5. Media and Technologies Used in Distance Education I


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This handout sheds light on various types of electronic media used in distance education. These media are radio and television broadcasting and telephone. However, other types of media are discussed under these headings. For example, audio and videocassettes are discussed under broadcasting as a solution to the limitations in using live programmes.

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5. Media and Technologies Used in Distance Education I

  1. 1. TECH4101: Media & technologies used in DE 1 [Document #5] Media and Technologies Used in Distance Education: Advantages and limitations Dr Alaa Sadik, Sultan Qaboos University, 2008 alaasadik@squ.edu.om This handout sheds light on various types of electronic media used in distance education. These media are radio and television broadcasting and telephone. However, other types of media are discussed under these headings. For example, audio and videocassettes are discussed under broadcasting as a solution to the limitations in using live programmes. 1. Radio and Television In the 1930s, educational radio programmes were introduced, adding instruction by radio to the usual array of print materials and correspondence by post (Hallwell, 1987). i Although educational radio and television began decades ago, they are still the most popular medium. There are several major reasons why broadcasting should continue to play a major role in distance education, as reflected in the literature: 1. The broadcast element includes constituents which are unique to the medium and which provide experiences not easily gained by other means (Robson, 1974). 2. Broadcasting reaches audiences that other forms of education do not reach; 3. Compared to other media, radio is extremely flexible, has a dramatic effect and can stimulate the imagination of learners (Heinich et al., 1993). 4. With the development in communications satelites, radio and television can reach a long l distance and use extra numbers of channels, with their potential for two-way signal carriage (Kent, 1969; Bates 1984; Halliwell, 1987; Bates, 1995). However, although radio and television broadcasting is a flexible and easy to access technology, instruction goes in one direction, from the tutor to the audience and the medium does not support transfer of information in the opposite direction (Cronje, 1996). Braun (1962) found that these programmes had no significant effect, when compared with traditional 1
  2. 2. TECH4101: Media & technologies used in DE 1 [Document #5] instruction, unless they were used in situations where they were integrated with other activities (e.g., problem-solving in mathematics) in a learning situation with an active role for the learner. Spencer (1996) reviewed studies in TV instruction and concluded tha ‘over a wide t range of subjects, there is no difference between class lectures and tv instruction’ (p. 22). The following points summarise the limitations of broadcasting as reflected in the literature, in the light of ACTIONS (Bates, 1995) and Smith and Dillon’s (1999) framework. 1. Broadcasting does not have many of the features available in printed materials, as an old fashioned medium, such as learner control and self pace (Gunawardena and Dillon, 1992). 2. Although broadcasting is considered as a powerful tool for bringing the real world into the classroom, programmes often lack strategies for involving learners actively in the programme or in cognitive activities (Schwier, 1987; Krendl and Watkins, 1988). 3. Certain types of experiencescannot be transmitted by broadcasting, such as face-to-face contacts and abstract ideas that need interaction and deep explanation, like mathematical concepts (Costello and Gordon, 1965). 4. In terms of cost-effectiveness, Bates (1995) indicated that the costs of production, equipment and transmission per hour are very high in comparison with other media. 5. Bates (1984) criticised radio saying that it is difficult for students to talk, practise skills or understand difficult points unless teachers integrate broadcastng with other learning i activities. As a result of the limitations of radio and television, many solutions were suggested to overcome them. These solutions include using audio- and video-casset es and two-way t interactive radio/television to give the learner more control and to facilitate interaction between the teacher and students. Heinich (1993) pointed out that instructors (and students too) resist media that have to be used according to a rigid pre-set schedule. The advantage of cassettes is that they allow students to control and discuss the material as often and for as long as they wish (Brown, 1984). Audiocassettes afford learners control over instruction because they can play, stop, forward or rewind the tape. In addition, they offer flexibility in the way they can be used (e.g., at home, school, etc.) and they are easily accessible to students, since they are cost-effective (McIsaac and Gunawardena, 1996). 2
