The Design & Management of Effective Distance Learning Programs – Chapter 4

Chapter 4: The Future of Distance Learning in the Traditional University

Gary Saunders
Marshall University, USA

Copyright © 2002, Idea Group Publishing.

OVERVIEW

The growth in college and university offerings of Internet courses has been phenomenal and, as that growth accelerates, some writers have predicted that the university, as we now know it, will cease to exist. There is little doubt that distance learning with Internet courses will have an impact on the traditional university and a very important question is, will Internet courses represent a new and significant improvement over traditional pedagogy for educating students or just a lessening in the rigor of academic programs? This chapter presents the attitudes of accounting department chairpersons and College of Business (COB) deans on Internet courses. Ninety-four accounting chairpersons and 66 COB deans returned E mail questionnaires. In the view of the nearly 65% of the chairs and almost half of the deans. Internet courses are simply correspondence courses presented with new technology.

SYNOPSIS

For decades universities have delivered instruction over long distances through correspondence courses. During the decade of the 1990s developments in technology offered new delivery vehicles for correspondence courses. Internet courses, where the interaction between faculty and student occurs primarily over the Internet, represent a substantial departure from the traditional learning model. The growth in college and university offerings of Internet courses has been phenomenal and, as that growth accelerates, some writers have predicted that the university, as we now know it, will cease to exist. There is little doubt that distance learning with Internet courses will have an impact on the traditional university and a very important question is, will Internet courses represent a new and significant improvement over traditional pedagogy for educating students or just a lessening in the rigor of academic programs?

This chapter presents the attitudes of accounting department chairpersons and College of Business (COB) deans on Internet courses. In the view of the nearly 65% of the chairs and almost half of the deans, Internet courses are simply correspondence courses presented with new technology. Those who agree that Internet courses are correspondence courses are more negative on offering Internet courses in university programs or offering degrees through the completion of only Internet courses.

Results of this research suggest that, while the traditional university will face some challenges from the distance learning revolution, its survival will not be in jeopardy. Rather, the challenge may well be integrating the new technology without significantly diminishing the quality of the educational process.

INTRODUCTION

Distance learning is not a new instructional model for universities, only the delivery techniques are evolving. For decades universities have delivered instruction over long distances through correspondence courses. Typically these courses required a student to finish a specific program of relatively independent study and successfully complete one or more exams. These exams were, almost universally, proctored by an independent third party. Although correspondence courses have been offered by a number of universities, the percentage of universities offering these courses is relatively small. Additionally, correspondence courses have never obtained the same degree of acceptance as traditional on-campus courses requiring a student’s attendance and participation. Perhaps that is why they have not been a threat to the traditional on-campus model of instruction. Schools that have offered a degree completely by correspondence have typically not been mainstream colleges and universities, but tend to have offered paraprofessional degrees.

During the 1990s developments in technology offered new delivery vehicles for correspondence courses. With the rapid spread of the Internet and email, universities seemed to sense a source of previously untapped revenue, offering courses to anyone in the world who had a computer and an Internet connection. Some jargon had to be added to describe the new environment so terms like, “distance learning” and “Internet courses” were added to the academic lexicon. Distance learning, where an instructor is in a location remote from that of the student, could apply to a number of different delivery schemes. New technology has allowed students to complete a course from a remote site using a telephone line or a satellite uplink. Television (TV) courses were available previously but they were not interactive. New technology allows the faculty and student to communicate, both verbally and visually, in real-time. Internet courses represent an even greater departure from the traditional learning model by allowing a student anywhere in the world to complete a course by using the Internet and Email. Universities have an initial investment in the development of an Internet course but the continuing cost of repeatedly offering the course is small compared to the potential revenue. Unless the course is revised the incremental cost to the university for offering the course to additional students is primarily to compensate the instructor. A virtually unlimited number of students can be added with minimal utilization of investment in additional fixed assets.

Problems with Internet Courses

Some of the traditional controls available with correspondence courses are not as easily implemented with Internet courses. Proctoring of exams has been the norm with university correspondence courses and with television courses. With TV courses a technical person is usually required at each site to keep the equipment functioning, so proctoring is typically not a problem. However, with Internet courses proctoring becomes much more difficult. One real advantage of Internet courses is bringing education to persons in extremely remote locations, and this poses problems in locating certifiable proctors. Traditionally, proctors have been credentialed educators who were neutral with respect to the student. In population centers this type of proctor is not too difficult to locate, but in the frozen tundra of Alaska or the sweltering outback of Australia, it may be impossible. In effect, when a university offers an Internet course with no required campus visits, it gives up virtually all of the traditional controls over the course and accepts on faith that the student receiving credit for the course is the same person who completes the assignments.

