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Turning the University Inside-Out:
Launching Distance Learning

ICDE Meeting
June 1997
Penn State University

Dr. Judith V. Boettcher

Ms. Susan Fell
Associate Director of Interactive Distance Learning
109 Westcott Building
Tallahassee, FL 32306 USA
Florida State University
Work 904/644-0798
FAX: 904/644-4952
Email: info@distlearn.fsu.edu

URL...WWW Homepage: http://idl.fsu.edu

Key Words:

  • Transformation of curriculum
  • New educational paradigm
  • Interactive distance learning
  • Information-Age learners


How can an institution meet the learning needs of the knowledge workers and the upcoming university student cohort with existing buildings, programs and processes? With distance learning as a catalyst for change, the university is truly being transformed-an inside-out process in which the core curriculum is redesigned to better serve the needs of students in the information age.

Just as the demand for new higher education programs for baccalaureate, graduate, and professional degrees is reaching a critical point; new, powerful and readily accessible information technologies are emerging. These new technologies will play an important role in the new educational paradigm, particularly in distance learning models. Planning and designing new interactive distance learning programs requires a panoply of people and resources, including new interactive instructional strategies. How does one begin?

This paper focuses on the vision and goals of the university-wide interactive distance learning initiative at Florida State. This paper describes the planning and change management principles of the interactive distance learning initiative. It also describes the new interactive distance learning paradigm and how it is being implemented in major interactive distance learning programs in 1996-98.


If Distance Learning is the Answer, What is the Question?

How can an institution meet the learning needs of the knowledge workers and the upcoming university student cohort with existing buildings, programs, and processes? The education demands of our society have never been greater. Businesses and organizations are struggling to deal with the information explosion and the associated needs and requirements of a global workforce in the knowledge age. It is estimated that the equivalent of 30 credit hours of learning will be required every seven years for a person to remain gainfully employed in the Information Age (Dolence and Norris, 1995).

The major growth area in education predicted for the next decade is the market for professional and graduate degrees and updating. A growing need for customized interdisciplinary degrees, similar to the skills acquired during apprenticeships, is emerging. With distance learning as a catalyst for change, the university truly needs to be transformed from the inside-out to meet this challenge. Accomplishing this inside-out change process will require changes in all the aspects of the university, but it will result in a newly evolved institution that can better serve the needs of our students in the knowledge age.

The commitment to transform the institution has been made at Florida State University-at least tentatively. The leadership at FSU understands that a commitment to an inside-out transformation must be embraced by the entire university community. And thus our key principles for these changes come from three sources:

  • Strategic planning-to help guide us in where and what we need to do,
  • Change management-to help manage how we can reach the goal, and
  • Instructional design-to realize our core mission of providing efficient, effective educational experiences.
The question that is often being raised about the new interactive programs is, "Just what is interactive distance learning? How is interactive distance learning different from on-campus instruction?" The answer, we think, is that there is no difference- that the distinction between on-campus and distance learning is blurring just as the distinction between work and home is blurring.

Strategic Planning

In the Beginning: What is the Goal

In the beginning, a vision is needed. In the beginning, planning is needed. In the beginning, sponsors are needed.

Before describing the Interactive Distance Learning initiative, a few words about Florida State and its constituency will help provide the context for this next evolution of the university. The Florida State University (FSU) is a public, fully accredited, coeducational institution of the State University System of Florida, and is the state's oldest active site of higher education. The main campus is located on 418 acres in Tallahassee. It is one of ten universities of the State University System (SUS) of Florida. The SUS operates under the supervision of the Florida Department of Education, and is governed through the State Board of Regents. The total enrollment of the University is about 30,000 students.

FSU has a long history of change and evolution-having evolved from a small seminary in 1857 through its evolution to a large women's college to its present state as a Research I comprehensive research institution. Recognizing the need for change, and to better serve the needs of Florida's citizens, is what prompted the University, in 1992, to begin once again the process of redefining itself.

The FSU distance learning initiative has its roots in a Distance Learning Committee commissioned in 1992 by then President Dale Lick. This committee published a report in December, 1993, which established the following goal for distance learning at FSU.

