Comeaux, P. (1995).  The impact of an interactive distance learning network on classroom communication.  Communication Education, 44, 353-361.



This article examined two different classrooms utilizing the interactive distance learning network.  The courses were a Science, Humanities and Society course and a Criminal Justice course with very similar designs.  The classrooms had professors with drastically different teaching styles that resulted in different learning experiences. 


Points of Discussion:

1)      Introduction

a.      The primary purpose of the research was “to investigate how the design and implementation of interactive learning network affected the communication and learning processes in the classroom” (353/268).

b.      This study claims to be the first to look at interactive distance learning network, which is a “two-way interactive full-motion video network that allows participants to see and hear each other from remote locations at real-time speeds” similar to video chat (353/268). 

c.      Eight classes taught at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, Cape Fear Community College, New Hanover High School and Hoggard High School in Wilmington were looked at.  The study focused on two courses-1) A science, humanities and society course and 2) a Criminal Justice course- that very similar designs but resulted in very different outcomes. 

2)      Research Goals and Methodology

a.      The impact of “interactive distance learning network on the human factors involved in communication and learning using qualitative methodology based in phenomenological research” was studied (354/269). 

b.      Methods used include the procedures of phenomenological qualitative research using:

1.      Direct classroom observations

2.      Taped interviews with instructors and students

3.      Taped interviews with administrative and technical personal

4.      Participation in task force meetings

5.      Participation in distance learning retreats

6.      Extensive documents detailing the vision, goals and actions plans of the trial project.

7.      Extensive research of literature in education and technology that impacts the interactive distance learning network.

3)      Results and Discussion

a.      Approach to Team Teaching and Use of Classroom Space

1.      The SHS course used 2 professors that took turns teaching separate classes

2.      The CJ course professors shared each class session. 

b.      Style: Interaction and Interpersonal Dimensions

1.      The SHS professors expressed irritation with the technical problems the technology caused.  They often had to start their class with statements like “while we are waiting for other sites to get on board, do you have any questions?” (356/271).

2.      The CJ Professors felt more comfortable with the technology problems and would start their classes with personal conversations (357/272).

3.      The technical problems slowed both classroom’s interaction down at times but overall the CJ professors worked best to get beyond the problems (357/272).

c.      Responses to the Technology and the Learning Experience

1.      The SHS university students felt the high schools students were neglected in the classroom.  The high school students expressed they felt they were forgot about (357/272).

2.      The CJ professors did experience similar problems to the SHS class but they did not let the technical difficulties hinder their classroom. (357/272).

3.      Overall it was difficult for the students and professors to adjust to the newness of “cameras, microphones, and television monitors” at both schools.  The communication however was hindered more at the SHS class because the high school students were neglected. 

4)      Analysis and Evaluation

a.      Styles of Teaching

1.      The CJ professors worked hard to engage their students in the subject matter by “encouraging questions and responses to issues” (358/273).  They made their student’s feel more comfortable in front of the camera by making jokes.  The CJ professors got “beyond the technology” and successfully held their classes.

2.      The SHS professors “remained encumbered with the technology and their negative response to the situation set the tone for the class and the learning experience” (359/ 274). 

b.      Impact of Interactive Distance Learning Network on Classroom Communication

1.      Some students were very “bothered by the cameras, by seeing themselves on the television monitors, and by the delays in the audio system” (360/275).

2.      Teaching methods strongly influenced the outcome of using the technology (360/275). 

5)      Discussion Questions

a.      It seems difficult enough trying to get students to participate in a face-to-face classroom.  What are some things professors could do to encourage the students in the distance learning network to participate?  Do you think the same things done in a face-to-face classroom can be utilized in a distance learning classroom? 

b.      Have any of you taken a class that used technology in similar ways as this study?  If not, would you ever?  Do you think it would hinder or enhance your learning experience?

c.      This study concluded the teaching styles influenced the student’s experiences in each class.   Do you think the students learning styles also influenced the learning outcomes? Why?

d.      The students in the SHS class noticed the high school students were being neglected.  Do you think the professors noticed they were neglecting the high school students too?  If they did, why do you think they did not do anything to include them? 

e.      The professors in the SHS class were very uncomfortable with the technology used, which ultimately hindered the student’s learning experience.   What do think could have been done to prevent that?  Training classes?  An IT in the room?  Only allowing professors with degrees in technology to teach these classes?  Anything else?