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Volume 8, Number 5: February 20, 2002

Teaching Scholars Forum Web-Based Learning and Teacher Preparation:
Stumbling Blocks and Stepping Stones

by Patricia E. Ragan, Arthur P. Lacey, and Robert A. Nagy,
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay

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ABSTRACT


Across the nation, the major force driving change in educational systems is technology. In the area of teacher preparation, new Federal Title II guides require more extensive and intensive field experiences, making a web-based course content delivery a desirable alternative for traditional teacher preparation programs. Online teacher education courses are also an attractive and accessible option for pursuit of certification for disenfranchised populations who must work and who need to be moved into higher education (childcare, nursing, etc.) in support of workforce development and economic prosperity.

This study examines the efforts, obstacles, and successes of a teacher preparation program's attempts to convert to an online, competency, and field-based program. Data was collected on the technology-related difficulties encountered by faculty and students in the process of this conversion, including instructional design, workload, and merit/tenure issues. Additional data was gathered on the effects of web-based course delivery on interaction, competency acquisition, technology proficiency, and student learning outcomes.

Results support significant improvement in technology proficiency, comfort level, and perceptions of competence for faculty and students. In addition, competency acquisition remained constant or improved across all courses in the program sequence. Future research is needed using a larger population sample and an experiemental/control group paradigm.



INTRODUCTION

The use of distance learning for course delivery in higher education in all disciplines has increased over the last five years (Becker, 1999). Its use in teacher preparation is occurring, in part, in response to the new U.S. Department of Education Title II guidelines and state regulations for teacher licensing. At the national level, Title II calls for the use and infusion of technology as an educational tool to supplement teaching and learning and for the provision of intensive and extensive field experiences for pre-service teachers. Online instructional delivery is one model schools of education have experimented with in response to this mandate for change. The adoption of a web-based format for the delivery of course content supports the provision of more intensive and extensive field experiences. Students cannot be asked to spend large amounts of time in the field and still meet the traditional seat time expectations.

However, the use of online course delivery in teacher education remains controversial (Goldsworthy, 2000). Little data is available on the effectiveness of online instruction in teacher preparation. This study will examine the effectiveness of web-based strategies to enhance and supplement teaching and learning in a mid-western teacher preparation program that offers a major in elementary education (grades 1-6 or 1-8), a minor in secondary education, and preschool/kindergarten certification as an additional 22-credit minor. With funding from a 3-year FIPSE (Funding Initiative for Post Secondary Education) grant, educators set out to convert the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay's early childhood minor into an online, competency, and field-based program.

Information will be gathered on the technology-related problems and obstacles encountered by faculty--and to a lesser extent students--in converting and using web-based software. Additionally, this study will examine the positive and negative outcomes of web-based course delivery, including issues of instructional design, workload, interaction, competency acquisition, and student learning outcomes. By analyzing and interpreting what did and did not work in the use of online instructional delivery in this one moderately sized teacher preparation program, we hope to contribute to a collection of data on the teaching and learning outcomes of online instruction in teacher preparation programs. Furthermore, it is the hope that this study will serve as a resource for teacher education programs that wish to develop online distance learning courses.

LITERATURE REVIEW

The standards-based education movement at the national, state, and local level, has led to the emergence of standards in technology as well, and educators are increasingly pressured to meet and/or address those standards. From schools of education certifying future teachers to beginning and veteran teachers in the classroom, the underlying mission is for teachers to acquire the technology skills needed to create technology-enriched learning experiences and enhance student learning. Accomplishing this task requires educators to integrate technology throughout their curriculum and use technology as one of many tools to achieve their goals. Before educators can use instructional technology, they must learn to use it comfortably, efficiently, and effectively; educators must become technologically literate (Fulton, 1998).

