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Distance Education in Higher Education Institutions
NCES 98062
October 1997

Characteristics of Distance Education Courses and Programs

To date, information has not been available on a national basis about some of the general characteristics of distance education courses and programs that affect the distance education experience for students. This section provides information about the resources available to students enrolled in distance education courses, procedures used to administer tests to students enrolled in for-credit distance education courses, and training opportunities for faculty teaching distance education courses.

Availability of Resources for Students Enrolled in Distance Education Courses

Institutions that offered distance education courses in fall 1995 were asked about the availability of various resources for students enrolled in their distance education courses. Institutions were asked to indicate whether the resource was available for all courses, available for some courses, or not available. Access to instructors in some form was generally available to students. Instructors visiting remote site(s) on occasion was available for some courses at 42 percent of institutions and for all courses at 25 percent of institutions ( table 12). Toll-free telephone, E-mail, or other online access to the instructor was available for some courses at 24 percent and for all courses at 58 percent of institutions. Access to a teaching assistant, tutor, or facilitator was somewhat less available. These staff were regularly available at remote site(s) or by telephone, E-mail, or other online access for some or all courses at about half of the institutions (tables 12 and 13). Telephone, E-mail, or other online access to technical support staff was available to students for some or all courses at about two-thirds of the institutions. Online access to wide area networks (e.g., the Internet) was available at about half of the institutions.

Access to library resources varied depending on the type of library resource. Access to an electronic link with the institution's library was available for some or all courses at 56 percent of the institutions, and cooperative agreements for students to use other libraries were available at 62 percent of institutions (tables 12and 13). Institution library staff were assigned to assist distance education students at 45 percent of the institutions, while library deposit collections were available at remote sites at 39 percent of institutions.

The availability of these resources for students showed some variation by institutional type (Table 13). In particular, students at public 4- year institutions more frequently had access to the resources than did those at public 2-year institutions, with the exception of institution's library staff assigned to assist distance education students and library deposit collections at remote sites.

Procedures for Test Administration

In order to better understand if and how students enrolled in distance education courses are evaluated, institutions were asked about test administration for students enrolled in for-credit distance education courses. If tests are administered, institutions were asked whether various testing procedures were used "almost never," "sometimes," or "almost always."

Almost all of the institutions (98 percent) administered some type of test to students enrolled in for-credit distance education courses (not shown in tables). A third of the institutions administering tests indicated that they almost always used tests that are group administered (non-interactively) at remote learning sites, and a third indicated that they almost always used tests administered at on campus sites (i.e., distance education students travel to campus; Table 14). Fifteen percent of the institutions indicated that they almost always used tests individually mailed or faxed to students, and 8 percent of the institutions almost always used tests taken at remote sites interactively via computer, video, or telephone.

Training Opportunities for Faculty

Institutions that offered distance education courses in fall 1995 were asked whether various training opportunities for faculty teaching distance education courses were available and whether they were required. The various forms of training opportunities were generally available but not required of faculty teaching distance education courses at about 60 percent of the institutions (Table 15). About a quarter of the institutions required faculty to have training in the use and application of distance education technologies, and to consult with support center staff; about 13 percent required training in curriculum development, and about 17 percent training in teaching methods for distance education courses.

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