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Research Report - June 2004
JVIB June 2004 • Number 6
Research Report
Student Satisfaction: A Distance
Learning Model for Training
Teachers of Students with Visual
Impairments in New York State
Ellen Trief, Lisa M. Decker, and Daniel J. Ryan
Since 1920, the Hadley School for the Blind in
Winnetka, Illinois, has provided distance learning (via
correspondence courses) to individuals who are
visually impaired (that is, are blind or have low vision)
and their families to support the acquisition of
specialized skills and to attain the knowledge needed
for full participation in life (Wolffe, 2001). Although
distance learning has been in existence since 1920, its
application to the preparation of teachers is more
recent. In 1998, 44% of all institutions of higher
education offered distance education courses, and the
number continues to rise (Huebner & Weiner, 2001).
The implementation of a distance learning model for
preparing teachers of students with visual impairments
is the direct result of a national shortage of such
teachers and the limited accessibility of teacher
preparation programs throughout the country (Cooper
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& Keefe, 2001). Although distance learning is not a
new model of service delivery in the field of visual
impairment, it is in a constant state of development and
refinement as new technologies evolve. Of the 37
universities who train teachers of students with visual
impairments, 31 responded to a questionnaire
regarding distance education (DeMario & Heinze,
2001). The results indicated that 16 universities
provided distance education in at least one or more
courses, with an average of six to eight courses offered
using one of the various distance education models,
such as teleconferencing, audio, chat rooms, and web
broadcast. In 1972, the Instructional Technology
Council (ITC, 2001) defined distance education as
opportunities for learning away from the traditional
classroom with the assistance of multimedia
communications, including video, audio, and computer
combinations, to allow people in many locations to
access information.
A variety of models of distance education are
implemented throughout the country. Williams,
Paprock, and Covington (1999) define several of these
models:
1. Audio conferencing: interactive audio
communication between persons at two or more
locations.
2. Asynchronous communication: communication
that is sent and received at various times without
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the person needing to be present and is retrieved
at the person's convenience.
3. Synchronous communication: communication that
is simultaneous. The person sending the
information interacts electronically in real time
with people at various locations.
4. Video teleconferencing: real-time interaction,
with video images transmitted digitally to two or
more locations. This technique requires a
wideband transmission facility.
5. Web-based training: the delivery of computerbased
training to many audiences through the
World Wide Web.
6. Computer-based training: training that uses a
computer to deliver instruction electronically to
many users and that has interactive capabilities.
Although each of these models has strengths and
weaknesses, the model used for this study was video
teleconferencing. This model afforded students the
opportunity to meet with each professor weekly via the
teleconference and to participate with other classmates
in a live environment.
The New York State Department of Education, Office
of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals
with Disabilities (VESID), the New York State
Department of Education, Office of College and
University Evaluation, and the City University of New
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York at Hunter College identified a need to prepare a
greater number of teachers of students with visual
impairments, especially in rural areas. Many school
districts had reported a shortage of teachers to serve
these students in their districts.
On the basis of a needs assessment conducted by the
New York State Resource Center for the Visually
Impaired, individuals in the Buffalo region were
identified as candidates for the Hunter College
program, which would grant them advanced
certificates and certification as teachers of students
with visual impairments through a state-supported
Intensive Teacher Institute. This group of eligible
teachers, who already had New York State certification
in general or special education, participated in a
distance learning program through video
teleconferencing for three semesters, obtaining a total
of 18 credits. VESID paid the tuition of the students to
attend the program and provided funds for Hunter
College to establish the courses in a distance learning
format. The on-site students attended most of their
classes at the Hunter College School of Social Work,
which has a state-of-the-art distance learning facility.
The remote-site students attended classes at a similar
facility at Genesee Community College in Batavia,
New York. At the Hunter College on-campus site,
students were enrolled in the Advanced Certificate
Program, Master's Degree Program in Teacher of the
Blind and Visually Impaired, or the Rehabilitation
Teaching/Orientation and Mobility Program. All the
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students, both those on-site and those at the remote
site, were admitted through the Hunter College
Graduate School of Admissions Office.
