The Design & Management of Effective Distance Learning Programs – Chapter 5

Chapter 5: Faculty Perceptions and Participation in Distance Education: Pick Fruit From The Low-Hanging Branches

Kim E. Dooley and Jane Magill
Texas A&M University, USA

Copyright © 2002, Idea Group Publishing.

The environment for higher education has become much more dynamic and even more complex with the recent development of new digital technologies (Hanna, 1999, p. 25).


Motivating faculty members to teach at a distance has been a challenge for most colleges and universities. What will be the impact of teaching using technology on faculty responsibility? Is teaching students through any or all distance education methods really nothing more than adapting traditional classroom approaches? What are the attitudes and barriers to using technologies often associated with distance education? In this chapter the authors present data obtained from an extensive survey of faculty opinions on teaching at a distance, as well as several case studies describing incentives and training made available for distance education. To enhance participation in distance education, faculty must have the competence, attitude that distance education is important and valuable, and infrastructure available to facilitate the additional time and effort to convert courses. Faculty training programs cannot be “one-shot” and should include personnel in close proximity to faculty, preferable on their own equipment. Release time is an important incentive to encourage participation.


In 1989, Connie Dillon addressed the perceptions of faculty participation in instructional telecommunications. Her study provided insight into the factors that influence the integration of telecommunications teaching within the higher education system. A decade has passed and many higher education institutions are still struggling to integrate and utilize distance education technologies. The technologies have changed, but faculty attitudes often remain the same.

To prepare students successfully for today’s digital marketplace, educators should incorporate the use of information technologies. “Educators must help all students become adept at distanced interaction, for skills of information gathering from remote sources and of collaboration with dispersed team members are as central to the future American workplace as learning to perform structured tasks quickly was to the industrial revolution” (Dede, 1996, p. 30). Students learn from competent instructors who have been trained how to communicate effectively through the technology. Thomas Cyrs (1997) identifies areas of competence important to a distance education environment: course planning and organization, verbal and nonverbal presentation skills, collaborative teamwork, questioning strategies, subject matter expertise, involving students and coordinating their activities at field sites, knowledge of basic learning theory, knowledge of the distance learning field, design of study guides, graphic design and visual thinking (Cyrs, 1997). Lacina-Gifford and J.-Kher-Durlabhji (1996) emphasized that instructors must be part of a change process in their role as instructors if distance learning is to be successful. The authors also mentioned that the students attributed the success of the program to user-friendly technology and the promptness of the instructor in communicating with the students.

Linda Wolcott (1997) conducted an analysis of the institutional context and dynamics of faculty rewards at research universities. She discovered that 1) distance education occupies a marginal status, 2) distance teaching is neither highly valued nor well-rewarded as a scholarly activity, 3) distance teaching is not highly related to promotion and tenure decisions, and 4) rewards for distance teaching are dependent on the academic unit’s commitment to distance education. Faculty barriers stem for the lack of perceived institutional support (faculty rewards, incentives, training, etc.) for course conversion to distance education formats (Dillon & Walsh, 1992; McKenzie, Mims, Bennett, & Waugh, 2000; Wolcott, 1997; Olcott & Wright, 1995). Part of this support may include release time for course preparation. Reports indicate that teaching at a distance takes more time than teaching a traditional course (NEA, 2000; McKenzie, Mims, Bennett, & Waugh, 2000; Rockwell, Schauer, Fritz, & Marx, 1999; Visser, 2000).

The need for a change and modification of the faculty role in teaching at a distance has been recognized (Dillon & Walsh, 1992; Layzell, 1996; Plater, 1995; Purdy & Wright, 1992; Schifter, 2000). “It is not that the technology underpinning distance education drives the system but rather that fundamental changes in teaching style, technique, and motivation must take place to make the new ‘classrooms’ of the present and future function effectively” (Purdy & Wright, 1992, p. 4).

