs, producers,developers, technicians and professionals as a tool for creating in them a culture ofcontinuous learning for life.PAC @ D promotes a pedagogical model focused on capacity development and use ofinformation technology and communication for self learning and decision making. PAC@ D seeks to continuously improve the efficiency and effectiveness of processes, solveproblems and minimize risk. The diversity of experience and eco-geographic origin ofteachers and participants contribute significantly to provide a global perspective tolearning and potentially create international communities of business and long-termcollaboration. Culture of Continuous Learning for lifeRationalInformation Use Capacity Development PAC@DInteractivity Internationalization Relevant and Significant Sector Needs Relevant and Significant Sector Needs 4
  5. 5. Teachers, Tutors, and Technical SupportPAC @ D course participants enjoy the permanent support of a professional teamconsisting of specialist teachers, tutors and technical support unit.Specialist teachers are the experts who developed the content and course activities. Theygenerally participate as guides in the forums and video sessions; they advise, reviewand feed back the work to students and respond to technical questions related to thecourse.The tutor is an experienced professional in the study area, dedicated to assisting andguiding participants in the daily work. Tutors streamline the process of learning.Throughout the course, the tutor is the main bridge between student participants andZamorano.The Technical Support Unit (Support @ D-PAC) is responsible for helping participants toany question or technical difficulties related to the management of the Blackboardplatform or any other tool used during the course. This unit ensures open access andsatisfactory fluid spaces of interaction and learning for the program.Zamorano has a set of means and instruments that allow access and effective use ofinformation for learning, and support the administrative function. From thetechnological point of view, all these facilities are managed by the InformationTechnology Unit Zamorano, under the highest safety standards. From an academicstandpoint, this unit supports all activities of teaching, learning and communicationassociated with both the residential program and the PAC @ D.Zamorano continually makes significant investments to improve the ability of thetechnology infrastructure and thus ensure that it is constantly updated to help improvethe quality of its offerings to students both resident and at a distance. CoursesZamorano began offering distances courses through PAC @ D in September, 2009.Resident students are not permitted to enroll in the distance courses. The cost ofparticipating in the program is $450 per student per course. The cost includes academicand technical support specialist teacher and tutor, access to the learning platformBlackboard ©, tools and content, service support and Certificate of Participation.Individual discounts are available for early registration (usually before mid-August 14);corporate discounts are available to organizations/institutions when registering groups 5
  6. 6. of five or more participants in one or more courses or promoted from theorganization/institution.During 2009-10, some 380 distance students were enrolled in 13 courses. A review ofcourses offered during 2010 include the following: • Managing processes within value chains • Ethics and Professional Conduct • Management of food safety • Historical-political context and development • Decision making in social settings • Comprehensive quality management of the business functions • Business management of milk productionBeginning in February, 2011, additional courses will be offered including the following: • Management of food safety • Ethics and professional conduct • Management processes within value chains • Industrialization of livestock products • Management of Human Resources • Management costs for business competitiveness • Management for international business • Hydrology for the integrated management of water resources • Future Energy Alternatives for Sustainable Development • Business Management of Agricultural Production Zamorano PAC@D: Programa de Aprendizaje Continuo a DistanciaSince Poucher and King began the e-learning workshop series at Zamorano, theUniversity has made exceptional progress in building a very sound distance learningprogram through PAC @ D. Start-up resources were provided through a major grantfrom the Inter-American Development Bank and a major individual gift. Utilizing thoseresources, PAC @ D generated program income of $170,000 through the end of 2010.From program income received, Zamorano supports a PAC & D staff of oneinstructional designer, two graphic artists, two programmers, and one informationtechnology specialist. The tutors utilized in the course offerings are compensated fromPAC @ D revenues and on-campus departments and units involved in the courses alsoreceive nominal support. Zamorano’s direct investment includes space for the distanceprogram, general support from the Informatica (IT) unit, and salaries of the overall PAC@ D director and his assistant, who also functions as an instructional designer. 6
