AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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Technology and Distance Education

Today, technology can be seen in almost every aspect of higher education, whether it is student services and human resources software, course management systems for on-site and distance courses, e-mail communication with students, laptops in classrooms, hybrid classes, faculty in one state teaching distance courses for institutions in other states, or faster and greater access to research materials via the Internet.

How technology will affect higher education in the future is hard to predict, but there is no reason to believe that efforts to expand the use of technology will abate. Local unions must stay actively engaged with that expansion at every turn.

The AFT has continuously worked on issues related to technology and distance education in higher education, encouraging our locals to take an active role in shaping the way that educational technologies are implemented at their institutions. Our focus has always been to encourage unions and institutions to ensure that:

  • New technology makes sense educationally, truly advancing student learning and scholarship;
  • Investments in technology make sense financially in a realistic cost-benefit analysis;
  • Students and faculty have full access to new technology and related training; and
  • Faculty and staff rights, including their intellectual property rights, are protected.

Regarding distance education specifically, the AFT took the lead in 2000 by establishing the following 14 standards of good practice to assist unions and institutions as they work together in developing distance education courses and programs.

Distance Education: Guidelines for Good Practice

1. Faculty must retain academic control.

2. Faculty must be prepared to meet the special requirements of teaching at a distance.

3. Course design should be shaped to the potentials of the medium.

4. Students must fully understand course requirements and be prepared to succeed.

5. Close personal interaction must be maintained.

6. Class size should be set through normal faculty channels.

7. Courses should cover all material.

8. Experimentation with a broad variety of subjects should be encouraged.

9. Equivalent research opportunities must be provided.

10. Student assessment should be comparable.

11. Equivalent advisement opportunities must be offered.

12. Faculty should retain creative control over use and reuse of materials.

13. Full undergraduate degree programs should include same-time, same-place coursework.

14. Evaluation of distance coursework should be undertaken at all levels.