FSU (through distance learning) will contribute to an educational climate in which every Floridian will have full access to valid, individually responsive, and useful learning experiences made available at appropriate and convenient places and times. The learning will assist them to function continually as knowledgeable individuals and effective citizens. (FSU Distance Learning Committee, R. Kaufman, Chair, 12/27/93, p.4)

Dr. Roger Kaufman, who chaired this committee was the ideal person for this task. He is internationally known for his approaches to strategic planning and visioning, which incorporate a spectrum of approaches, from the micro level to the mega level. In Kaufman's model, one looks not only beyond the immediate micro environment of the university, but beyond that to the macro environment of the state and its needs, and further yet, to the mega environment of the society's needs, and to the ideal vision that we would like to design and develop. Thus, from the beginning, distance learning was conceptualized as part of a much larger framework. (We needed to ask the question, just what business are we really in.?)

The distance learning committee evolved first into a task force, and then finally into a university-wide Council, composed of about 20 individuals with significant responsibilities and vested interests, such as deans, directors, and other key stakeholders. This created a group of strong sponsors not only for distance learning, but also for the change process. This group is a visionary group, encouraging the movement toward not only distance learning, but a new teaching and learning paradigm.

The Beginning Continues: What is the First Step?

The council recommended that the only way to move from the plan to the implementation was to establish a university-wide office for distance learning. This was accomplished in the Summer of 1995 with the hiring of an associate director, followed by the hiring of a director in late October of 1995.

With the establishment of this office, there was good news and bad news. The good news was that it existed; the bad news was that few resources had actually been committed. And there was much to be done, including the purchase of computers and the installation of networking, creation of a space for demonstrations, and the formation of a work team with new graduate students. Counting graduate students, the office was started with a team of two professionals, a student office assistant, and four graduate Ph.D. students. In addition to just getting an office operational, there was the challenge of building a university wide consensus and support for what was basically a top-down initiative.

In the midst of all the beginnings the distance learning council developed a white paper that fleshed out the ideas of distance learning and what the first steps of the implementation plan would be. Early on, there was much discussion about distance learning and whether that was a good name, given the goal to transform the university. An early decision was to rename the office to the Office of Interactive Distance Learning, thus conveying an implicit and explicit message that we would focus on the design of distance learning programs that increased, rather than diminished, the interaction and dialogue in learning.

We also built on the definition from the distance learning council and developed this definition of interactive distance learning (IDL).

Interactive distance learning is an educational philosophy for designing interactive, responsive, and valid information and learning opportunities to be delivered to learners at a time, place, and in appropriate forms convenient to the learners.

Interactive distance learning focuses on the belief that communication and dialogue are the key components of learning, wherever, and whenever it occurs. Interactive distance learning is designed around these three types of dialogue.

  • The dialogue between faculty and students,
  • the dialogue between students, and
  • the dialogue between the student and a rich array of media and other learning resources.

Thus, we envisioned that interactive distance learning programs would assist in the following goals for teaching and learning at Florida State:

  • Expand access to higher education so that FSU students can learn anywhere, anytime and at any speed with valid and useful learning experiences. This expanded access can be accomplished by offering extensive professional development and life-long learning educational experiences by IDL on-campus and off-campus.
  • Focus on programs that will create and deliver transformed courses both on-campus and off-campus.
  • Achieve these goals by use of the current and emerging interactive information technologies.
  • Impact the full spectrum of the Florida State University's academic functions from the recruiting and admission processes through the full teaching and learning experiences including the support systems such as student life and library information services.
  • Encourage faculty to incorporate components of IDL technologies and principles in their on-campus courses as appropriate
Interactive distance learning is likely to evolve rapidly over the next decade. For now, some of its key characteristics can be summarized in the ACCEL model.

A ctive. Learners participate in a variety of new forms of learning that include thoughtful and engaged activity.

C ollaborative. IDL includes and facilitates discussion and exchange among students.

C ustomized and accessible. IDL fits the needs and requirements of students in terms of time, career goals, levels of preparation, and learning styles.