  3. 3. TECH4101: Media & technologies used in DE 1 [Document #5] With the low-cost of audio and videocassettes players, and their flexibility in use, Crooks and Kirkwood (1990) argued that videocassettes can achieve learning more effectively than television, due to the often inconvenient transmission times of broadcasting. Moreover, cassettes can increase the amount and level of interaction between learners and the learning materials and give more opportunity for human interaction (Bates, 1984). 2. Telephone and Audio-conferencing The use of the telephone in distance education was a result of the limitations of broadcasting as one-way medium. The main reason for using the telephone medium is to establish a direct connection between the teacher and students at a distance. Using the telephone, individually or in groups, students can gain learning experiences by interaction with the tutor, receiving information, feedback or asking for immediate support. Using the telephone takes two forms (Robinson, 1990): one-to-o telephone tutoring (teacher-to-student) and ne small-group audio-conferencing (students-to-students). The purpose of the first form is to provide students with human support. However, the purpose of the second form is to link students together for helpful dialogue and to socialise the learning process. McConnel and Sharples (1983) argued that the telephone can overcome many contact problems between students and tutors, whether in one-to-one links or in small group conferencing. A review of the literature showed that telephone-based courses use three main techniques: voice mail, documents exchange using fax and audio teleconferencing. Usin g additional equipment, a voice message (or messages) can be stored for distance students to access at any time/anywhere. Voice mail has added many functions to the telephone and its uses in distance education. Some of these functions are as follows: 1. Allowing connection to electronic grade book programmes. 2. Ability to check on a student’s progress which known as ‘homeworkhotlines’. 3. Obtaining test schedules. 4. Checking attendance records (Lucas, 1994). Fax seems to be a suitable choice for distributing printed materials. Using fax, the tutor can send course materials, homework and feedback. At the same time, students can submit their 3
  4. 4. TECH4101: Media & technologies used in DE 1 [Document #5] assignments or send their questions for more explanation. Graphic exchange over the telephone has many advantages for distance education, for many subjects (e.g., mathematics), such as fast transmission of printed materials (text and graphics) andease of access, since it uses the telephone line which is available at schools and homes (Robinson, 1990). Audio conferencing occurs when more than two telephones are linked together at the same time. Telephone conferencing enables students to interact directly with the tutor or experts, exchanging experiences or ask questions. Using loudspeakers, the telephone can link learners in a small or large groups. A conference can consist of students at their homes or in study centres (Kember and Murphy, 1994). Idrus (1993) agreed with Robinson (1990) on the effectiveness of using the telephone for tasks which involve information transmission, problem-solving and generating ideas, giving and receiving information, asking questions and exchanging opinions. Idrus believes that telephone can be as effective as face-to-face teaching and in some cases more effective than correspondence. Although the equipment needed for using the telephone in distance education is already available, albeit at different levels, the telephone machine and fax have many limitations. Some of these limitations are as follows: 1. Telephone tutorials do not allow full interaction between teacher and students, unlike face- to-face instruction. Prepared materials have to be delivered by print or audio-tapes to the learners in advance (Kember and Murphy, 1994). 2. Conference calls require special equipment know as a conference amplifier or conference n bridge. This equipment is necessary to avoid the loss of power that would be caused by connecting a large number of telephones in parallel (Open University Course Team, 1976). 3. Students do not make extensive use of the telephone and they usually prefer direct contact to telephone dialogue (Gunawardena and Dillon, 1992). 4. Most science courses are heavily dependent upon visual representation, particularly these that contain graphs, formulae and diagrams. These subjects need additional visual media besides the telephone (Robinson, 1981). 5. The absence of visual presentation requires some adaptation in communication behaviour, particularly among groups of students in audio conferences (Robinson, 1990). 4
  5. 5. TECH4101: Media & technologies used in DE 1 [Document #5] 6. Individual calls are costly in time and money for the tutor and students (Choat, 1983). 7. Although the telephone is very common, audio teleconferencing usually requires the student to travel to a nearby study centre, with a consequent loss of independence (Garrison,1990). As a result of the limitations of telephone and audio teleconferencing, anew generation of solutions has been found. The main objective of this generation is to conduct audio- video/real interaction between the tutor and students, with visual capability. 5