Beyond the Technology How to Navigate Distance Education Features
Features  |   June 01, 2003
Beyond the Technology
Author Notes
  • Carol C. Dudding, is an SLP and coordinator of the Distance Education Program in Communication Disorders at the University of Virginia. She is a doctoral candidate in the area of Instructional Technology. Contact her by e-mail at
    Carol C. Dudding, is an SLP and coordinator of the Distance Education Program in Communication Disorders at the University of Virginia. She is a doctoral candidate in the area of Instructional Technology. Contact her by e-mail at×
    Rita M. Purcell-Robertson, is an SLP and an instructor in the E-Learning Program of the University of Phoenix Online. She is the lead consultant on the Military Medical Readiness Project for the Partnership for Peace Information Management System, through Technology TEAM, Inc. Contact her by e-mail at
    Rita M. Purcell-Robertson, is an SLP and an instructor in the E-Learning Program of the University of Phoenix Online. She is the lead consultant on the Military Medical Readiness Project for the Partnership for Peace Information Management System, through Technology TEAM, Inc. Contact her by e-mail at×
Article Information
Professional Issues & Training / Telepractice & Computer-Based Approaches / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Features
Features   |   June 01, 2003
Beyond the Technology
The ASHA Leader, June 2003, Vol. 8, 6-16. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.08112003.6
The ASHA Leader, June 2003, Vol. 8, 6-16. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.08112003.6
I am staring at the computer monitor wondering whatߣs going to happen. I start typing and clicking. OK. Now I have connected to my online class. Great, the first hurdle is over. Where is that syllabus? Found it. Where is the lecture? There it is. Where is the interactive newsgroup? Oh no, other students have already posted. Am I behind already? What do they look like? Where are they? I have one more question: Am I a student or a mouse?
Our professional endeavors, like many other aspects of our lives, have been forever changed by technology. As professionals, we use pagers, cellular phones, and e-mail to communicate with our colleagues. Increasingly, we are turning to technologies such as the Internet and videoconferencing for clinical information and service delivery. It is not surprising that distance learning has affected the way in which we educate new professionals and support lifelong learning.
Distance education is “instruction that occurs when the instructor and student are separated by distance or time, or both” ( ). Distance education is not a new idea. Strong pedagogical concepts remain the foundation regardless of the method of delivery. In the 19th century, correspondence courses were offered in classical studies, languages, and practical subjects such as shorthand and mining. Later, distance education emerged involving one-way and two-way electronic communications, including records and tapes, radio, television, and telephone conferencing.
Distance Education Opportunities
  • Graduate Education An increasing number of graduate education programs in speech-language pathology and audiology are looking toward technology to enhance learning opportunities. Students and faculty communicate by e-mail, participate in online discussion groups, and subscribe to e-mail lists. Researchers and students are able to access juried research information through an online service known as the Videoconferencing technologies allow guest lecturers to participate in courses without the burden of traveling to the host university.

    As graduate programs move toward the implementation of the new accreditation standards established by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA) and Council for Clinical Certification (CFCC), they are faced with the need to provide students with experiences with various patient populations across the life span. To this end, programs are seeking to purchase or develop materials to allow students to gain “virtual” experiences with “virtual” clients. An increasing number of graduate programs are offering degrees through distance education. In some cases, it is possible to obtain a masterߣs degree in speech-language pathology or an AuD without having to take courses at the main university campus.

  • Clinical Education Distance education technology has application for the clinical education of graduate students. The Communication Disorders Program at the University of Virginia, for example, employs two-way videoconferencing to supervise graduate students in public school settings. Videoconferencing for clinical supervision offers many benefits, including cost effectiveness and increased productivity of the clinical instructor. At the beginning of each practicum period, the student is given use of a stand-alone videoconferencing unit and portable television. The television serves as a monitor and allows viewing between the two locations. Since transmission of the audio-video data occurs over the Internet, it is necessary for students to have Internet access in the room in which they are providing clinical services. With the equipment in place, the supervisor observes the session with full capabilities for adjusting the view and focus of the camera. The supervisor can interact with the student at any time. After the session is complete and the client is no longer present, the supervisor and student discuss the session. It is anticipated that videoconferencing for supervision will expand as the availability of broadband Internet increases.