E xcellent quality. Courses are designed with a learner- focus, enabling learners to achieve desired goals and objectives. This type of learning generally will include communication with faculty members and other students, and include quick and easy access to high quality instructional resources.

L ifestyle-fitted. IDL accommodates lives of students, affording cost-effective educational opportunities anywhere, anytime, and at a reasonable speed.

Learning is set within a context of a mentoring relationship among learning communities of faculty and students. The model also assumes access to a rich, information-age library including databases, electronic journal access, and interactive high-quality instructional resources.

With the vision clarified and a set of criteria and characteristics for the initial programs, we had to determine what the overall specific goal would be. We needed to make the goal measurable. So the goal of transforming the entire FSU curriculum by the year 2002 was proposed. Starting in the year 1995, that provided seven years to accomplish the task. Seven years -which had a nice biblical connotation-was rejected as being too aggressive. Likewise, it was suggested that changing the entire curriculum was not needed or might be unwise. The goal finally agreed upon was to transform some to most of the FSU curriculum by the year 2005. It was felt that a decade to achieve the goal was both more reasonable and less jarring.

The reason for this modification of the goal is easy to understand. Change is intimidating and in the university environment significant change usually occurs over a long period of time. To accomplish this grand challenge in a shorter period of time requires using explicit change management principles. Let's look at those and how FSU is applying them in this case.

Managing Change in the University: Moving to Interactive Distance Learning

As one might imagine the launching of a program of this magnitude on the campus met with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The faculty who are innovative and early adopters were enthused, motivated and on-board immediately; other faculty members viewed the initiative (as with anything launched by the administration)with a healthy dose of cynicism and skepticism.

It became very apparent, quite early on in the process, that an organized educational process would have to occur prior to or concurrent with the evolution of the change. Faculty are the core of the teaching and learning process. Thus, an essential part of the change process is that faculty and department chairs and deans believe that the change is important to them. Buy-in on the part of the faculty members is particularly important as this initiative, to date, has been funded through reallocation of existing university resources (i.e., no new funds).

To facilitate the change process, the Distance Learning Committee has reorganized itself around four committees to address the major areas of interface with the campus and to continue to define the goal.

One committee, the Campus Transition Committee has been charged with facilitating the transition process. This group is developing and assisting in implementing a plan to communicate a shared vision of the new interactive learning and flexible learning environments across campus. This includes the requisite infrastructure and access to technology that must be invested in and planned to support the new paradigm. This committee has already sponsored some university-wide seminars to bring in planners and faculty members from outside the state and the university. The intent of these seminars is to generate excitement about what other universities and campuses are doing in distance learning. Also new technologies are frequently showcased by vendors to demonstrate what will soon be possible and affordable.

As the initiative in interactive distance learning grew more visible on campus, other campus stakeholders began to exert their authority and influence as well. For example, the curriculum committee issued a blanket moratorium on any new course called a distance learning course, fearing that the course would be so radically different from the current version of the course that it should be reviewed for compliance with contact hour provisions, quality assurance, etc.

Another of the Distance Learning Council committees was established to deal with these kinds of issues. The Policies and Processes Committee is charged with reviewing current policies and procedures that impede the implementation and operation of interactive distance learning programs and propose recommendation (such as the moratorium, mentioned above). Other examples of current policies that impede IDL programs are residency requirements, and a rule on the books that prohibits a student from taking a course by correspondence study while taking courses in residence on the campus. A third committee that was established is the Distance Learning Program Planning Committee. This committee will focus on the planning for degree and curricular opportunities for distance learning. The first degree programs selected for redesign in the new interactive distance learning mode were those that were already being delivered remotely, but in a face-to-face mode. As other programs become ready for redesign, with the scarce campus resources being diverted to this effort, the political process will require that more discussion and more involvement by deans and faculty members on the selection of targeted programs.

