University Distance Education Plan
West Chester University of Pennsylvania
Report of the Distance Education Task Force
Vision of the University for Distance Education
As a concept and as an educational delivery system, distance education has been embraced by West Chester University because of its compatibility with the mission and values of the University. The West Chester University Mission Statement states that "West Chester University offers men and women the opportunity to achieve a higher education and to prepare for careers in an evolving, complex technological, global society. Toward these ends, the University is advancing in new areas of higher education while maintaining a commitment to excellence in programs of long tradition . . ." Further, the West Chester University Values Statement affirms that "As a university owned by the citizens of Pennsylvania, we value our mission to provide the best educational opportunities possible which will enable the University community to successfully address the concerns of a global society." Initiative 4. of WCU2000, the University’s strategic planning document, states that "West Chester University will continue to integrate and enhance its technology base into the learning environment and increase accessibility to this technology for all University constituents." The initiative speaks also to the acquisition and support of new technology to facilitate distance learning and the need to provide training in new technology for administration, faculty, staff, and students.
West Chester University has developed and will continue to develop programs of distance education to increase accessibility of its teaching mission to students who live at a distance and to students who are well-served educationally by distance education programs. Continuity and quality in the presentation of material are essential elements of any distance education effort. The University community recognizes and appreciates that certain knowledge domains are effectively and efficiently taught and learned via distance education. Also, there is recognition and appreciation that distance education technologies may supplement traditional approaches to teaching and learning and, in particular, may enhance interpersonal communication between professors and students. Conversely, it is recognized that distance education is not an effective and efficient educational delivery system for all domains of knowledge. In a fundamental sense, the same quality controls of class size, hours of "live" professorial contact, and class
opportunities for question, answer, and discussion that apply to on-campus courses must be maintained in distance education courses.
The hallmarks of a proficient distance education program are functional technology, sound pedagogy, and quality student learning. While cost-reduction and cost-containment are always desirable goals, distance education at its present state of development may or may not achieve these goals. The overarching reason for
implementing distance education is to provide traditional and nontraditional students accessibility to educational programs of high quality; to make it possible for new learners
to become involved in educational programs of a university; to contribute to the educational and training needs of business, industry, community agencies, and educational institutions; and to transfer useful byproducts of distance education programs
to traditional educational delivery systems. West Chester University seeks to fashion and develop educational efforts, which are consistent with these hallmarks, essential elements, and goals.
Finally, West Chester University affirms that the granting of academic degrees is a university function and prerogative. This condition is unaltered by the possibilities of distance education. While the University will cooperate with other universities in distance education efforts which may or may not facilitate completion of undergraduate or graduate degrees, West Chester University will respect the authority of individual institutions of higher education to grant academic degrees.
Distance Education Mission of the University
West Chester University’s initial endeavor to provide education at a distant site dates to 1994-95. Since that year, a master’s-degree program in communicative disorders has been delivered each semester via videoconferencing to groups of graduate students in New Jersey. Interactive video technology has made it possible for the class in New Jersey to participate directly with the students and professor in the same class on-campus in West Chester. Beginning in 1998-99, the technology was extended to include students at the Dixon University Center in Harrisburg. With the exception of required clinical experiences that are taken on-campus during summers, the entire program leading to the M. S. in Communicative Disorders is available via regularly scheduled videoconference courses.
West Chester University is a participant in the State System of Higher Education Virtual University (VU) Grant for the period 1997 through 2000. In cooperation with Millersville and Shippensburg Universities, West Chester University has offered web-based courses for undergraduate and graduate students.
In addition to these efforts, University faculty have developed a number of technology-oriented undergraduate and graduate courses. These courses, which include web-based course materials and assignments, are reported to the SSHE Center of Distance Education on an annual basis.
Goals and Objectives for Distance Education
The essential goals for distance education at West Chester University include:
Four objectives guide distance education efforts and programs:
Enhance Quality of Education
The primary objective for distance educators must be to provide high-quality educational experience for students in order to develop independent and self-reliant learners. The "new media" technologies also offer educators the opportunity to have their students experience a greater amount and variety of primary learning materials and to have their students connect with more resources/people than ever before. In addition, distance education technologies allow educators to adopt a model of education that puts the student in the center of the learning experience. Generally, the current model of education places the service or the institution itself at the center of the learning process, and the students must move from place to place or person to person. Distance education gives students greater control over the rate of learning, the time of learning, the place of learning, and access to supplemental materials.
Distance education serves a population of students whose life circumstances do not allow them to participate in the traditional classroom experience. Students who might otherwise not be able to attend West Chester University (or any other institution of higher education) because of personal, job-related, and time and distance constraints can participate in course offerings through distance education. Moreover, distance education technologies allow for a greater number of people to pursue a degree of certificate.