  • Professional Development Opportunities Effective Jan. 1, 2005, ASHA will require continued professional development for maintenance of the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology. State licensing agencies, if they havenߣt done so already, are likely to implement similar requirements. As professionals prepare to meet these national and state mandates, ASHA and Continuing Education providers are actively developing an expanding list of offerings. Look through a recent issue of The ASHA Leader or the ASHA Web site and note that many of the professional development opportunities are mediated by technology. Professionals can enroll in teleconferences, participate in Web-based courses, and complete self-study units.

    The expectation is that these technologies will provide members with convenient and affordable opportunities for professional development. There have even been professional conferences presented online (e.g., International Online Conference on Stuttering, 2002). Private and public corporations are vying to meet the professional development needs of speech-language pathologists and audiologists. These corporations will undoubtedly employ distance education technologies as methods of delivery.

  • Methods of Delivery The major delivery methods in distance education are Web-based technologies, interactive videoconferencing, and pre-recorded media. Web-based offerings involve the delivery of content over the Internet. Students and instructors share information through posting of documents, graphics, and participation in discussion groups. Some offerings allow viewing of video clips over the Internet through use of a technology known as “streaming.”

Web-based offerings may be self-paced modules, allowing participants to begin and complete the course in their own time. Others are mediated by an instructor and have a definite start and stop date. Web-based offerings may have both synchronous and asynchronous components. Participating in an online chat room, where everyone is involved at the same time, would be considered synchronous. Completing readings posted online is asynchronous in that each person can complete the activity at a different time. The online environment can provide demonstration and simulation opportunities. Students can learn American Sign Language or take a virtual tour of the inner ear via the Web. Web-based offerings may be hybrid in that they incorporate face-to-face meetings with the online component.
Discussion groups, whether synchronous or asynchronous, are proving to be effective means of promoting interactivity and establishing community among online participants. Asynchronous discussion groups involve the posting of a question or a scenario to which participants respond over a period of time. Asynchronous discussion groups can be challenging to the instructor in assuring that participants are responding to one another and not simply posting individual responses. This forum has been used successfully in a Professional Issues graduate course offered at the University of Virginia, allowing students to explore issues related to ethics and professional practices.
Synchronous discussions, such as live chats, can be used effectively to encourage community among participants. This forum allows the opportunity to ask questions, share experiences and make suggestions. Outside experts can participate in online discussions allowing the participants an opportunity to “chat with the experts.”
Web-based instruction requires that the participant and instructor have technology support, a level of computer literacy, and technology access. Preparing materials for the online environment requires a significant amount of time and financial resources on the part of the program. Once the course has begun, the instructor should be prepared to spend a considerable amount of time responding to e-mails, moderating discussion groups, posting course materials, and troubleshooting, all while trying to foster a sense of learning community.
Another method of delivery is interactive videoconferencing. It is sometimes referred to as teleconferencing or digital video conferencing. This technology allows for two-way transmission of video and audio information between two or more sites. Optimally, it allows all participants to interact and respond to each other. Videoconferencing can be used for course delivery, clinical supervision, and allowing guest lecturers to participate in courses without traveling to the host university. It is also very effective for delivering professional education to groups of people at remote sites.
While videoconferencing most closely approximates the traditional lecture model, instructors and participants may need to adapt teaching and learning methods to meet the specifications of the technology. One example is in the use of visual aids. Some materials, such as lengthy text documents and VHS videotapes, do not always transmit well using videoconferencing technologies. This may make it difficult for the participants at the remote site to view the information. It is recommended that any such materials either be posted on the Web or be made available at all of the sites. Likewise, participants will want to print out available materials before the class and allow time for review of materials outside of class. In developing distance education offerings using videoconferencing, programs need to consider equipment selection and capabilities, types of connections available for data transmission, and technical support.
A popular and potentially cost-effective method of delivering distance education is through the use of pre-recorded media. These include audio recordings, videotapes, and CD-ROMs. Digital technology has allowed the development of interactive CD-ROMs that allow learners to interact with virtual clients and receive feedback on their performance. These products allow learners to gain experience with everything from a voice evaluation to oral motor examination to a swallowing evaluation. These technologies can be used alone or to enhance traditional methods of classroom instruction. The application of these technologies can add new dimension in case-based or problem-based teaching by providing learners with realistic scenarios in which to practice application of their knowledge.
