An International Virtual Seminar
for University Faculty and Administrators:

"Professional Development in Distance Education"

– A Successful Experiment and Future Directions –

 

Ulrich Bernath
Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg

& Eugene Rubin
University of Maryland University College

Paper presented to the 19th ICDE World Conference in Vienna, June 23, 1999 (see: PowerPoint-Presentation)


 

The Virtual Seminar in Distance Education is an on-line, World Wide Web-based asynchronous discussion forum that was designed to provide university faculty and administrators with professional development in the field of distance education.

In 1996/7 it was a granted project within the Global Distance Learning Initiative sponsored by the AT&T Foundation and The International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE).

In 1998 two further Virtual Seminars were run on a self-supporting basis.

Formal and informal evaluations of the Virtual Seminars took place externally as well as internally. During the course of the Virtual Seminars evaluation reports and experiences were published in various articles. (Fritsch, 1998; Bernath & Rubin, 1998a and 1998b)

A Final Report and Documentation of the first Virtual Seminar for Professional Development in Distance Education has also been published. (Bernath & Rubin, 1999)

This paper is now presenting data and experiences that compare the three Virtual Seminars and provide some general evaluation of and conclusion to the overall project.

 

Table 1: Comparative Data of three Virtual Seminars

 

1997

1998 I

1998 II

Number of participants of the Seminar

43

43

41

Number of the participants of the Final Evaluation

33

27

22

Response Rate

76,74

62,79

53,66

Participation in the Final Evaluation

required

voluntary

voluntary

Seminar Fee

non

580 US$

580 US$

Special Fee for Group participation

non

non

yes

 

Table 1 shows that the three Virtual Seminars were similar in size in terms of numbers of participants. It was assumed that 40+ participants would form a group large enough to guarantee online activity in the Virtual Seminar and also to allow scalability. The first seminar was supported by the grant and was offered free of charge. One of the goals of the first seminar was to design a seminar that would be self-supporting and toward that end, a fee of US$ 580 was introduced for the second seminar. In the third seminar, a special rate for groups from one institution was implemented to try to encourage more group participation and thus encourage a synergy that would penetrate beyond the participants and into their institutions.

The evaluation process in the first Virtual Seminar was externally conducted by Helmut Fritsch, the director of the Central Institute for Distance Education Research of the German distance teaching university, the FernUniversität. One of the participation requirements in the first seminar was to participate in the evaluation. This explains the relatively high response rate in the final evaluation in the first Virtual Seminar. In both following Virtual Seminars in 1998, participation in the Pre-Seminar Survey as well as in the Final Questionnaire was voluntary.

 

Participants of the Virtual Seminars

The Virtual Seminar invited participation from anywhere. The endeavor was marketed through ICDE members and ICDE related member institutions.

For experimental reasons the first Virtual Seminar was free to a maximum of 45 participants. 15 places were reserved for potential German participants, 15 for Maryland and 15 for various participants from around the world. The design was chosen to allow for easy later evaluation within the geographical area of each Seminar Leader.

The second Virtual Seminar was open without any restrictions, and participants were accepted on a first come, first served basis. In the third Virtual Seminar 21 individual participants and 20 group participants from four institutions (1 in Mexico and three in the U.S.) formed the seminar group.

From the Pre-seminar Survey results we learned about how participants heard about the seminar and this is shown in Table 2.

 

Table 2: How Participants heard about the Virtual Seminars

How I heard about the seminar

1997
(%)

1998 I
(%)

1998 II
(%)

From the Brochure

13,3

20,9

0,0

From the Organizers

42,22

16,3

8,9

From a colleague

35,56

37,2

60,0

From a listserv

0,0

18,6

15,6

Surfing the Web

8,89

7,0

15,6

 

The three Virtual Seminars attracted faculty and distance education administrators from 24 different countries. Table 3 shows more detail.

Table 3: The Participants’ countries of origin

 

Country

No. of Participants

1997 1998 I 1998 II
Australia   5 1
Austria 1 1 1
Canada 1 2 1
Estonia   1  
Finland   2 1
Germany 15 5 8
Hungary     1
Japan      
Latvia   1  
Mexico     8
Peru   2  
Philippines   3 1
Poland 1    
Portugal   1  
Rumania   1  
Slovakia 1    
Slovenia 1 1  
South African Rep. 2    
Spain   1  
Sweden   4  
Switzerland 1 1 1
The Netherlands 1    
United Kingdom     1
United States 19 12 15
Total N = 43 N = 43 N = 41

 

The Syllabi of the Virtual Seminars

The curriculum of the Virtual Seminars was conceived as being a mix of both theory and practice. The concept of "theory" was a broad one, which encompassed the foundations of distance education (its history and formal educational theories), a broad conceptual look at national, cultural and institutional structures, and an overview of the effect of technology on the field. These were broad categories of discussion, and represented an attempt to get new distance educators as well as program directors in distance education to appreciate how distance education evolved and to identify the important influences and issues of the present.

