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Current Editor: Dr. Robert T. Howell  bhowell@fhsu.edu
Volume 40, Number 1
Fall 2002


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Identification of Distance Education Barriers for Trade and Industrial Teacher Education

Chris Zirkle
The Ohio State University

Numerous studies have addressed the status of career and technical teacher education programs in the United States (Zirkle, 1998). Bruening, Scanlon, Hodes, Dhital, Shao, and Liu (2001) noted an 11% decline in the number of institutions offering career and technical teacher education programs. Studies such as those by Camp (1998), Pucel and Flister (1997), Lynch (1996 & 1990), and Hartley, Mantle-Bromley, and Cobb (1996) have documented the consistent decline in the number of career and technical teacher education programs within institutions of higher education. Additionally, publications such as the Industrial Teacher Education Directory (Bell, 2001) have also specifically noted the decline of teacher preparation programs in trade and industrial education in postsecondary institutions.

In addition to the issue of teacher preparation for career and technical education teachers, another issue facing the profession is that of continuing education and professional development. Most states have requirements for renewal of teaching certificates/licenses. This is usually accomplished through additional coursework, customarily in the form of credit hours or continuing education units (CEU's). Trade and industrial education teachers have experienced difficulty in this area as well, as a result of the declining numbers of programs in postsecondary educational institutions. A high percentage of trade and industrial education teachers enter teacher certification through alternative programs that give weight to work experience and technical competence, but require professional development. When courses and other opportunities are not readily available, difficulties emerge for these individuals.

Distance education programs in trade and industrial education can offer potential solutions to the problems of teacher re-certification and professional development. These programs are more flexible with respect to course offerings and availability than traditional on-campus programs. In addition, specific distance education programs with a focus on trade and industrial education can alleviate issues such as those identified by Levesque, Lauen, Teitelbaum, Alt, and Librera (2000). Their study suggested a shortage of relevant professional development activities for trade and industrial education and other career and technical education teachers. These teachers were more inclined to look outside their own school districts for additional learning opportunities.

Distance Education: Part of the Solution?

Colleges and universities across the nation have faced several changes impacting the nature of courses and degree programs they offer. Ever-increasing competition for students and calls for improved "ease of access" have driven institutions to create innovative approaches to course delivery methodologies and degree requirements (Lewis, Snow, Farris, & Levin, 1999; Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2000). These studies also noted that students wanted to pursue degrees without relocating to retain their current employment or because of family responsibilities. Legislators and taxpayers have called for better quality and more accountability in postsecondary education. In response to these pressures, institutions are seeking to improve their educational programs with new information technology tools (Zirkle & Shoemaker, 1999).

Technology has changed the manner in which education is delivered. Students enrolled in distance education, through telecommunications technology, can have almost the same instructional contact and interaction as the student on campus (Galusha, 1998). These technological changes have also driven the growth of distance learning opportunities, as students who are "time bound" due to job or travel difficulties and cannot attend a class at a specific time, or "place-bound" due to geographic location, can now access courses and degree programs at their convenience. However, just as there are presently difficulties with attending and completing courses and programs in conventional settings, with the development of the Internet and other methodologies for distance learning, what are the barriers to accessing these courses and programs at a distance?

Distance Education: No Significant Difference?

In a study conducted on the effectiveness of distance education, Phipps and Merisotis (1999) found little original research in the area. In addition, they found issues with the research that had been conducted. Previous research has focused on individual courses, rather than entire degree programs. Previous research had also not examined why student persistence, i.e., the ability to complete courses and degree programs, is lower in distance education courses when compared with conventional methods and what reasons, or barriers, might be responsible. Previous research in this area had not examined the contributions of such areas as library access and the quality of the access to sophisticated technology.

Other research has explored the "no significant difference" phenomenon postulated by Phipps and Merisotis (1999). Gagne and Shepherd (2001), Schulman and Sims (1999) Smeaton and Keogh (1999), and Wade (1999) have found little difference between delivery modes. Instead, student success appeared to be more dependent on such variables as instructor availability, the design of instruction, interaction between and with other students, and effective communication between instructors and students.

Career and Technical Teacher Education and Distance Education: A Good Match?

