Site Facilitation of Distance Education via Compressed Video in Rural Schools: a Case Study

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Virginia Tech

Distance education delivered via broadband networks and sophisticated electronic technologies is one innovation often recommended for helping rural schools and their communities provide students with curricula and educational opportunities necessary for success in a global economy. This case study explored how eight rural Virginia school systems with little prior experience involving these technologies implemented a regional telecommunications network (SVCC-TN, part of Net.Work.Virginia). Over a one year period, 54 administrators, teachers, and students (representing nine schools) joined together in multi-role telecommunications teams to learn how the technology functioned and could enhance teaching and learning opportunities, and then facilitated implementation at their local sites.

The following questions were addressed: (a) How was the process of implementing distance education initially characterized? (b) What barriers did schools face? (c) How did school teams function? (d) How did this process affect perceived attitudes, concerns, and self-efficacy of participants? and (e) In what ways did individuals and schools redefine, reorganize or reinvent the initial process in order to optimize implementation?

Qualitative research methods, supported by qualitative and quantitative data collection instruments, were utilized. Teachers and administrators on school telecommunications teams completed questionnaires at the start and close of the study that addressed attitude, concerns (measured via Concerns-Based Adoption Model [CBAM] instrument) and self-efficacy. Additional data was obtained from analysis of open-ended surveys; focus group transcripts; documents; interviews; and researcher notes, comments, and observations of workshops and meetings attended by school teams and superintendents.

The outcomes of this study identified that both technical and top-level institutional leadership are needed to support full-scale implementation of distance education within a regional consortium and that a multi-role collaborative approach to staff development utilizing hands-on strategies is an effective strategy for enhancing participants' self-efficacy towards technology. Findings identified (1) barriers and drivers of distance education; (2) initial programming strategies; and (3) needs to cultivate a wider audience of users, increase communications, and establish new organizational structures for promoting cross-district utilization of distance education. Recommendations are presented for enhancing distance education in rural schools.

Staff Development, Facilitators, Change