Enhancing Learning with Distance Education Need for Quality in Distance Education While the structure and content of basic schooling is relatively standardized, modules in higher education are relatively less standardized across educational institutions. While certain courses are run by all institutions; a number of courses are unique in each institution…
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This may be due to them holding down a full time job, or their personal commitments that do not allow them to travel to school. Some students may be ill or may not be in a position to move out of their present residence to be able to attend college. Distance education schools provide such student with the chance to study and add to their knowledge and expertise without attending daily classes. These courses may be run via the internet by publishing lectures, by sending course material and receiving physical or electronic assignments from students or by using podcasts and interactive sessions on occasion. Many schools combine a number of methods in order to provide the best possible learning experience to their students. But often, this experience does fall quite short of the benchmark set by regular courses. This is often attributed to the reduced stimulation received by students taking distance education courses. Thus, a large body of research has been attempting to understand and address this concern over the last few years. Research Addressing Quality Enhancement In a study by De Smet, Van Keer, and Valcke (2008), the interactions amongst fourth year students who were trained to be peer tutors and freshmen were analyzed using content analysis (Shank, 2006; Bogdan, & Biklen; 2007). The study attempted to evaluate the kind of interactions and the topics covered by tutors and the support strategies provided by them in asynchronous discussion conditions. The authors evaluated the discussion threads and collected data by identifying the type of discussions and the points of change in topics. It was found that the importance of tutors was constant throughout. The discussions among participants and the strategies used by the tutors varied as per the discussion themes; but did not evolve to higher levels of conversation. The study also used cluster analysis to identify the types of tutors; and found three styles - motivators’, ‘informers’ and ‘knowledge constructors’. This was taken as more proof for the importance of tutors. While content analysis of conversation amongst peer tutors and the students has provided valuable information on this study (Bogdan, & Biklen; 2007); it would have been more valuable if some professional tutors were also to interact with students. The value and need of tutors is dependent on the students’ need to gain information that may not be otherwise accessible. Professional tutors may handle discussions differently from peers, and these differences may help us identify the kind of inputs that help distance education participants’ gain more knowledge and skills from their courses. The content analysis also gives us the type of interaction and the styles of interaction used to approach a given problem. This is a truly valuable technique in this case, as it helps us identify the structure of conversation that best helps in student development in a given topic. Another study published by Menchaca and Bekele in 2008 provides an understanding of the elements that contribute to making distance education a success. The researchers wanted to identify the strategies and the tools that helped both instructors and students to succeed in online courses. To this end, they collected data from students, instructors and administrators over a long period and applied a qualitative method for constant comparative analysis
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