Comprehensive nationwide statistics are not available specifically for postsecondary career and technical teacher education efforts at a distance (Wonacott, 2001). Bruening, Scanlon, Hodes, Dhital, Shao, and Liu (2001) found that nearly 65% of all institutions offering career and technical education teacher education programs utilized some type of distance delivery method on a regular basis. This data was not broken down by areas; hence, no specific data were available for trade and industrial education teacher education.

Studies specific to the use of distance methodologies in trade and industrial teacher education programs are quite sparse as well. Hudson, et al., (1997) described the use of the World Wide Web for the purpose of offering coursework for certification in Florida. Ndahi (1999) analyzed the use of distance learning technology among industrial and technical teacher education faculty. Zirkle (2000a) described a degree program for trade and industrial teachers delivered through multiple technology delivery modes. Trade and industrial education, along with many other disciplines, appears to suffer from what Phipps and Merisotis (1999) referred to as "a relative paucity of true, original research dedicated to explaining or predicting phenomena related to distance learning" (p. 2).

Institutional Access Barriers

The computer-based technologies that are driving the growth in distance education are so new that there is very little experience, much less systematic data, on which to assess future expectations (Gladieux & Swail, 1999; Hillsheim, 1998; Simonson, et al., 2000). While both secondary and postsecondary educational institutions have expressed an almost universal desire to explore, develop, and deliver distance education programs of various types, barriers to program implementation have been well documented. Garland (1993) and Yap (1996) listed several barriers impeding distance education efforts, including the following.

  • Lack of equipment and support
  • Scheduling
  • Resource availability
  • Program costs
  • Instructional concerns
  • Technical assistance

Distance education is a cost-intensive business (Hall, 1996; Lewis, et al., 1999; Zenger & Uehlein, 2001). The entry into, and on-going costs of, distance education are substantial. Institutions must make capital investments in computers, central servers and networks, technical assistance services, and continual software upgrades. These costs alone can be barriers for institutions wishing to engage in distance learning.

Scheduling satellite time for distance delivery, planning courses at times convenient for non-traditional learners, and having faculty available to teach at off-times can be another institutional barrier. Internet courses relieve much of the scheduling constraint, but are still time-intensive for the faculty.

Access to library and reference materials for a course can be a logistical problem (Garland, 1993). Additionally, the purchase of textbooks and related supplies for distance education students can be a difficulty, as many university bookstores are sole providers of specific course materials.

Program development and marketing are yet another institutional barrier. Course materials must be constructed to anticipate the learning problems of distance education students. Programs must be designed to meet the educational needs of a distance education student body that is much more diverse than the group of traditional on-campus students. Marketing the program to individuals can also be problematic, as students in remote areas may be unfamiliar with the institution offering distance education opportunities.

There are a myriad of instructional barriers. Faculty must be adequately trained to deliver instruction at a distance, and continual professional development must be offered to faculty in order to keep up with technological change. Reliable and effective training for online instructors may be a scarce resource (Ko & Rossen, 2001). Some course content (specific skill development, for example) may not lend itself to distance instruction. Continual professional development must be offered to faculty in order to keep up with technological change. As with program development, courses and resulting coursework must be designed to meet the needs of distance learners, many of whom have unique learning styles and situations.

Technical assistance is the last institutional barrier identified by Yap (1996). Related to program costs, the need for an effective technical assistance network cannot be overstated (Kiser, 1999). Students who experience frustration with satellite feeds, Internet access, or other problems unique to distance education will not be tolerant for long, and will seek educational opportunity elsewhere. A consistent, reliable network of technical assistance should be in place at the start of any institution's distance education effort, and should be periodically evaluated to ensure ongoing effectiveness.

Student Access Barriers

Galusha (1998) categorized access barriers experienced by students in distance education as follows.

  • Costs and motivators
  • Feedback and teacher contact
  • Student support and services
  • Alienation and isolation
  • Lack of experience/training

Knapper (1988) found that distance education students are more likely to have insecurities about learning. Issues of financial cost, disruption of family life, and a lack of employer support were found to contribute to higher dropout rates than those for traditional on-campus students (Laube, 1992; Phipps & Merisotis, 1999; Sweet, 1986).