The idea was to ask a different top expert within the field of distance education to act as an expert mentor in each of the four areas of "theory" (see the curriculum below). It was argued that the presence of such a distinguished mentor would act not only as a direct source of information and opinion within each topic area, but it would also act as a "motivator" for the continuing involvement of the participants. It was assumed that participating faculty and administrators would need a strong reason to continue in the Seminar and it was thought that the presence of these top "name" experts would be such a motivator. Our four experts were Börje Holmberg for the foundations, Otto Peters for the theories, Gary Miller for the institutional models as well as organizational trends and Tony Bates for the technology in distance education module of the Virtual Seminars. We learned that the involvement of our distinguished experts in the discussions (with their readings and their live participation) were the key ingredients of the seminar, and which had the most relevance towards the goals of each module.

 

Table 4: The Syllabi of three Virtual Seminars

 

 

1997

1998 I

1998 II

Pre-Seminar Week

 

Introduction and practice with the conferencing system

Introduction to our conferencing system

Week 1

Introduction and practice with the conferencing system

Foundations of Distance Education

in 2nd week with Holmberg

Foundations of Distance Education

in 2nd week with Holmberg

Week 2

Foundations of Distance Education

Week 3

Institutional Models of Distance Education

Institutional Models of Distance Education
in 2nd week with Miller

Theories in Distance Education
in 2nd week with Peters

Week 4

Theories
in Distance Education

Week 5

Technology
of Distance Education

Theories
in Distance Education
in 2nd week with Peters

Technology of Distance Education
in 2nd week with Bates

Week 6

Introduction to D. E.
Applications and Projects

Week 7

Student Support

Technology of Distance Education
in 2nd week with Bates

Organizational Trends in Distance Education
in 2nd week with Miller

Week 8

Instructional Design

Week 9

Technology

Practical Applications in Distance Education

Summary and Conclusion

Distance Education Applications

Summary and Conclusion

Week 10

Summary and Conclusion, Project reports

Open Forum

 

Discussion of Seminar Experiences

Discussion of Seminar Experiences

 

The seminar experience

At the core of the seminar was an online asynchronous (non-real time) discussion among the participants, the seminar leaders and the experts. These discussions, which centered around the topics in Table 4, were structured to allow the participants and the experts to interact in a systematic manner. While there are a variety of software in the market which facilitates these kinds of discussions, we used HyperNews, which is a threaded asynchronous conferencing environment, meaning that each comment submitted by a participant shows up in a outline which allows readers to follow the "thread" of the conversation. HyperNews was installed on the UMUC web site, and all worldwide participants had to access that site in order to read and contribute to the discussion.

 

Team Approach

The seminar was managed and taught using a team approach. This meant that the Seminar Leaders were in constant touch via e-mail and telephone. Occasional face-to-face meetings took place between the seminars.

A typical seminar week usually started out the weekend before by an introduction to the coming week being drafted and sent to the other leader. The introductions usually presented the expert and outlined a structure for the discussion. After additions and revisions, these were then posted to the appropriate HyperNews conferences. During the week, as various comments were made in the discussions, the leaders would either individually respond the various participant inputs, or an e-mail or telephone consultation regarding an appropriate response would occur, resulting in a joint response. At the end of each week, a summary would be drafted and revised between the two leaders, and this too would be posted on Thursday evening so that all participants could read it on Friday regardless of where they were located. If the end of the week also represented the end of a particular module, over the weekend the mainpage of the website would be updated with new announcements and access to the new readings and the next module’s discussions would be enabled.

The experts were also critical members of the instructional team. In the first seminar, the participants put forth comments for the first day or two and then the experts came into the discussion. This resulted in considerable interaction between the expert and individual participants and less among the participants themselves. In the second and third seminars, the participants commented on and discussed the readings for the first week of the module, and the expert came into the discussion at the beginning of the second week. The move from one week modules to two week modules seemed to accomplish several goals. First, it encouraged more extensive discussion among the participants that were often fairly elaborate. Second, when the expert came in, there was already a considerable amount of discussion and this allowed the expert to respond to broad issues rather than individual comments. Third, it allowed the experts to have more interaction time in the module, and thus have more elaborated and detailed discussion of issues. As a member of the team, the expert was in e-mail and telephone contact with the leaders before the start of their module and sometimes during their module.

 

The cross-cultural dimension and the global aspect of the Virtual Seminars

One of the goals of the seminar was to enable a cross-cultural sharing of experiences, ideas and opinions. This was deemed to be a potential positive outcome because

  1. distance education occurs in some manner in almost all countries of the world and in a wide variety of ways, and using a variety of levels of technology;
  2. distance education is increasingly becoming a world-wide enterprise in that courses are now capable of being delivered almost anywhere in the world; and
  3. the cultural and regional bias that each participant brought to the discussion would result in a broader and deeper learning.

Our three seminar experiences definitely supported the above supposition that the cross-cultural aspects of the seminar would result in positive outcomes. Not only was a broad variety of opinion expressed, but often these opinions prompted discussion that reflected a more comprehensive analysis and understanding of critical issues. This was particularly true of technology related discussions, where participants from nations that were not highly technology enabled often came up with innovative and useful solutions to problems that did not occur to participants from high technology countries.