  7. 7. Satisfaction SurveyZamorano’s distance courses through PAC @ D’s have enrolled a variety of studentssince 2009. For purposes of evaluating the program, the PAC @ D director provided toPoucher and King the names of 45 different students who have been or are currentlyenrolled in the distance courses. Most of these students are those who completedZamorano’s three year Agronomo Ingeniero certificate program prior to Zamorano’saddition of the fourth year bachelor degree program. Their obvious goal is to completethe fourth year at a distance and obtain their bachelor degrees. These 45 students werefirst contacted by email on November 1, 2010 and were asked to complete a satisfactionsurvey, which consisted of 11 questions designed to benchmark their views on the PAC@ D effort (see Appendix I). The survey asked if the students had previously attendedZamorano as a resident student, their present employment situation, the number ofcourses they had taken, if they had completed the courses, if they were now takingcourses, and their attitudes toward the courses including why they were taking thecourses, if they would recommend the PAC @ D courses to friends, and if they werepleased with their course experience. They were also asked to describe their courseexperiences and indicate how the PAC @ D courses could be improved. Of the 45students surveyed, 32 provided responses (69 %) over a three week period duringwhich they were reminded twice to return their replies to the email survey. Thequestion-by-question responses are summarized in Appendix I.The names of 13 faculty who were teaching PAC @ D courses were also provided by theprogram’s director to Poucher and King. Simultaneously with the student survey, the13 faculty were also contacted by email and asked to complete the satisfaction surveyfrom their perspective. Of the 13 faculty, 12 (92%+) completed the survey and wereasked to register their views on the PAC @ D distance program and provide data onstudent performance and participation (see Appendix II).The Students – Of those who responded, 78 % had previously attended Zamorano as aresident student. Some 19 % had not previously attended Zamorano; one chose not toanswer the survey. Of those responding, about 94 % were employed in jobs rangingfrom entrepreneurial positions to those of farm/company manager, risk analyst,comptroller, plant breeder, consultant, operations manager, processing value-addedcoordinator, auditor’ technical council president, and food processor. One respondentwas unemployed. 7
  8. 8. Among the respondents, nearly 44 % (14) had taken six or more courses at a distance;six had taken one course; three had taken two courses; two had taken three; four hadtaken four and one had taken five courses. Nearly 44 % (14) had taken (or were taking)six courses or more. About 94 % (30) had completed their courses and one had not.About 81 % (26) were presently taking courses; five were not. All of those whoresponded said they would recommend PAC @ D courses to their friends; one did notrespond.When asked why they were taking courses, nearly 72 % (23) indicated that they wantedto complete their fourth year at Zamorano; 62 % (20) said they wanted to broaden theireducation; 53 % (17) said they wanted to each broaden their education and update theirexpertise; more than 12 % (4) said they wanted to find a job, while nearly 16 % said theyhad other reasons for taking the courses such as working on master’s degrees.Some 94 % said they were pleased with their PAC @ D course experience; one was notpleased and one did not register a response to the question.Appendix I details the description of the respondents’ course experiences. Among theopinions offered were that the courses helped them stay up-to-date in their professionalareas, provided a broader view of their businesses, allowed learning while working,provided new technology and real world relevance, created an idea exchange, andformed a network of learners.Also provided in Appendix I, are reasons why a few of the respondents were notpleased with the PAC @ D courses. Included are conflicts between faculty and studentschedules, lack of time to complete course assignments, and the need for exercises toapply knowledge learned.Respondents were also asked how the PAC @ D courses could be improved. Severalindicated that video and video conferences were needed. Some also felt they shouldreceive more personal attention of professors and more feedback from tutors. Some feltthat students’ progress should be more closely tracked, that course expectations shouldbe outlined and assigned at the beginning of the course and that the Blackboard©platform could be more friendly than they experienced.Generally speaking, the student respondents are very pleased with the PAC @ Dprogram at Zamorano University. Most were completing their fourth year (to obtain the 8
  9. 9. baccalaureate) degree. An overwhelming majority had previously attended ZamoranoUniversity as a resident student, were presently employed and had completed thePAC @ D courses they had undertaken.The Faculty – Of the 12 faculty respondents, 10 were existing Zamorano faculty; 2 wereformer faculty. More than half (7/58%), had taught distance courses. Five (42 %) hadnot. Of those who had previously taught at a distance, most (5) had taught only onecourse. One had taught two courses. Six did not respond. Courses taught by the facultywho responded correspond to those previously listed (pages 3 and 4).When asked about student drop-out rates in their previous and existing courses, half (6)indicated no drop outs; one had experienced six drop outs; one had 10 drop outs; onereported more than 10 dropouts, three did not respond.When asked to indicate the number of students who started distance courses completedthem, two indicated 15-20 finished, one said 10-15, one said less than 10, five indicatedthe courses were cancelled, and three did not respond.According to the faculty who responded, students who take their distance coursesperform either about the same (5) or better than (5) those taking the courses face to face.Two faculty did not respond to this question.Faculty also said students either like (8) or like strongly (2) distance courses. Oneindicated that students dislike the courses; one did not respond.According to the 12 faculty respondents, Zamorano faculty neither receive reducedregular teaching assignments (9) nor extra compensation (9) when teaching distancecourses.The faculty respondents also said they either like (4) or like strongly (6) distanceteaching. When asked specifically about PAC @ D, they indicated similar opinions.The faculty responding to the survey offered several suggestions for improving thePAC @ D system. Several indicated they would like to see improved incentives(reduced workloads/salary supplements) offered to those who teach distance courses.They indicated that Zamorano should provide more information technology staffsupport and should increase the use of video conferencing. They would like to see PAC@ D expand its course offerings to other areas, engage in aggressive course sales tactics,and recruit more students and faculty. 9
