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Interactive Television

Abstract

The current paper provides a brief literature review of the topic of interactive television in education with a particular focus on its effectiveness as perceived by the teachers, its main shortcomings, and students’ satisfaction. In fact, the technique is not new and has been gradually substituted with online courses; yet it has the potential to be more effective than online courses because of its interactivity. However, some conditions must be implemented in order for the technique to be effective and the teachers have to possess some skills that would allow them to offer truly effective and efficient interactive television courses. Besides, the shortcomings of the technique have to be taken into consideration, since they contribute to the unwillingness of the teachers to offer such courses and their reluctance to dedicate much time and efforts to adapting the existing methods to this medium of instruction. Nonetheless, the technique can be successfully used by colleges and universities and provide the students with an opportunity to take desired courses that would be, otherwise, unavailable to them.

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Nowadays, learning is available to the students in various forms. In fact, online learning opportunities are gaining momentum and increasing their popularity among students. Similarly, the teachers have a lot of different techniques and technologies at their disposal that are used with a purpose to make the learning process more effective, efficient, and successful. Currently, the majority of distant courses is offered in the form of online courses the students may take either at a self-determined pace or at a pace determined by an instructor. However, such courses usually lack interaction both between an instructor and the students and among the students, since all of them take the course at a location that is convenient for them, for instance, at home. Another form of a distant learning that involves the interaction component is interactive television. In fact, the latter form of education has been present and used for quite a long time now, yet its popularity has started to wane only recently and has been accompanied by the an increase in the popularity of online courses. Nonetheless, interactive television is still used by the colleges and universities all over the world because of the benefits it offers. Still, this technique has its shortcomings that are determined by both the teachers and the students. The current paper aims at achieving the following goals: to provide a brief literature review of the sources pertaining to the issue of interactive television with a particular focus on its effectiveness; to discuss the main shortcomings of the technique; to explore the students’ satisfaction with the technique; to discuss the conditions and teacher skills that are necessary for an effective use of interactive television in classroom environment.

Definition of Interactive Television & Scope of the Literature Review

Prior to focusing on the aspects mentioned above, which relate to interactive television, it seems appropriate to provide a definition of this notion. Of course,  various definitions of the concept exist, but the following one incorporates all the essential components of the learning process that allows considering interactive television. Hence, interactive television courses are “synchronous, live televised courses delivered via 2-way compressed video on T! lines, in which the faculty member teaches to a face-to-face student group in the live (L) section and to remote (T) sections at area campuses and instructional centers”. Besides, “students at the remote sites can interact with the faculty member and students at the other sites via the interactive two-way audio and video system”. Hence, some of the main characteristics of this educational technique represent synchronous nature, preservation of interactivity between the instructors and the students in both classrooms, two-way streaming of information, and the use of television. Currently, interactive television usually represents a combination of digital television technology and network technologies. In fact, it is usually supposed that this type of learning “requires far less learning than online/web-based delivery”, even though it requires the development of some peculiar skills for the teachers applied to teaching in traditional classrooms. At the same time, it should be noted that “of all the distance education modalities currently used, interactive television most resembles the traditional classroom”; that is why, it should call for the least change in the behavior of the instructors. Actually, not all the teachers may agree to the view that interactive television techniques require little change in their behavior and teaching methods, which will be discussed later in more detail.

Interactive television courses were widely popular in the 1990s as they presented an opportunity for the remote students to access courses at colleges and universities that they could not attend in person; yet, the number of courses offered has significantly diminished in the recent past as the educational institutions invested more in online courses. Besides, it should be noted that most studies and researches pertaining to interactive television are relatively outdated as the majority of them date back to mid-1990s and early 2000s. Even though the present literature review intends to find recent and relevant sources, a comprehensive review of the available literature on the issue has presented the fact that the use of some sources beyond the 10-year limit may be necessary. Moreover, such a choice of both current and past sources allows comparing attitudes, effectiveness, and other essential components of interactive television in the past and present time.

Effectiveness of Interactive Television as Perceived by Teachers & Teachers’ Satisfaction with the Technique

In order to determine the effectiveness of interactive television as perceived by the teachers, it seems reasonable and relevant to compare the results of current and previous studies, which explains the reason why one of the sources referenced below dates back to 1996. In fact, the study by Pool offers an invaluable insight about the question of the effectiveness of interactive television as it represents a research that was conducted at the time, when interactive television provided virtually the most highly developed and effective distant learning opportunity. Besides, it was the time, when such courses gained popularity and were extensively offered by the colleges and universities all over the USA.

