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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Faculty support for distance education in a conventional university Black, Evelyn Joyce


This study addressed the controversy among academics in conventional universities over the credibility of distance education for degree credit. Faculty scepticism has slowed the development and expansion of distance education despite increased demands for it. Distance education is an educational method in which the teacher and learners are separated in time and space for the majority, if not all, of the teaching-learning process; two-way communication occurs primarily via print, postal service, and telecommunications (Keegan, 1990). There is little empirical evidence about the reasons for the antagonism between the supporters and opponents of distance education. The purpose of this research was to explain why some faculty support distance education while others do not. Support was defined as how faculty would speak about and vote for proposals to offer distance education courses for degree credit. The conceptual framework drew on studies of faculty attitudes towards university expansion and distance education, and literature on academic culture and change. An interpretive perspective and qualitative methods dominated the two-phase study. First, a mailed survey (n=487) investigated the extent of faculty familiarity with and support for distance education. Then faculty (n=50) were interviewed from three categories of support for distance education identified by the survey: supportive, divided support, and opposed. The interviews explored how faculty understood the compatibility and feasibility of distance education. Compatibility was defined as the congruence of distance education with faculty beliefs and values about the accessibility and quality of university education. Feasibility was the perceived ability to successfully implement distance education. In general, faculty were not very familiar with or supportive of distance education, except for undergraduate courses. There was very little support for a graduate program by distance education. There were significant differences in faculty support by discipline and gender. The reasons for variations in faculty support for distance education are best explained by the concept of compatibility. Faculty supported distance education if it was congruent with their beliefs and values about university education in general. Faculty thought about distance education as promoting social justice, as an educational method, or as the distribution of information. Faculty who were supportive held the beliefs and values Trow (1973) associated with mass education while those who were opposed tended to believe in an elite approach to university education. There was a substantial divided group who were in a conflict about the priority that should be given to the major values involved, the accessibility and quality of university education. The study contributes to the development of theory about different conceptions of university and distance education and provides insight into the study of disciplinary cultures. It presents a revised conceptual framework for further research on the topic. The results have implications for educational planning and for the development of distance education.

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