Perhaps to a greater degree than for correspondence courses, Internet courses are appropriate only for students who are highly motivated and capable of working independently with a minimum of personal instruction. Smith (2000) discussed some of the advantages and disadvantages of Internet courses and pointed out, among others, the following disadvantages:

  1. Internet courses are not for all students.

  2. Students must have the requisite computer skills to complete an Internet course.

  3. Face-to-face interaction is missing.

  4. Courses must be prepared in detail and approved before being offered and are rather unyielding to change.

  5. Communications must be very precise and many students and faculties are not proficient at communicating explicitly.

Growth of Internet Courses

Given the challenges that Internet courses present, colleges and universities would be expected to proceed cautiously and test carefully before implementing Internet courses and degree programs. To the contrary, however, they have activated courses and programs at a surprising rate. The 1993 Peterson’s College Guide listed 93 ‘cyberschools’ and the 1997 Distance Learning Guide lists 762. That represents a phenomenal growth of more than 700 percent. Forbes reports that “in December 1999, the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) of the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) released a national survey on what it calls ‘distance learning’ in higher education. In 1997-98 almost 44% of all higher education institutions offered distance courses. Larger institutions were moving faster; 87% of those with more than 10,000 students offered distance classes, while only 19% of institutions with fewer than 3,000 students did so. Total enrollment in post-secondary, credit-granting distance learning courses in 1997-98 was 1,363,670; the number has grown considerably since, although as yet there are no firm figures” (Forbes, 2000). The American Federation of Teachers indicated that “distance education is one of the fastest-growing developments in higher education. Seventy percent of the nation’s 4,000 two- and four-year colleges offered online courses in 2000, up from 48% in 1998” (Black Issues in Higher Education, 2001). There is little doubt that the number of colleges and universities offering electronic courses (Internet courses) is growing rapidly.

Projections call for 2.2 million students to be enrolled in Internet courses by 2002 and by 2005 it is expected to be a $46 billion business. Small wonder that universities, not wanting to be seen as followers, are abandoning their traditionally conservative approach and rushing headlong to cash in on the lottery. Their actions are reminiscent of the avaricious appetite of the dot-com investors in 1999 before the bubble burst in 2000.

As the phenomenal growth in college and university offerings of Internet courses continues and more institutions offer Internet degrees completely through the Internet, some writers have predicted that the university, as we now know it, will cease to exist. In his article Electronics and the Dim Future of the University, Noam (1996) says that:

Instead of prospering with the new tools (communications technologies), many of the traditional functions of universities will be superseded, their financial base eroded, their technology replaced and their role in intellectual inquiry reduced.

There is little doubt that offering E-courses and E-degrees represents a dramatic departure from the traditional university teaching model. The new direction may be fueled by fiscal and political considerations rather than educational…If the university’s dominance falters, its economic foundations will erode.

Distance learning, utilizing Internet courses, may or may not represent the future for universities, but there can be little doubt that Internet courses will have an impact on the traditional university. Perhaps the conventional wisdom is to embrace the trend in the hope of surviving as a viable institution.

As researchers speculate on the impact that Internet courses and programs will have on the traditional university, there is a very important question that is rarely asked aloud. That question is, “Do Internet courses represent a new and significant improvement over traditional pedagogy for educating students or just a lessening in the rigor of academic programs?” Substantial research is needed to answer that question over a time frame of several years. In the shorter term, faculty and administrators of universities will have a major influence on whether Internet courses will be an improvement or a detriment to the educational process. They will play a vital role in crafting Internet courses and programs for their respective universities and their attitudes may provide a glimpse of the future impact of distance learning on the traditional university.

