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Current Editor: Dr. Robert T. Howell  bhowell@fhsu.edu
Volume 36, Number 4
Summer 1999


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Utilization of Distance Learning Technology Among Industrial and Technical Teacher Education Faculty

Hassan B. Ndahi,
Old Dominion University

Introduction

The influence of technology on teaching and learning is becoming more and more evident in educational institutions. However, as Spotts and Bowan (1995) observed, the effort has not been as great as was often predicted. This study examined the extent to which distance learning technology is used by faculty in industrial and technical teacher education programs.

Distance learning refers to the teaching and learning situation in which the instructor and learner are engaging in interactive instructional settings when they are separated geographically and by time and place (Keegan, 1983; Mizell et al., 1995; Sewart, 1982). Distance learning takes advantage of currently available technologies to achieve two main objectives: (a) providing equitable access to quality education and (b) meeting the unique learning needs and styles of individuals (Barron, 1994). Both the instructor and student rely on electronic devices and print material to deliver and receive instruction.

Typical technologies used for distance learning include satellite delivery, television-broadcast, compressed video, computer conferencing, multimedia, audio-conferencing, radio, and videotapes. These technologies enable the transmission of live, one-way or two-way, auditory and visual signals. The two-way transmission has improved the teacher-student interaction that is lacking in radio broadcasts, print, and telephone. However, the effectiveness of one-way or two-way live, interactive distance learning technology is not a guarantee that faculty will embrace it or use it successfully.

It is important to explore the extent to which distance learning technologies are used by industrial and technical teacher education faculty. This is necessary because early research in distance learning centered on media comparison, ignoring other, perhaps equally important, attributes that may enhance learning (Solomon, Perkins, & Globerson, 1991). Beaudoin (1990) and Dillon and Walsh (1992) contend that faculty, the persons responsible for program design and delivery, have been largely neglected by distance education researchers. It is important to understand how faculty members react to using distance learning technologies because their attitudes toward these technologies have an influence on how effectively they are used for delivery of instruction.

Teaching a distance learning class is different from teaching a traditional class, and faculty who often lack the skills to adapt their courses to distance teaching must learn new skills in other to be effective (Beaudoin, 1990; Farr & Murphy, 1992). Knupfer (1992) contends that no matter how experienced faculty members were at teaching traditional classes, they quickly found that teaching a distance learning class was different. The increasing availability of effective technologies justifies investigating the level of faculty involvement and the challenges that are associated with using these technologies. This is important because some of these technologies are new to many institutions and faculty.

Diffusion Adoption Theory: The Characteristics of Innovation

Rogers (1995) developed a theory as to how innovations come to be widely adopted. He defined innovation as an idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption and that creates uncertainty and resistance in those affected by it. "Newness" in reference to an innovation does not refer to new knowledge, but to an idea, practice, or object about which the person has not yet developed favorable or unfavorable attitudes, nor adopted or rejected it. Distance learning technology has been around for some time, but some faculty members have yet to develop a favorable attitude toward using the technology or to entirely reject it. Rogers' theory of diffusion adoption of innovation suggests that the characteristics of an innovation affect the subsequent degree and rate of adoption. These characteristics are the following:

Relative Advantage is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as being better than the idea it superseded; compatibility is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as consistent with the existing value, past experiences, and needs of the potential adopter; complexity is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as easy to understand and use; triability of innovation is the degree to which an innovation might be used on a limited basis, or tested on a pilot basis, and observerbility is the degree to which the results of the innovation are visible. These characteristics of innovation according to Rogers, when given consideration by potential adopters, can reduce the chance of resistance.

This researcher reviewed literature related to issues that affect the use of distance learning in higher education. Several findings suggest that technology is making a substantial contribution to improved teaching and learning. Students learning at a distance performed as well as their counterparts receiving face-to-face classroom instruction. However, instructors in higher education continue to rely on traditional methods of delivery of instruction. Such reliance only on classroom teaching can not continue on the eve of the 21st century, when the population of non-traditional students is growing fast and people whose skills are no longer marketable are seeking access to new knowledge outside the traditional face-to-face classroom (Portway & Lane, 1994). These groups of prospective students can not all be on campus due to other responsibilities, and if the universities are to disseminate information and knowledge, they have the responsibility to reach students wherever they are and at a convenient time.