By being globally accessible via the Internet, the content and interaction allowed participants to differentiate and generalize across cultural borders and among the diverse practices within the field of distance education. It gave depth to the learning and forced the participants to think beyond their own cultural and environmental constraints.

The seminars were offered only in English and this inhibited some of the participants from fully engaging in the seminar. There was some evidence that a few participants were hesitant to contribute to the discussions because of their lack of confidence in their English skills. The Final Questionnaire results on the item "I had some language problems" indicate that only very few stated "I fully agree" (3,33%, 3,70%, 0.00% in each seminar respectively), but a reasonable amount stated "I partly agree" (33,33%, 18,52%, 22,73%). On the other hand, if the seminar was only offered in each participant’s native language, this would have diminished the benefits of the cross-cultural environment.

 

A Knowledge Building Community

One of our experts, Prof. Dr. Otto Peters observed that the seminar appeared to be a virtual knowledge building community. (Peters, 1997) While this is not a new concept in the literature about computer-mediated-communication, Prof. Peters’ observation summed up quite well the experience of most of the people involved in the seminars. Each seminar was a community in that the participants met, talked, agreed, sometime strongly disagreed, sympathized, empathized, and formed relationships (several of which have lasted beyond the end of the seminars). And like other types of communities, each seminar was different from the others. Each had its own "feel," its own "pace" and its own content. It was clear that the individual personalities of the participants and their backgrounds played a role in how the community functioned. In the first seminar most of the participants were practicing faculty or administrators. In the third seminar, many of the participants were not only faculty, also doctoral students who were keenly interested in the discipline of distance education and in research issues. To the extent that an environment is created that involves the participant along a number of dimensions (formal learning, social, cultural, professional, etc), this sense of community will be fostered and shaped. It was our observation that it certainly existed in our seminar, yet we are also sure that there are other things that would have enhanced it, and would have likely resulted in deeper learning and more intense involvement.

It is certainly true that our community was a knowledge building community. Both the experts and the participants built both public and private knowledge structures from the discussions and readings. The open discussions forced people to think and rethink their ideas as well as to sometimes defend them. This kind of collaborative enterprise is being recognized as a critical component of online learning in the literature and needs to continue to be explored in a systematic manner.

The experts also gave positive reports regarding their own experience in the Virtual Seminars. They too felt stimulated by the discussion and several stated that they enjoyed the give and take of ideas, which they often miss in their professional life.

 

The Witness Learner

Our formal evaluator for the first seminar, Dr. Helmut Fritsch (1997), looked at both the on-screen participation in the seminar as well as the questionnaire data and the face-to-face interviews with many of the participants. What struck him was the discrepancy between objective participation (appearing on the screen with a comment during the discussions) and the self report of many of the participants that they were "active," only they did not "say" anything. In other words, many of the participants reported that they regularly read the discussion (sometimes every day) but for a variety of reasons choose not to actively submit a written contribution. It was clear that if one only looked at the written contributions, the participation rate appeared to be only about 50% (and even then, not at all times). Yet, it also seemed clear that many that we thought were functional dropouts were not. At the end of the seminar these non-contributors reported that they learned a considerable amount from the seminar. Fritsch coined the term Witness Learning, to indicate that these "passive" participants were in fact active learners, and that they appeared to learn from witnessing the interactions among the "active" participants, leaders and experts. This is probably not unlike what happens in a face-to-face class where only a few students "speak up" while the other students appear passive, and just listen. This was a kind of revelation to the seminar leaders, who often thought that what they saw on the screen was the total reality. It turned out not to be so. Other online seminars and classes would benefit from using software that tracked student "reading" behavior (whether they looked at a particular comment) versus their "saying" behavior (submitting a comment), thus giving a more accurate measure of drop-out.

Helmut Fritsch applied the setting of the virtual seminar and the notion of witness learning to distance education featured by online tutorials. Such new settings allow to overcome the limitations of the one-to-one relation (Holmberg, 1995) between the tutor and the student in traditional correspondence education. (Fritsch, 1998)

 

The Ripple Effect

It was also observed (by Ulrich Bernath) that the asynchronous mode of computer conferencing allowed the reader to think over the dialogue for a while, rethink it later on and even sleep over the messages, before responding. It seemed to be much like throwing a stone into the water (the incoming messages) and seeing the ripples expand outward (the pondering on the content of the message). In direct modes of communication one usually wouldn’t wait and ponder before answering. In asynchronous discussion processes one can "work" on the answer to be given. One is rippled while pondering, a new ideas and notions rise to the surface. Furthermore, the written contributions to the discussions remain and allow to have effects on later discussions. As we moved from topic to topic, things we discussed earlier – still available in its written form – could be cited and therefore arose again and again in later discussions. With the ripple effect in asynchronous dialogues we gain the power of reflection which may substitute for some lack of spontaneity.