Research has identified numerous knowledge, skill, and disposition components that contribute to technology literacy (Odasz, 2000). Technology comes in many forms, however, and to provide a focus for this review, only those elements that researchers consider essential to build and reinforce a solid foundation in technology literacy will be discussed: file management, data entry, word processing, electronic mail with file attachments, Internet use with search skills, menu and sub-menu comprehension, understanding of OLE (object linking and embedding), importing and exporting, graphics acquisition and management, and tables, graphs, and charts.

Web-based programs, such as WebCT, provide many features including a bulletin board, chat groups, calendar announcements and scheduling, direct student access to course notes and assignments, digital video and audio segments, and quiz or assessment capabilities. One researcher (McKenzie, 1998) praises WebCT's ability to monitor student hits, time in specific areas, and the automatically generated histograms of each students progress in the web course. Additionally, Odasz (2000) claims that one of the biggest advantages of the use of WebCT is the ability to set the time allowed for the online quizzes and the number of times that students could take each quiz (Stith, 2000).

Through quantitative and qualitative analysis, researchers (Dusick, 1998; Goldsworthy, 2000) have established that educators must provide a solid and reinforced foundation of technology literacy before they can successfully integrate technology into the curriculum. A reinforced foundation of technology literacy can be accomplished, but all methods are time intensive. One method involves working independently and extensively with software and hardware, until a competent level of understanding and use is acquired. This method usually does not produce sustainable results unless the venture is project-driven. Furthermore, unless a tutor or support person is available, the venture is rarely successful (Shasek, 2000).

Technology comes in many forms, from computer, to scanners, digital cameras, the Internet, and all kinds of software. Odasz (2000) states that these powerful tools are what make distance learning so inviting and effective, allowing students equitable access to quality learning experiences. Each component and individual have unique learning curves, which leads to a sense that learning with or without technology is overwhelming. However, one researcher states that using the Web reduces the number of separate components students need to learn, thus increasing the probability of more time spent using the system for content learning (Zhao, 1998).

Faculty often find it daunting to produce lessons that fully integrate technology. They make the mistake of thinking that an entire course must be created from scratch and produced in its totality using technology. Nothing is further from the truth: even a few lessons employing instructional technology can positively supplement the current curriculum. A complete program can be built over several semesters of commitment. Sims believes that envisioning technology integration as a process--from the entry stage where the decision is made to use technology, to the adoption stage where instructors focus more on teaching and learning--is the key to success. Additionally, McKenzie (1998) holds the view that confidence in one's own ability to learn technology contributes to one's technological proficiency. For many educators, technology integration starts in a local (non-web) environment and then moves to web-enhanced, and finally web-based. Still, for other educators it solidifies while taking their instruction to web-ready form.

Distance learning has a great deal of potential for all educators as a tool to improve student learning (Shasek, 2000). The key is to begin, to persist, and to learn from failures and successes (Setters, 2000). According to Dusick (1998), "The value of integrating computers can also be seen in student outcomes. For instance, in comparison with traditional classrooms, well-designed computer-mediated instruction has been shown to improve student scores, decrease learning time, and improve student attitudes toward learning. As educators face the challenge of reforming and improving traditionally based instruction, Cornell (1999) states, "We have to make adjustments if any of us is to keep abreast of the impact of the rapidly changing technologies which present themselves." Our educational system demands that teachers at all levels become technologically literate and teach students the curriculum through traditional methods as well as technological methods with the ultimate goal of communicating the subject matter and demonstrating authentic learning (Setters, 2000).

Many conditions support the need for distance learning. Increased numbers of nontraditional students, longer commuting distances for students, and the mandate to provide intensive and extensive field-based experiences all result in decreased available seat-time and issues of accessibility for students. Distance learning can provide students with the accessibility and flexibility needed to participate in individual and group learning experiences from their homes, job sites, and/or field placements. While critics maintain (Mergendoller, 2000) that distance learning depersonalizes the teacher/student relationship and limits the interpersonal interaction, research has shown (Fulton, 1998) that online courses can be designed to promote higher order learning such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Additionally, many researchers believe that web-based instruction fosters teamwork and cooperative effort (Dusick, 1998).