Despite the fact that much of the literature in distance education discusses the importance of faculty, this group has been largely neglected by the research (Dillon & Walsh, 1992; Beaudoin, 1990). Beaudoin (1990) observes that:

[t]he emergence of increasingly student-centered learning activities in the 1970s facilitated by new instructional technology introduced in the 1980s is contributing to a dramatic evolution in faculty roles, and raises fundamental questions within the professoriate about how it will contribute to the teaching-learning process in the 1990s and beyond. (p. 21)

As indicated by Moore (1997) in his comparison of distance education, programs with a commitment to faculty support and training result in higher quality. Institutions that are involved in, or currently moving into the realm of distance education can benefit from the discussions in this chapter. As the complexity continues and the desire to integrate distance education programs expands, attention must be given to faculty training and support.

In consideration of this incredible growth and increased complexity, what will be the impact of teaching using technology on faculty responsibility? Is teaching students through any or all distance education methods really nothing more than adapting traditional classroom approaches? What are the attitudes and barriers to using technologies often associated with distance education?

This chapter is divided into two major sections. The first provides a glimpse of faculty perceptions about teaching at a distance based upon several research studies conducted at Texas A&M University. The second section will provide case studies of actual faculty training, support, and incentives that were implemented to encourage faculty to participate in teaching at a distance—some that worked and some that didn’t.


The changing student population, rapid technological advances, and the economic issues facing higher education are creating an accelerated demand for learning anytime, anyplace. The ability of an organization to adapt to these changes will be influenced by at least three factors: a) the knowledge, skills, and abilities of its faculty/staff, b) the amount of importance placed on distance learning technologies to accomplish teaching and learning, and c) the availability of high-quality facilities, equipment, technical support, and training.

At Texas A&M University, distance education began in the early 1990s with the development of the Trans-Texas Videoconference Network (TTVN). There are now over 100 interactive video sites across the state and in two international locations (Mexico City, Mexico and San Jose, Costa Rica). The network initially was a means to connect all the components of the Texas A&M University System administratively. By the mid 1990s, faculty who had been teaching in off-campus programs began teaching courses on the network and today there are six Masters degrees and one Joint Doctor of Education degree offered entirely at a distance. Additionally, the university adopted WebCT in 1998 and faculty began to include more web-based components in their courses and degree programs.

In the College of Agriculture and Life Science, there is currently a Master of Agriculture Degree with three content options (Natural Resource Development, Interdisciplinary Science, and Agricultural Development) and the Joint Doctor of Education in Agricultural Education degree offered with Texas Tech University. Recent studies were conducted to provide baseline data for faculty perceptions of electronic technologies used in teaching and to determine the rate of adoption of distance education as an innovation (Dooley & Murphy, 2001; Dooley & Murphrey, 2000; Murphrey & Dooley, 2000; Poe, 2000). The studies include both quantitative and qualitative data collection procedures and analysis, and provide the basis for recommendations to encourage faculty participation in distance education.

In the Dooley and Murphy study (2001), all teaching faculty in the College of Agriculture and Life Science (15 departments) were surveyed (N=315). The instrument used to collect data was a three-part questionnaire designed by the researchers. Part I of the questionnaire was designed to identify the characteristics and level of involvement of the respondents in technology-mediated instruction. Part II was designed to measure faculty competence, value and quality of infrastructure with a five-point Likert response scale. Part III consisted of three open-ended questions designed to provide an opportunity for the respondents to add their comments concerning the improvement of their use of distance education technologies.

In all, 263 survey instruments were returned for a final response rate of 84%. Survey and follow-up procedures were in accordance with those outlined by Dillman (1978). Descriptive statistics were calculated for each variable. Frequencies and percentages were used to summarize agreement or disagreement with each of the statements related to competence, value, and quality of infrastructure. An attempt to control non- respondent error was made by comparing the data from early and late respondents as suggested by Miller and Smith (1983). No significant differences were found between the groups.

The constant comparative method was used for the open-ended, qualitative data analysis (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Colored markers were used to differentiate respondent themes so that the data would remain in context and provide visual indications of emerging categories. Delimiting the construction occurred as the data sources became saturated and the categories were integrated.