Attitudes of Accounting Chairpersons and COB Deans

In order to determine the attitudes of accounting department chairpersons and College of Business (COB) deans, an email questionnaire, containing 17 statements relating to Internet courses, was sent to 341 university accounting department chairpersons and 334 COB deans in the U. S. The questionnaire contained 17 statements, relating to Internet courses, with five Likert-type response categories ranging from “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree.” The questionnaire sent to the deans contained two additional questions, with “yes and no” response categories, that related to whether the school currently offered, or planned to offer, Internet courses. No effort was made to slant either questions or response categories in a direction that might influence responses and no effort was made to detect any response bias from the question arrangement or the direction of the response categories. In this study the terms “Internet course” and “E-course” were considered interchangeable.

Questionnaires were sent via email over the Internet and three different response modes were suggested. Thirty-six of the questionnaires sent to chairpersons were undeliverable because of email address problems that could not be resolved, resulting in 305 valid questionnaires sent. A total of 94 usable responses was received, 18 from the web site, 9 through the post office, and 67 directly from the respondent on the Internet. Most of the responses that were received via the U.S. Postal Service were mailed in an envelope with the university’s return address on it.

Eighty of the questionnaires sent to COB deans were undeliverable resulting in 254 questionnaires delivered to the deans. Sixty-six of the 254 deans who received a questionnaire responded, 23 on the web site, 22 through the United States Postal Service (USPS), and 21 via email. Most of the responses that were received via the USPS were mailed in an envelope with the university’s return address on it. Apparently, with both chairpersons and deans, anonymity was not the major motivation in using this mode of response. The 94 responses from chairpersons yielded a response rate of 30.8% and the 66 responses from deans yielded a response rates of 26.0%.

Offering Internet Courses

Table 1 contains the questions and the percentage of responses in each response category for chairpersons and deans. The “Strongly Agree” and “Agree” categories and the “Strongly Disagree” and “Disagree” categories were combined in order to make the data easier to comprehend. Also, a one-way ANOVA was run on the data to determine if the responses of the two groups differed significantly. Table 2 contains the questions, the ANOVA results, and the percentage of responses in each combined response category.

Table 1: Chairpersons’ and Deans’ response percentages

% Responses in Each Category

Chairpersons – n = 94, Deans – n = 66

Chairpersons

Deans

Scale: 1-Strongly Agree, 2-Agree, 3-Neutral, 4-Disagree, 5-Strongly Disagree

SA & A

Neutral

SD & D

SA & A

Neutral

SD & D

1. Except for the delivery medium E courses are essentially correspondence courses.

64.9

9.9

25.2

42.2

9.4

48.4

2. E courses should be offered in Accounting programs.

36.3

26.3

37.4

56.9

32.3

10.8

3. E courses should be offered in Business programs.

45.6

38.0

16.4

67.7

26.1

6.2

4. E courses should be offered in non-business programs.

52.2

37.0

10.8

63.0

30.8

6.2

5. A student should be able to obtain a degree in Accounting by taking only E courses.

5.5

3.2

91.2

16.9

12.3

70.8

6. A student should be able to obtain a degree in Business by taking only E courses.

7.6

1.1

91.3

15.4

12.3

72.3

7. A student should be able to obtain a degree in non-business programs by taking only E courses.

7.6

9.8

82.6

15.4

26.2

58.4

8. When E courses are offered, they should be available to on-campus as well as off-campus students.

68.5

23.9

7.6

89.3

6.1

4.6

9. When E courses are offered, SOME exams should be proctored by an independent person.

66.0

19.8

14.2

69.3

15.4

15.3

10. When E courses are offered, ALL exams should be proctored by an independent person.

49.0

27.2

23.8

50.8

29.2

20.0

11. When E courses are offered, the student should be required to come to campus at LEAST ONCE during the course.

49.5

23.1

27.4

33.8

32.3

33.9

12. When E courses are offered, the student should be required to come to campus MORE THAN ONCE during the course.

41.1

27.8

31.1

31.2

34.4

34.4

13. The student-to-student and the student-to-instructor interaction that is missing in E courses makes them less valuable to the student.

82.3

4.4

13.3

46.9

9.4

43.7

14. As the number of E courses grows, the importance of the formal university will diminish

36.3

12.1

51.6

12.5

12.5

75.0

15. If the importance of the formal university diminishes, society will benefit.

2.3

6.9

90.8

10.8

6.2

83.0

16. As the number of E courses grows, the importance of the university professor will diminish.

34.0

11.0

55.0

18.4

9.2

72.4

17. If the importance of the university professor diminishes, society will benefit.

4.4

6.6

89.0

4.7

4.7

90.6

The first statement said that “Except for the delivery medium E courses are essentially correspondence courses,” and almost 65% of chairpersons and 42% of deans agreed or strongly agreed. Only 25% of chairpersons and 48% of deans disagreed or strongly disagreed. Between 9% and 10% of the chairpersons and the deans were neutral on the issue. Obviously, a substantial majority of the accounting department chairpersons view Internet courses as essentially correspondence courses delivered over the Internet while COB deans are about evenly split on the issue. In the minds of those chairpersons, any baggage that correspondence courses carried is apparently attached to Internet courses.

