Coalition Seeks To Tear Down Obstacles To Effective Use of Distance Learning

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WASHINGTON--A national organization of distance-learning providers last week unveiled a series of policies aimed at overcoming obstacles to the effective use of new technologies in teaching.

The policy statement released here by the United States Distance Learning Association contends that there are "significant barriers," such as outdated local accreditation requirements for teachers, that limit the widespread adoption of distance learning, whether offered by satellite, telephone line, or broadcast television.

"Today's education, communication, and information policies and regulations were developed long before the advent of distance-learning capability," the document points out. "New policies must be put in place that remove these barriers so the nation can realize the benefits of distance learning."

Along with changes in governmental policies, the report also recommends that teacher-education programs be encouraged to put more emphasis on the uses of telecommunications.

The distance-learning association is a nonprofit umbrella group that represents distance-learning providers in the K-12, collegiate, and corporate markets. The report released last week reflects a consensus forged at a policy forum held this past summer that attracted delegates from 33 states, including such developers of K-12 programs as the Florida Department of Education, the San Antonio-based TI-IN Network Inc., the Fairfax County, Va., schools, and Oklahoma State University.

Comprehensive Policy Urged

The changes outlined in the report would be best carried out in a comprehensive way at the national level, to forestall piecemeal moves toward reform, argued Ray L. Steele, director of the Center for Information and Communication Sciences at Ball Sate University and president of the distance-learning group. "It will do us no good to take small steps on a major national issue like this," he said.

Mr. Steele said the four-year-old organization had not yet begum formally lobbying to achieve its goals. He noted, however, that the group supports federal legislation introduced by Senator Conrad Burns, Republican of Montana, that would encourage the nation's telephone companies to accelerate the development of a national, fiber-optic-based communications network dedicated to educational and other public uses. The policy report lays out a series of steps that the federal, state, and local governments should undertake to "fulfill the tremendous potential of distance learning." They include: . Developing "a vision" of a national telecommunications info"a structure that recognizes the "interdependence" of education reform and the use of advanced telecommunications services.

  • Bringing "coherence"te the numerous programs that fund distance-learning projects.
  • Developing national demonstration sites for educational technology.
  • Providing incentives to teachertraining institutions to restructure their pre-service and in-service programs to "recognize the importance" of telecommunications to teaching.
  • Providing incentives for regional and professional accreditation bodies to encourage the use of the technologies.
  • Considering ehanges in the copyright laws to reflect "fair use" doetfines--whieh allow limited reproduction of copyrighted material without permission for educational and other uses--in distance education.

The report also recommends that governments at all levels encourage telecommunications companies to develop special price rates for educational applications and remove regulatory restraints on telecommunications companies to allow such rates.

The report further suggests that governments provide incentives to ensure "adequate, cost-effective access to satellite transponders" for educational users.

Vol. 11, Issue 09, Page 12

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