In this study, over one-half the faculty members reported having a website related to their course. Of these, 84% were described as simply enhancing the course, 15% were described as a required component of the course, and .7% (1 course) was described as being completely delivered via the website.

Almost exactly half the faculty with a course website administer that site themselves. Less than one-quarter assign a graduate assistant to the task. Almost as many (21%) use professional support staff. Most of these course websites reside administratively near the faculty members on their departmental servers (62%), and on university servers (21%). Faculty members were almost evenly split on the software used to edit these websites, with 32% using a text editor, and 28% using Microsoft Word. Only 5% use Microsoft FrontPage, while 23% report using “other” software.

While many of the teaching faculty had websites, few had experience teaching learners at a distance. Only 1% had taught a course at a distance more than ten times. Another 10% had taught at a distance between two and ten times, while 9% had taught at a distance once. Almost 80% of the faculty members responding to the survey indicated that they had never taught a class to learners at a distance.

Eleven items on the questionnaire were used to measure the perceived level of competence that respondents possessed in the use of electronic technologies often associated with distance education. The faculty indicated that they were able to use many of these technologies. Almost two-thirds of the faculty indicated they agreed or strongly agreed that they could create their own presentation graphics, while less than a quarter disagreed or strongly disagreed. A clear majority of the faculty members (84%) agreed or strongly agreed that they used email for “almost all of my correspondence,” while 29% agreed or strongly agreed that they would send their “most important or confidential” documents through email.” A majority of the faculty members (59%) agreed or strongly agreed that they could “scan photographs into digital files,” while 29% disagreed or strongly disagreed. Nearly one-half agreed or strongly agreed that they were able to “connect a computer to the various output devices available (LCD projector, TV, etc.).” By a narrow margin, the faculty members agreed that they could “manipulate digital images” (46% agreed or strongly agreed vs. 43% disagreed or strongly disagreed). Slightly over one-half agreed or strongly agreed that they could “confidently deliver my course over the videoconferencing equipment.”

While many of the faculty members were fairly confident in their ability to use presentation software, email, and digital images in their teaching, they also identified areas in which they were not as confident. Over one-half of the faculty members disagreed or strongly disagreed that they could create their own web page. Only a handful agreed (7%) or strongly agreed (3%) with the statement, “I am able to record and use digital sound in my presentations.” Nearly two-thirds disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, “I could confidently deliver my course on the web.”

Faculty members had much more confidence in their technical competence than they did in their methodological ability to use these technologies in their teaching. Over one-half of the respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, “I am familiar with the teaching methods appropriate for distance learning.”

Nine items were used to measure value, i.e., the importance of the role respondents believed these technologies have or will have to teaching agriculture. An overwhelming majority of the faculty members strongly agreed and agreed with the statement, “The Internet/WWW are convenient ways to access information.” Nearly half agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “Participation in listservs, threaded discussion groups, chats and other electronic communications offers great benefits.” The respondents agreed (40%) and strongly agreed (18%) that most course materials could be improved by incorporating multimedia. They agreed (40%) and strongly agreed (18%) that “Animated graphics increase student interest and retention.” Almost exactly two-thirds of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that “Students today prefer a more visual learning experience.” Over three- quarters of those responding agreed or strongly agreed that “Electronic information technologies provide students with instantly available supple- mental course and research materials.” Over one-half agreed or strongly agreed that “It is important that I incorporate electronic information technologies in the courses I teach.”

Faculty opinions were mixed concerning the effect of these technologies. While they clearly agreed (38%) or strongly agreed (32%) with the statement, “Electronic communications and information drastically alter how we teach in the next five years,” they did not support the statement, “Electronic communications and information will drastically alter what we teach in the next five years” (46% disagreed or strongly disagreed).

Ten items were used to measure the perceived availability of equipment, facilities, and training to determine the extent to which the campus environment supported the use of technologically mediated instruction on- and off- campus. Concerning the availability of equipment, 92% of the teaching faculty members indicated they were connected to electronic mail in their office and 72% indicated they were connected at home. More than one-third agreed or strongly agreed that “The equipment needed to produce and display multimedia course materials is readily available to me.” More than one-half agreed or strongly agreed that they were aware of “the necessary procedure to secure electronic presentation equipment for classroom use within the university.” Over half of the faculty members agreed or strongly agreed that that they “have access to a classroom designed to support the use of multimedia teaching aids.”