Increase Understanding and Knowledge
Distance education technologies allow for dramatic and substantial changes in the traditional educational environment. The University must work to use these technologies in appropriate ways and to familiarize faculty, students, and staff with the benefits and
limitations of distance education. Faculty and students do express concerns with distance education technologies. Some students may not be suited to methods of distance
education which require a self-disciplined learner. Also, students who are willing to try new methods of learning offered by distance education may be uneasy about how they will react to a "television" teacher or unsure of whether they have the needed computing skills. Changes in administrative procedures will be necessary. The university will have
to prepare fiscal affairs, student support, registration, and other service areas for changes that will be necessary.
Optimize Management of University Resources
West Chester University has already demonstrated a successful innovation in the use of technology to improve the student registration process. Additional levels of efficiency and innovative resource management can and will be achieved by use of appropriate technology. Distance education programs have been and must continue to be managed efficiently and with consideration of the reality that the University must operate with limited resources.
Develop Appropriate and Flexible Infrastructure
Distance education must be considered with both administrative and academic planning efforts. Flexibility and openness in planning are critical to the success of distance education at West Chester University. The flexibility to respond to constantly changing conditions must permeate all aspect of the development of distance education policies and practices. A number of traditional concepts of higher education-semester registration periods, in- and out-of-state tuition policies, faculty office hours, scheduled class meetings, etc.-must be conceptualized to accommodate learners who study within an environment of technology. Further, the planning for distance education must be integrated into a wider scope of considerations. The new technologies depend upon networks that exist outside the university. West Chester University will and must rely
upon regional, statewide, national and international networks. Because of the accelerated rate of technological change, different methods of teaching and delivery will be required for distance education. Initially, West Chester University will develop a wide range of distance education technologies in order to adapt quickly to changes in student demands for courses and programs.
Policy for Managing Distance Education
Article 42 of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) defines policy for the management of distance education at West Chester University.
than when faculty member(s) and student(s) are physically present in the same classroom.
interact with the faculty member(s) (e. g. site visits, voice mailboxes, e-mail, fax, and other technological methods of communication).
Integrating Distance Education into the Curriculum
Survey results indicate that while many academic departments are considering integration of distance education into their curricular offering, five departments have identified courses and target audiences. The Department of English is planning an undergraduate course in business and technical writing to be offered to employees of local businesses. Both the Departments of Health and Nursing have interest in offering courses for community professionals. The Department of Chemistry is considering development of a distance education course in chemical information for K-12 science teachers in public and private schools. Finally, the Department of Accounting is considering delivery of an undergraduate degree program in accounting for a population of students who cannot attend classes during the day or evening.
West Chester University continues to participate as a member of the SSHE Virtual University (VU) Grant (Distance Education Mission of the University). As a result of this involvement in distance education, the following projects have been identified as possible future efforts to integrate distance education into the curriculum:
Integrating Distance Education into Support Services
Integration of distance education into student service areas has many interesting possibilities. There are a number of office/departments on campus where integration not
only makes good business sense but where the efficiency of the operation can be improved. Several factors may inhibit the ability to connect these services with the existing technology. One potential obstacle is the current implementation of the People Soft program. This has been and continues to be a time-consuming transition, which does not currently lend itself to implementation of new programs and services. Additionally, without new sources of funding and/or support it will be difficult to move forward with the integration of distance education into support services
The service areas/departments identified and the potential on-line integration links include:
Many of these areas currently have web-based pages to provide information. The integration into an overall campus-wide distance education program would provide the vehicle for a coordinated system.
Technologies to be used for Distance Education
West Chester University faculty use the web to deliver course-related content. Those who are comfortable with html and web page technology use the "self-serve" course server that is managed by Academic Computing Services. Faculty needing technical assistance work with one-on-one trainers and the Web Information Office. At present, additional server hardware to manage new distance education courses is being purchased. Also, a new Instructional Technology Training Program is being developed for West Chester University Faculty. In this new training program, faculty will have the opportunity to learn about the latest Instructional Technology software and hardware. Also, distance Education web-based software package training will be included in this training program. ATM and ISDN technologies are used for video conferencing courses. Web-based software packages used include Topclass and WebCT.
WCU is attached to the SSHE Wide Area Video Conferencing Initiative. When fully, implemented, the initiative will provide up to 75 simultaneous video conferences which will be available constantly for use by the university community to communicate with other SSHE universities and external institutions, agencies, and clients.
