1999 Conference Proceedings

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Caren Sax
SDSU Interwork Institute
5850 Hardy Avenue, #112
San Diego, CA 92182

The use of distance learning communication and technology for training and instruction is increasing rapidly. However, not everyone is ready or willing to receive all their instruction in a virtual environment. Further, attention must be paid to maintaining quality instruction, opportunities for experiential activities, and interaction with instructors as well as with other students. SDSU Interwork Institute has created a number of ways to maximize the use of distance technologies while building the comfort level of those who access learning in this mode.

As part of their Continuing Education Program, SDSU Interwork provides assistive technology information and instruction through the following methods:

  1. incorporating distance communication strategies in traditional on-campus courses;
  2. offering "face-to-face" instruction in an on-line course; and
  3. providing training and consultation via distance technologies.

Examples of each of these designs will be described.

The traditional weekly on-campus course, Seminar in Rehabilitation Technology, is part of the graduate Certificate in Rehabilitation Technology. This course includes assignments and activities that require access to and use of the Internet and World Wide Web. Instructional methods include individual communication between the instructor and students via email; communication among all the students and also with the instructor through a class listserv; access to web-based discussions; and "virtual" conversations with assistive technology experts on specific topics. Assignments also include use of the web.

For example, completion of the "webliography" requires that students search the web for useful sites related to a specific area of assistive technology. They must write a short description of the site, including details about format, accessibility, information, links to other sites, and other features. All students then receive copies of all the webliographies on disk to use for future reference. Another activity in the on-campus course has included conversations with assistive technology experts. During one semester, the students had the opportunity to ask questions of the author who wrote the course textbook. Most students comment that, had they not been required to use the Internet as part of their coursework, they most likely would not have taken the time to explore this valuable resource.

SDSU offers a number of courses taught exclusively on-line. The distance graduate degree program in Rehabilitation Counseling includes the Seminar in Rehabilitation Technologies. The first group of rehabilitation counselors who are receiving their masters degrees via distance communication technologies met as a group before the degree program began to learn the basics on accessing email and the web-based course. They have also met periodically to review and evaluate the process and content of the program. In addition, site facilitators are available when students gather in one of four sites across the state for video-teleconferencing sessions. These students have noted that their comfort level with recommending assistive technology has increased as they have learned more about accessing resources and expertise in this area.

Other distance courses include a "face-to-face: component. Several courses, including the course on the use of Rehabilitation and Assistive Technologies, have been taught in Guam as part of undergraduate and graduate programs. This course was designed to be team-taught, that is, one instructor in Guam collaborating with the SDSU instructor on-line. Class sessions were held on island every other week, with discussions held on the website on alternating weeks. Because access to computers and servers was more limited, this arrangement was more "user-friendly," particularly for students who were new to cyberspace. Again, assignments and activities required the students to use their email accounts and to participate on the discussion board, but they did not have to rely on it for the entire course.

A third way that distance technologies has proved invaluable to professionals trying to increase their expertise on-line is through the use of teleconferencing. SDSU Interwork provided consultation and training on-line and via video-teleconferencing to other educators who were planning to expand their on-line coursework opportunities. A number of the instructors were hesitant to incorporate new modes for communication and information-sharing without seeing it for themselves.

Due to scheduling difficulties and short timelines before the courses were to begin, it was decided that the training could be done from a distance. The SDSU consultant demonstrated features of the web-based course directly from the computer, and showed overhead transparencies to point out initial research findings. In addition, she and the participants saw and heard each other, making it a more friendly environment. What would have taken at least two days with travel and consulting was accomplished in a few hours, with optional email follow-up. Everyone seemed satisfied with the process.

The use of distance communication and learning strategies is still in its beginning phases. Each time we teach a course, we learn more about meeting the needs of our students as well as how to incorporate emerging technologies. Teaching about the use of assistive technologies via distance offers insight into how people adapt to new technologies in general. Many students commented that they had expanded their personal as well as their professional relationships, and saw themselves as becoming part of a learning community, virtual or not.

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