Responses to the second statement that “E courses should be offered in accounting programs” were almost evenly split for the chairpersons and in strong agreement for the deans. Slightly more than 36% of the chairpersons and more than 56% of the deans indicated that Internet courses should be offered in accounting programs. A relatively large portion, 26% and 32% of the chairpersons and the deans respectively, chose the neutral response.

Table 2: ANOVA results and the percentage of responses for accounting chairs and college of business deans

% of Responses in Each Category

ANOVA

SA & A

Neutral

SD &D

Signif.

CH

DN

CH

DN

CH

DN

1. Except for the delivery medium E courses are essentially correspondence courses.

.018

64.9

42.2

9.9

9.4

25.2

48.4

2. E courses should be offered in accounting programs.

.000

36.3

56.9

26.3

32.3

37.4

10.8

3. E courses should be offered in Business programs.

.003

45.5

67.7

38.1

26.1

16.4

6.2

4. E courses should be offered in non-business programs.

.154

52.1

63.0

37.0

30.8

10.9

6.2

5. A student should be able to obtain a degree in accounting by taking only E courses.

.000

5.5

3.2

12.3

16.9

91.3

70.8

6. A student should be able to obtain a degree in Business by taking only E courses.

.001

7.6

1.1

12.3

15.4

91.3

72.3

7. A student should be able to obtain a degree in non-business programs by taking only E courses.

.001

7.6

9.8

26.2

15.4

82.6

58.4

8. When E courses are offered, they should be available to on-campus as well as off-campus students.

.005

68.4

89.3

24.0

6.1

7.6

4.6

9. When E courses are offered, SOME exams should be proctored by an independent person.

.742

66.0

69.3

19.7

15.4

14.3

15.3

10. When E courses are offered, ALL exams should be proctored by an independent person.

.488

49.0

50.8

27.1

29.2

23.9

20.0

11. When E courses are offered, the student should be required to come to campus at LEAST ONCE during the course.

.244

49.5

33.8

23.0

32.3

27.5

33.9

12. When E courses are offered, the student should be required to come to camp- pus MORE THAN ONCE during the course.

.333

41.1

31.2

27.8

34.4

31.1

34.4

13. The student-to-student and the student-to-instructor interaction that is missing in E courses makes them less valuable to the student.

.000

82.3

46.9

4.4

9.4

13.3

43.7

14. As the number of E courses grows, the .001importance of the formal university will diminish.

.001

36.3

12.5

12.0

12.5

51.7

75.0

15. If the importance of the formal university diminishes, society will benefit.

.012

2.3

6.9

6.2

10.8

90.8

83.0

16. As the number of E courses grows, the importance of the university professor will diminish.

.019

34.1

18.4

10.9

9.2

55.0

72.4

17. If the importance of the university professor diminishes, society will benefit.

.836

4.4

4.7

6.6

4.7

89.0

90.6

When the same statement was posed relative to business programs, chairs’ opinions shifted toward the agree end of the scale. Almost 46% of the chairpersons and almost 68% of the deans agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that “E-courses should be offered in Business programs,” while only 16% of the chairs and 6% of the deans disagreed or strongly disagreed.

A further shift is found in responses to the statement related to offering Internet courses in nonbusiness programs. In response to the statement that “E courses should be offered in nonbusiness programs,” 52% of the chairpersons and 63% of the deans either agreed or strongly agreed, and only 10% of the chairpersons and 6% of the deans disagreed with the statement.

Opinions of accounting department chairpersons are about evenly split on the subject of offering Internet courses in accounting programs but are more tolerant of offering them in non-accounting programs. In fact, a majority of the respondents believed they should be offered in nonbusiness programs. Whether these views stem from a belief that accounting topics are less amenable to being mastered over the Internet or whether it is simply a “not in my area” reaction is not known. Independent study courses typically lack the structure, deadlines, and regular face-to-face student-instructor interaction that traditional courses possess. Most would agree that some topics are more easily learned through independent study than are others. Perhaps all that the respondents are conveying is that structure, deadlines, and student-faculty interaction is more important in accounting and business topics than in other areas.