A "site facilitator" was present at the remote site for
every class session. The facilitator had a doctorate in
special education with an emphasis in visual
impairment; was certified as a teacher of students with
visual impairments; had experience conducting pre-and
in-service training related to visual impairment; and
was responsible for handing out materials, collecting
assignments, and ensuring that the class sessions ran
smoothly at the remote location. Communication and
coordination between the instructors of the courses and
the site facilitator were critical to ensure that both sites
were receiving the same information. Faculty-student
interactions occurred during classes, through e-mail
correspondence and open phone lines before and after
class.
The video teleconferencing model gave the faculty, onsite
students (at Hunter College), and students at the
remote site (Genesee Community College) the ability
to interact with each other simultaneously and to
discuss course content and materials. The intent of our
questionnaire, which was administered at the end of
each semester, was to determine whether the distance
learning model of video teleconferencing was an
effective vehicle for preparing teachers of students who
are visually impaired.
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Technical assistance for faculty
The Hunter College distance learning location was
equipped with front and rear six-foot projection screens
and cameras for the instructors, with infrared tracking
(which tracked the instructors as they moved about the
room), two cameras for the students, and a camera for
documents. A computer was also available to transmit
and project PowerPoint slides and web sites. An
electronic white board gave the instructors access to a
high-tech version of the traditional chalkboard for
highlighting specific visual information. The Genesee
Community College distance learning room was
equipped with front and rear television monitors, two
cameras for the room, and a camera for documents.
Each location also had a telephone and access to a fax
machine. Both facilities were equipped with Integrated
Service Digital Networks X (ISDN) capability, which
is a worldwide network of digital telephone lines that
allow videoconferencing to take place by compressing
the video and audio signals and transmitting them to
national or international locations. Highly trained
technicians were present at both sites for all the
classes.
Using this multimedia environment required the
reformatting of traditional materials. Many hours of
preparation were required by each instructor to plan for
the presentation of materials. The instructors also
needed to have a backup plan or alternative method for
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delivering the materials when technical difficulties
occurred. This backup plan often included videotaping
the lecture at the on-site location for later viewing by
the remote-site students.
Technical assistance for all the instructors to teach in
this new environment was provided by the Distance
Learning Center at Hunter College. The instructors
used PowerPoint presentations, highlighting the key
points of each session; slides of eye diseases; and
videotapes demonstrating children who are visually
impaired engaged in activities, and provided curricular
materials at both sites for hands-on demonstrations and
manipulation. The electronic board was used to clarify
major components of each session. Handouts were
distributed simultaneously at both sites. The remotesite
students received handouts through e-mail or
photocopies mailed in advance of the session to the site
facilitator.
Sequence of courses
The advanced certificate courses, which were offered
through the distance learning model in fall 2000, were
Educational Implications of Visual Impairments and
Education and Rehabilitation of Individuals with
Blindness and Visual Impairments. In spring 2001, the
students enrolled in Curriculum for Learners with
Visual Impairments, Communication Skills for
Learners with Visual Impairments, and Principles of
Orientation and Mobility for Teachers of Learners with
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Visual Impairments. In fall 2001, the students took
Practicum: Visually Impaired and did not use the
distance learning model for this course. Visits to each
practicum site were made by the practicum supervisors
in each location.
Methodology
At the end of both the fall and spring semesters, the onsite
and remote-site students were asked to complete a
form, entitled Student Evaluation of Distance
Learning, which consisted of 10 questions using a
Likert-type scale, ranging from 1 to 4 (strongly agree
to strongly disagree), with statements regarding the
experience each student encountered during each
course. The same cohorts of students who enrolled for
the full program were enrolled in two courses held on
the same night in the fall 2000 semester at both the oncampus
site and the remote site. The audio and visual
connections between the two sites were established for
the first class session and continued for the second
session. Students completed one evaluation form at
both sites for the two fall 2000 courses.
During spring 2001, three courses were offered. The
students at the remote site continued to attend their
classes at Genesee Community College in the same
distance learning room. Two courses were offered at
the same Hunter College site as in the fall semester,
and the orientation and mobility course was offered at
the main campus of Hunter College in a distance
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learning room. The students completed a separate
survey form for each course offered at each site.
In the fall 2000 semester, 24 students were enrolled in
two courses, 12 at the on-site Hunter College Distance
Learning Center and 12 at the remote site at Genesee
Community College. In the spring 2001 semester, 20
students remained in the program, 9 at the on-site
location and 11 at the remote site.