With the growing national focus on lifelong learning, the facilitation of learning can no longer be restricted to the classroom. The World Wide Web, where the information super-highway can be used as a conduit for collaborative learning, must be used to deliver instruction whether it takes the form of a web-based asynchronous discussion forum or an electronic reserve shelf (Cornell, 1999).

PROJECT DESIGN

Several software packages written to take advantage of the hypermedia profile common to the World Wide Web were available. Among these, several were designed for general education purposes. From the variety of software options available for education, this institution selected WebCT to translate course material to web-ready form. WebCT could be downloaded from the website at no cost and installed on the computer server where all of the WebCT elements could be explored by participating staff. Some of these elements included: (a) WebCT access from anywhere in the world using the internet browsers such as Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer, (b) uploading of files of many types from remote computers, and (c) WebCT course maintenance from remote computers. Additionally, users had the ability to browse, download, and print assignments and other course material, submit electronic mail within WebCT to other members and instructor(s) of the course, and browse a calendar of events that they edit for their own use. Students were also able to browse digital images, listen to audio clips, and even view video clips. WebCT more than satisfied the on-line learning strategies and outcomes identified in the research as needed to effectively teach course content online.

The University, however, ran its computer operations under the Windows NT version 4 environment and, at that time, would not support the Web-based software, WebCT. Working collaboratively with the computer science department, a powerful version of a Linux Operating system was installed on a medium duty desktop computer that we purchased with grant funds. As is typical with universities and IT departments, the non-windows operating system, Linux, was under tight scrutiny with regards to security, reliability, and performance, but the project was allowed to go forward. This computer operated solely as the server for WebCT in the first semester of the project, and was networked and accessed by all students registered in the first web-enhanced early childhood course. Two additional education-based courses would use WebCT the first semester, but only as a supplement to the traditional delivery of course content. These challenges were minimized or eliminated after the first semester with university conversion to the NT system, and university-wide support for WebCT.

A standards-based curriculum with clearly defined competencies was then designed to ensure pre-service teacher proficiency in all applicable standards and content knowledge. However, the instructional design of a web-based course differs substantially from that of a traditional course, and campus-based expertise in instructional design did not exist. An outside consultant was brought in for one day to provide training in instructional design. An instructional technology specialist and member of the education faculty was then identified to take the lead with respect to ongoing technology issues and training. This faculty member had a solid foundation and background in technology literacy, taught a major instructional technology course that all education students were required to take, and had the expertise for software and hardware training.

Along with Web-based software and instructional design issues came those dealing with the generation and management of simple web page development and the conversion of course documents to web page format. After testing and analyzing the program, a list of tasks was generated that would need to be accomplished before and after a web-enhanced course was set into live status. Before the course goes live, electronic text files that were formatted for HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) file type had to be created. These files included course syllabi, assignments, articles to read, lectures, and audio clips. Once formatted for HTML, the files could then be loaded onto WebCT.

Effective integration and implementation of technology within a classroom curriculum requires that instructors know and understand how to operate the technology; proficiency in the use of WebCT should precede the facilitation of student learning using WebCT. Thus, the instructors' inexperience with WebCT made the transition all the more difficult. However, due to time limitations with the grant, it was decided to move ahead.

Faculty then took on the challenge of converting traditional course content and documents into HTML documents that would function in a web-based environment. Throughout the process of preparing the courses for web-based delivery, obstacles were identified in three major areas: converting electronic course components from non-HTML form to HTML, converting hard copy course components to electronic HTML documents, and local as well as network file management. The conversion of the competency-based outcomes into on-line "core" offerings was completed semester by semester, and students began accessing the majority of their core content online by the end of the second year.