 

Participation

The participation data from the three seminars reveals interesting patterns. The data from the first seminar showed that the average length of a comment posted by a participant to the discussions with the experts was 187 words (with a range of 76 to 477 words). To give an idea of how much this represents, a typical single spaced typewritten page holds about 350 words. This means that the average contribution was about 1/2 of a typewritten page. The 43 participants posted 250 comments and produced a total of 46739 words over the 5 weeks with the experts. This represents a total of 133 typewritten pages. When added to the 56 comments and 11796 words in the application modules, the total was 58535 words or over 167 typewritten pages of discussion over a period of 8 weeks. This did not include 2 weeks that dealt with introductions, administrative issues, etc., and represents only the discussion that was contributed by the participants. The experts and seminar leaders contributed almost an equal volume of discussion (61,178 words which equals 174 typewritten pages).

Thus, any active participant had to read the assigned readings (not included in the above data), then read 340+ (167 + 174) pages of discussion. By almost any standard, the sheer volume of this task was formidable, and thus the rate of participation shown in Table 5a, 5b and 6 is quite impressive.

Participation data can be quite deceptive. If one is told that a typical participant contributed an average of 6 comments over the course of 8 weeks, each of which averaged 187 words, this seems to represent only a very small amount of activity. Yet these modest averages, when multiplied by 43 participants, results in over 46,000 words and the equivalent of more than 167 typewritten pages. Table 6a shows that the volume of participation actually increased across the three seminars, and, in fact, almost doubled. Thus, in the third seminar a participant (and leader) had to read an estimated 500+ pages of text. This data clearly shows how the sheer volume of on-line activity can be overwhelming to both the teacher and the student, and why the workload of online faculty is often reported as significantly higher than face-to-face teaching. Our data certainly suggests that 40+ participants may be too many for the type of course structure and style of interaction of this seminar. It also suggests that similar systematic analyses of participant contributions should be done for other courses offered in the online environment to understand the effect on participation and workload. The data also suggests that the scalability of the seminar (the potential for reaching large number of faculty and administrators) is somewhat limited because the number of participants in each seminar needs to be limited to control for the high volume of reading (at least for this interactive seminar model). Thus, while the seminar potentially can be offered many times online, each seminar would need to be staffed and could only be offered to, say, 30 participants at a time.

This will work fine on a limited scale (e.g. within a particular institution), but is difficult to implement on a large scale (e.g. thousands of participants).

Table 5a: Comparison of participant's participation patterns in three Virtual Seminars with invited experts

 

Modules with invited experts

1997

1998 I

 

Rescheduled sequence of Modules

 

1998 II

Partici-
pants

Participants' Contributions

Partici-
pants

Participants' Contributions

Partici-
pants

Participants' Contributions

(N=43)

No.

%*

(N=43)

No.

%*

(N=41)

No.

%*

Foundations in DE with Börje Holmberg

27

81

64

28

83

59

Foundations in DE with Börje Holmberg

25

140

69

Institutional Models of DE with Gary Miller

25

50

57

23

79

69

Institutional Models of DE with Gary Miller

17

66

52

Theories of DE with Otto Peters

18

27

44

14

83

60

Theories of DE with Otto Peters

19

127

73

Technology in DE with Tony Bates

20

34

61

15

78

63

Technology in DE with Tony Bates

11

42

48

Average

22,5

48

 

20

81

 

 

18

94

 

Total

 

192

 

 

323

 

 

 

375

 

* The % of contributions is the participants' portion of all contribution posted in each respective Module.

 

Table 5b: Participation patterns in the virtual seminar No 3 (Sep - Nov 1998)

Module

contributions in No by

participants (N=41)

contributions in KB

experts

participants

Seminar
Leaders

"active"*

% of all con-
tributions**

total

avg.

Foundations in DE with Börje Holmberg

40

140

10+12***

25

69

356

1.8

Theories of DE

with Otto Peters

40

66

10+10

17

52

290

2.3

Technology in DE with Tony Bates

28

127

8+10

19

73

312

1.8

Organizational Trends in DE
with Gary Miller

26

42

9+12

11

48

176

2.0


*

"Active" participants are here defined as such who participate in the on line discussion, who appear on screen
**The % of contributions is the participants' portion of all contribution posted in each respective Module.
***The Seminar Leaders contributed as moderators (first number) and individually as discussants (second number)

 

Table 6: Numbers of words contributed to the first Virtual Seminar (Jan – March 1997)

 

Words

Bernath/Rubin (as a team)

10,765

Bernath

8,472

Rubin

9,483

Total Experts

26,937

Total Leaders and Experts

61,178

Total Participants

66,324

Total for the Seminar

127,502

 

The results of the final evaluation questionnaire

Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire at the end of the seminar. As can be seen in Table 1, the response rates for the three seminars were 77, 63 and 54% respectively. While there were some differences between the seminars, the overall trends were quite similar. Participants were asked how important certain specific goals were for them, and whether or not they felt they achieved them (see Tables 10 and 11 in the Appendix). In summary, the following goals were rated high in importance with the percentage of participants in each seminar that felt they achieved those goals in parenthesis:

Experience a virtual seminar myself (94,89, 91)

Enlarge my knowledge about DE (88, 85, 91)

Have direct contact to experts in DE (94, 70, 77)

Learn about how a virtual seminar is organized (76, 93, 77)

Acquire skills that I could use in the near future (79, 70, 55)

Improve the level of my skills in DE (73, 70, 55)

Learn about the state of the art in DE technology (70, 63, 55)

Contribute to the field of DE research (52, 52, 55)

 

The following goals were generally considered of less importance:

Learn about different systems of DE

Get rid of my personal critical questions about DE

Get involved in a global perspective of DE

I hoped to enrich my DE related vocabulary

 

These results suggest that the participants felt they achieved specific personal goals as a result of the seminar,

When asked if they agreed, partially agreed, or disagreed with a list of statements about their behavior in the seminar, participants generally were fairly positive (see Table 12 in the Appendix). For example, when asked about the statement: I think I reached the cognitive learning objectives of the seminar, 48% of the participants in the first seminar said they fully agreed and 42% said they partially agreed, for a total of 90% that indicated some sort of positive outcome for this statement. The participants in the second (92%) and third seminars (91%) also indicated some sort of positive agreement. When asked about the statement: I would be able to formulate my own position on DE theory, 85%, 81% and 91% respectively, indicated a positive outcome. These results were replicated for almost all of the behavior statements. The following list of statements all had positive agreement:

I think I reached the cognitive learning objectives of the seminar

I would be able to formulate my own position on DE theory

Most of my fellow participants reached the cognitive learning objectives of the seminar

I use more elements of the jargon than before attending the seminar

I know my way around de terminology

To develop and deliver a virtual course seems easier to me now

I realised that "groups" emerged during the course of the seminar

Social contacts with fellow participants are important to me

I think that photos and bibliographies are a general enrichment of any DE course

At the beginning of the seminar I went through the biographies

I also referred to the biographies during the course of the seminar

I plan to keep in touch with some participants of the seminar whom I did not know before.

I think that the communication during the seminar was not personal enough, in spite of the

additional information supplied by the biographies/photos/homepages

The exception to these results were the statements:

I belonged to a group

I wanted to belong to a group

I referred to the bibliographies especially when reading messages,

I had direct email contact with fellow participants of the seminar

I had some language problems.

When asked which elements contributed most to their personal success in the seminar (see Table 13 in the Appendix), the following were rated very high:

The seminar readings on the web

Actively participating in the message interaction with the experts and organizers

Witnessing the message interactions

The following were rated moderately high:

Recommended URLs

Actively participating in the message interaction with fellow participants

Availability of biographies

Seminar weekly archives

And the following were rated moderate to low

Additional recommended readings (not on the web)

Availability of a photo

Direct email contact

Conference Assistance

There were a few differences between the various seminars, but these did not seem to be critical or particularly meaningful.

Finally, when asked if they lived up to their promise to participate in the seminar, the participants indicated the following:

 

Table 7: You subscribed to the virtual seminar
and promised to participate. Did you?

 

1997

1998 I

1998 II

n

%

n

%

n

%

I participated all along, I wouldn’t consider myself a dropout.

24

72,73

20

74,07

17

77,27

My time schedule was too tight, sorry (my fault).

10

30,30

11

40,74

5

22,73

I didn’t want to continue, the seminar wasn’t exactly what I expected (nobodys fault).

1

3,03

1

3,70

1

4,55

I expected something different, you didn’t meet my expectations (your fault).

1

3,03

0

0,00

4

18,18

I was technically unable to connect regulary (technical fault).

5

15,15

5

18,52

1

4,55

I wasn’t able to participat throughout the seminar, for reasons out of my control (no fault).

8

24,24

4

14,81

5

22,73

 

And when asked whether they were a drop-out they replied:

Table 8:In drop-out theory we sometimes make a difference according to the level of engagement, where a possible drop-out happened. Pleas check the statement that fits best for you.

 

1997

1998 I

1998 II

n

%

n

%

n

%

I didn’t even start the course.

0

0,00

0

0,00

0

0,00

I probably belong to the "draw-backs", since I stopped the activities early.

1

3,03

1

3,70

1

4,55

I dropped out after the regular start for a number of reasons.

1

3,03

1

3,70

2

9,09

I was quite active throughout but stopped the activities before the official end, so I’m a "no-show".

3

9,09

2

7,41

0

0,00

I’m not a drop-out. I participated actively throughout the whole seminar

14

42,42

8

29,63

7

31,82

I’m not a drop-out. I was present throughout the whole seminar, people might just not have noticed me.

11

33,33

11

40,74

11

50,00

 

These results indicate that of the respondents to the questionnaire, most felt that they were active participants. The fact that such a large percentage of participants replied that they might not have been noticed gives credence to the concept of the witness learner; one who is there but not making overt responses.

Of course, the results of the evaluation questionnaire are likely skewed because the most of the true drop-outs did not respond. Even so, the response rate and the results suggest strong positive outcomes for a significant portion of the participants.

