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The Journal of Higher Education 75.2 (2004) 237-238

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Distance Learning: Principles for Effective Design, Delivery, and Evaluation by Chandra Mehrotra, C. David Hollister, and Lawrence McGahey. Thousand Oaks, Ca: Sage Publications, 2001. 264 pages. Cloth $80.95; Paper $37.95.

Recent popular and professional literature is replete with news about explosive present and future growth of distance education, and faculty on campuses across the country are debating the advisability of this new trend. As Mehrotra, Hollister, and McGahey point out, however, the question is no longer whether or not to implement distance education, but how best to do so. Therefore, the book is timely and needed.

The text is intended for instructors and administrators planning their initial foray into distance education. The authors have wisely chosen to focus on principles that will lead to quality distance education rather than on rapidly changing details of hardware and software. They maintain that when educators are aware of the principles that lead to excellent programs, and when the content, the student population to be served, and the desired student outcomes are identified and analyzed, good technical decisions can, with some minimal advice from technology experts, easily be made. Thus, rather than a book about technology, the authors aspire to producing a practical guide for those launching new distance education courses or programs.

The authors begin by stating their belief that most of the principles of good distance education can also be applied to traditional, on-campus courses. This, they believe, is particularly true given the recent interest in student-centered learning; countering the isolation felt by many students enrolled in very large, on-campus courses; and the considerable potential of technology to make active learning a reality.

The authors then present a brief history of distance education, an informative timeline of events, and an excellent discussion of the reasons for the implementation of distance education courses and programs by American institutions of higher learning. The next five chapters (dedicated to what should occur before students enroll) address the planning and preparation that should take place prior to implementation of distance learning courses and programs. Highlights include several pages of very detailed, practical ideas for promoting and marketing; a list of seven "good practices;" a lengthy chapter on course syllabi and how they should differ from traditional course syllabi; and a very usable decision tree for help in selecting course delivery methods.

The next three chapters (devoted to what should occur while students are enrolled) [End Page 237] discuss support services, including an outstanding and lengthy section containing useful and concrete suggestions for what should be included on World Wide Web course and program support pages. The authors also address strategies to help ensure high course and program completion rates, including an interesting discussion of possible reasons for the lower completion rates often found in distance courses.. This section concludes with what may be the best chapter in the book (Chapter 9) on assessing learning outcomes. The chapter is organized around a series of five guiding principles, fully explained and followed by suggestions for specific methods of assessment. These include group discussions, student logs or journals, term papers, student portfolios, and tests. Each of these methods is discussed from the standpoint of how they should be implemented in distance learning courses and programs.

The last two chapters (focusing on what should occur after students enroll) are the weakest in the book. Chapter 10 deals with program evaluation and suffers from a lack of specific suggestions. Chapter 11 on accreditation is interesting, but addresses only the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE) guidelines. Furthermore, there is no discussion at all of the many controversies related to accreditation of courses and programs delivered by distance education.

This latter problem is representative of the only major shortcoming of the book - its near-total lack of treatment of the difficult controversies that currently swirl around distance education. There is, for example, no mention of the recent, widespread proliferation of so-called "diploma mills," many offering, for a hefty fee and entirely...


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