  10. 10. In general, Zamorano students and faculty support the distance education efforts ofZamorano University through PAC @ D. They like or strongly like the distance learningconcept and believe it should be expanded. Students registered a 94 % satisfaction ratewith PAC @ D; faculty expressed a lower but none the less high satisfaction rate of 75 %.Both groups believe the PAC @ D program deserves increased support from theZamorano administration and believe the distance education effort should be moreaggressive than at present and utilize full video technologies. Appendix I: Student Survey Results Student Questionnaire Zamorano PAC@D: Programa de Aprendizaje Continuo a Distancia 1. Have you previously attended Zamorano as a resident student? ___yes 25 ___no 6 Nr 1 2. What is your present employment situation? ___Employed 30 (please indicate current job or work) risk analyst; producer; company manager; farm manager; assistant comptroller; plant breeder; consultant; agricultural services manager; national foundation researcher; grower; farm owner; agricultural operations manager; processing value added coordinator; city councilman; auditor; aquaculture farm head; technical council president; food processor; ___Unemployed 1 NR 1 3. How many courses have you taken? ___1 6 ___2 3 ___3 2 ___4 4 ___5 1 ___6 or more 14 4. Did you complete the course(s)? ___yes 30 ___no 1 10
  11. 11. NR 15. Are you now taking courses with PAC@D? ___yes(please list) 26 ___no 5 NR 16. Would you recommend courses through PAC@D to your friends? ___yes 31 ___no -- NR 17. Why were/are you taking course(s)? (choose as many as may apply) ___complete the 4th year at Zamorano 23 ___improve my professional skills 17 ___broaden my education 20 ___update my expertise 17 ___help me find a job 4 ___other (please explain)_________ 2 working on masters degrees in envirornmental science8. Were you pleased with your course experience? ___Yes 30 ___No 1 NR 19. If you were pleased, describe your experience (please print). Refresher courses; Helps me stay up to date; broader view of business; courses adapted to experience of students; allowed me to work and learn; learn new technology and real world relevance; good for technical updates; information tools are professional; teachers know what they are doing; creates an ideas exchange; forms a network (of learners)10. If you were not pleased, describe your experience (please print). 11
  12. 12. Appears to be conflict with faculty schedule and student schedule; not enough time to complete assignments; course schedule changes are confusing; need exercises for applying knowledge learned11.How could courses be improved? Use more videos and discussion groups; greater use of blogs; make courses more applicable to actual jobs; more personal attention by professors; more emphasis on new technology and application; more feedback from tutors and lecturers; assign course expectations at beginning of course; course platform (Blackboard) could be more friendly; improve communication between faculty and students; track each student’s progress more closely. Appendix II: Faculty Survey Faculty QuestionnaireZamorano PAC@D: Programa de Aprendizaje Continuo a Distancia 1. What is your position/relationship with Zamorano?___Faculty 10___Former Faculty 2 2. Have you ever taught a Zamorano course for students at a distance?___yes 7___no 53. If yes, how many Zamorano courses have you taught at a distance? ___1 5 ___2 1 ___3 ___4 ___5 ___6 Nr 2 (first time) Na 44. Please list course(s) taught at a distance. Hydrology, agricultural production systems, making decisions in social settings, management of food systems and food safety, dairy production systems, administration of productive food chains, integrated quality 12
  13. 13. management, multi-component agricultural production systems, socio- economic monitoring in coastal systems.5. How many students who started any of your distance courses dropped out without finishing the course? __0 6 ___1 ___7 ___2 ___8 ___3 ___9 ___4 ___10 1 ___5 ___more than 10 1 ___6 1 NR 36. How many students who started any of your distance courses finished them? ___less than 10 1 ___25-30 ___10-15 1 ___35-40 ___15-20 2 ___more than 40 (How many_____) ___20-25 NR 3 NA 5 (course not completed)7. How would you compare the performance in meeting learning objectives of students taking your course at a distance to those taking it face-to-face at Zamorano? ___Better than 5 ___About the same 5 ___Worse than NR 28. How do you think students feel about distant courses? ___like strongly 2 ___like 8 ___no opinion ___dislike 1 ___dislike strongly NR 1 13
  14. 14. 9. Have you ever received reductions in regular teaching assignments when you teach distance courses? ___Yes ___No 9 NR 310. Have you ever received extra compensation when you teach distance courses? ___Yes 1 ___No 9 NR 211. How do you view distance teaching? ___dislike strongly ___dislike ___no opinion ___like 4 ___like strongly 6 NR 212. Indicate how you feel about PAC@D’s tutor system. ___dislike strongly ___dislike ___no opinion 1 ___like 3 ___like strongly 6 NR 213. Indicate one way PAC@D could be improved. More IT staff Improve incentives for participating faculty Expand to other areas (courses) Improve recruitment of students Greater use of video conferencing More aggressive selling of courses Recruit more teachers 14
  15. 15. Teachers need relief from routine assignmentsNeed more supporting materials 15