A lack of feedback and teacher contact is a common barrier. Hillesheim (1998) cited overcoming this issue as essential to student success in distance programs. Lack of eye-to-eye contact, limitations on learning activities, and the need for an appropriate response time to student queries has also been identified (Zirkle & Ourand, 1999).

Student services and support involves tutors, advisors, and the availability of technical assistance. Many institutions lack the technological infrastructure to support distance education (Lewis, Farris, & Alexander, 1997). The distance education explosion has created enrollment surges in some postsecondary institutions (Lewis, et al., 1999), which have been unprepared to address technical support issues.

Distance education limits the extent to which students can reflectively engage in conversation with their classmates. The social interaction that is part of the traditional campus is largely missing from distance education courses. This isolation may result in the feeling that the student does not belong to a scholarly community, and this may lead to retention problems (Fast, 1995; Galusha, 1998; Zielinski, 2000).

A lack of student training can be another access barrier. Many students, especially older adults, may not be well versed in the uses of technology. Students are offered course information in an electronic-based format. They must know how to manage this data, in addition to managing their study time (Phipps & Merisotis, 1999).

Statement of the Problem

Many distance education students are non-traditional learners: single parents, transfer students, older adults seeking job skill updates or seeking to make a career change, and students returning to college after a long absence (Schuemer, 1993). In addition, most of these students are place-bound and/or time-bound. They are unable to attend class on-campus at scheduled times. Through innovative delivery methods, distance education programs attempt to meet the academic and learning needs of these individuals. However, the attrition rate of these students can be significant. Many begin a program with specific goals and intentions, and do not remain enrolled. It is the researcher's contention that distance education students experience many of the aforementioned access barriers and are unable to continue their studies. Many trade and industrial educators are constrained by these same barriers and yet are interested in, or required to, pursue courses and degrees. However, information and data relative to these access barriers is sparse and inconclusive, especially as to how it relates to this group. This problem, a lack of accurate information regarding access barriers to distance education courses/programs, is the focus of this research.

Purpose and Objectives

The purpose of this research was to analyze the perceptions of students enrolled in a trade and industrial teacher education program relative to access barriers they have experienced while enrolled in distance education courses. The research explored and described these various barriers and sought to categorize them thematically, for the further purpose of recommending solutions.

Specifically, the objectives for this research were as follows.

  1. Determine what types of access barriers (institutional or individual student) exist with respect to students enrolled in distance education programs.
  2. Categorize and rank order these barriers.
  3. Identify potential causes for these barriers.
  4. Recommend possible solutions.

Methodology

The study relied on a combined e-mail and mail questionnaire to generate data for analysis. When an active e-mail address was known, students were e-mailed a copy of the questionnaire and asked to respond via e-mail, fax, or by mail submission within one week of receipt. When an e-mail address was unknown, students were mailed a copy; and a response was requested. After two weeks, non-respondents were contacted by phone or e-mail and sent a second mailing in an attempt to ensure participation. No attempt was made to contact non-respondents after the second communication.

Previous studies that addressed access barriers to distance education served as sources of information for the construction of the questionnaire (Galusha, 1998; Gladieux & Swail, 1999; Hillesheim, 1998; Hsu & Sammons, 1998; Yap, 1996). Previous questionnaires developed by the university and distributed to distance students also served as a source for potential questionnaire content.

Subject Selection

The setting for this study was a state supported Midwestern university with an enrollment of approximately 11,000 students. Due in part to its relative geographic isolation from major metropolitan areas, the university had developed an emphasis on distance education, offering a wide variety of programs and courses through various distance delivery methods, such as the Internet (Web-based), videotape, two-way interactive (compressed) video, and correspondence courses (print media). These programs ranged from degree programs in business administration and community health to certificate programs in criminology and public administration.

Participants in this study were majors in the degree area of trade and industrial teacher education at the associate, bachelor's, and master's degree levels. The degree program is designed to prepare individuals to teach a variety of technical subjects in various settings in K-12 and postsecondary education institutions, and to provide professional development activities for those individuals presently teaching. Enrollment in the department for fall 2000 was approximately 270 students enrolled part-time and full-time in the three different majors at the associate, baccalaureate, and master's levels. It is estimated that 90% of these students had taken at least one course with a distance delivery method. The degree program in trade and industrial teacher education is unique, in that it is available completely via distance education. To this point, there has been little or no research conducted at the departmental level to determine what barriers to course and program access exist. Two short surveys of student satisfaction sponsored by the university were conducted to obtain general demographic information about distance students.