As can be seen in Figure 1, the data indicate that COB deans have a significantly (at the 0.018 level) more favorable view of Internet courses than do accounting department chairpersons. This difference may be attributable to the different concerns of deans and accounting chairs. Deans are undoubtedly more concerned with the financial aspects of offering courses and might, therefore, more strongly support new enrollments and new sources of revenue. Accounting chairs might be more concerned with the quality of the courses being offered.

Image from book
Figure 1: Data indicating that COB deans have a significantly more favorable view of Internet courses than do accounting department chairpersons

Accounting chairpersons move from being split on offering Internet courses in accounting programs to supporting their offering in business programs to more strongly supporting them in nonbusiness programs. The support of deans, however, is stronger for offering Internet courses in business programs than for offering them in nonbusiness programs. Apparently, 4.7% of the deans moved from supporting Internet courses in business programs to being neutral on offering them in nonbusiness programs. This may indicate a hands-off attitude toward programs in other colleges.

Overall, deans support offering Internet courses in accounting and business degree programs more strongly than do accounting chairs. These differences were significant at the 0.000 and the 0.003 level for accounting and business programs respectively. The opinions of chairs and deans on offering Internet courses in nonbusiness programs were not significantly different at the 0.05 level.

Offering Degrees Solely Through Internet Courses

The next area considered dealt with the question of awarding degrees based solely on completion of Internet courses. In response to the statement that “A student should be able to obtain a degree in Accounting by taking only E courses,” an overwhelming 91% of chairpersons and 70% of deans disagreed or strongly disagreed. A surprising 72%, almost three quarters of the accounting chairpersons, and 41% of deans strongly disagreed with the statement.

Responses were not much different regarding the offering of degrees in business or in nonbusiness programs based solely on the completion of Internet courses. More than 90% of chairpersons and 72% of deans disagreed or strongly disagreed that business degrees should be offered solely over the Internet. On offering degrees in nonbusiness areas with all courses completed over the Internet, 82% of the chairs and 58% of deans disagreed or strongly disagreed while only 7% of the chairs and 15% of deans agreed or strongly agreed. The only noticeable shift in responses to the three statements is a move of about 14% of the deans from the disagree to the neutral category when considering Internet degrees in nonbusiness programs compared with accounting and business programs.

As vividly illustrated in Figure 2, accounting chairpersons are solidly opposed to universities offering degrees in any academic discipline totally through the Internet. They apparently believe that the campus experience gives the student a component of education that should not be left out of the degree experience. Deans are somewhat less opposed, and significantly less opposed than are accounting chairs, to offering degrees totally through Internet courses but a solid majority still does not believe that Internet degrees should be offered in any academic area. Little doubt exists that a degree that does not contain the campus experience is different from one that does. Whether it is better or worse is a question left for time and experience to answer.

Click to collapse
Figure 2: Accounting chairpersons are solidly opposed to universities offering degrees in any academic discipline totally through the Internet

Enrolling On-Campus Students and Proctoring of Exams

One complication that universities face with Internet courses is that of on-campus students registering for courses and causing regular on-campus courses to have low enrollments. Because Internet courses are normally paid as an overload course, this shift in enrollment may result in less efficient use of one of the university’s most costly resources, professors’ class time. This issue was addressed by the statement: “When E courses are offered, they should be available to on-campus as well as off-campus students.” A substantial majority of respondents, 68% of chairs and 89% of deans, agreed that on-campus students should have the same access to Internet courses as off-campus students.

Another issue that faces designers and instructors of Internet courses is the proctoring of exams. Two statements addressed this issue. The first stated, “When E-courses are offered, SOME exams should be proctored by an independent person.” Sixty-six percent of the chairpersons and 69% of deans agreed. Only 14% of chairs and 15% of deans disagreed with this statement. A companion statement, “When E courses are offered, ALL exams should be proctored by an independent person,” had 49% of the chairs and 50% of deans in agreement. Less than one-fourth, 23% of chairs and 20% of deans disagreed with the statement.

