Use of a research methodology for the introduction of distance-learning technologies to rural areas.
Author(s)Darga, Richard Jerome
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AbstractThis study illustrates how rural hospital and school administrators might use a combination of research methodologies to assess key factors related to the development of a regional interactive distance learning network. An approach incorporating focus-group-like data collection methods and computerized text analysis was used to assess the current and potential interest in two-way interactive distance learning technologies among selected education and health care professionals in four primarily rural counties at the northern tip of Michigan's southern peninsula (Emmet, Charlevoix, Cheboygan and Presque Isle). At one level, this study illustrates a research methodology which can be functional, fast, and focused. It involves the use of informal focus groups from a cross section of subject representatives combined with a computerized text analysis and an analysis of variance. The research methodology will be of interest to rural school and hospital administrators who are called upon to develop strategic plans for development of programs and opportunities, yet who lack the resources to generate or purchase the information relevant to their specific populations. The approach forces one to focus on what is relevant to the participants rather than what the researcher believes to be true based upon common sense or a sense of the obvious. At another level this study is a step in a process of increasing understanding of how individuals who actually live and work in rural regions think about the development of new technologies. For school personnel two-way interactive distance learning development must demonstrate what the technology will do for access to professional development opportunities for teachers before focus is shifted to what these technologies will do for students or children. For health care professionals technology development must demonstrate what it can do for the nurses and administrators with respect to opportunities to advance careers through access to advanced education before the focus shifts to what it might do for triage or treatment of patients. Factors influencing the development of interactive distance learning in northern Michigan were identified as individual opportunity, system control, system organization, system communication or marketing, educational needs and requirements and access to diverse perspectives and cultures. These issues and conditions were identified as key variables that must be considered when planning investment in collaborative regional interactive programs.