Teaching faculty members perceived training and assistance in the use of instructional technologies to be less available than equipment. More than one- third disagreed or strongly disagreed that “there are ample opportunities to secure faculty development on using multimedia and videoconferencing equipment” while 27% agreed or strongly agreed. While 44% indicated they were neutral on the question, 11% strongly disagreed with the statement, “There are enough faculty development workshops regarding videoconferencing” while 7% strongly agreed. Over half the faculty members disagreed or strongly disagreed that they were “aware of the procedure, office, and personnel responsible for scheduling videoconference classes/sessions for the college.”

The respondents did not believe that the climate was supportive of the use of these technologies. Almost one-half of the respondents (43%) disagreed or strongly disagreed that “The time spent developing course materials is valued by my department.”

In general, faculty agreed that electronic technologies could make a valuable contribution to the learning process, that they should be used in all classes, and that technology will change how we teach in the next five years. About one-half of the respondents reported having a course website, but most lacked experience in teaching learners at a distance, and were much more confident in their technical competence than in their methodological ability to use modern technologies. All respondents perceived training and assistance in the use of instructional technologies to be less available than equipment and facilities. For a view of patterns for competence, value, and quality of infrastructure, see Figure 1.

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Figure 1: Patterns in competence, importance and quality of infrastructure

Dooley and Murphy (2001) discovered through the open-ended responses that faculty were currently using distance education technology in the following ways: 1) web-based tracking simulations, 2) PowerPoint presentations for in-class, videoconferences, and web-based courses, 3) other multi- media, such as animation, 4) course webpages with features such as an ability to check grades, download lecture outlines, class notes, handouts, course assignments, and course syllabi, and 5) email and threaded discussion for increased communications and interaction between faculty and students. Virtual library resources and the capability to conduct research online were providing access to dispersed students and faculty. Faculty also mentioned the use of interactive video for guest speakers, including international connections, and for final defenses.

When faculty were asked, “What would significantly improve your use of the electronic technologies often associated with distance education?” Answers fell into six categories: 1) Support Resources (technical and course conversion personnel, including funding student workers/graduate students, 2) Faculty Rewards/Recognition (release time/faculty development to learn to use technologies, recognition for tenure and promotion, etc., 3) Training (to improve comfort and familiarity with equipment), 4) Access to State-of-the- Art Equipment, 5) Quality Assurance (through research, success at other peer institutions, and continuity in format and procedures), and 6) Availability of an Audience Base (to sustain and make the effort worthwhile).

Many faculty perceive a lack of “Real SUPPORT from the department and university, including recognition that its development in my program is as important and valued as developments in my research. This recognition would need to be accompanied by time for necessary TRAINING and the ready access to equipment (respondent emphasis).” Additional time was most frequently mentioned as a factor to improve use. “Having enough time to develop the materials needed, and to practice developing and using the materials. One-shot training programs….leave me frustrated….” Overall, there is a perception that these six areas must be addressed prior to faculty adoption of distance education technologies.

Dooley and Murphy (2001) also asked faculty, “What components should be present in an effective course delivered using electronic technologies?” There were five primary response categories: 1) Interactions/Feed- back, 2) Systematic Instructional Design, 3) Multimedia Components, 4) Simple and Reliable Delivery System (that is supported and easily accessible), and 5) Strong Content/Supplemental Materials. Faculty again mentioned the importance of time and money to create and fully utilize computer technology. There was a strong view that the components of effective instruction for distance learning are the same as “traditional” courses. Most emphasized the importance of interaction (mentioned 60 times). “The professor must be able to ‘connect’ with each and every student during the lecture and students must have unhindered access to the professor.”