As Figure 3 illustrates, the support of deans for making Internet courses available to all students was significantly stronger than that of the chairs. Perhaps accounting chairpersons and COB deans view this issue from a perspective of fairness; when Internet courses are offered they believe that all students should have equal access to them. Also, some independent confirmation of the level of student learning with Internet courses is essential. By more than a four to one margin, proctoring of some exams is considered essential and the proctoring of all exams is preferred by more than a two to one margin. The attitudes of chairs and deans on the proctoring of exams were not significantly different.

Click to collapse
Figure 3: The support of deans for making Internet courses available to all students was significantly stronger than that of the chairs

Visiting Campus

Some universities that offer degrees solely through completion of Internet courses require students to come to campus for some of the classes during a term. Three statements were included that referred to that facet of Internet courses. When asked if students completing an Internet course should be required to come to campus at least once during the course, 49% of the chairs and 33% of deans agreed. An interesting note is that of the 33.8% of deans that agreed, 24% strongly agreed, and only 9% of the 34% that disagreed, strongly disagreed.

The second question related to requiring more than one campus visit during the course. A slightly smaller percentage of respondents, 41% of chairs and 31% of deans, agreed with this statement than agreed with the previous statement. The third statement relating to visiting campus asked, “If more than once, how many times in a three-semester hour course?” and 39 of the 92 chairs (42%) entered a number. The average number of campus visits indicated by respondents for students completing Internet courses was 5.54 times during the course. For deans who entered a number of campus visits (43 of the 66 responding, 65%) the average number of visits indicated was 2.77 for a three-hour course.

There should be little disagreement that the student-to-student and the student-to-instructor interaction is less in Internet courses than in traditional courses. A valid concern is whether this reduced interaction makes them less valuable to the student. By a more than six to one margin (82% to 13%) accounting chairs agreed that the reduced level of interaction in Internet courses makes them less valuable to students. Deans were about evenly split on the issue with 47% agreeing and 43% disagreeing.

As the graph shows, by almost a two to one margin (49% to 27%) accounting chairs believe the campus experience is a valuable component of a university course and that it should not be left completely out of Internet courses, while COB deans are about evenly split on the issue. Chairpersons favor requiring more than one visit, although by a slimmer margin, and deans shift slightly against requiring more than one campus visit. Accounting chairpersons strongly believe that a course that contains less student-to- student or student-to-instructor interaction is a move in the wrong direction and the course is less valuable to the student; deans do not share this view. The difference in the views of chairs and deans on this question was significant at the 0.000 level.

Click to collapse
Figure 4: Chairpersons favor requiring more than one visit, although by a slimmer margin and deans shift slightly against requiring more than one campus visit

Impact of Internet Courses on the University

The last two questions dealt with the perceived impact of Internet courses on the formal university. Regarding the statement, “As the number of Internet courses grows, the importance of the formal university will diminish,” 51% of chairs and 75% of deans disagreed with the statement. Neither accounting chairpersons nor COB deans appear to share Noam’s view of the Internet’s impact on the “traditional university.”

Responses to a similar statement, “As the number of E-courses grows, the importance of the university professor will diminish,” were very similar to those relating to the university. Agreeing with the statement were 34% of the chairs and 18% of deans, while 55% of the chairs and 72% of deans disagreed with it. As with the university, neither accounting chairpersons nor COB deans are very apprehensive about any negative effects of expanded Internet course offerings on university professors. However, chairs were significantly more concerned about the impact of Internet courses on the university and on the professor than were deans.

Significant Relationships

Pearson correlations were run and significance levels determined for the relationships between responses to each of the 17 different statements for both the chairs’ and the deans’ responses. Responses of the chairs to the first statement that likened Internet courses to correspondence courses were significantly related to nine of the other sixteen statements. For the deans, Statement One responses were significantly related to five other statements. That relationship was negative, and significant, for Statements Two through Six for the chairs and Two through Four for the deans. Those results indicate that when chairs and deans tended to agree that Internet courses were “essentially correspondence courses,” they also tended to disagree that universities should offer Internet courses in accounting, business, or nonbusiness programs. In other words, respondents who thought Internet courses were essentially correspondence courses were more inclined to believe that Internet courses should not be offered in university programs. Accounting chairpersons who viewed Internet courses as correspondence courses also tended to believe that students should not be able to obtain degrees in accounting or business by taking only Internet courses.