The technological innovations in the telecommunications industry have reduced the problem of teacher-student interaction. Distance learning technology can provide one-way audio and two-way video or simultaneously two-way audio and video. These developments have increased the interaction between instructor and students. In spite of these technological improvements, some instructors still resist distance teaching and the technology because of personal, technical, pedagogical, and institutional factors. Rogers (1995) asserts that for a new idea to be adopted, certain characteristics have to be in place. Some of these characteristics can be achieved through training, changes in the value system, information, and knowledge.

The Problem

The acceptance of distance learning technology is not automatic; much skepticism still remains in spite of its effectiveness (Holt, 1992). Larison (1995) in a study of faculty attitude toward the implementation of interactive television and computer-mediated conferences such as distance education media concluded that faculty resist distance learning technology. Several other researchers have concluded that the greatest challenges to implementing wide-spread distance learning programs are those faculty members who are uncomfortable with distance education and reluctant to embrace it (Dillon & Walsh, 1992; Farr, Murphy, & Flat, 1992; Parrott, 1995; Swalec, 1993). The reasons why faculty are uncomfortable or resistant to distance teaching are not made clear. It is, therefore, difficult to develop strategies to overcome the resistance if the reasons for instructor willingness or unwillingness to use these technologies are not understood.

Purpose of the Study

In this study I identify the variables or factors that contribute to faculty willingness or unwillingness to use interactive distance learning technologies in industrial and technical teacher education programs and investigate whether the characteristics of diffusion adoption of innovation (Rogers, 1995) were similar between users and non-users of distance learning technology. I will report efforts made by institutions sampled to encourage faculty to use distance learning technologies.

Methodology

The descriptive research method as described by Best and Kahn (1986) was used for this study because the purpose was to describe and interpret a given state of affairs as fully and carefully as possible. The study is concerned with conditions or relationships, opinions, processes, and effects or trends that are developing.

The design for the study was The Static Group Comparison (Campbell & Stanley, 1963).

X1   0
 
 
X2   0
The Static Group Comparison

This is a design in which a group who experiences a variable, X1 in this study (distance learning technology) is compared with a group who has not experienced the variable, X2 (non-use of distance learning technology).

Instrumentation

The instrument was a three part questionnaire modeled from a study of faculty attitudes and beliefs about the implementation of interactive television and computer-mediated conferencing as distance education media (Larison, 1995). It contained questions that revealed the beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and attributes of the respondents. Questions were designed for this specific study. Also, statements that reflected the characteristics of diffusion of innovation of a new idea outlined by Rogers (1995) were developed to determine whether the theory was related to the use of distance learning technology.

Part one of the survey contained statements reflecting the characteristics of innovation of technology and factors that may contribute to a faculty member's willingness or unwillingness to use distance learning technology. Responses to these statements were made on a four point Likert-type response scale with the following choices: Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree.

Part two of the questionnaire was designed to gather qualitative data. Open-ended questions provided an opportunity for the respondents' comments concerning their willingness or unwillingness to use distance learning technologies. Questions about how their institutions encouraged them to use distance learning technology were included.

Part three of the survey elicited demographic information designed to identify selected personal and professional characteristics of faculty members, that may have influenced their use or non-use of distance learning technology. The demographic variables were age, years of teaching experience, faculty rank, and academic qualifications.

Validity and Reliability of the Instrument

The instrument was reviewed by a panel of five experts to determine content and face validity. Members of the panel were selected based on their years of experience using distance learning technology. The panel included a Director of Independent and Correspondence Study, two members of the advisory committee of the Institute for Telecommunication, and two faculty members who use distance learning technology and have taught research for many years. The instruments were also pilot-tested by administering the survey to faculty members of the Department of Technical Education at Pittsburgh State University, Pittsburgh, Kansas. A response rate of 53.8 percent was received. Based on the pilot testing and the panel evaluation for face and content validity, questions that were considered misleading or ambiguous were modified or removed from the survey. Concerns related to consistency of the instrument were addressed by administering the survey to a group of instructors who teach technical and industrial education courses and use distance learning technology. Overall consistent data was obtained for the purpose of the study.

