Distance Education

The Distance Education Program within the National Research Center on Rural Education Support has investigated the use of distance education in rural schools and how to improve rural students’ success in and completion of advanced online courses. Rural schools use distance education and online courses to provide students access to a more comprehensive curriculum and advanced courses that rural schools often cannot provide otherwise due to several challenges. These challenges include, for example, teacher shortages, small numbers of students, and financial constraints. Though distance education and online learning are viable options, little research has examined the use of such alternatives in rural schools. This is noteworthy as rural schools more often use distance education and online learning than urban schools. In order to begin to clarify the use of and how to improve distance education and online learning we undertook a telephone survey as well as the development and evaluation of an intervention that involved several hundred rural schools across the country. The results from these two lines of research have been published in peer reviewed journals and presented at national conferences.

The telephone survey was undertaken to begin to better understand the use of, barriers to, and satisfaction with distance education in rural schools. Approximately 400 small and low income rural districts were randomly selected for participation in the telephone survey. Small and low income rural districts were selected as they are more likely to need to use distance education to overcome some of the previously discussed challenges. The telephone survey was designed for this study and was conducted with administrators from each district by trained phone interviewers. Some key findings were that the primary reasons and subjects that rural districts use distance education for were to provide students advanced or enrichment courses; to provide students math, foreign language, and English courses; and a large majority of rural districts were satisfied with the distance education that they used. Several factors related to rural districts’ satisfaction with and barriers to the use of distance education were also identified.

The development of an intervention and identification of key factors that may help rural youth succeed in and complete advanced online courses was also undertaken. The impetus for this work stems from the fact that when students complete online courses they tend to learn as well as they do in face-to-face classes. However, students drop out of online courses at a much higher rate. Accordingly, we developed the Facilitator Preparation Program to train school-based adults (i.e., facilitators) to support rural students taking advanced online courses. We sought to evaluate the impact of the Facilitator Preparation Program and to clarify key factors that may help rural youth succeed in and complete advanced online courses. The research involved a cluster randomized controlled trial with more than 600 students in 93 rural high schools (35 schools in year 1 and 58 different schools in year 2), each with an on-site facilitator. Students took a year-long AP English Literature and Composition course online. Students at each school had one facilitator and each facilitator was randomly assigned to receive the standard facilitator training (e.g., how to check grades, troubleshoot computer problems) or the Facilitator Preparation Program. The Facilitator Preparation Program increased course completion among students in the first year. Online teachers reported that facilitators were very important in helping students do well and this included primarily being responsible for setting the climate for learning. Facilitators reported that in addition to setting the climate for learning they also engaged in direct instruction.

The content of the Facilitator Preparation Program is available for others to examine and try out on their own. Individuals that are interested in obtaining the materials should contact Dr. Matthew Irvin who is now at the University of South Carolina (irvinmj@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-3103).

Distance Education Staff

Dr. Matthew Irvin- Investigator

Distance Education Study Research Briefs

Patterns of Use and Barriers to Use

Distance Education Publications

Carver, R., King, R., Hannum, W. H., & Fowler, B. (2007). Toward a model of experiential e-learning. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 3, 247-256.

de la Varre, C. (2010). An exploration of social presence in online distance education in a rural K-12 setting. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation in progress). University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC.

de la Varre, C., Irvin, M. J., Jordan, A., & Hannum, W. H. (2011). Reasons for student dropout in an online course in a rural K-12 setting. Manuscript submitted for publication.

de la Varre, C., Keane, J., & Irvin, M. J. (2010). Enhancing online distance education in small rural US schools: A hybrid, learner-centered model. ALT-J: Research in Learning Technology, 18, 193-205. doi:10.1080/09687769.2010.529109

de la Varre, C., Keane, J., & Irvin, M. J. (2011). Enhancing online distance education in small rural U.S. schools: A hybrid learner-centered model. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks: Special Issue on the Transformational Impact of Learning Technology, 15(4).

de la Varre, C., Keane, J., Irvin, M. J., & Hannum, W. H. (2009). Social support for online learning. In B. Whitworth & A. de Moor (Eds.), Handbook of research on socio-technical design and social networking systems (pp. 575-588). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. doi:10.4018/978-1-60566-264-0

de la Varre, C., Keane, J., Irvin, M. J., & Hannum, W. H. (2011). Dual perspectives on the contribution of on-site facilitators to teaching presence in a blended learning environment. Journal of Distance Education, 25(3).