Results
In the fall semester, the technical difficulties that
occurred were related to audio and visual connections
between the two sites. Clearly, the technical difficulties
affected the students from the remote site. Seventy-five
percent of the students from the remote site had
difficulty seeing the lectures, and 83% had difficulty
hearing the lectures. Despite these technical
difficulties, the majority of the students were
comfortable with the amount of interaction they had
with other students and would recommend this
distance learning model in the future.
At the end of the fall semester and before the start of
the spring semester, the technology at the Hunter
College site was upgraded with new cameras and audio
equipment that provided echo cancellation on every
microphone in the room. This audio upgrade contained
components that matched the equipment at the Genesee
site and provided for increased compatibility.
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In the spring semester, each class was analyzed
individually. In general, it appeared that the technology
improved between the fall 2000 and the spring 2001
semesters, but that the quality of the auditory output
was still an issue for the remote-site students. For the
curriculum course, almost half the students at the
remote site and half the students at the on-site location
felt comfortable with the interaction among students,
whereas a much higher percentage were comfortable
with this interaction in all the other courses. In
addition, the curriculum course had the lowest
percentage of students who recommended it as a
distance learning course.
Question 4 of the survey for the orientation and
mobility course asked about the value of the use of
videotapes for class. The remote-site students were
split 56% (agreed) to 44% (disagreed) on the value of
the videotapes, whereas all the on-site students agreed
that the videotapes were valuable. Additional
information is presented in Table 1.
Discussion
The widespread use of various distance learning
models for preparing teachers of students with visual
impairments is becoming more and more prevalent as
the need for certified teachers in this field continues to
increase across the country. Although the model of
video teleconferencing that was used in this study
provides students with real-time interaction with each
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instructor, the complexity, cost, and technical
difficulties make it difficult to replicate. In addition, a
minimum number of students must be available in at
least two geographic locations to allow this model to
be cost-effective.
Despite audio and visual difficulties, this group of
students had a positive reaction to this model. The fact
that a significant number of students said they would
repeat this model indicates that distance learning does
provide an alternative way of preparing teachers in the
field. In fact, the students at the remote-site location
were more favorable toward the model than were the
on-site students, who experienced fewer technical
difficulties. This finding may be due to the
inaccessibility of on-site teacher preparation programs
in visual impairments in these remote areas.
One suggestion for another model of distance learning,
which addresses larger and more geographically
separated groups of candidates, may be hybrid online
distance learning. In such a model, the majority of the
course work would be offered online, with several
weekend visits to the on-site location for hands-on
demonstration lectures with instructors or combined online
instruction with video teleconferencing for the
demonstration sessions. For the practicum experiences,
candidates would continue to benefit from supervised
visits.
References
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Research Report - June 2004
Cooper, H., & Keefe, C. H. (2001). Preparation of
teachers of visually impaired students via distance
education: Perceptions of teachers. Journal of Visual
Impairment & Blindness, 95, 523–532.
DeMario, N. C., & Heinze, T. (2001). The status of
distance education in personnel preparation programs
in visual impairment. Journal of Visual Impairment &
Blindness, 95, 563–566.
Huebner, K. M., & Weiner, W. R. (2001). Distance
education in 2001. Journal of Visual Impairment &
Blindness, 95, 517–523.
Instructional Telecommunications Council. (2001).
ITC's definition of distance education [Online].
Available: http://www.itcnet work.org/definitions.htm
Wolffe, K. (2001). The Hadley School for the Blind:
A pioneer in providing distance education. Journal of
Visual Impairment & Blindness, 95, 576–580.
Williams, M., Paprock, K., & Covington, B. (1999).
Distance learning: The essential guide. Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage.
Ellen Trief, Ed.D., associate professor of visual
impairment and blindness and severe and multiple
disabilities, including deafblindness, Department of
Special Education, City University of New York at
Hunter College, 695 Park Avenue, New York, NY
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10021; e-mail: . Lisa M. Decker,
Ph.D., director of distance learning, City University of
New York at Hunter College, 695 Park Avenue, New
York, NY 10021; e-mail: .
Daniel J. Ryan, M.Ed., supervisor, New York State
Department of Education, Office of Vocational and
Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities,
One Commerce Plaza, Room 1624, Albany, NY 12234;
e-mail: .
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