Distance education

The following position statement was approved by APSCUF's legislative assembly in February 2014.

Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Academic Policy
Statement on Distance Education

The best method of classroom instruction continues to be one where the faculty member and the students are present in the same room. This traditional method of instruction promotes the essential give-and-take between faculty and students that is appropriately associated with the college experience; it is the type of instruction that made the American system of higher education the envy of the world. This method allows the instructor to assess student understanding through participation, body language, and immediate question and answers. This method promotes human dignity by creating a shared experience and direct interaction with a heterogeneous student body. It allows for the highest level of integrity as the student must be present for examinations and spontaneously defend written work. In many disciplines, there are no adequate substitutes for work that traditionally takes place in the classroom setting, e.g., labs, speeches, and presentations. In all settings, the subject matter, the skills of individual professors, and the needs of students ought to drive the method of delivery and the use of technology; the delivery method ought never determine the subject matter or run counter to the best interests of students.

Distance education is properly used to afford access to student populations that may, because of factors beyond their or the universities’ control, be unable to access the traditional method of instruction. Providing access to higher education is the sole legitimate role of distance education as a primary means of instruction. In many instances, it is appropriate to use technology developed for distance education to enhance the traditional classroom experience. It is never appropriate to use distance education to save costs or to increase class sizes. Students not enrolled in a program exclusively designed for distance education should not be required to enroll in distance education courses.

Student retention, particularly among minority populations, continues to be a serious concern in distance education courses. These courses also tax the time management skills of traditional students. Distance education classes also pose problems related to the integrity of student work that are not faced in the traditional classroom. Distance education courses pose numerous problems for students and instructors. Typically, attempts to emulate the college classroom place inordinate burdens on instructors. Faculty are required to find alternatives to the best practice of traditional instruction and typically spend many hours communicating with students in distance education courses at various hours of the day.

Many fine courses and programs have been developed for delivery via distance education, and the technologies associated with distance education continue to provide innovative new means to enhance students’ learning. However, the traditional method of delivery remains the best means for providing a quality education. The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education should primarily promote classroom instruction while simultaneously promoting access to higher education for appropriate populations.