Faculty perceived that “technology is a tool similar to a chalkboard or overhead—all tools have advantages and disadvantages over all other tools available. There is no ‘perfect’ teaching philosophy or tool, only varying degrees of effectiveness with various audiences.” “Development of high quality courses for distance education requires significant investments of time and resources.”


Faculty recognize that these technologies are—and will be—an important part of the instructional process. Faculty members also perceive that support and training are less available than equipment. Resources must be directed to the provision of adequate levels of support and training such that electronic technologies are used for the benefit of students, and not as doorstops.

While faculty recognize the potential, intervention strategies are necessary to alter how people perceive and react to distance education technologies. It is apparent that steps must be taken to increase faculty training and support. Three major areas require consideration: 1) support, 2) training, and 3) incentives. Support extends beyond “verbal” to providing the support/professional staff to assist faculty. Training should not only include technology exposure, but instructional design, pedagogy/andragogy, and “cookbook” strategies and “how-to” manuals. By providing incentives such as release time, mini-grants, continuing education stipends, and recognition in the promotion and tenure process, faculty will have more than “verbal” encouragement to continue, or begin, using distance education technologies and will have the reason to do so (Murphrey & Dooley, 2000).

If you think of an analogy of a fruit tree, faculty must be encouraged to pick the low-hanging fruit first. It may be the case that faculty members simply want to put their syllabi in a word processing document, save it as an Adobe Acrobat (PDF) file and post it on a homepage. Eating that “apple” may initially fill them up! They may want another piece of fruit (like email or the ability to put students’ grades on the website), but the training required for each application is relatively simple compared with a complete conversion to distance education format (trying to pick from the top of the tree). Both of the authors of this chapter teach courses at a distance and provide assistance to other faculty teaching at a distance through the Office of Distance Education for the Agriculture Program. In the following sections the authors will describe actual scenarios (successes and failures) intended to support, train, and provide incentives for faculty teaching at a distance.

Workshops and Training

Case One: A faculty member who uses the Mac OS went to a workshop for PowerPoint. She had used the very basic features of PowerPoint and wanted to learn more. In the workshop, the participants used relatively old PCs (no MACs) with Windows and the newest version of PowerPoint that was unfamiliar to this faculty member. When she returned to her Power Mac 8500 computer with PowerPoint 3.0, the differences between the computers and the versions of PowerPoint were so great that when she tried to duplicate what she had been taught in the workshop, she could not. The menus were different; many of the commands were different; the whole face of the program had changed it seemed. The differences were so great she became frustrated and gave up.

A major problem in conducting workshops for faculty members is getting them out of their offices and to the training site! An equally difficult problem lies in using computers that are unfamiliar and software versions different from what the faculty member has on his/her own computer. To address the problem of faculty reluctance to leave their offices to learn new computer skills, the Office of Distance Education for the Agriculture Program (ODE-AG) started a program whereby any teaching faculty members who wanted to learn PowerPoint could request that someone come to their offices and teach them on their own computer. One requirement of each faculty member was that they have a legal copy of the software. Initially, two undergraduates were hired who were very knowledgeable about PowerPoint and comfortable with teaching faculty. In following years, ODE-AG recruited talented undergraduates, who were trained by the Coordinator of Distance Education. This program has worked quite well. In a follow-up questionnaire, most of the faculty members who learned in this way used PowerPoint in their teaching and some have gone on to teach at a distance.

Even though there are some problems inherent in using workshops to provide training for faculty, there are also many potential benefits, including improving the technical (and sometimes, instructional) competence of faculty. But, the survey of teaching faculty in our college (Dooley & Murphy, 2001) indicated that many faculty have the competence, but lack the desire (and time) to make this a priority. Training programs should include research about how the use of technology impacts the teaching and learning process, rather than “this is how you do this.” Additionally, faculty may respond to training programs designed in “small chunks” rather than a half-day program. To teach faculty to use WebCT for example, Texas A&M University provided three consecutive days of half-day workshops. Very few faculty could commit to this training format. The trainers altered the workshop format which is now “tool” specific and in a one to two hour format. Faculty participation in these workshops has increased.

