ITV Focus Groups: Four Perspectives on the ITV Experience
Program Assessment Consultation Team (PACT), June 4, 2001
This is a compilation of the results of separate focus groups conducted in spring 2001 with four CSUB groups: (1) closed-circuit ITV faculty, (2) broadcast ITV faculty, (3) closed-circuit distant site students, and (4) closed-circuit on-campus students. This report also includes suggestions for dealing with important issues that emerged from these focus group sessions. Complete reports summarizing the views of each of the four groups were submitted to the Extended University Office.
1. Faculty Preparation for ITV. Faculty need an orientation and hands-on practice prior to teaching ITV courses. They should become familiar with the technology of the ITV studio as well as how to structure their courses to be effective in the ITV environment.
Suggestion. Routinely offer workshops for faculty new to ITV, with separate workshops for closed circuit and broadcast ITV instruction. The workshop should include suggestions about how to teach effectively in the ITV studio, instruction and practice in using the classroom technology, assistance in developing Web and email support for students, and an opportunity to give a mini-class with the studio technology that will be utilized in the course.
2. Value of ITV. Despite some problems, ITV instruction serves a valuable function in providing access to courses by those who might otherwise not have that opportunity. All groups recognize the value of ITV in expanding educational access for our service region.
Suggestion. Continue to offer ITV courses that are appropriate for ITV instruction.
3. Microphone Video Monitoring System. Faculty and students who use the closed-circuit studios are nearly unanimous in their dislike of the microphone system that requires students to press a button to talk. On-campus students also are concerned about the video screen that allows them to see their own image whenever they press the button to talk. The “push-to-talk” system is a significant distraction that creates a major barrier to open and spontaneous class interaction.
Suggestions. Consider an open mike system or, at the very least, alert faculty to the concerns about the “push-to-talk” microphones and how they may help students be more comfortable with the process. Consider not displaying the speaker’s image to himself or herself, but instead displaying a camera shot of the students at the remote site. This could reduce the distraction of students seeing themselves while simultaneously increasing the sense of connectedness between students at each of the sites.
4. AV Students as “Step-Children.” Faculty and students in the closed-circuit groups recognize that Antelope Valley students encounter educational challenges and obstacles not faced by students on campus. AV students describe this as being “step-children” of the main campus, and even the main campus students agree with this perception. Problems for AV students include delays in obtaining needed materials and feedback on papers and tests, inadequate opportunity to interact with the instructor or with the class, insufficient education support, such as tutors, reserve sources, disability services, and financial aid.
Suggestions. Faculty and students proposed numerous ways of enhancing the experience of AV students. For example, faculty should: learn the names and call on AV students; create more opportunities for participation by AV students; travel to AV at least once per quarter to meet AV students personally or to teach the class from the AV site; provide question/answer time for AV students before or after the formal class period; encourage email and Web communication with AV students; make every effort to return tests and papers to AV students promptly; and anticipate problems with the distribution of hard copies of materials to AV students and arrange alternative ways for students to get information (e.g., reserve system at AV; Web information; email).
5. Email Communication and Web Sites. Nearly all faculty and students emphasize the importance, in broadcast and closed-circuit courses, of communicating by email. This allows students at remote sites to communicate promptly and individually with faculty. Similarly, Web sites allow faculty and students to maintain a constant communication link during the quarter; for example, WebCT can be used to post information for students, facilitate email interaction, administer and record tests, post grades, and encourage student-to-student interaction. Because remote students do not have the benefit of much interaction during class, it is important that faculty provide alternative communication networks.
Suggestions. For those faculty with little expertise in the use of email and the Web, provide encouragement and training for them to use these resources. Provide models of good practices that have been implemented by CSUB faculty. Provide an assistant to help faculty manage Web sites during the quarter.
6. Technical Assistance. Faculty and students emphasize the importance of having skilled technicians to operate the equipment in the studio and to deal with problems that might arise. Without such assistance, the amount of productive class time is decreased.
Suggestions. Hire student assistants to work with faculty in ITV courses. These assistants should have technical expertise as well as the ability to work with faculty to enhance the effectiveness of their course.
7. Appropriate Courses. Encourage faculty to consider whether the courses to be taught via ITV are appropriate for that purpose. For example, students and faculty felt that discussion classes or classes requiring much instructor-student interaction were difficult to implement in the ITV format.
Suggestions. Be sure that faculty are aware of the limitations of different instructional formats and which ones are most likely to “work” for them in the ITV classroom. If faculty do intend to offer courses that require much interaction or discussion, help them explore ways of making that style work on ITV.
8. Faculty Attitudes. Students and faculty commented upon the importance of faculty having a positive, “can-do” attitude towards ITV instruction and to view the ITV class as an opportunity to meet a challenge, to learn new technology and teaching approaches, and to grow professionally. Students were bothered by faculty who publicly expressed their dislike of ITV instruction to the class and suggested that faculty who do not want to teach ITV classes should not be pushed to do so.
Suggestions. Faculty should be sensitive to the impact of their attitudes on students. Whenever possible, faculty should be recruited who see the ITV experience as an opportunity rather than as a burden.
9. “Dedicated” Closed-Circuit ITV Class. Faculty and students involved in closed-circuit classes recognize the difficulty of attending simultaneously to main campus and distant students, and that main campus students tend to win the bulk of the instructor’s time and attention. For this reason, faculty and students believe that a class taught just to students at the distant site would be more effective than one that attempts to accommodate both audiences.
Suggestions. A dedicated class, offered only to the distant site, could be offered on a trial basis to determine its effectiveness in providing a more valuable experience for them. Alternatively, faculty need to find ways of attending equitably to main campus and distant students.
10. Faculty Workload. Most faculty teaching ITV courses, whether broadcast or closed-circuit, indicate that these courses increase their workload. They have to plan course materials farther in advance, such as course packets or PowerPoint lectures, and order books at more than one site. During the quarter, they have a heavier burden to keep up with email and with their Web site, and in some cases they spend time and energy developing alternative teaching approaches for the ITV environment.
Suggestions. Faculty should be supported by technical assistance whenever possible. They also should be encouraged to use teaching assistants or tutors to help with the workload. Additional WTU could be considered to help compensate faculty for the extra workload.
11. Course Flexibility. Faculty in closed-circuit and broadcast ITV courses indicate that they have less flexibility to deviate from their planned activities in the ITV format. If, for example, they wish to add a resource such as a video clip at the last minute, the broadcast ITV does not allow this because of copyright issues. Closed-circuit instructors may also find the ITV structure to be less flexible because of the difficulty in getting materials to both on-campus and off-campus students. Textbooks may not be changed as readily because lectures, activities, and course packets may have been tied to a particular text, and the effort to change these supporting materials is too great to undertake without good reason.
Suggestions. Faculty need to be aware of this issue and avoid making spontaneous changes to their courses unless they consider how such changes will impact the distant students or cause other problems, such as copyright infringement, in the ITV environment.