 

Conclusions

One of the more intriguing outcomes of the virtual seminar is the joint decision of the two seminar leaders and their respective institutions (University of Maryland University College and Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg) to pursue the design, development and delivery of a Master of Distance Education degree. This decision came directly from the original intent to develop a means to train faculty and administrators in the area of distance education. While pursuing this goal, the seminar leaders began to see that, in fact, there was a broad range of content and skills that needed to be addressed, and that there was a serious need for more comprehensive education/training for those who manage and direct the distance education enterprise. This program is presently under development and is slated to offer its first course in January of 2000. It is this course that is the direct evolution of the Virtual Seminar, and the syllabus and teaching methods of this first course will be directly based on the syllabus and methods of the Virtual Seminar. As it stands, the Virtual Seminar is an ideal model for a broad look at distance education and would serve as an effective introduction to the field for beginning graduate students. We plan to continue the team teaching model and to continue to use a somewhat modified expert guided structure. For us, the seminar leaders, this was the perfect logical outcome of the Virtual Seminar.

It is worthwhile to mention that the seminar experience has proven to be applicable to the participants in other contexts. We learned this from participants who are now using HyperNews for their own teaching and from others who are applying the seminar concept and the experience to run their own computer conferences, virtual seminars and virtual tutorials.

We are glad that our participants of the experimental first Virtual Seminar agreed to allow a complete documentation of the virtual seminar process. This documentation allows a deeper insight into the microstructure of our Virtual Seminar for Professional Development in Distance Education.

 

References

Bernath, U. & Rubin, E. (1998a), A Virtual Seminar for International Professional Development in Distance Education, In: INFORMATIK FORUM, Vol 12, No. 1, March, pp. 18 -23

Bernath, U. & Rubin, E. (1998b), Virtual Seminars for University Faculty and Administrators "Professional Development in Distance Education" - A comparative approach to evaluation, In: ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN, 4th International Conference on Technology Supported Learning, Book of Abstracts, December 2 – 4, International WHERE + HOW:Bonn, pp.287 ff

Bernath, U. & Rubin, E., eds.(1999), Final Report and Documentation of the Virtual Seminar for Professional Development in Distance Education. A Project within the AT&T Global Distance Learning Initiative sponsored by the AT&T Foundation and the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE), BIS-Verlag:Oldenburg 434 pp.

Fritsch, H. (1997) Host contacted, waiting for reply. Zentrales Institut für Fernstudienforschung (ZIFF), FernUniversität Hagen, Mai 1997, 38 pp.

Fritsch, H. (1998) "Witness-learning. Pedagogical implications of net-based teaching and learning", In: Mechthild Hauff (Ed.), media@uni-mulit.media? Entwicklung - Gestaltung - Evaluation neuer Medien, Münster/New York/München/Berlin: Waxmann, 1998 (Medien in der Wissenschaft; Bd. 6), pp. 123 ff.

Holmberg, B (1995) , The evolution of the character and practice of distance education, In: Open Learning, June, pp. 47 - 53.

Peters, O. (1998), Learning and Teaching in Distance Education, Kogan Page: London, pp. 146 ff.

 

Appendix

 

Table 9: Pre-Seminar Survey Results

How I heard about the seminar

1997
(%)

1998 I
(%)

1998 II
(%)

From the Brochure

13,3

20,9

0,0

From the Organizers

42,22

16,3

8,9

From a colleague

35,56

37,2

60,0

From a listserv

0,0

18,6

15,6

Surfing the Web

8,89

7,0

15,6

How I Use the Web (Check all that apply)

     

I am teaching/have taught a course entirely on the Web.

6,67

11,6

33,3

I use the Web to supplement classroom instruction.

45,67

32,6

57,8

I plan to develop instructional materials for the Web within the next year.

68,89

60,5

66,7

I am doing research related to Web learning.

48,89

37,2

57,8

I design Web instruction for others to teach.

22,22

16,3

20,0

I administer programs that are using the Web.

46,67

34,9

35,6

As a personal information resource.

97,78

72,1

77,8

How fast is your connection to the Web?

     

Very fast – T1 or better

35,56

23,3

37,2

Pretty fast – ISDN or better

26,67

30,2

34,9

Average – 28.8 modem

28,89

39,5

23,3

Slow – 14.4 modem

6,67

7,0

4,7

Very slow – 9600 modem or less

0,0

0,0

0,0

Are your familiar with HTML? Can you construct/change a web page yourself?

     

Yes

58,54

39,5

51,1

No

41,46

60,5

48,9

Have your ever used Computer Conferencing as a means to communicate with others before?

     

Yes

n.a.

59,5

60,0

No

n.a.

40,5

40,0

How are you involved in distance education? (Check the most appropriate response)

     

I now teach a course by distance education

n.a.

16,3

24,4

I will soon teach a course by distance education

n.a.

9,3

6,7

I am a distance education administrator

n.a.

32,6

26,7

Distance education is my field of study

n.a.

16,3

15,6

Not at all... but I hope to be.

n.a.

9,3

11,1

Other

n.a.