Why Faculty Choose to Participate

Case 2: Professor A teaches a popular course in environmental sciences at the sophomore level. In fall of 1996, she was concerned that the course was filled and more than 20 students remained on the waiting list. Since she had participated in delivering a web-based course the preceding semester, she decided to add a new section to the environmental science course, one that would be web-based. She had already developed a website for her courses and had put all course materials on the web for her residential students anyway, so there was relatively little extra work to do for the added web section. The students were required to have an email address and to interact with the instructor weekly by answering content-related questions or finding relevant websites. At the end of the semester, the grades for the students in the web-assisted section, 30 in all, were slightly higher (on the same exams) than the students in the traditional section, approximately 100. However, the evaluations from the web-assisted section rated all aspects of the course higher than the overall evaluations of students in the traditional section.

Case 3: Professor L teaches a required senior level course for nutrition majors. He converted his course materials to electronic format and put them onto the web so students could come to class or not as they chose. At the beginning of the semester one student, a graduating senior called and tearfully told this instructor that she had just come out of surgery and must return home to Dallas to convalesce for four weeks, making it impossible to take this required course. She was scheduled to graduate at the end of the semester and thought she would have to come back for one more semester. Professor L suggested that she take the course from her bed in Dallas, which she did. She was well enough to take exams to pass the course and graduate on time.

Case 4: Professor B teaches an ecology course at the graduate level. He is a well-known researcher in his area and frequently is invited to give lectures, seminars and symposia at other universities in the United States and abroad. He was offered the opportunity to spend four weeks participating in a research project at a university in Australia during the fall semester of 1999 but that meant he could not teach his graduate course. His department head urged him to teach his course on the web and use mostly email to communicate with the students during the time he was away. He had never taught a web-based course, but he had already put most of his course materials on the web for the benefit of his residential students. With the promise of some additional support from his department head, he accepted the opportunity in Australia and successfully taught part of his course from there. This support consisted mostly of partial funding for a web-savvy graduate student in the same area of expertise to develop a better website, convert a few remaining course materials to electronic format and to transfer those additional files.

Case 5: Professor M saw how his colleague had used interactive practice tests and simple animations accessed on the web to help students understand some difficult concepts in biochemistry. He worked with the same educational technologist to develop interactive practice tests for his residential genetics course and put them on the web. The students really appreciated the interactive exercises and animations that were available at all times on the web. Professor M then converted all his course materials to the web and has developed more practice tests. Last semester, he decreased the number of lecture periods in his residential course from three to one per week and added several assignments on the web. The students were uniformly enthusiastic about the decreased lecture time and the average grade appeared the same as previous semesters. After Professor M saw how effectively the technology could be used in teaching the course, he plans to try teaching the course completely web-based in summer of 2001.

Most of the College of Agriculture and Life Science faculty who teach at a distance began as a direct result of using a few tools of distance education to solve existing residential problems. Some of the problems include a lack of space in residential courses, students with an illness or permanent disability unable to access a residential course, students unable to fit a required course into their lecture schedules, and the need for instructor flexibility with travel and research programs. Once courses and course sequences were available via distance education technology, geographically dispersed students needing access to a degree program were able to participate. Using distance education effectively adds “new bricks and mortar” to expand the school’s capacity, and for some students, shorten their time (and monetary investment) in school. The faculty chose to participate in distance education for intrinsic reasons— providing access to their students.

Use of Support and Training as Faculty Incentives to Teach at a Distance

Case 6: An excellent teacher in the College of Liberal Arts was offered several thousand dollars and a lap-top computer to deliver his course at a distance to teachers pursuing their Masters degrees. The faculty member who received the incentives had no experience in teaching at a distance. Although he had some help, the use of the videoconferencing equipment was frustrating for him. Since he had no prior experience adapting course materials for a website (or by any other distance methods), delivering some of the information to the distant students proved to be challenging and time-consuming. He was not given any release time from his other courses nor from his research commitments, and therefore he could not spend the extra time needed to master the technology. Unfortunately, this excellent teacher had a frustrating experience that left the students frustrated as well. This award-winning faculty member has not taught another course at a distance.