Perhaps the most important of the four new committees is the New Learning Paradigm Committee. The task for this group will be to design scenarios of what our vision for interactive distance learning will be in 7-10 years. The realities of a day to day operation of distance learning on the campus is that one runs the inherent danger of getting buried in administration and bureaucracy, without being able see the forest for the trees. This committee will keep us focused on the big picture, the "what-ifs" and the question, "what do we want education to be?" In this way, we will not only design programs to be responsive to the needs of today's students, but can stay ahead and have a real impact on the needs of tomorrow's learners.

Then the Visionaries Stepped Forward

Building on the philosophy that "Projects lead the infrastructure." (Levine, 1991) and the necessity to start somewhere, we started meeting with the FSU deans and faculty to determine where best to start.

We finally focused on two degree programs that were already being delivered at a distance, but with people power and transportation technologies (automobile and airplanes), rather than the power of communication technologies. At a retreat in August of 1995 the Distance Learning Council had agree that a key priority was full degree programs so that students would have access to full programs. The two deans who committed their faculty to this change process were both deans of professional schools-the dean of Information studies and the dean of Social Work.

Both of these deans fit the change management principle of finding someone who is hurting in the current paradigm. These deans and their faculty were literally exhausted from being on the road and in the air, and thus were anxious to explore the use of communication technologies for reaching students across the state of Florida. In other words, they were ready for a change. The dean of Information Studies had already embarked on a process of change, and had the support of her full cadre of 14 faculty. The faculty were in the middle of the redesign of their master's of science program to respond to the needs of the new knowledge age information personnel. Also noteworthy is that both of these deans were also ready to reallocate internal resources, albeit scarce, to this effort. Both these efforts have been true college-wide efforts.

Instructional Design

Story of the First Full Degree Program

The story of the first master's degree program from the School of Information Sciences is a story of an innovative dean and an adventuresome and tired faculty. It is also a story of systemic change. To deliver this program as an interactive distance learning program, we needed to redesign the curriculum to accommodate the needs, requirements, and technology comfort-level of the students and the faculty, using existing infrastructure and developing new infrastructure, while meeting the goals and objectives of the content. In retrospect, the process was much like falling off a cliff, and working out the multitude of details on the way down.

But, first a little background is needed.

The goal of the master's of science degree program is to prepare students for a vital, leading edge career in the knowledge age. It is a 36 credit hour degree program with majors in either Library Studies or Information Sciences. The students desiring a degree in this field are scattered throughout the state of Florida. Past offerings of the program were built on the traditional classroom model of regular face-to-face teaching in a classroom. The new interactive distance learning model shifts the emphasis from the classroom to the World Wide Web. The underlying assumption is that rather than the physical classroom serving as the primary meeting place or gathering place for the interactions and dialogues between faculty, students, and resources, that the World-Wide Web becomes the framework for facilitating and enhancing the interactions and dialogues between faculty and students.

We are now delivering the first course in this degree program-LIS 5230: Foundations of Information Studies. It is a six credit introductory course to the entire degree program. This class is a foundation course being jointly taught by 14 faculty of the School of Information Studies. The course was fully redesigned to address three requirements: the goals and objectives for an information professional, to integrate the technologies, and to make it available in the interactive distance learning mode. It is being delivered using both synchronous and asynchronous distance learning technologies. The course is designed with 50% of the contact hours being conducted over a multipoint videoconferencing capability and 50% of the contact hours being conducted over the World Wide Web.

Some of the questions that faculty and the instructional designers analyzed prior to moving certain course components and activities to the web were:

  • What portions of the overall learning experience are enhanced by delivery in a face-to-face mode?
  • What experiences are enhanced by collaborative activities-either in small groups, large groups, on the web or with face-to-face contact?
  • What teaching and learning experiences can be effectively accomplished via the web framework, and
  • How can the learning be restructured to move away from synchronous instruction or experiences to allow more flexible, time-independent learning experiences?


Before illustrating how these concepts were applied in the redesign of the course, it might be helpful to provide an explanation of how we arrived at the total contact hours for the six credit hour course. Six credit hours of instruction, delivered over a 15 week semester, totals 90 hours of contact time. This is the time in a traditional lecture-based course that the faculty member engages in dialogue with the student in the classroom. The learning process also involves hours outside of the classroom when the student is actively engaged in interacting with print, video and computer-based resources or when the student is interacting with other students or working on individual or group projects. Traditionally these outside classroom experiences require an additional two hours for every hour spent in the classroom.