A mailing list for the trade and industrial teacher education majors was developed with clerical assistance in the department. From the population of 270 students, a purposive sample (Fraenkel & Wallen, 2000) of 76 students in the major of trade and industrial education was identified; and each was sent a questionnaire. Of these 76 students, seven were pursuing a master's degree and 69 were seeking a baccalaureate degree.

Limitations on Subject Selection

  1. The study was limited to one university's trade and industrial teacher education majors; thus the results of this study may be limited to this group.
  2. The data collected was limited to those students enrolled during the academic year 2000-2001.

Research Instrument

The research instrument consisted of the following three sections.

  1. Demographic information (to determine information such as educational attainment, degree program, work status, etc.)
  2. Statements related to the perception of access barriers to distance education, utilizing a Likert-type ranking system.
  3. Open-ended questions, for the purpose of elaboration on identified access barriers.

Statements on the questionnaire described known access barriers and asked respondents to rank these in order of impact on their distance education experience. Barrier categories were broadly classified around the individual student themes identified by Galusha (1998) and the institutional access barriers identified by Yap (1996). The questionnaire used a modified four-point Likert-type ranking. Respondents were asked to rank their perceptions of the impact of selected barriers on their ability to pursue courses and/or degrees via distance learning with the following scale: 0 - no impact, 1 - minor impact (was a barrier on selected occasions), 2 - moderate impact (was a barrier on several occasions), or 3 - major impact (was a consistent barrier).

After each question, an open-ended question was posed, "Can you add any further information about this barrier?" In addition, at the end of the section regarding access barriers, students were asked, "Can you identify any additional barriers you have experienced that are not listed on this questionnaire?"

If each item on a questionnaire had multiple choices, such as a Likert-type scale, then Cronbach's Alpha was the method of choice to determine inter-item reliability (Gloeckner, Gliner, Tocterman & Morgan, as cited in Farmer & Rojewski, 2001). Using the Likert-type questionnaire and the data from this study, Cronbach's Alpha was calculated at .857.

Instrument Validity

The research instrument was examined for face validity by a panel of experts. Three tenured faculty members experienced in distance delivery were part of the panel, as was the dean who had administrative oversight of the university's distance education effort. Comments and suggestions for change were solicited and incorporated into the questionnaire where appropriate.

Data Analysis

Data were analyzed in the following three ways.

  1. Demographic data was summarized according to gender, age, marital status, educational level, and occupational status.
  2. Responses to the Likert-type questions were input into the statistical package SPSS and analyzed through basic measures of central tendency.
  3. Responses to the open-ended questions were summarized qualitatively and examined for themes, specific data, and other information.

Results

Demographic Information

Of the 76 students surveyed, 60 returned a completed questionnaire, for a return rate of 78.9%. All of the returned questionnaires were deemed usable, with no missing information. Of the 60 mailed questionnaires, 51 (67.1%) were returned after the initial mailing, with 9 (11.8%) additional questionnaires received after a second mailing. Responses were received from 38 (63.3%) males and 22 (36.7%) females.

A total of 36 (60%) of the respondents were between the ages of 32-45, and 24 (40%) had previously earned an associate degree. Of those responding, 38 (63.3%) indicated the pursuit of a bachelor's degree as the primary reason for enrolling in a distance education program. Of the 60 students responding, 56 (93.3%) were pursuing the baccalaureate degree, with only four enrolled in a master's program. Two-thirds (40 respondents) indicated they worked 40 hours or more per week, and 44 (73.3%) of those returning a questionnaire indicated their employment status as professional/technical or managerial. Only one respondent indicated a lack of employment.

Access Barriers

Institutional Access Barriers

With respect to institutional access barriers, one specific barrier was predominant (see Table 1).