Developing Quality Distance Education
As with traditional methods of instruction, not all distance education opportunities are created equal. It is necessary to begin with a strong pedagogical foundation. A popular instructional design model known as the ASSURE Model provides an excellent process for the development of distance education programs. ASSURE offers a balanced approach by including steps for the process of planning, implementing, and evaluating. It suggests that the developer consider the following components:
A —Analyze the learners by developing a learner profile, including learning style, previous knowledge, demographics, motivation, and access to technology.
S —State objectives by clearly and specifically defining the amount and level of learning.
S —Select a media format and/or delivery technology.
U —Utilize media and materials.
R —Require learner participation.
E —Evaluate and revise the program accordingly.
The model places the content within the context of the learnersߣ needs, which in turn drives the choice of technology and materials. Unfortunately, in many real-life scenarios, people developing distance education begin with the selection of media prior to consideration of content and learner needs. A common mistake made by distance education developers is to purchase high-priced technology and then try to force course content and learners to conform to the medium. When technology drives the content, learners struggle and may feel disenfranchised. The financial and educational consequences of adopting technology that is unsuited to the learners, learning objectives, and pedagogy can be substantial.
It is essential that instructors in distance education consider the motivation, expectations, and learning styles of the learners. Understanding different learning styles allows an instructor to use available technologies to facilitate learning. It is important to take steps to establish a community of learners in which participants feel supported and have equal access to the instructor and course materials. Research and experience suggest that the amount and quality of interaction between the instructor, student, and other students play a key role in the perceived quality of the experience. For more information go to
Instructors will likely find themselves moving from serving as a “content matter expert” to acting as a facilitator. This involves a shift in roles from someone who disseminates facts and information to someone who assists students through a process of inquiry and discovery. The instructor needs to be sure that course expectations and requirements are explicit yet flexible enough to allow accommodation. Yet, be aware that even a small change in procedure can generate a number of unforeseen issues for the learners. Before making assignments, be sure that all participants have equal access to resources, such as library services. Organization and advanced planning on the part of the instructor are key in reducing the frustrations often experienced by distance learners.
In selecting a distance education offering, begin by becoming aware of the technical requirements. Be aware of Internet speed or bandwidth requirements, hardware and software needs, and the type and availability of technical support. Will participants have access to support personnel in the late hours of the night before a project is due? Will they be able to speak with a live person or is support in the form of tutorials and printed manuals? Individuals should be aware of their needs in these areas in that these factors will play a part in determining the quality of the learning experience. Yet access to the latest technologies and technical support does not assure a positive experience.
According to the research, successful distance learners tend to be abstract thinkers, introverted, intrinsically motivated, highly literate, skillful time managers, and users of personal and academic support systems (see McAuliffe, J., Smaldino, S., Bloom, R., Quow-Thomason, N., and Harris, D. [2001]. University of Phoenix On-Line EDTC 510 Unimodule, Foundations of Distance Education and Training. Apollo Group, Inc.).To assure a successful distance education experience, it is important for learners to be aware of their individual learning styles, time management strategies, and communication skills.
Time management strategies include realistic expectations of commitment and access to the tools necessary to complete assignments. A distance learner should possess the ability to set short-term goals and self-monitor progress. An awareness of “netiquette” and strong writing skills will alleviate some of the frustrations with distance education. In preparing for the experience, the learner should spend time exploring the resources available to distance education students. This may include completing a Learning Styles Inventory to help determine which delivery method would best suit an individualߣs learning style. A Web-based course, for example, may not be suited to someone who is a verbal learner and desires face-to-face interaction. That person may be more satisfied with a videoconferencing experience.
Final Thoughts
Distance education is an exciting area and holds many promising applications for our professional education and ongoing professional development. With all of the emerging technologies, it is important that we recognize the need to remain faithful to pedagogical considerations in development of these offerings. As consumers of distance education, we need to have an awareness of all of the factors, both technical and intrapersonal, that are likely to lead to a successful experience.
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June 2003
Volume 8, Issue 11