Additionally, chairpersons who viewed Internet courses as essentially correspondence courses also tended to believe that all exams should be proctored for Internet courses, that students should be required to come to campus more than once, and that the student-to-student and instructor-to-student relationships that are missing make the courses less valuable to students. As the respondents view Internet courses more like correspondence courses, their opinion of Internet courses appears to be lower and more restrictive.

Deans who considered Internet courses to be correspondence courses did not believe that all exams should be proctored, that students should be required to come to campus more than once, or that the missing student-to- student and instructor-to-student relationships make the courses less valuable to students any more than deans who did not view Internet courses as correspondence courses. They did, however, tend to believe more strongly that “As the number of E-courses grows, the importance of the university professor will diminish” and “If the importance of the university professor diminishes, society will benefit” than did deans who did not see the Internet course/correspondence course connection.

One interesting observation is, as chairs and deans tended to agree with the statement that “the student-to-student and the student-to-instructor inter- action that is missing in E-courses makes them less valuable to the student,” they tended to disagree that Internet courses and Internet degrees should be offered in accounting, business, or nonbusiness programs. Two exceptions to this general observation are that, for deans, the relationships for offering Internet courses in accounting and offering Internet degrees in nonbusiness programs, and the interaction that is missing were only significant at the 0.059 and 0.098 levels respectively.

A surprising result was that deans who believed Internet courses were essentially correspondence courses also tended to believe that “As the number of Internet courses grows, the importance of the university professor will diminish,” and “If the importance of the university professor diminishes, society will benefit.” Chairs did not display that same tendency.

Difference in COB Deans’ Opinions of Internet Courses Then Their Institutions Offer Internet Courses

The questionnaire sent to the deans included Questions 18 and 19 which relate to the offering of Internet courses in each dean’s college. Question 18 asked “Does your college or university currently offer E-courses?” Forty of the deans responded in the affirmative (60%), 23 answered “no” (34%), and 3 did not indicate an answer.

Deans of COBs where Internet courses were currently being offered believed more strongly that Internet courses were not essentially correspondence courses with a different delivery medium. They also tended to agree more strongly that “E-courses should be offered in nonbusiness programs,” that “A student should be able to obtain a degree in Business by taking only E-courses,” and that “A student should be able to obtain a degree in nonbusiness programs by taking only E-courses.” Additionally, deans at schools that offer Internet courses disagreed more strongly with the notion that “When E-courses are offered, the student should be required to come to campus MORE THAN ONCE during the course.”

COB deans at institutions that did not offer Internet courses were very strongly opposed to offering Internet degrees. In fact, 81% were opposed to offering Internet degrees in Accounting, 95% opposed offering them in Business, and 77% opposed offering them in nonbusiness areas. Roughly two-thirds of those opposed were strongly opposed to offering Internet degrees in the different areas. Those percentages compare with 65% of COB deans at institutions offering Internet courses opposed to offering Internet degrees in Accounting, 60% opposed to offering them in Business, and 47% opposed to offering them in nonbusiness areas. These differences could be a reflection of additional familiarity with and knowledge of Internet courses possessed by deans whose institutions offer Internet courses. On the other hand, they could reflect an acceptance and tacit endorsement of events occurring at their schools. Whichever is the case, the answer is beyond the scope of this data.

Question 19 asked, “If no, (to Question 18) do you plan to offer E- courses in the next three years?” Of the 23 deans whose schools did not offer Internet courses at that time, 12 planned to offer them within the next three years and 11 indicated no plans to do so. Significant differences of opinion existed between those who planned to offer Internet courses and those who did not on only two questions. Deans who did not plan to offer Internet courses believed more strongly that a student should NOT be able to obtain a degree in Business by taking only Internet courses. They also tended to agree more strongly that “When E-courses are offered, the student should be required to come to campus MORE THAN ONCE during the course.” Apparently, deans who do not plan to offer Internet courses within the next three years are more skeptical about Internet courses. That is consistent with the differences based on responses to Statement 18, deans who do not currently offer Internet courses were more skeptical than those who do.