Table 1
Mean Scores for Institutional Access Barriers

  M SD

Sufficient numbers of courses in other areas (general education, etc.) scheduled each semester 2.57 .49
Library access to get resources for class 1.87 .92
Ongoing advising-availability of advice on course requirements, availability, etc. 1.67 .83
Technical assistance for problem-solving technology/computer-based issues 1.64 .88
Sufficient numbers of courses scheduled in your major each semester 1.23 .91
Student support services-help with initial advising, admissions, financial aid, etc. 1.17 .91
Availability of required classroom materials (textbooks, etc,) .833 .83
Instructor availability-ease with which you were able to contact an instructor to discuss course concerns .833 .84
Ongoing university contact after initial admission (awareness of campus activities and opportunities, etc.) .800 .61
Cost of tuition .733 .93
Registration issues-the ease with which you were able to register for classes .600 .96
Ease of obtaining grades, transcripts, and other course-related records .500 .85

The availability of general education courses, such as those found in arts and sciences and the humanities, and a university requirement for graduation, was ranked the highest (M = 2.57). In the open-ended comments section, many students specifically mentioned difficulties in scheduling these types of courses. Responses to the open-ended question regarding this barrier elicited the following additional information.

  1. The general education courses I need are not available.
  2. General education courses were not available.
  3. The only major barrier up to this point is the poor availability of distance education general education classes.
  4. Lack of general education classes is a major problem.
  5. It is difficult to find required courses in general education at a distance.

A barrier of moderate impact was that of library access to get resources for class (M = 1.87). While the courses themselves appeared accessible, students perceived library materials as not always available; or they were uncertain as to how to obtain these resources. Open-ended responses included the following.

  1. On occasion, books were late or not available.
  2. I just never know where to find reference materials for class.

An additional institutional barrier was mentioned specifically and had minor to moderate effects on most respondents. The issue of ongoing advising (M = 1.67) was compounded by distance factors. Students repeatedly expressed frustration over inability to contact instructors or getting phone calls returned. Open-ended responses on this barrier were as follows.

  1. I have one instructor who never returns calls, which makes it difficult to get clarification on assignments.
  2. Contacting my advisor has been difficult. He does not return calls or e-mails.
  3. Instructor availability depends on individual instructors. My advisor has changed several times.
  4. The greatest single barrier I have faced is the lack of guidance from advisors. At times I have seriously considered quitting the program due to this lack of guidance.
  5. I was poorly advised in the general education area, and now have to take 15 more hours of general education just to graduate.

Technical assistance for problem-solving technology or computer-based issues was also listed as a potential barrier (M = 1.64). While the university has a toll-free technical support line available, many students perceived a lack of effectiveness and consistency with the system. Comments included the following.

  1. There is a lack of sound technical advice.
  2. The server crashed several times, and tech support wasn't helpful at all.
  3. I had great difficulty logging into the university course site and getting help.

Some areas did not appear to be of concern to students. Most notably, class registration (M = .600) and the ease of obtaining grades, transcripts and other course-related records (M = .500), were two areas in which students did not list specific problems.

Student Access Barriers

Job conflict was the most highly-ranked (M = 2.11) student-related barrier (see Table 2). In open-ended comments, many students mentioned the competing interests of their full-time job and the requirements of the classes they were taking. On the open-ended question, students made the following comments.

  1. I work a rotating shift, which causes me to work nights. I have a problem keeping focused and up to date with assignments.
  2. The biggest barrier is time.
Table 2
Mean Scores for Student Access Barriers

  M SD

Job conflict-the extent to which the demands of your job conflicted with your courses 2.11 .86
Family constraints (lack of support from family, time issues) 1.73 .71
Isolation from other learners/lack of opportunity for interaction with other students 1.67 .89
Interaction with instructor regarding basic course issues 1.07 .95
Feedback/instructor contact regarding performance/grading in the course .933 .70
Clarity of assignments for distance learning .933 .78
Your computer skill level .933 .90
Internet service provider quality .866 1.04
The computer equipment you had access to for use in the courses .733 .93
Applicability of courses to career goals-were the courses relevant to your perceived needs? .667 .83
Employer support (the level to which your employer gave any type of support-financial, time off, etc.) .633 .93
Your financial situation (ability to pay for classes and course materials) .600 .99
Your ability to utilize the course software .367 .60

In contrast to job conflict was employer support. This barrier category asked respondents to rank their perceptions related to the level of support (financial support, time off from work, etc.). Respondents did not rank this barrier highly (M = .633). Second to job conflict was family constraints (M = 1.73). This barrier addressed the issue of family support and time conflicts. Respondents made observations such as the following.