Case 7: Professor Q teaches a course in education that many teachers would like to take. He was offered the use of a full-time graduate student to help him prepare his course for the web, providing he agreed to teach the web-based version within the next six months. Unfortunately, Professor Q was not given any release time and taught two other courses during the semester he had the use of the graduate student. He could not find enough time to convert the course to a web-based version and has yet to teach the course on the web.

Several faculty and administrators have suggested that more faculty would teach at a distance if given significant incentives beyond adequate support and training. In the authors’ opinion, the use of specific incentives has not been effective in convincing resistant faculty members at our institution to embrace distance education. This comment is not meant to discount the importance of release time and a belief that this is time well spent as previously mentioned in the section above. Many universities have been successful with monetary incentives to encourage participation. It takes a considerable investment of time to teach at a distance and it must be compatible with existing reward structures. This can be a problem in building a sustainable, critical mass of faculty to participate in distance education.

Depending on the institution, the extrinsic motivations will vary. The authors have found that an effective way to assist faculty in course conversion is to hire undergraduates as student workers who will work directly with the faculty member. Hiring a student who has taken the course being converted has many advantages to the faculty member. First and perhaps most important, the individual responsible for conversion has some knowledge of the content area. Secondly, many undergraduates are much more familiar with computer programs required for course conversion than faculty. Thirdly, cost of undergraduate student labor is quite low. In fact, at most institutions undergraduates earn minimum wage for most jobs. Thus, an undergraduate working ten hours per week for one semester would cost the university approximately $800. Most undergraduates benefit greatly from this employment because they generally earn an outstanding letter of recommendation from the professor. Students can also register for independent study options, thus making this affordable and a learning experience for the student and faculty member. Contrast this with assigning a graduate student on an assistantship to the task of converting course materials. Graduate assistantships typically pay approximately $5000 or more per semester. Hiring a technical person to convert course materials is even more costly.


Texas A&M University (and specifically the College of Agriculture and Life Science) has been the authors’ test bed. But through the search of the literature and providing training and consulting services at other higher education institutions, the authors believe that implications from our research and case studies can provide “lessons learned” for other universities striving to encourage faculty participation. Rockwell and associates (1999) also found that the primary incentives for faculty were intrinsic or personal rewards, including the opportunity to provide innovative instruction and apply new teaching techniques. Other incentives included extending educational opportunities beyond the traditional institutional walls, and release time for faculty preparation. That study also determined that the major obstacles were related to time requirements, developing effective technology skills, and assistance and support needs. Monetary awards for faculty were not seen as incentives or obstacles (Rockwall et. al., 1999). McKenzie and her research team (2000) also found similar conclusions.

According to Olcott and Wright (1995),

The accelerated development of distance education programs across American higher education will require a renewed commitment to its most important resource …faculty. Advances in technology afford institutions unique opportunities to deliver education….However, responsibility for instructional quality and control, the improvement of learning, and the aggregate effectiveness of distance education still rests with the faculty.

If faculty are going to participate in distance education, they must have the competence, attitude that distance education is important and valuable, and quality of infrastructure available to facilitate this participation. It is indeed true that faculty roles and responsibilities must change to accommodate the use of these technologies, and that teaching at a distance does require a different set of competencies. Yet faculty members’ attitudes, and the barriers created by the lack of institutional support, must be addressed to integrate more fully these technologies into the teaching and learning process. Training programs cannot be “one-shot” and may include the use of under- graduate students or other personnel, on their own equipment, in the faculty office space. Release time is probably the most important incentive to encourage participation.

Back to the analogy, faculty will be more willing to participate if they can pick the “low-hanging fruit.” A first step may be putting the lecture notes into some presentation form, e.g., PowerPoint or a word processing program. Once converted digitally, the next step may be creating a course website. Faculty need to see that course conversion can be incremental and that the technology tools they might choose for distance education can also serve to increase interaction and communications (and improve teaching effectiveness) for their on-campus students as well. Go ahead. Take a bite!


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