Hence, at the beginning of the era of interactive television, the teachers reported mixed opinions about the effectiveness of this medium of teaching. Moreover, some teachers expressed worries about the effectiveness of the technique because of the difficulty to maintain student interest and ensure their engagement and involvement. Besides, Pool reports that the teachers doubted the effectiveness of some interactive television courses, since they needed lengthy preparation and the use of various visual aids, which would not be feasible for all the instructors. As a result, some students may turn off the TV and get distracted. However, the most frequently mentioned cause of doubting the effectiveness of interactive television in comparison to traditional classroom learning was “the lack of personal interaction with students at other campuses” at the time, when the courses were only at the initial stages of their implementation. In turn, other teachers reported higher effectiveness of this technique, if they used some particular methods and, in fact, they claimed that some methods proved to be more effective in interactive television courses than in traditional classrooms. Other methods like lectures, question/answer sessions, and case studies turned out to be effective both in an interactive television classroom and in a traditional classroom. In fact, other methods like group work, seminars, socratic strategies and other proved to be less effective in an interactive television classroom than in a traditional classroom. Nonetheless, it is reasonable and understandable that peculiar teaching methods are more effective for some teaching techniques than for the others and it is necessary to adapt the methods with an account for the selected technique and medium.

Currently, the instructors also express different views about the effectiveness of interactive television just like in the past. Generally, the instructors express a preference for the active learning, since they consider this method to be highly effective; yet, they doubt that active learning is suitable for the interactive television. Nonetheless, the majority of the instructors advocates the mixture of active and traditional learning. Still, active learning envisions a rather extensive use of group work, which is not always feasible in interactive television courses as reported by 42.4% of instructors surveyed by Holloway and Chowdhury. Taking into account the peculiarities of interactive television and its quite static nature, the most suitable teaching method represents the  lecture as the instructors have to use “less active learning because it is much harder with the 10 second time delay”. Still, the instructors attempt to make the learning process more effective by encouraging interaction among the students through some interactive projects and the use of course management software to promote discussion of the course material. Besides, 42.4% of the instructors surveyed by Holloway and Chowdhury indicate that the effectiveness of interactive television technique is negatively influenced by the problems with attendance in distance classrooms among the students in comparison to the traditional classroom technique.

The teachers’ perceptions of the effectiveness of the technique influence the level of their overall satisfaction with the technique. Nowadays, 61.5% of the instructors, who offer both traditional and interactive television courses, report that they would prefer teaching in a traditional classroom, if they were given a choice between the two techniques. In fact, only two out of all the surveyed instructors by Holloway and Chowdhury said that they would prefer interactive television to a traditional classroom. Actually, this figure is extremely low, especially, taking into account that 51% of all the US educational institutions use instructional interactive television in their distance education programs. The findings of Holloway and Chowdhury are consistent with the studies that took place at the beginning of the new millennium, when 78.2% of the instructors preferred traditional classroom technique and 47.3% strongly opposed teaching in interactive television classrooms. In fact, this is a rather significant increase in comparison to the statistics provided by Pool for the mid-1990s, when only 30% of the instructors opposed teaching in an interactive television classroom, while about 60% reported a need to undergo additional training and have additional time for preparation in order to start using the technique. Thus, it is evident that the overall instructor satisfaction with interactive television has decreased since mid-1990s. In order to determine the causes of such a decrease, it is necessary to discuss the main shortcomings and the benefits of the technique as identified by the teachers.

Main Shortcomings of the Technique as Identified by Teachers

The satisfaction of the teachers with the technique of interactive television may be partially explained by the identified shortcomings and benefits and the overall correlation. In the mid-1990s, Pool mentioned that most shortcomings identified by the instructors concerned the technological issues like the poor quality of transmission, some general distractions, and logistics. Besides, a need for a lengthy and thorough preparation was mentioned as a shortcoming that affects the instructors’ willingness to offer an interactive television course to students. In turn, the modern instructors, who have worked with the technique for quite a long period of time, mention such major shortcomings as the problems with “technology, communication, workload, and lower student course evaluations in the ITV classroom”. Hence, the instructors consider to be a shortcoming such a fact that they need to adapt to the use of cameras and microphones, in particular, the technology that is necessary for interactive television, in general.

In fact, the success of interactive television education relies heavily on technology and any malfunctions like delays in signal transmission may significantly affect the learning process and the outcomes of a lesson. Such technological failures also disrupt the flow of a lesson and it takes time to solve the problem; however, this time could have been dedicated to presentation of the needed material. Moreover, it should be noted that more than a half of all the instructors experience some problems with equipment and consider it to be inappropriate for teaching that is in line with the results of the study by Holloway and Chowdhury. Some of the main problems reported by the instructors with respect to the technology include the following: the lack of updates and the renewal of the used equipment; the lack of an opportunity to allow remote students seeing simultaneously the instructor and presented slides; limited movement capacities because of the microphone and camera; the lack of camera that focuses on remote students; and the limited range of visibility in a remote classroom. What concerns the loss of time because of technical problems, 33% of the instructors claimed that technical problems happened all the time and 45% said that these problems occurred only sometimes.

As discussed by Holloway and Chowdhury, the problems with communication vary among instructors, yet the instructors, who experience such problems, consider them to be one of the main shortcomings of the method. For instance, some instructors mention the lack of non-verbal clues that assist them with understanding the reaction of the student to the presented material and their overall comprehension of the presented information in a traditional classroom. A more significant problem mentioned by the instructors is classroom management as about 57% of the instructors mention that they have problems with student behavior in remote classrooms. Hence, the students in remote classrooms may sit beyond the visibility range of the cameras, cheat on tests and exams, talk to other students, work on other projects, use their smartphones to browse the internet, and disrupt the classroom discipline in other ways.