16,3

15,6

Have you ever had any formal education or training in the field of distance education? (Check the most appropriate response)

     

Yes, from attending conferences

n.a.

9,3

17,8

Yes, from professional development activities

n.a.

37,2

22,2

Yes, from taking a course or degree

n.a.

25,6

17,8

No

n.a.

27,9

42,2

 

Table10:When you joined the seminar, how importent was it for you, to reach the following goals and which ones did you reach?
(1 = most important, 3 = not importent)
 

 

1997 (%)

1998 I (%)

1998 II (%)

1

2

3

1

2

3

1

2

3

Enlarge my knowledge about DE.

63,64

24,24

9,09

66,67

33,33

0,00

86,36

13,64

0,00

Learn about different systems of DE.

48,48

39,39

12,12

51,85

40,74

7,41

31,82

68,18

0,00

Have direct contact to experts in DE.

63,64

24,24

63,64

51,85

37,04

11,11

59,09

31,82

4,55

Experience a virtual seminar myself.

90,91

3,03

3,03

81,48

14,81

3,70

59,09

22,73

18,18

Learn about the state of the art in DE-technology.

54,55

39,39

3,03

48,15

33,33

14,81

59,09

31,82

9,09

Learn about how a virtual seminar is organised.

66,67

21,21

9,09

66,67

33,33

0,00

45,45

36,36

18,18

Contribute to the field of DE-research.

18,18

21,21

57,58

25,93

25,93

48,15

9,09

31,82

54,55

Get rid of my personal critical questions about DE.

9,09

36,36

51,52

3,70

33,33

59,26

22,73

31,82

40,91

Get involved in the global perspective of DE

48,48

33,33

15,15

51,85

33,33

11,11

27,27

59,09

9,09

Get in touch with colleagues.

42,42

51,52

3,03

37,04

40,74

18,52

31,82

45,45

18,18

Improve the level of my skills in DE.

42,42

42,42

9,09

48,15

37,04

14,81

72,73

9,09

18,18

Acquire skills that I could use in the near future.

69,70

15,15

9,09

62,96

22,22

11,11

68,18

22,73

9,09

I hoped to enrich my distance education related vocabulary.

18,18

39,39

36,36

25,93

40,74

29,63

31,82

36,36

31,82

 

Table 11: When you joined the seminar, how important was it for you, to reach the following goals and which ones did you reach?

 

1997

1998 I

1998 II

reached

not reached

reached

not reached

reached

not reached

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

Enlarge my knowledge about DE.

29

87,88

2

6,06

23

85,19

2

7,41

20

90,91

2

9,09

Learn about different systems of DE.

28

84,85

4

12,12

22

81,48

3

11,11

16

72,73

6

27,27

Have direct contact to experts in DE.

31

93,94

1

3,03

19

70,37

4

14,81

17

77,27

5

22,73

Experience a virtual seminar myself.

31

93,94

1

3,03

24

88,89

1

3,70

20

90,91

2

9,09

Learn about the state of the art in DE-technology.

23

69,70

8

24,24

17

62,96

8

29,63

12

54,55

9

40,91

Learn about how a virtual seminar is organised.

25

75,76

6

18,18

25

92,59

0

0,00

17

77,27

5

22,73

Contribute to the field of DE-research.

12

36,36

17

51,52

8

29,63

14

51,85

8

36,36

12

54,55

Get rid of my personal critical questions about DE.

16

48,48

13

39,39

11

40,74

10

37,04

11

50,00

8

36,36

Get involved in the global perspective of DE.

27

81,82

5

15,15

19

70,37

4

14,81

17

77,27

5

22,73

Get in touch with colleagues.

30

90,91

2

6,06

17

62,96

5

18,52

11

50,00

11

50,00

Improve the level of my skills in DE.

24

72,73

6

18,18

19

70,37

6

22,22

12

54,55

9

40,91

Acquire skills that I could use in the near future.

26

78,79

4

12,12

19

70,37

5

18,52

12

54,55

10

45,45

I hoped to enrich my distance education related vocabulary.

22

66,67

8

24,24

19

70,37

5

18,52

18

81,82

3

13,64

 

Table 12:Do you agree with the following statements?

 

1997

1998 I

1998 II

I fully agree

I partly agree

I don’t agree

I fully agree

I partly agree

I don’t agree

I fully agree

I partly agree

I don’t agree

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

I think I reached the cognitive learning objectives of the seminar.

16

48,48

14

42,42

2

6,06

13

48,15

12

44,44

1

3,70

7

31,82

13

59,09

2

9,09

Most of my fellow participants reched the cognitive learning objectives of the seminar.

7

21,21

21

63,64

4

12,12

7

25,93

15

55,56

0

0,00

1

4,55

13

59,09

5

22,73

I would be able to formulate my own position on DE-theory.

15

45,5

13

39,39

4

12,12

13

48,15

9

33,33

3

11,11

12

54,55

8

36,36

2

9,09

I use more elements of the jargon than before attending the seminar.

