Faculty attitudes toward interactions in delivering undergraduate distance education.
Thiessen, Janice K.
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Interaction is a common theme in distance education. While distance learners, and the uses of various technologies and tools, have been studied extensively, faculty have received less attention in the literature. The purpose of this study was to determine practitioners'attitudes toward interaction in undergraduate education at a distance, as well as how these attitudes and outlooks are demonstrated in practice. This study used a mail survey of faculty who deliver undergraduate education at a dedicated distance university, regarding their attitudes and actions in relation to learner-instructor, learner-content, learner-interface and learner-learner interactions. The resulting data was analyzed to provide descriptive statistics as well explore possible correlations between how frequently faculty use various approaches to interaction, how satisfied they are with these approaches, and how important they feel the approaches are to helping learning happen. Learner-instructor, learner-content, and learner-interface interactions are valued highly. Learner-learner interaction is valued just moderately. In practice, faculty provide for all four types of interaction. Learner-instructor interaction receives the most attention, with learner-learner interaction attended to somewhat less. For all four types of interaction, there are positive correlations between how frequently faculty use approaches, and both their satisfaction with these approaches and their perceptions of how important these approaches are to helping learning happen. The strongest of these correlations involve online approaches such as electronic mail and multimedia presented on the Internet. Two major issues remain to be addressed. The first is whether the attitudes and actions of Athabasca University tutors regarding the four types of interaction are comparable to those of the faculty who teach undergraduate courses. The second is whether faculty at dual-mode distance universities, or those who deliver group-paced instruction to students organized into classes and cohorts, have attitudes and behavior regarding interaction that are similar to or different from the faculty in this study.