Data Collection

The population for the study was industrial and technical teacher education faculty from departments in institutions in the United States. A purposive sampling method was used to select the number of universities (Fraenkel & Wallen, 1990). The selection was also based on the faculty who were willing to participate in the study and work in an institution that has an Industrial and Technical Teacher Education Program. Initial contact with the Heads of Departments and Program Leaders was made through a telephone call. Subsequent contacts were made via e-mail and letters. All faculty members in the respective departments of universities selected for the study were contacted through their Heads of Department or Program Leaders. A survey and cover letter was mailed to each faculty member explaining the purpose of the study and ensuring confidentiality of the responses. Faculty members were provided with stamped self-addressed envelopes for their reply. The following universities participated in the study: California State University at Long Beach, The University of Georgia, Valdosta State University, University of Wisconsin-Stout Campus at Menomonie, The University of Tennessee, Northern Arizona University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, The Ohio State University, Kent State University, Idaho State University, Oklahoma State University, University of Missouri at Columbia, Louisiana State University, The Pennsylvania State University, University of Central Florida, University of Illinois-Champaign, Colorado State University, Texas A & M University, University of Arkansas, and University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Bell, 1997-98; Martinez & Sweger, 1996).

Data Analysis

I used the following descriptive statistics to analyze the data: frequencies, percentages, and Chi-square tests with alpha set at 0.05. The Chi-square test measured the relationship between use or non-use of distance learning technology and the variables of age, teaching experience, tenure, academic qualification, and the characteristics of innovation of new ideas (Rogers, 1995).

Frequencies and percentages were used to summarize agreement or disagreement with the statements relating to using or not using distance learning technology. Those respondents who neither agreed nor disagreed were considered non-respondents. The qualitative data from the open-ended questions were organized into categories relevant to the study and were coded based on the pattern of responses. Organizational arrangements of data are generally focused around categories relevant to an investigation. The data were coded and assigned to the categories with comments regarding the assignment (Stainback & Stainback, 1988). A narrative summary explaining some of the categories was included.

The sample for the study was drawn from 20 universities across the United States. A total of 179 faculty members were mailed surveys. Eighty-four of the surveys were returned, representing 47.0 percent. Five of the returned surveys were considered unusable while 79 of the surveys were used for analysis.

To what extent is distance learning technology utilized by Industrial and Technical Teacher Education faculty?

It was important to understand how many faculty members used the technology to deliver instruction, how many courses they taught, how often they taught, and what technology they used for the delivery of instruction.

The data showed that 63.1% (more than half) the respondents used a distance learning technology to deliver instruction at a remote site, while 35.4% (slightly more than a third) did not use distance learning technology. Almost one-third of the faculty members (30.3%) who used technology used it once a year, and about 20.2% (less than a third) used it every semester. The technologies most widely used were compressed video, by one-third of the faculty (30.4%) and computer-based technology (Internet and Web) used by 29.1% (slightly less than a third). Other technologies used were fiber-optic, satellite, microwave, and videotape.

What are the problems encountered by Industrial and Technical Teacher Education faculty in using distance learning technology for the delivery of instruction?

The data showed that 84.8% of the instructors (more than three-quarters) agreed that they had encountered problems with the equipment they used. They also agreed that they lacked the knowledge to handle some of the equipment. The fact that more than one person was sometimes involved in the production and delivery of courses created problems for 69.9% (more than half) of the faculty members. They were, however, in favor of technicians operating cameras and not instructors. Other problems faced by faculty members were lack of time to plan, difficulty interacting with students at remote sites, and coordination of activities at both on-campus and remote sites.

What are the reasons for some faculty members willingness to use distance learning technology for delivery of instruction?

Instructors who participate in the use of distance learning technology have reasons for doing so. The data showed that 63% (more than half the respondents) were willing to use the technology to improve their teaching skills. Based on the qualitative data, some faculty members who used the technology said they wanted to provide educational opportunities to prospective students in remote areas and also increase their program enrollment. Some said they were willing to use the technology because they are paid more for doing so.

What are the reasons for the unwillingness of some faculty to use distance learning technology for the delivery of instruction?

Several factors may account for a faculty member's unwillingness to use distance learning technology. The data showed that 63% (more than half) of the respondents agreed that it was difficult to do demonstrations while teaching. On the issue of encouragement, 86.1% of the instructors (more than three-quarters) said they would like to be encouraged rather than just assigned to teach a distance class. More than three-quarters of the respondents (88.6%) agreed that they lacked adequate information on the use of the technology. The importance of training was overwhelmingly supported by 94.9% (almost all faculty members) who believed that training was vital if they were to use the technology effectively. Almost all faculty members (96.2%) agreed that poor teaching skills were an obstacle to using distance learning technology. On the issue of incentive, 86% (more than three-quarters) of the respondents would like their institutions to provide more incentives for teaching a distance class and also to have a clear policy on the use of distance learning technology. Other problems identified from the open ended questions were unreliable equipment, faculty fear of change, and lack of involvement of faculty members' institutions during initial planning to implement distance learning.