This study utilized a variety of instruments designed to collect data in the following areas:

a) student access and completion rates (university statistics)
b) program design and delivery variables (see student and faculty course evaluations, Appendices B, C, D, E, F)
c) technology proficiency and competency acquisition (see Appendix G)
d) competency acquisition, pre-service teacher survey (see Appendix H)
e) competency acquisition, teacher survey (see Appendix I)
f) performance based assessments measures (see Appendix J)

Descriptive data on the number of learners enrolled in each course during the course of the study and program completion rates were gathered from university statistics.

Online program design and delivery was analyzed with regard to variety, flexibility, and effectiveness. Faculty were asked to record the variety of technological components and strategies used in each web-based course offering. In addition, faculty monitored the number of student training sessions required, the degree of ongoing support students needed, strategies students and faculty used to handle computer glitches, and adaptations used to address diverse learning styles/needs. Faculty interviews were used to gather information on problems/issues revolving around instructional design. Additionally, student course evaluations required responses on design and delivery variables.
A variety of data was collected to determine changes in student learning. Instruments used included pre- and post-surveys administered during each course offering to measure changes in student technological proficiency; CFU (Checking for Understanding) quizzes were administered three times throughout each course offering, and course evaluations measured competency acquisition. Student evaluations were completed after each course offering, and final program evaluations were sent to pre-service students near the end of their student teaching experience. Work samples linked to competency-based rubrics and field-based evaluations were also used to evaluate changes in student learning outcomes.

Pre-service and in-service teacher perceptions of program effectiveness and competency acquisition were gathered and compared using survey data. Pre-service teachers completed the survey during their student teaching semester. The same survey was mailed to a random sample of 97 early childhood professionals in the field who had not taken web-based courses. The perceptions of pre-service teachers who had participated in the web-based teacher preparation program were compared to the perceptions of the 97 teachers already working in the field.

RESULTS

Access and Completion

The number of learners enrolled in each course during the 3 years of the study almost doubled from the first to the second year of the project, and returned to first year's levels during the third year of the project (Table 1). University statistics indicated that all students who declared early childhood/elementary education as their major and participated in courses with web-based content delivery, graduated from the program and were licensed to teach by the state, giving the project a 100% student completion rate.


Program Design and Delivery

All instructors reported trying most of the components available within WebCT (Table 2). No data was reported on adaptations for learning needs or styles because of the absence of student requests. Instructors reported problems with low student proficiency in technology, software incompatibility, access to the Internet, limited student contact time, perceptions of interaction or lack of it, lack of backup plans when the server went down, and frustration in learning a new mode of content delivery. Strategies reported by faculty to address these hardware and software issues can also be seen in Table 2.

The percentage of all respondents who agree/strongly agree with each of the course evaluation questions regarding course structure and delivery variables can be seen in figure 1a and 1b. Pre-service teachers in the web-based program had significantly more negative responses in year 1 and 2 of the study. Chi-square analysis at the end of the third year yielded significant improvement in student ratings of these variables over all courses across the three years of the grant at a .02 or higher of significance.

Figures 1a and 1bNarrative comments from faculty interviews, student course evaluations and program surveys were coded and clustered to identify recurring themes and inform program revision. The process of constant comparison was used to identify and code the data (Glesne & Peshkin, 1992). Reliability checks (Miles and Huberman, 1984) yielded a .87 agreement among four coders.

All instructors completed faculty interviews at the end of each semester. Faculty commented favorably on:

a) the potential for high-level interaction with web-based course delivery;
b) flexibility in delivery and access;
c) the support it provided for course related field-based placements.









Obstacles in the preparation of courses for web-based delivery (converting electronic course components from non-HTML form to HTML, converting hard copy course components to electronic HTML documents, and local and network file management) were identified in year one and two of the project, but not in year three. Other concerns expressed by faculty over the three years of the project included:

a) institutional, faculty and student resistance to technology;
b) workload (instructional design, student contact, backup plans, communication among partners);
c) a lack of models to assess pedagogy;
d) the difficulties involved in scheduling and communicating with students in the field;
e) the critical need for the mentor component and the lack of institutional support for mentoring as part of faculty load;
f) a need for more training and support in online instructional design and interactive strategies.