Hannum, W. H. (2007). When computers teach: A review of the instructional effectiveness of computers. Educational Technology, 47(2), 5-13.

Hannum, W. H., Irvin, M. J., Banks, J. B., & Farmer, T. W. (2009). Distance education use in rural schools. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 24(3), 1-15.

Hannum, W. H., Irvin, M. J., & de la Varre, C. (2010). Extending educational opportunities in rural areas: Application of distance education in rural schools. In S. Mukerji & P. Tripathi (Eds.). Cases on technological adaptability and transnational learning: Issues and challenges (pp. 276-294). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. doi:10.4018/978-1-61520-751-0

Hannum, W. H., Irvin, M. J., Lei, P.-W., & Farmer, T. W. (2008). Effectiveness of using learner-centered principles on student retention in distance education courses in rural schools. Distance Education, 29, 211-229. doi:10.1080/01587910802395763

Hannum, W. H., & McCombs, B. L. (2008). Enhancing distance learning for today’s youth with learner-centered principles. Educational Technology, 48(3), 11-21. doi:10.1080/01587910802395763

Irvin, M. J., Hannum, W. H., de la Varre, C., & Farmer, T. W. (2010). Barriers to distance education in rural schools. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 11, 73-90.

Irvin, M. J., Hannum, W. H., de la Varre, C., Farmer, T. W., & Keane, J. (2011). Factors related to rural school districts’ satisfaction with distance education. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Irvin, M. J., Hannum, W. H., Farmer, T. W., de la Varre, C., & Keane, J. (2009). Supporting online learning for Advanced Placement students in small rural schools: Conceptual foundations and intervention components of the Facilitator Preparation Program. The Rural Educator, 31, 29-36.

Irvin, M. J., Smiley, W., Hannum, W. H., & Farmer, T. W. (2011). Patterns of student motivation in an advanced online course: Longitudinal relations with final grade. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Keane, J., de la Varre, C., Irvin, M. J., & Hannum, W. H. (2008). Learner-centered social support: Enhancing online distance education for underserved rural high school students in the United States. In N. Whitton & M. McPherson (Eds). Rethinking the digital divide: Research proceedings of the 15th Association for Learning Technology conference (pp. 39-48). Leeds, UK: Association of Learning Technology.

Distance Education Presentations

Barber, J., & Hannum, W. (2005, November). A distance learning approach to enhancing technology use in rural schools. Presentation made at the Annual Convention of the National Rural Education Association, Tucson, AZ.

Hannum, W. H. (2005, November). Survey of distance education. Presentation made at the Research Symposium sponsored by the National Rural Education Association. Tucson, AZ.

Hannum, W. H. (2006, April). Analysis of distance education use in rural schools. Paper presented at the annual American Education Research Association Conference, San Francisco, CA.

Hannum, W. H. (2006, October). Distance learning and technology research agenda. Presentation made at the National Rural Education Association Research Symposium, Kansas City, MO.

Hannum, W. H. (2006, October). Distance learning use in rural schools. Invited presentation at Organizations Concerned with Rural Education (OCRE), Washington, DC.

Hannum, W. H., Robertson, D. L., Banks, J., Barber, J., Farmer, T. W., & Dadisman, K. (2006, October). Factors related to distance education use in rural schools. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Rural Education Association, Kansas City, MO.

Hannum, W. H. (2007, April). A pedagogy for learning objects. Paper presented at the International Conference on Interactive Mobile and Computer Aided Learning, Amman, Jordan.

Hannum, W., Farmer, T., Banks, J., Irvin, M., Keane, J., de la Varre, C. (2007, June). Enhancing rural online learning. Poster session presented at the annual meeting of the Institute of Education Sciences Research Conference, Washington, DC.

