The Innovations in Distance Education (IDE) project was launched in 1995 with a grant from the AT&T Foundation. The 3-year initiative was designed to help faculty at Penn State, Lincoln, and Cheyney universities create a supportive institutional culture in which the possibilities of distance education could be realized. The project consisted of two principle components, the Faculty Initiative and the Distance Education Policy Symposia. The Faculty Initiative’s culminating work was the faculty-determined An Emerging Set of Guiding Principles and Practices for the Design and Development of Distance Education (Innovations in Distance Education, 1998). 1
Twelve of Penn State’s academic colleges and its library system along with Cheyney and Lincoln universities, two of Pennsylvania’s Historically Black Institutions, contributed to the Faculty Initiative. During each year of the 3-year project, funding was awarded to several of the participating academic units. These grants were intended to provide faculty, selected by their administrative heads, with time and resources needed to fully participate in the project. To ground their deliberations regarding issues of instructional design and pedagogy in experience, the faculty also were expected to prepare specific courses or noncredit programs for delivery via distance education. Faculty funded by the IDE project not only had support staff involved in distance education, but also had access to University resources and an opportunity to implement an individualized professional development plan, meet regularly with other faculty across academic disciplines, and attend national or international distance education conferences. [End Page 10]
General Education at Penn State
In the fall of 1997, the Special Committee on General Education (SCGE) at Penn State published the Final Report and Recommendations of the Special Committee on General Education for the University Faculty Senate (Pennsylvania State University, 1997). Among the conclusions provided by the SCGE were:
General education is idiosyncratic, tailored to particular institutions and their needs. Good general education is associated with a culture that values high expectations, recognizes diverse talents and learning styles and emphasizes early engagement. Good general education promotes coherence and wholeness, interdisciplinary and continuity, integration and synthesis (of instruction, practice and experience). It encourages active learning and collaboration and a commitment to inquiry beyond the curriculum. Finally, good general education builds dynamic assessment and improvement into curricular processes.
Reiterated in this report was the vision for general education at Penn State provided in the charge for the committee from the University’s Faculty Senate:
To develop and deliver a general education program that emphasizes learning, that functions as an integral, provocative, and enlightening part of students’ higher education and that represents a source of pride and identity for the entire Penn State community.
In these broad statements of criteria and vision for a quality general education program are the implied principles for good teaching. The publication of An Emerging Set of Guiding Principles and Practices culminating from the IDE project takes these criteria and vision statements to explicit application in the design of instructional programs for distance education.
Another publication, Guidelines for General Education Reform 1998 (Pennsylvania State University, 1998), from the General Education Implementation Committee, established a new requirement for all general education courses delivered as part of Penn [End Page 11] State educational programs. One of the most significant changes in the new requirements was that three or more of the five Active Learning Elements must be incorporated. The five Active Learning Elements are:
1. active use of writing, speaking, and other forms of self-expression;
2. opportunity for information gathering, synthesis, and analysis in solving problems and in critical thinking (including the use of library, electronics, computers, qualitative reasoning and interpretation, and other resources as applicable);
3. participation in collaborative learning and teamwork;
4. application of intercultural and international competence; and
5. dialog pertaining to social behavior, community, and scholarly conduct.
Due to the very nature of distance education as a delivery mode, effective instructional techniques and strategies have traditionally incorporated several of the Active Learning Elements specified in the General Education Reform requirements. For example, the active use of writing as a form of self-expression, the use...