So the 90 hours of classroom instruction combined with an additional 180 hours -two hours for every hour of classtime- is about 270 hours of learning activities for this six credit course. The number of hours for a three credit course would be 135 hours, 45 hours of class plus two hours for each of the 45 hours (90).

A description of some of the differences between the classroom model and the interactive distance learning model follows:

Chart Showing How Dialogue Occurs in the Classroom Model and the Interactive Distance Learning Model
Type of Dialogue Classroom Model Interactive DL Model
Faculty to Student
  • Lecture mode primarily
  • Some use of technology
  • Lecture provides primary mode of interaction between faculty and student
  • Primarily a synchronous activity with face to face meetings
  • Lecture accounts for one-third of course requirements in most courses
  • Lecture component of the course is reduced. The lecture is just one way of providing synchronous group meetings.
  • Any lecture may be delivered synchronously, but also may be videotaped and broadcast on cable as asynchronous resource.
  • Asynchronous E-mail and web-based assignments and activities provide asynchronous mentoring and dialogue.
Student to Student
  • Less structured activity
  • Degree to which students interact with each other, and learn from each other, varies greatly
  • Individual and group students projects
  • Student to student dialogue is a more planned and structured activity which can be managed and monitored
  • True collaborative learning occurs -a valuable learning process for all students that contributes to the body of knowledge
  • Asynchronous group projects, assignments and activities
Student to Resource
  • Students access print-based materials to do research and complete projects.
  • Student uses a variety of resources and generally needs to go to physical facilities for access to some reserve materials.
  • Digital resources on the world-wide web provide are more accessible to students.
  • Faculty selects or refers to more digital resources. Students generate many more additional resources based on their project research.
  • Key resources need to be available. Copyrights or arrangements are needed for key resources.
How is the interactive distance learning model applied in the first foundations course of the Master's of Science degree program?

In this first course, the synchronous classroom activities of the course consists of approximately 45 hours; asynchronous and synchronous time on the World Wide Web is about another 55 hours, assignments and group projects are about 85 hours, and readings and tapes are about another 85 hours. This mix and match design enables the matching of the learning objectives to those learning technologies best able to support them.

A key factor in the redesign of this course to the new model is the group of 14 faculty. Most faculty have been designing and delivering courses over many decades in the classroom model. By retaining a significant component of synchronous time in the design, the faculty had an easy fall back strategy when they did not know how to approach supporting an educational experience at a distance. Interestingly, at the beginning of the project, faculty were very nervous and anxious about moving so much of the interaction to the web. By close to the end of the semester, faculty were saying that they did not need that much synchronous time and even more could be done via web tools.

To ensure access to the interactions and experiences on the web, all students are expected to provide their own computer and their own access to the Internet. Students in Tallahassee do have access via computer labs on campus if they wish. Students are encouraged, however, to have 24 hour access to their own computing resources.

Perhaps the most challenging technological issue was getting all the pieces in place for the multipoint (6) videoconferencing part of the course. This class is using compressed video over T1 lines to deliver the course to about 165 students. There are about 75 students in Tallahassee and 90 students in four metropolitan areas across the state of Florida-Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami, and Ft. Lauderdale. These sites are all connected via a videobridge at a Department of Management Services facility in Tallahassee. Arrangements were made with institutions in these physical locations to rent/use/enhance their videoconferencing facilities for this class. We had a very short time to get the system ready. Four of the five facilities required new equipment before they were compatible with the system. Technical support personnel had to be in place. Some of the four sites used audio only in one-two of the classes as the technology system was debugged.

Instructional designers from the Interactive Distance Learning Office are providing assistance to LIS faculty in the development of strategies that will facilitate interaction among the origination site and remote sites. The designers are also working closely with the faculty on design of teaching and learning strategies appropriate to the web capabilities, including the use of the web to facilitate contact time with their students. For example, the LIS web site is proving to be very effective for the dissemination of course-related materials as well as functioning as a bulletin board. This web site actually proved very valuable in fall of 96 when a class had to be canceled because Hurricane Josephine was threatening Tallahassee while the weather was beautiful in Miami.