Hannum, W. (2008, April). Enhancing distance learning with learner-centered principles. Paper presented at the International Conference on Interactive Mobile and Computer-Aided Learning, Amman, Jordan.

Irvin, M. J., Hannum, W. H., Farmer, T. W., Lei, P-W, de la Varre, C., & Keane, J. (2008, June). Enhancing Rural Online Learning: Overview and year 1 findings. Poster session presented at the annual meeting of the Institute of Education Sciences Research Conference, Washington, DC.

Irvin, M. J., Hannum, W. H., Farmer, T. W., Lei, P-W., de la Varre, C., & Keane, J. (2008, June). National Research Center on Rural Education Support: Enhancing Rural Online Learning project overview and findings from year 1. Poster session presented at the annual meeting of the Institute of Education Sciences Research Conference, Washington, DC.

Keane, J., de la Varre, C., Irvin, M. J., & Hannum, W. (2008, September). Learner-centered social support: Enhancing online distance education for underserved rural high school students in the United States. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Learning Technology Conference, Leeds, England.

Hannum, W. H., Irvin, M. J., Keane, J., & de la Varre, C. (2008, October). Supporting online learners: An investigation of the effects of preparing local facilitators. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Rural Education Association, San Antonio, TX.

Irvin, M. J. (2009, April). Academic development of rural youth. Invited presentation at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Developmental Psychology Department Spring 2009 Brown Bag Lunch Series.

Irvin, M. J., Hannum, W. H., & de la Varre, C. (2009, April). Barriers to distance education in rural schools. In Kevin P. Brady (Chair), Distance education in rural contexts. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association - Rural Special Interest Group, San Diego, CA.

Irvin, M. J., Hannum, W. H., Farmer, T. W., Lei, P-W, de la Varre, C., & Keane, J. (2009, June). Enhancing Rural Online Learning: Impacts on facilitators. Poster session presented at the annual meeting of the Institute of Education Sciences Research conference, Washington, DC.

Irvin, M. J., & Hannum, W. H. (2009, June). Rural distance learning project: Overview of research and recent findings. Invited presentation at Organizations Concerned about Rural Education (OCRE), Washington, DC.

Hannum, W. H., Irvin, M. J., & de la Varre, C. (2009, November). Facilitator preparation program. Presentation made at the National Research Center on Rural Education Support conference, Chapel Hill, NC.

Hannum, W. H., Irvin, M. J., & Lei, P-W. (2009, November). Distance learning program. Presentation made at the National Research Center on Rural Education Support conference, Chapel Hill, NC.

Keane, J. T., Irvin, M. J., de la Varre, C., & Hannum, W. H. (2010, May). Online distance education in rural high schools: Expanding the role of the on-site facilitator. In Amy L. Cole (Chair), Rural education SIG: roundtable 7. Roundtable session conducted at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Denver, CO.

Irvin, M. J., Hannum, W. H., Farmer, T. W., Lei, P-W, de la Varre, C., & Keane, J. (2010, June) National Research Center on Rural Education Support: The Enhancing Rural Online Learning project. Poster session presented at the annual meeting of the Institute of Education Sciences Research conference, National Harbor, MD.

Irvin, M. J. (2010, August). NRCRES research on distance and online learning in rural schools. Invited presentation at REL Midwest Connecting Research to Practice: Online Opportunities for Rural Schools Bridge Event, Madison, WI.

Irvin, M. J., Hannum, W. H., de la Varre, C., & Keane, J. T. (2011, April). Factors related to rural school districts’ satisfaction with distance education. In Mansureh Kebritchi (Chair), Online learning: The role of effective communication. Roundtable session conducted at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.

Keane, J., de la Varre, C., & Irvin, M. J. (2012, April). The contributions of on-site facilitators to teaching presence in a blended learning environment. Paper to be presented at annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Vancouver, BC.

Distance Education Tools

Survey of Distance Education - Questionnaire
A survey of distance education in rural schools was conducted through telephone interviews with a national sample of rural school districts. This is a copy of the questionnaire that was used in the interviews.