  1. The distance learner has to gain the understanding of family members when working 40 or more hours a week and then wanting more time away for schooling. This can be an area of conflict in the best of relationships.
  2. I am a single parent. The only time I have to access courses is late at night after my children have gone to bed.

Isolation from other learners and the lack of opportunity for interaction with other class members was also mentioned as having an impact (M = 1.67). This theme was evidenced by responses such as the following.

  1. It is difficult to feel connected with classes.
  2. I'm a student, too. But sometimes, since I'm not there on campus, I feel like I'm not as important to my instructor.
  3. There are a lot of knowledgeable people in my classes. The instructors need to find ways to tap into that knowledge.

Student access barriers related to personal technical competence did not rank high. Computer skill level, computer equipment available for student use, Internet service provider capabilities, and the ability to utilize course software all received rankings less than one on the given Likert-type scale.

Finally, while cost and financial issues have been predominately mentioned in other studies, respondents in this study did not perceive either cost of tuition as a significant institutional barrier (M = .733), or individual financial situation (M = .600) as a highly ranked student barrier. Comments in this area included the following.

  1. My employer provides 100% tuition reimbursement.
  2. I would not be in a degree program except for the fact I am receiving tuition reimbursement through my employer.

Findings and Conclusions

The data collected and the resulting findings from this study are from a single educational institution. Therefore, the results may not be generalizable to a wider population. However, this single study is a first step in developing research specifically tied to the utilization of distance education in trade and industrial teacher education programs and may yield useful information for those interested in increasing the accessibility of these programs.

First, it would appear that with respect to implementing distance education programs, there is a disparity between the number of departmental course offerings and those of other departments offering general education courses such as algebra, technical writing, and other arts and science-related courses required by the university for graduation. Students perceived a much greater difficulty in accessing these general education courses than those offered in the chosen major. This finding may be partially explained by the fact that the department was the first one in this institution to fully operationalize courses and degree offerings, ostensibly without complete cooperative agreements with other departments on campus.

While it appears that certain university functions, such as registration and records, are relatively unaffected by the influx of distance education students, other areas such as library access do not share this characteristic. Again, a possible explanation may be that course and program offerings were developed before appropriate support structures were in place. Additionally, the level of technical support given to students at a distance is also perceived as somewhat inadequate. The university, being located in a small metropolitan area, may be unable to attract sufficient numbers of information technology specialists to staff the technical support area.

Student advising appeared to be a barrier of concern for distance students. Most students have not held a face-to-face conversation with an advisor; and it has led some students to feel, as one stated, "I'm a student, too. But sometimes, since I'm not there on campus, I feel like I'm not as important to my advisor." This adds to the sense of isolation identified by other researchers (Fast, 1995; Galusha, 1998; Zielinski, 2000). A potential cause for this barrier may be the issue of time. Teaching courses at a distance places significant demands on an instructor's time (Ndahi, 1999; Simonson, et al., 2000; Zirkle, 1999).

Job conflicts and family constraints were the top student access barriers. This is consistent with the findings of other distance education research (Laube, 1992; Phipps & Merisotis, 1999; Sweet, 1986). Most of the respondents in the study were older than traditional on-campus students, were working full time, and had positions of responsibility in their respective organizations. Many indicated significant family responsibilities. All of these student characteristics would have an impact on the accessibility to courses and degree programs.

In addition to feeling isolated from their advisor, many students appear to be struggling with, and are frustrated by, the barrier of isolation from other learners. This finding also reflects previous research (Fast, 1995; Galusha, 1998; Zielinski, 2000).

Somewhat uncharacteristic of older, non-traditional learners, respondents in this study did not express particularly high barrier rankings relative to computer technology. While they did indicate some problems with the available technical support, they perceived their own skills, equipment, and interaction with the course software not to be a significant issue. With so many of the respondents working full-time, they may utilize computers and technology daily; and thus may be comfortable with it.