Each week on the Wednesday after the class, representatives of the office of Interactive Distance Learning meet with LIS administrators to evaluate and discuss the Monday night class. Immediately following this meeting representatives of the office of Interactive Distance Learning also meet with administrators, faculty, and technicians representing the various support organizations, the Center for Professional Development, Academic Computing Network Services, to discuss the course progress and address any problems.

Design of Web Course Enviroments

A recent development evolving from the campus-wide effort in the development of web-based courses is the development of a consistent web environment tool for course design and development. The web environment involves a user interface to the course at two levels -(1) as a collection of tools, software, plug-ins, and resources available to the faculty member to facilitate the design process, and (2) the "look and feel," or "style" of an FSU course on the web to facilitate the student's interaction with and navigation through a web-based course.

The Office of Interactive Distance Learning is facilitating this process by arranging campus-wide meetings to include network administrators, web designers, faculty members, and instructional designers, who are providing guidance and expertise for a web environment tool for FSU. Some of the criteria, or wish items desired in a web environment are as follows:

Current and/or Desire Features Faculty Tools Student Tools
Access to current grade X
Automatic indexing and searching X X
Calendar X
Capability to upload information easily X X
Chat tool X X
Course Announcements X X
Course backup X
Customized course "look and feel" X
Electronic mail X X
External references connections X X
Grade Reporting X
Listserve X X
Peer critique tools X
Progress tracking X X
Questionnaire delivery and support X X
Searchable and linkable glossary X X
Student bio information X X
Student presentation areas X X
Student self-evaluation X X
Student management X
Syllabus X X
Timed on-line quizzes X X
As work proceeds on this project, we anticipate that we will look at other faculty web applications in developing this for FSU use. Other degree programs will be launched over the next three years, as well as some stand-alone courses for which we anticipate high demand and registration, not only for FSU students, but students at a distance.

Social Work Master's of Science Program

The second major program launched this year is the Master of Social Work (MSW) that is designed for professional social workers. It has two curriculum tracks: Clinical Social Work Social Services and Administrative Practice (SSAP) Current plans call for this new program to be delivered starting in the fall of 1997 via innovative systems using electronic media, interactive video-conferencing, and on-site instructors.

Currently IDL staff are assisting in budget preparation and meeting with Social Work representatives to evaluate program design and delivery needs. IDL is also coordinating the weekly planning and development meetings.

Some Final Words: "Taking the Distance out of Learning"

After a somewhat turbulent year, and a very anxious fall semester, as the degree program in Information Studies was launched, the Office of Distance Learning developed a mission statement. That mission statement is "To support academic units in the design, development, and delivery of interactive distance learning." An accompanying message is "Taking the distance out of learning." We think this is a particularly appropriate message with the emphasis on interactivity. With interactivity, it is almost as good as "being there."

The thought of turning a university inside-out can be a jarring image. The same inside-out image can be likened to the blooming of a flower. Designing a new teaching and learning paradigm for the knowledge age can be the catalyst for significant renewal and the reblooming of a great university. We hope that FSU and other universities on this journey enjoy the wonder of this creation.


  • Bates, A. W. (Tony) Technology, Open Learning and Distance Education. London and New York: Routledge Publishing, 1995.
  • Boettcher, J.V. and Foster, Barbara. Ed. White Paper on Distance Learning at Florida State University, 1996. Unpublished manuscript.
  • Davis, Stanley M. and Botkin, James W. The Monster Under the Bed. Simon & Schuster, 1994.
  • Dolence, Michael G. and Norris, Donald M. Transforming Higher Education: A Vision for Learning in the 21st Century. Society for College and University Planning, 1995.
  • Harasim, Linda M. Online Education: Perspectives on a New Environment. Praeger Publishers, 1990.
  • Levine, Larry. In a speech at ACM/SIGUCCS. St. Louis, MO April, 1991


Revised February 19, 2006
Copyright Judith V. Boettcher, 1997-2010