At the end of the project, issues (a,b,c,e, f) continue to be reported as areas of concern.
Major concerns and issues, identified by students during the first, second, and third years of the project can be seen in Table 3. In the first year of the project, computer-related issues and instructor availability were the most frequently reported student concerns. In the second year, instructor availability continued to be reported along with scheduling field placements and degree of mentoring support. By the third year, degree of mentoring support was the most frequently reported concern, with concerns about instructor availability and scheduling field placements decreasing in frequency.

Table 3

Technological Proficiency and Use

A chi-square analysis of the pre- and post-survey data on technology knowledge, skills and attitudes over the 3-years of the grant, showed significant gains for students across all areas and all courses (Table 4), at a significance level of .02 or better. In addition, by the third year, 67% of Education students reported having taken a web-based or web-enhanced course by the second semester of their professional studies.

Table 4

Student comfort levels with technology, as well as their perceptions of success, as measured by course evaluations, also increased significantly for all course offerings across the 3 years of the grant (Figures 2a,b).

Figures 2a and 2b

Student Learning

As discussed, there were significant increases in student learning in the areas of technology proficiency and use of web-based tools. "Checking for Understanding" (CFU) quizzes were taken online by students three times during each course offering. Students had three opportunities to reach 93%. Changes in average scores for all courses over the three years of the project, and changes in the average number of times CFU quizzes were taken were examined using 2-way analyses of variance (ANOVA). Results were statistically significant (p< .02), with average scores increasing each year of the project (Table 5).

A Tukey-t indicated that significance could be attributed to the dramatic increase in second year scores. Changes in the number of times CFU's were taken were also significant (p> .027). A Tukey-t indicated that significance could be attributed to a dramatic decrease in third year scores.

Survey responses asked teachers to indicate their agreement or disagreement on a scale of four: strongly agree, mildly agree, mildly disagree, and strongly disagree. Responses were coded and chi-square analyses done to determine if there were any significant differences in pre-service and in-service teacher perceptions of their teacher preparation programs. There were no significant differences (p < .325) in the two group's perceptions of the overall quality of their preparation. However, 94.4% of pre-service teachers rated their preparation as good or excellent versus 78.5% of in-service teachers. Significant differences in perceptions of competency acquisition were found in seven areas:

1) Knowledge of cultural and linguistic diversity;
2) Cross-cultural learning;
3) Collaboration with diverse families;
4) Knowledge of resources and services for families;
5) Knowledge of assessment strategies;
6) Collaboration with colleagues;
7) Knowledge of major issues.

Significantly more pre-service teachers rated their learning in these areas as good or excellent than did teachers in the field (Table 6). Ratings by pre-service teachers were also greater in (1) use of technology, and (2) strategies to facilitate learning but did not reach significance.

Performance-based assessments linked to competency-based rubrics and field-based evaluations were also used to evaluate changes in student learning outcomes.

DISCUSSION

From 1997 to 2000, enrollment in early childhood courses increased, doubling in size for many courses. From 1995 to 1999, the number of school districts in the state of Wisconsin offering full-day kindergarten went from 119 to 191, an increase of 62%, while at the same time the number of districts offering half-day kindergarten went from 247 to 150 a decrease of 61%. Although these trends in kindergarten continued at the local and national level and student demand remained high, student enrollments dropped back to first-year levels due to university system-wide enrollment caps. Changes in state licensing categories and regulations, however, are due to take effect in 2004. These changes eliminate certification by grade level and replace it with licensing in developmental categories. Early childhood programming will no longer be offered as a minor to extend certification, only as an Initial Licensing Category: Early Childhood Educator for ages birth through 8 years. It is anticipated that this will have a positive effect on early childhood enrollment numbers.