SUMMARY

Opinions of accounting department chairpersons are about evenly split on the subject of offering Internet courses in accounting programs but are more tolerant of offering them in non-accounting programs. In fact, a majority of the chairpersons believed they should be offered in nonbusiness programs. COB deans, on the other hand, weigh in heavily in favor of offering Internet courses in accounting, business and nonbusiness programs. Whether the chairs’ views stem from a belief that accounting topics are less amenable to being mastered over the Internet or whether it is simply a “not in my area” reaction is not known. Deans may be viewing the question more from the standpoint of attracting students to their degree programs. Both chairs and deans strongly rejected the concept of offering degrees, in any academic discipline, entirely over the Internet.

Independent study courses, such as Internet courses, typically lack the structure, deadlines, and regular face-to-face student-instructor interaction that traditional courses possess. Most would agree that some topics are more easily learned through independent study than are others. Perhaps all that the respondents are conveying is that structure, deadlines, and student-faculty interaction are more important in accounting and business topics than in other areas.

Respondents can be grouped by whether or not they agree that “except for the delivery medium Internet courses are essentially correspondence courses.” Roughly 2 1/2 times as many chairs agreed with the statement as those who disagreed (64.9 % to 25.3%), while the deans were about evenly split. Those who agree with this statement are more negative on offering Internet courses in university programs or offering degrees through the completion of only Internet courses. They are also more restrictive with Internet courses, favoring the proctoring of exams and requiring students to come to campus as part of the Internet course. The average number of campus visits recommended by the 39 chairs (42% of total) who responded to that statement was 5.54 visits per course. The 43 deans who entered a number (65% of the 66 responding) recommended an average of 2.77 campus visits for a three-hour course. Those who viewed Internet courses as correspondence courses also tended to agree that “the student-to-student and the student-to-instructor interaction that are missing in E courses makes them less valuable to the student.”

If the view of the nearly 65% of the chairs and almost half of the deans is accurate and Internet courses are simply correspondence courses presented with new technology, then will they be more successful in the university paradigm than correspondence courses have been? Experience teaches that successful completion of correspondence courses requires a level of dedication that many do not possess. Degree programs in technical areas have been available from some colleges for decades, and they have not challenged the existence of the formal university. Technical knowledge can usually be best learned in a do-it-yourself environment, such as that provided by a vocationaltechnical school. If the objective is to simply gain technical knowledge, probably few professors would assert that a university setting is either required or is necessarily the best setting.

Traditionally, universities have awarded degrees to students who satisfied “educational” requirements by successfully completing courses in a broad-based curriculum. Universities are challenged to develop students’ interpersonal and group skills and to teach students how to “think critically.” Meeting these particular challenges would seem to be next to impossible when a student never has direct, face-to-face contact with either an instructor or other students, as in the pure Internet course degree program. That is not to say that Internet courses may not have a role to play in complementing the traditional university degree program, just as correspondence courses have had, but supplanting the traditional university, hardly.

On the basis of the current research, Noam’s view of “the dim future of the university” may be more hype than substance. Surely universities will change, such is called evolution. Surely the new technology will be integrated into the university paradigm, but it is unlikely that “this system of higher education [that has] remained stable for more than 2,500 years” (Noam, 1996, p. 7) will be discarded to be replaced by the Internet. At least accounting chairpersons and COB deans don’t seem to think so. That conclusion is supported by the results of a study (Hagan & Omolayole, 2000) of 3,600 business professors teaching in various colleges in the US. They appear to recognize Internet courses as correspondence courses delivered over the Internet.

The question may well be, “are Internet courses simply correspondence courses in new packaging?” Have universities taken an academic concept that garnered limited acceptance in the past, wrapped it in the glitzy attire of Internet technology, and presented it as the pedagogical discovery of the century? By more than a 2 1/2 to 1 margin (64.8 % to 25.3%) the accounting chairpersons responding to the survey appear to think so. Almost half of the COB deans responding appear to agree.

While the traditional university will face some challenges from the distance learning revolution, evidence suggests that its survival will not be in jeopardy. Rather, the challenge may well be integrating the new technology without significantly diminishing the quality of the educational process. Proctored exams and noting on the transcript which courses or degrees have been completed as distance learning courses may be essential.

A Bible story relates that men do not put new wine in old bottles because the aging process will burst the bottles. Instead, new wine is placed in new bottles to preserve the wine. There is little doubt that Internet courses represent new bottles, a new delivery system. The question remains, however, “are Internet courses old wine in new packaging?” Have universities taken an academic concept that garnered limited acceptance in the past, wrapped it in the glitzy attire of Internet technology, and presented it as the pedagogical discovery of the century?

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