Collaborating with Other Organizations
In addition to offering distance education courses as a member of the SSHE Virtual University, West Chester University has and will collaborate with other universities, including State System universities, in offering distance education courses. The Interactive Collaborative Teaching Project is a combined effort of two faculty members. The Campus Wide Information system at WCU provides the university community with a completely new medium for communication and public relations. This new service provides the university with one central resource and location for all vital campus information and the connectivity to the Internet.
Having a presence on the Internet is becoming a major tool for communication, public relations, teaching, and transacting business for educational and governmental
institutions. With more and more college students tapping into the Internet, this medium is quickly becoming an avenue by which students seek information for course-related and individual research. Currently, WCU maintains over 12, 000 e-mail accounts. A number of faculty members have developed prototype courses in which all papers and other assignments are handled entirely via the electronic mail system. Some professors are using an all-electronic set of examinations. It is anticipated that these efforts will increase significantly in the future.
Despite the progress that has been made, opportunities of capitalizing on the advantages inherent in distance education have not been completely realized at West Chester University. Encouragement will be given to every academic department to identify new student populations that ordinarily would be unable to enroll for on-campus courses and programs. Aside from the obvious features of need, quality, and relevancy, the success of distance education ventures can be expected to be driven largely by the convenience it affords the student.
Service delivery should consider a full array of possibilities including degree programs, specialized courses necessary to remain current in one’s field or for maintaining or acquiring professional certification or other mandated credentials, and special certificate programs.
These kinds of offerings warrant consideration for collaboration with the following entities both within and outside of Pennsylvania:
Commitment of the University to the Long-Term Successful Use of Distance Education
Commitment to distance education is in evidence at West Chester University.
This institutional commitment includes involvement in the SSHE Virtual University, the SSHE Wide Area Video Conferencing Initiative, development of a number of web-based courses, and delivery of a master’s-degree program in Communicative Disorders via video conferencing. Financial commitments have been made for necessary equipment,
software and hardware, and training of faculty. The institutional budget and grant funding have supported upgrading of equipment. In the future, commitment to the long-term use of distance education will be evidenced in additional programs and courses which make use of web-based technology and video technology. Institutional support of both telecommunications and personnel costs will continue to be made. Grant funding and contacts with community agencies, businesses, and public and private schools will also support distance education. The decision to appoint a Vice President for Information
Services provides additional evidence of the commitment of West Chester University to distance education.
Assessment of Educational Outcomes and the Technologies Used to Achieve the Outcomes
Since West Chester University’s plan for distance education will include both individual courses and complete programs of study at the undergraduate and graduate levels, assessment of educational outcomes and assessment of the technologies used will be designed and implemented by the faculty most directly associated with a course or
program. Assessments of distance education efforts will, however, be part of the University’s comprehensive and systematic assessment of learning outcomes. (Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States, Framework for Outcomes Assessment; Board of Governors Policy 1997-01, Assessing Student Learning Outcomes)
Planned assessment of the educational outcomes of distance education efforts, including technology assessments, will be both formative and summative. Direct assessments of student learning in distance education courses or programs will be linked to learning goals: acquisition of knowledge, skills, behaviors, and values. Direct assessments will include such measures of student performance as comprehensive examinations, problem-solving exercises, demonstrations, observations of student behavior, research projects, and analysis of work produced by students. Where appropriate, indicator data such as surveys, interviews, and other indirect measures of student learning will also be reviewed. Finally, technology assessments will produce data on cost, efficiency, required faculty training, and student and faculty evaluations.
Tuition and Fee Structure as Applied to Distance Education
The success of distance education at West Chester University is at least in part attributable to financial considerations. Paramount among these considerations is cost
and mode of payment. Two significant impediments must be addressed promptly: tuition rates for nonresident students and credit card processing via the web. There is need for a tuition policy for distance education. At present, West Chester University will and must
charge the going tuition rate (including the out-of-sate rate) and the educational services portion of the general fee, provided the course is coded as off campus location (OCL).
The OCL rate, however, is by course and not by student. If the OCL rate is intended for distance education students, the entire course will have to be designated as OCL.
Currently, Virtual University courses (SSHE Virtual University Grant) are charged the OCL rate with a slight difference. Out-of-state students are charged tuition at
102 percent of the prevailing in-state rate for both undergraduate and graduate students. Contractual agreements provide for adjusted tuition and fee rates provided the vendor covers direct educational costs.
Most problematic is the lack of a mechanism to accept credit card payments via the web. Lack of a universally accepted and relatively easy method of payment will curtail efforts to develop and promote distance education. A far less attractive alternative is an automated toll free telephone payment system. Either of these options for payment required additional programming.