The early childhood student completion rate of 100% exceeded the university's 47% overall retention/graduation rate. This suggests that the project model was not only successful in the area of teacher preparation, but may also have contributed positively to student retention rates. Students consistently commented favorably on course evaluations regarding the use of technology to deliver instruction and facilitate remote online interaction (flexibility and accessibility) and the opportunity to spend more time in the field. Further research is needed to determine the weighted contribution of each of these variables to any differences in retention rates.

According to Dr. A. Lee Fritschler, the U.S. Department of Education's senior higher education official, the major force driving change in educational systems across the nation is technology (FIPSE /LAAP Project Directors' Meeting, 2000). Teacher Quality: A Report on the Preparation and Qualifications of Public School Teachers, U.S. Department of Education (FRSS,1999) reports that although educators in the field consider educational technology essential for transforming education, only 20% report feeling very well prepared to integrate educational technology into classroom instruction. In addition, university faculty is reported to have not kept pace with PK-12 practitioners in the integration of technology into classroom instruction.

Throughout the first semester, faculty and students in this project faced numerous challenges including low student proficiency in technology, software incompatibility, problems with access to the Internet, limited student contact time, perceptions of interaction or lack of it, lack of backup plans when the server went down, and frustration in learning a new mode of content delivery. Many of these challenges were minimized or eliminated after the first semester with university conversion to the NT system, university-wide support for WebCT, and increased instructor experience in managing a web-based course. Instructor skill in managing web-based courses improved significantly over the three years of the grant, supporting improved faculty learning outcomes. Pre-service teachers in the web-based instructional delivery study showed significant increases across all areas of technological proficiency, comfort level using technology, and perceptions of technological skill. The use of web-based course delivery in the project model strengthened the educational technology skills of pre-service teachers and university faculty alike, skills that would allow them to participate more fully in educational reform and the implementation of technology-enriched classrooms.

Faculty interviews and open-ended response questions on course evaluations identified areas of strength and areas of concern. Faculty and students viewed flexibility in delivery and access positively, but perspectives differed on the issue of self-responsibility. In some courses, students needed to complete weekly assignments within a designated timeline in order to participate in weekly chat or discussion groups. This requirement was a mismatch for the traditional "cramming before the test" model used by many college students. Faculty viewed this as an opportunity for students to develop or strengthen personal responsibility skills, but many students reported it difficult to adapt. Faculty additionally reported that web-based course delivery had the potential for high-level interaction, noting that there were opportunities for frequent feedback and review via email, the bulletin board, chats, and quizzes. This gave instructors the opportunity to track the cognitive processing and conceptual development of all students.

Instructor availability, however, was the most frequently reported student concern. Other issues were linked to instructor workload and university resources and tenure issues which were out of faculty control. Student's ongoing concerns support the need for a re-examination of faculty roles and issues of workload, and the provision of more training in instructional design with strong ongoing follow-up support. Researchers (Odasz, 2000;Clark and Lyons, 1999) indicate that the most important role of the online instructor is to model effective teaching strategies, accept the responsibility of keeping discussions on track, contribute special knowledge and insights, and coordinate various discussion threads within course components to maintain group harmony. Unless these roles and their associated workload issues are valued and supported within the merit and tenure process in higher education, teaching and learning through an online medium will not achieve maximum effectiveness.

The use of WebCT for course delivery also allowed for the provision of relevant in-depth clinical experiences linked to each course in the early childhood sequence. National school reform initiatives support the importance of field-based experiences in providing exemplary models of best practice in school-based settings, facilitating student integration of new knowledge with what is already familiar and known (scaffolding), allowing students to make choices about the information that has been presented to them, and promoting performance-based applications to document learning outcomes. Comments from students strongly supported the value of field-based opportunities.

