The Transformation, Reform, and Prospect of Distance Education in Taiwan
Chih-Hsiung Tu, The George Washington University, United States ; Hui-Ling Twu, Chin-Yi Technology Institute, Taiwan
Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference, in Nashville, Tennessee, USA ISBN 978-1-880094-44-0 Publisher: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), Waynesville, NC USA
INTRODUCTION Taiwan has experienced an economic miracle over the past two decades and her computer industry has been an integral piece of this economic success. The country's burgeoning gross national product has allowed the government to infuse large amounts of money into educational reforms, particularly into distance education. Several policies regulating distance education have been implemented under the aegis of the Asynchronous Distance Education Regulation (MOE, 1999). CURRENT STATUS Distance education (DE) plays an important role in the history of educational technology in Taiwan. The purpose of DE in Taiwan is to promote societal education to fulfill lifelong learning goals. It is intended to achieve the goal of equal education. Confucius' philosophy, "to provide education for all people without discrimination," has greatly influenced DE. One of principles of DE in Taiwan is "school admission is open; evaluation is solid; and graduation is rigid." The intention is that "everyone has chances to get education; everywhere is a classroom." School entrance examinations limit the opportunities to pursue a higher education. Each year more than 100,000 high school graduates take the examination. About 60% will pass and get admitted to colleges. The establishment of National Open University in Taiwan (NOU) provides a different venue for citizens to pursue higher education. NOU students are typically married, middle class, and with incomes slightly below the national average (NOU, 1999). The specific reasons given for participating in NOU's programs include augmenting knowledge and skills, pursuing personal interests, raising personal educational levels, enjoying the social aspects associated with university, and increasing the chances for job promotion. Three periods of Development of DE Three important periods of development of DE are identified (Chu, 1999): (a) Broadcast radio & television instruction, (b) Broadcast television instruction, and (c) Computer-based instruction. Broadcast radio and television instruction (1966-1985) The development of DE in Taiwan began in 1966 with the establishment of an educational radio station and began with a trial of the "School Over the Air." In 1971, the first open learning institution in Taiwan the "High School Over the Air" was established, and in 1973 teachers' college courses were offered over the radio to meet the vital need for elementary school teachers. In 1977, the "Junior College Over the Air" was established to provide alternative schooling and continuing education to adults and broadcast television became the main medium. Broadcast television instruction (1986-early 1990) During the period between the 1960's and mid 1980's broadcast radio and broadcast television were the major media of instruction with the latter becoming dominant in the 1980's. Such televised instruction is supplemented with correspondence education and a limited number of face-to-face (FTF) instruction sessions as well as other technological and instructional support to provide feedback and interaction. The focus of this period was at first aimed at providing an alternative for the general public to receive education beyond the compulsory secondary education. As the education level of the general public moved beyond secondary education the focus switched to provide avenues of continuing education to adults with an emphasis on providing college and university level courses and to promote the idea of lifelong learning. NOU in Taiwan was established in 1986, offering humanities, social sciences, business, public administration, living science, and management and information. Computer-based instruction (Early 1990 V present) In the early 1990s, the third generation of DE, which utilized advanced CMC technology to provide interactive instruction evolved. NII (National Information Infrastructure) Project, one of the major educational technology plans, identified/categorized DE into three different modes: (a) Real-time multicast systems (RTM); and (b) Virtual classroom system (VC); and (c) Curriculum-on-demand (COD) system utilizing technology. Under the NII Project, seven national universities are initiating interactive DE courses. The focus was the establishment of instructional systems on different communication carriers, computer-based virtual classroom systems, and developing multimedia course materials (Wei & Su, 1997). This interactive DE project utilizes a multimedia teaching environment through the use of audio/video and computer technologies, such as A/V facilities, video processing, echo handling, CAI, room design, and related setups, to create an excellent educational activity. Educational activities focus on two main issues, teaching techniques and production of computer-based teaching material. Asynchronous DE Although RTM has become a popular mode, MOE (1999) announced a regulation for planning asynchronous instruction that includes three requirements: instruction design, delivering methods, and production of course materials. Methods of delivery that are allowed are videotapes, video CD, the Internet, cable, or satellite broadcasting, and videodiscs. Interestingly, regardless of the type of medium "teachers' images and voices must be shown, suggesting that the favored mode of delivering instruction is through lectures. Additionally, instructors must post their office addresses and allow students meet with them either in FTF or through real-time online communication to increase course interaction. Clearly, the authority transfers traditional instruction design to DE. ATTITUDE TOWARD TO DE Taiwanese education developed in a traditional Confucian way: rigorous examinations, creation of elite higher education institutions, and teacher-centered learning. This belief leads the development of DE in Taiwan to be more conservative while the Open University in Hong Kong demonstrates a more student-centered belief (Sherritt, 1999) although both schools share similar/same Chinese cultures. In fact, Huang (1997) argued that in Taiwan older learners are not attracted to and do not learn effectively in a traditional environment. Additionally, NOU has been categorized as a supplemental education system, which implies a somewhat marginal