10

30,3

16

48,48

6

18,18

8

29,63

10

37,04

7

25,93

6

27,27

9

40,91

7

31,82

I know my way around in DE-terminology.

15

45,45

14

42,42

3

9,09

13

48,15

11

40,74

0

0,00

10

45,45

11

50,00

1

4,55

I had some language problems.

1

3,03

11

33,33

20

60,63

1

3,70

5

18,52

19

70,37

0

0,00

5

22,73

17

77,27

To develop and deliver a virtual course seems easier to me now.

11

33,33

16

48,48

5

15,15

9

33,33

12

44,44

4

14,81

4

18,18

11

50,00

7

31,82

I realised that "groups" emerged during the course of the seminar.

11

33,3

16

48,48

4

12,12

13

48,15

11

40,74

2

7,41

7

31,82

7

31,82

7

31,82

I wanted to belong to a group

12

36,36

11

33,33

8

24,24

5

18,52

5

18,52

16

59,26

2

9,09

8

36,36

12

54,55

I belonged to a group.

7

21,21

9

27,27

16

48,48

3

11,11

7

25,93

16

59,26

1

4,55

5

22,73

16

72,73

Social contacts with fellow participants are important to me.

19

57,58

9

27,27

4

12,12

8

29,63

11

40,74

6

22,22

10

45,45

6

27,27

6

27,27

I think that photos and biographies are a general enrichment of any DE course.

26

78,79

6

18,18

0

0,00

19

70,37

8

29,63

0

0,00

12

54,55

10

45,45

0

0,00

At the beginning of the seminar I went through the biograpies.

22

66,67

9

27,27

1

3,03

21

77,78

4

14,81

2

7,41

16

72,73

6

27,27

0

0,00

I also referred to the biographies during the course of the seminar.

13

39,39

14

42,42

5

15,15

11

40,74

10

37,04

5

18,52

7

31,82

11

50,00

4

18,18

I referred to the biographies especially when reading messages.

6

18,18

11

33,33

14

42,42

5

18,52

14

51,85

7

25,93

5

22,73

9

40,91

8

36,36

I think that the communication during the seminar was not personal enough, in spite of the additional information supplied by the biographies/photos/homepages.

4

12,12

16

48,48

12

36,36

1

3,70

8

29,63

17

62,96

3

13,64

8

36,36

11

50,00

I had direct email contact with fellow participants of the seminar.

11

33,33

10

30,30

11

33,33

5

18,52

4

14,81

17

62,96

7

31,82

3

13,64

12

54,55

I plan to keep in touch with some participants of the seminar whom I did not know before.

17

51,52

9

27,27

6

18,18

6

22,22

9

33,33

11

40,74

4

18,18

9

40,91

9

40,91

 
Table 13: How much did the elements contribute to your personal success in the seminar?

 

1997

1998 I

1998 II

a lot

a bit

not

a lot

a bit

not

a lot

a bit

not

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

The seminar readings on the web.

27

81,82

3

9,09

2

6,06

20

74,07

7

25,93

0

0,00

18

81,82

4

18,18

0

0,00

Additional recommended readings (not on the web).

6

18,18

14

42,42

11

33,33

9

33,33

6

22,22

9

33,33

9

40,91

12

54,55

1

4,55

Recommended URLs.

9

27,27

19

57,58

2

6,06

13

48,15

11

40,74

2

7,41

14

63,64

7

31,82

1

4,55

Actively participating in the message interaction with the experts and organizers.

21

63,64

7

21,21

4

12,12

14

51,85

6

22,22

5

18,52

8

36,36

10

45,45

4

18,18

Actively participating in the message interaction with fellow participants.

15

45,45

13

39,39

4

12,12

11

40,74

7

25,93

6

22,22

5

22,73

13

59,09

4

18,18

Witnessing the message interactions.

22

66,67

10

30,30

0

0,00

18

66,67

5

18,52

1

3,70

11

50,00

9

40,91

2

9,09

Availability of biographies.

9

27,27

20

60,61

2

6,06

11

40,74

11

40,74

4

14,81

5

22,73

13

59,09

4

18,18

Availability of a photo.

4

12,12

22

66,67

6

18,18

11

40,74

8

29,63

7

25,93

3

13,64

11

50,00

8

36,36

Direct email contact.

9

27,27

16

48,48

7

21,21

4

14,81

11

40,74

10

37,04

4

18,18

9

40,91

9

40,91

Conference Assistance.

7

21,21

18

54,55

7

21,21

7

25,93

8

29,63

10

37,04

7

31,82

9

40,91

6

27,27

Seminar weekly archives.

16

48,48

12

36,36

4

12,12

12

44,44

6

22,22

4

14,81

na

 

 

 

 

 

Chatgroup for the virt. sem.

2

6,06

8

24,24

17

51,52

4

14,81

7

25,93

12

44,44

na

 

 

 

 

 

Projects

9

27,27

11

33,33

12

36,36

1

3,70

5

18,52

13

48,15

na

 

 

 

 

 

Evaluation seminar

14

42,42

10

30,30

4

12,12

3

11,11

15

55,56

2

7,41

na