The use of technology for the delivery of instruction, coupled with intensive experiences in the field, supports teaching and learning as a collaborative process in which pre-service teachers, students, classroom teachers, and university faculty teach with and not to each other, providing mutual support and constructive feedback that enhances learning outcomes.

Enrollment caps and resource issues prevented the establishment of a control group for statistical analysis of changes in student learning outcomes, and replication of the model using such a control group is needed. However, student learning, as measured by competency acquisition and performance-based assessments, was perceived as very positive by students and faculty alike. Students demonstrated significant improvement on CFU's over all courses and all years, supporting improved skills working in a web-based environment and more rapid acquisition of course information and understanding. In addition, significantly more pre-service teachers than teachers in the field rated their learning as strong/ very strong in those competency areas directly related to successful teaching in the diverse schools of the 21st century: knowledge of cultural and linguistic diversity, cross-cultural learning, collaboration with diverse families, knowledge of resources and services for families, knowledge of assessment strategies, collaboration with colleagues and knowledge of major issues.

Growth in metacognition was strongly evident in the reflective comments and action initiatives generated by students when using the Individual Learning Plans, and Learning Experience Plans and Assessments showed progressive improvement across the semester as supported by field-based mentor feedback and rubric-based instructor evaluation. Clearly, the student comments (Table 7), testified to the importance of students having opportunities to integrate their knowledge, skills and dispositions into relevant applications with real children in real classrooms and the success of the Collaborative Field-based Online Early Childhood Teacher Preparation Model.


Table 7: Sampling of Student Comments

"The hands-on experience was the most I have gotten out of a class in five years."

"Wonderfully exciting semester."

"It enhances my understanding of curriculum because I had to think about different developmental levels and abilities in children, working as a team, and providing beneficial materials for learning experiences."


"Excellent! It was great to put what we've been learning into practice, especially designing the learning center."


"Setting up learning centers gave me many ideas for setting up a classroom. I have heard lectures and read about setting up centers and labeling, but I have never had any experience with it."

"Wonderful, stupendous, fabulous, supercalifragilistic, expialidocious. Handson was wonderful."

 

CONCLUSION

Despite recurring obstacles, the long-term positive outcomes far outweighed initial concerns, and project results support online/distance learning as a viable option for the delivery of instruction in teacher preparation. Students and instructors alike reported flexibility in delivery and access as a strength, and competency acquisition was not negatively affected and, in fact, improved in a number of areas. Instructor feedback reported that distance learning encourages students to take personal responsibility for their learning, supports the development of time management skills, facilitates high-levels of quality interaction with all students, and provides opportunities for regular and frequent feedback and review based on ongoing student processing. Additionally, this move to introduce technology into teacher preparation served as a major catalyst for change in the use of technology in the education unit and other units across campus, in the level of support provided by the university, and, most importantly, in the students' level of technological proficiency.

In light of these project results, the following recommendations are made that have important implications for the future success of online learning and teacher preparation.

  • Institutional resistance must be addressed and new faculty roles defined.
  • Issues of workload must be reexamined within the existing "course-for-credit" structure of higher education.
  • Universities must provide strong, ongoing training and support for online teaching.
  • If student learning is to become performance-based in intensive field settings, a mentoring component must be established along with online course delivery. It is a critical component.
  • A variety of "models" for providing mentoring support need to be explored with our community partners, beginning with a redefinition of "teaching" across all educational systems.

LIMITATIONS / FUTURE STUDIES

This study suggests strong benefits from the use of distance learning in teacher preparation. However, resources prevented the establishment of a control group to compare learning outcomes. Replication is needed using a larger sample and an experimental /control group methodology. A cross-sectional design and stratified sampling would be able to address socioeconomic, gender, and ethnic differences. Additional data needs to be gathered on the long term effects faculty perceptions of learning success, as well as changes in workload and merit/tenure policies on campuses using distance learning. Furthermore, research should address the differences between rural and urban students relating to technology literacy.

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