To what extent are demographic variables and characteristics of innovation related to the use of distance learning technology?

The demographic information included age, years of teaching, academic rank, qualifications, and tenure. Additionally, faculty members were asked to indicate their level of agreement or disagreement to statements related to characteristics of diffusion and adoption of innovation including relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, triability, and observability. A Chi-square test determined the relationship between these variables and use or non-use of distance learning technology.

The analysis showed that age, teaching experience, qualification, and tenure are significantly related to the use of distance learning technology, while rank is not significantly related. Table 1 shows that faculty who use distance learning technology to deliver instruction were more likely (p=0.159) to be between the ages of 45-59 years, have 7-16 years of teaching experience (p=0.388) have a doctoral degree (p=0.106) and be tenured (p=0.075). Rank had no significant relationship to the use of distance learning technology.

Table 2 shows that faculty members were more likely (p=0.204) to use distance learning technology if they believe that using the technology was better than the traditional method (relative advantage); more likely (p=0.430) to use the distance technology if they perceive that the technology is consistent with their existing values, past experiences, and needs (compatibility); were more likely (p=0.993) to use distance learning technology if they find the technology less complicated and simpler to use (complexity); more likely (p=0.687) to use distance learning technology if they pilot test the technology before engaging in using it (triability); and more likely (p=.359) use distance learning technology if they see the results of using the technology as positive (observability).

Table 1
Relationship between use or nonuse of distance learning technology
and the variables age, teaching experience, qualification, rank, and tenure

Variables DF X2 P

Age 3 5.179 0.159
Teaching Experience 4 4.137 0.388
Rank 3 10.099 0.018
Qualification 2 4.496 0.106
Tenure 1 3.180 0.075

a = 0.05


Table 2
Relationship between use or nonuse of distance learning technology
and the characteristics of adoption of innovation

Char. Inn DF X2 P

Realtive Advantage 3 4.599 0.204
Compatibility 3 2.762 .0430
Complexity 2 0.15 0.993
Triability 2 0.750 0.687
Observability 3 3.220 0.359

a = 0.50

The data showed that the characteristics of adoption of new ideas, (mainly, relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, triability, and observability) that may influence a faculty member's utilization of distance learning technology were no different between users and non-users of the technology. Both groups acknowledge that these characteristics can influence the use of distance learning technology.

What have administrators at institutions that have Industrial and Technical Teacher Education Programs done to encourage faculty to use distance learning technology and to overcome resistance?

Some of the administrators at institutions where distance learning technology is used for delivery of instruction have done much to encourage faculty to participate in teaching a distance class. Efforts made by these institutions include providing training and staff development activities. They have also provided incentives in the form of recognition and stipends up to $3,000. Administrators have also allowed voluntary participation by faculty members and have provided all necessary support and resources.

Findings

Level of Utilization of Distance Learning Technology

More than half of the population studied (63 %) used one or more distance learning technologies to deliver instruction. Technologies that were used included compressed video, satellite, fiber-optics, videotape, microwave, and computer-based technology (Internet and web). Most faculty members taught between one and three courses per semester. Three-quarters (75.9%) of the faculty surveyed were willing to continue or have plans to use the technology in the future and about one-third (35%) of the respondents do not think that they will use the technology.

Problems Encountered in Using Distance Learning Technology

The most common problem faculty members encountered in using distance learning technology were (a) equipment failure during delivery of instruction, (b) work load not being adjusted to allow adequate time for planning and coordinating activities at remote sites, (c) the lack of student-teacher relationship and student-to-student interaction, (d) their role as technicians, and (e) problems with operating some of the equipment due to their lack of technical knowledge.

Reasons for Using Distance Learning Technology

Although some faculty members believed that their institutions do not consider distance teaching as a valuable educational contribution, some of them participated in teaching a distance class for the following reasons: to improve their teaching skills, provide current and prospective students with access to education, and increase the enrollment in their programs.

Reasons For Not Using Distance Learning Technology

Faculty members gave several reasons for their unwillingness to use distance learning technology. These include limited teaching skills, (which was complicated further by having to make demonstrations while teaching); lack of adequate information, and training in the use of technology; lack of institutional encouragement, support, and incentives; vague institutional policies on the use of distance learning technology; and lack of adequate time for planning.