position in the whole education system. Data indicate that NOU graduates enjoy enhanced quality of life but seldom use their educational attainment for conational advantage. Further, less than half (45%) of the graduates from the NOU feel that their academic achievements are fully appreciated by their families or their employers (Li, 1996). This suggests that although DE has made great inroads, the belief persists that qualifications from NOU are second class. Hsieh (1996) found that DE had positive influence on labor force skills development and economic growth. Tu (2001) concluded that Taiwanese students have positive responses to CMC in distance learning environments. Hsiung and Tan (1999) found similar results and concluded that Taiwanese perceived computer Internet systems as interactive and effective communication media in the distance-learning environment. DIFFICULTIES AND CHALLENGES Challenges are identified in the DE system in Taiwan that must be resolved to advance the system, but the prospects for DE in Taiwan are promising (Tu & Tui, in press). Effective reforms require thorough cooperative efforts from students, faculty, staff, administrators, institutions, policy makers, governments, and all others. Need driven rather technology driven Current DE development has put more weight on the attributes of delivery technology than the needs of students. Certainly, obtaining hardware and technologies is necessary to the initiation of the reform process; however, it is necessary to examine what students need to learn, how they would like to learn, and how their learning experiences can be enhanced. Course design Effective course designs are the key to the successful enhancement of learning. Clearly course designs have been transferred from traditional instruction to the DE environment. Standard lecture transmission has become the major instruction design; but, it is doubtful that the lecture mode works well in computer based DE environments (Tu & Corry, 2001). It is important that course design must be tailored to the cultural mores of local learners. Many institutions have failed to consider the cultures of the learners in instructional design (McIsaac, 1993). Foreign DE models should be referenced but the course design must reflect the Taiwanese culture and the learning styles of Taiwanese students. Adult instruction design should be taken into account. Most adult learners perceive their learning process as more self-directive; experiential learning techniques have more meaning; learning should be able to apply to practice; and learning should lead to increased competencies (Knowles, 1976). It is a challenge to integrate adult instruction design into current DE instruction because of the educational foundations of school systems and the passive learning of the culture. DE may exert limitations on independence, critical thinking, and intellectual inquiry. Therefore, there is need for students to be trained to be independent and utilize critical thinking skills that will benefit them at their workplace and in their lifelong learning experiences. Effective evaluations will provide students feedback and serve functions of directing their learning experiences. Current evaluations adopt traditional test styles, such as true and false, multiple choice, essay, etc. It is recommend that various assessment strategies be applied to monitor student learning progress and should mix systematic, summative, and formative methods. The needs of theoretical foundation DE in Taiwan has a short history; therefore, well-grounded and solid theoretical constructs are still evolving. Urgent need exists for more research to form a theoretical framework to project direction, to guide practice, and to serve as leadership. Effective teacher training Distance teaching differs significantly from traditional teaching. In fact, many DE teachers have been applying their traditional teaching styles to distance environments, which result in many frustrations, ineffective teaching, and retardation of student learning. Therefore, prior to becoming involved in distance teaching DE teachers should receive training in distance instruction. "Ongoing" training is more effective than one-time training. Curriculum integration Current DE graduates did not change their careers or use their degree to obtain a job. The purposes of DE are to provide various learning process to suit the needs of the students. Therefore, curriculum integration should be flexible to provide various programs, certificates, and trainings to assist students to achieve their individual lifelong learning goals. Insufficient resources The government and their institutions do not adequately support distance teachers. The teacher and student ratio is fairly high (1: 21). In fact, distance teaching normally demands more of the teachers time and a greater amount of effort for course preparation, course delivery, student support, and course management etc. (Tu, 2000) because of the diversity of the students' ages, cultural backgrounds, learning experiences, and technology experiences. Therefore, continuing support for DE teachers is imperative. Role of DE and Perception Although Taiwanese society has developed a room to face DE and the schools have developed rigorous adherence to high standards, most Taiwanese are still skeptical about the quality of this learning process, grumbling that it's not seemly to get a degree without going to school or by just watching TV. This misconception resulted from the fact that the government initiated DE as supplement to traditional education. Therefore, it has been seen as "alterative," "second best," and non-mainstream education. Particularly, it is wrongfully perceived that DE is for one who fails the college entrance examination to pursue his/her higher education and "Superior students go to traditional colleges." How society will perceive DE is a serious hurdle to cross in the process of development. It has been shown that DE students can learn as effectively as can students in traditional instruction (Hiltz, 1998). The authority should take the leadership to correct this misconception of DE. Insufficient financial support There were insufficient funds dedicated to DE. Each year the government assigns US$3,125 to $9,375 for a traditional university student, while the expenditure for a DE student is US$625. This differential in financial support limits distance students from obtaining a start-of-the-art quality instruction through distance learning technology when compared to students in traditional universities. 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