Another concern mentioned by both current and past instructors, which may be viewed as a shortcoming of the technique, is increased workload. Moreover, it has been proved by several studies and general practical experience of the teachers that “distance learning required a greater time and work commitment from instructors than traditional learning”. In fact, this time is dedicated to preparation, acquaintance with technology, and visits of remote sites that aims at establishing the rapport and connection with students. In turn, the instructors do not usually mention the benefits of the technique, but it may be caused by the lack of the studies aimed at researching this issue. Actually, the matter represents the fact that an overall review of available literature focuses on revealing the shortcomings as perceived by the teachers and the developing strategies to address them. An obvious benefit of the interactive television technique is the provision of an opportunity to students to access the desired courses in different locations that they would be unable to attend otherwise.

Effectiveness of Interactive Television as Perceived by Students and Students’ Satisfaction with the Technique

Actually, it is not always easy to study the effectiveness of interactive television from the perspective of students, since they may provide inaccurate and biased data because of the fear that their response will influence their participation in the course and offering of the course, in general. However, several studies have been conducted that aimed at revealing their perceived effectiveness and satisfaction. Thus, most students consider interactive television learning to be useful and valuable. In fact, some of the main benefits mentioned by students include convenience in relationship to both time of the course and the location, lower expenses, a chance to record lectures, and an opportunity to take courses from desired colleges and universities that would have been unavailable to them otherwise. Nonetheless, the students’ perception of the interactive television effectiveness is also affected by their perception of interaction just like in case with the instructors. Some students may feel isolated, ignored, and neglected, but this generally depends on the instructor, other students in class, and the type of the student’s personality.

In fact, there is a hypothesis that the personality type of a student influences the level of satisfaction with the interactive television course. Thus, satisfied students tend to be non-traditional, relatively young, independent, emotionally stable, and concrete in thinking. Moreover, it has been revealed that the representatives of minorities report higher satisfaction levels from taking interactive television courses. Actually, gender is another factor that influences the satisfaction of the students: the female instructors usually receive lower scores than their male colleagues both from male and female students for an unknown reason. Even though the students, who take interactive television courses, generally report rather high levels of satisfaction, the rating of instructors shows another tendency. Hence, almost a half of the instructors, who offer both traditional and interactive television courses, note that they receive higher ratings from the students in traditional classrooms than from their remote students. Therefore, this particular aspect of interactive television learning should be studied in more depth by the comprehensive researches in the future.

Conditions Necessary for Effective Use of the Technique and Teacher Skills Needed to Use the Technique

Taking into consideration the aspects of the interactive television technique discussed above, it becomes obvious that there are some conditions necessary for the effective use of this technique and that the teachers need some peculiar skills in order to offer successful and efficient distant learning courses of this type. Hence, the first and foremost condition, which is of the highest importance for this technique, is the availability of the required equipment and technology. The instructors and the students need to have up-to-date TV sets, cameras, microphones, and the access to a stable and high-speed network in order to enjoy the benefits of the technique and minimize the shortcomings associated with the technical problems. Moreover, the teachers need to know how to use this equipment and adapt the teaching methods to the available technology in order for the students to reap the maximum benefits from the course. The students have to be aware of the ways to use the equipment and be informed about the ways to behave in a class to ensure the interaction with other students and the instructor. In fact, the behavior problems of the students is a topical issue that has to be repeatedly raised and discussed with them accompanied by a possible introduction of some penalties for the misconduct that would disrupt the lesson.

Another important condition is the willingness of both the instructors and the students to do their best with a view to make the course become effective and successful. The unwilling instructors, who are obliged by the college administration to offer interactive television courses, are highly unlikely to dedicate much time and efforts to adapting the teaching methods to the technique and to looking for the best possible way of interacting with students and presenting them the material in the most efficient manner. Similarly, the uninterested students are likely to have problems with behavior, which will influence the overall effectiveness of the course for all the students, who take it. Thus, the necessary teacher skills include not only technological savviness, but also superb class management skills and flexibility in the methods used in the process of teaching.

Conclusion

In overall, interactive television is not a new technique that is used in the field of education in order to offer the students an opportunity to engage in distant learning and it is still widely used today despite the increasing popularity of online courses. In fact, this particular technique resembles traditional classroom learning in some respect, but other peculiarities like a significant reliance on technology make it different from traditional learning. Therefore, the instructors have to be aware of the differences and adapt their teaching methods to the peculiarities of the technique so that the student outcomes will be as high as possible. What concerns the effectiveness of this technique, there is no conclusive evidence to support any of the opinions; that is why, further studies need to address this issue. In general, interactive television seems to be beneficial for the students even though it creates some additional burdens for the instructors. However, this issue obviously needs to be studied further, since there are some gaps in the literature, in particular, pertaining to the evaluation of the technique effectiveness.

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