Financial barriers also did not seem to affect the participants in this study to a great degree. Again, with many of the respondents working full-time, several indicated they received partial or full tuition reimbursement for successful completion of a course. So, neither the actual cost of tuition nor the out-of-pocket expense for coursework was a highly ranked barrier.

Perhaps one surprising finding of this study was the relative lack of barriers perceived by the study respondents, especially toward their own student barriers. As stated prior, most of the respondents were older and reported themselves as fully employed, with over 70% indicating employment in professional/technical or managerial areas. Older adult learners are generally self-directed and have clear goals for their educational efforts (Cross, 1981). These characteristics may help explain this lack of significant student barriers.

Implications and Recommendations

With respect to the data collected by the research and the conclusions reached, the following recommendations appear warranted.

  1. Better coordination of course offerings, specifically in the area of general education, should be implemented. It does little good for one university department/program to offer courses leading to a degree at a distance if other university requirements cannot be appropriately completed. Some universities have solved this barrier by offering financial incentives for distance course development (G. Miller, personal communication, January 28, 2002).
  2. Library systems should match the technological accessibility of the courses themselves. Students unable to access instructor-required materials through the library will grow increasingly frustrated. This logistical issue can lead to significant student frustration (Garland, 1993). Having specific individuals in the library designated to address distance students' needs is one way to address this barrier.
  3. Instructors should be sensitive to the advising needs of distance education students. Students who have an instructor they have never met may be less likely to receive an appropriate level of advising. On-line office hours or chat sessions may be one avenue to address this issue.
  4. Competent technical support should be a priority, and institutions must insure its effectiveness (Kiser, 1999). Distance education students, many of whom are non-traditional, older, and may be returning to school after a long absence, are likely to have significant technical support needs (L. Jensen, personal communication, January 29, 2002).
  5. Instructors should recognize the job responsibilities and issues faced by distance education students, many of whom work fulltime and may have a different set of constraints than traditional, on-campus students. Making course assignments as relevant to the student's present job may be an appropriate strategy.
  6. Instructors should also be sensitive to family constraints experienced by distance education students. Many students are married; others are single parents; and most have family issues not shared by younger, more traditional students.
  7. Instructors should seek out mechanisms for decreasing the amount of isolation perceived by distance students (Ko & Rossen, 2001). Chat sessions, discussion boards, or perhaps having the instructor travel to an off-campus location convenient for distance students are recommended.
  8. In order to provide better coordination of advising and course offerings, a cohort approach should be considered, where students enter the distance education program at a specified point, and continue through in a specified manner, as an intact group. This may eliminate some of the concerns associated with a lack of advising assistance and course availability.

While limited to one institution, the findings of this study may have broader implications, especially for those colleges and universities seeking to utilize distance education to provide some or all aspects of trade and industrial education teacher education.

First, the advising issue may be significant. Teacher education and certification requirements are fairly prescriptive in nature. Preservice teachers must take well-defined paths in order to complete programs. A lack of competent advising could be problematic.

Second, many teaching skills are performance-based. At a distance, it is still relatively difficult for instructors to assess these skills. While students can provide videotapes and these can be placed on the Internet for viewing, at present these skills are best assessed in person, in a live teaching situation. Some skills, such as those psychomotor skills found in many trade and industrial education programs, can be very difficult to teach at a distance (Zirkle, 2000b).

Third, as found by Lewis (2000), one of the pressing needs of career and technical education is to prepare instructors to use information technology to enhance instruction and to develop the ability to deliver career and technical education through distance education. Preparation programs in career and technical education, and specifically trade and industrial education, should include exposure and preparation in distance education methodologies in order for these instructors to conduct distance education courses themselves. Despite apparent barriers, efforts to offer courses and degree options should be continued.

Fourth, as evidenced by the literature review conducted as part of this research, there is a relative shortage of research in distance education, specifically with respect to research focused on entire degree programs such as the one described in this study. With much of the previous research in distance education focused on individual courses (Phipps & Merisotis, 1999), this study is a first step in examining barriers perceived by students as they pursue career and technical teacher education degrees entirely at a distance.

References

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Zirkle is Assistant Professor in the College of Education at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Zirkle can be reached at zirkle.6@osu.edu.


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