Acceptance or Resistance Variables and the Characteristics of Diffusion Adoption of Innovation

The data indicated that the variables of age, teaching experience, qualification, tenure, and the characteristics of diffusion adoption of innovation of new ideas are significant in relation to the use of distance learning technology. There was no significant relationship between faculty rank and the use or non-use of distance learning technology.

Institutional Effort to Encourage Faculty to Use Distance Learning Technology

The administrators of institutions that were included in the study and used distance learning technology, have encouraged their faculty members to use the technology by providing substantial hours of training and professional development activities; providing administrative support, equipment, and resources (toll-free telephone, e-mail, fax, technical support staff); providing incentives such as recognition and monetary rewards ranging from $2,000 to $3,000; allowing faculty to participate voluntarily; and providing adequate time for instructor preparation and planning.

Discussion

Based on the results of the study, it is safe to say that the level of utilization among industrial and technical teachers sampled for this study is above average (63%). The percentage of users may likely increase considering those who said they would be willing to use the technology in the future. However, about one-third of the faculty members surveyed still resisted the use of distance learning technology. One may ask if all faculty members should use distance learning to teach a class? The important issue here is whether those who resist the use of the technology can be open to change.

The problems encountered by faculty members are obvious. Lack of properly functioning equipment causes frustration and subsequent dislike for the use of the technology. When there is equipment breakdown or loss of reception between sites, the lesson is disrupted. The preference by instructors that technicians operate all their equipment relates to the lack of technical training in the effective use of the distance learning technology. Most faculty members who use the technology agreed that they lacked adequate training to handle some of the equipment that they used.

Besides the technical problems that limit faculty members' participation in the use of distance learning technology, it is obvious that if their teaching skills are not improved before engaging in teaching a distance class, their challenges will be greater and their lack of skills made more transparent when teaching. This situation had kept some faculty members from participating.

Some institutions or departments do not consider teaching a distance class to be a valuable educational contribution for promotion, salary increases, and tenure. They also make it mandatory for instructors to teach a distance class, yet do not provide them with the necessary support and resources. The lack of encouragement made some faculty members resist teaching a distance class.

Some faculty members were confused about their institution's policy on the use of distance learning technology. They did not understand what the administrators of their institution wanted to achieve with the technology and how they wanted to achieve that. Until the policy is clear some faculty members would not participate.

Instructors' work is made more difficult because departments have not adjusted their workload to give them sufficient time for preparation and planning. Most faculty members who teach a distance class emphasized the importance of adequate planning and preparation as compared to face-to-face classroom teaching. When departments fail to take this into account, some faculty members will not teach a distance class if asked to do so.

The variables of age, tenure, qualification, and teaching experience are good indicators of who may be willing to participate. Administrators at institutions that were in the study should target their professional development effort toward younger faculty, those with limited teaching experience, and those who do not hold a terminal degree. Also, when the characteristics of the diffusion of adoption of innovation are considered by the administration, there is a higher chance of faculty members participation in the use of distance learning technology.

Several reasons have accounted for faculty members' use of distance learning technology. They have realized that the key to effective use of distance learning technology is improved teaching skills and techniques. Therefore, on a personal level, there was a desire on the part of instructors to improve their teaching skills.

Some instructors were willing to use distance learning technology to provide access to education because they are aware of declining enrollments in some of their programs, students' constraints, and the demand of today's workforce for training and retraining. Some faculty members were involved in teaching a distance class due to the shrinking budgets in their institutions and the need to reduce costs by reaching more students. One faculty member, for example, said that he reached several students in different states and in different locations. The total number of students served by a distance course might require more than one faculty if they were to be taught on campus.

Some administrators have encouraged faculty through training, reward, and recognition. Receiving adequate training on the technology they were expected to use will boost their confidence and reduced the chances of resistance to participation. Faculty members will try new technology if there is full support and encouragement from their institution and administrators.

Summary

Distance learning is not a replacement for the traditional face-to-face classroom teaching but an additional tool for instructors to reach students in distant places. Like all technology, distance learning technology has its own advantages and disadvantages. However, the success of its implementation rests on the willingness of faculty members to use the technology and the institutional support rendered to faculty.

Author

Ndahi is an Assistant Professor, Technology Education in the Department of Occupational and Technical Studies, Old Dominion University, Norflk, VA.

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