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Release: Immediate

Long-distance UI students turn to new technologies

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The days when students taking a class by correspondence had to mail assignments to the University of Iowa are long gone as technologies such as the World Wide Web and electronic-mail bring new meaning to long-distance education.

A growing number of courses offered through the UI's Guided Correspondence Study program in the Division of Continuing Education can be taken, at least in part, through email and over the Internet.

Several others have sites on the World Wide Web where registered students can receive and post assignments, "talk" with instructors, and find other resources for their classes.

Kristin Hirst, course developer in the Center for Credit Programs, says the new technologies are adding greater flexibility to one of the most individualized forms of instruction the UI offers.

"Educators have traditionally been quick to use every new technology as a way to reach students off-campus," says Hirst. "In the 1930s, courses were offered on the radio, then on television and videotape. Now, faculty are integrating faxes, email, the World Wide Web, CD-ROM and other computer technology to communicate with students."

The UI Guided Correspondence Study program is one of the oldest and most widely used programs to reach students who cannot come to campus to take classes. The program offers 160 courses that can be taken by students anywhere in the world, completing assignments at their own pace, taking up to nine months.

All the courses are versions of those offered through one of the UI's 10 academic colleges. All are approved for UI credit.

Traditionally, students communicated with their instructors through the mail, receiving assignments, study guides and other materials at their doorstep. The students would complete the assignments at their own pace and return them by mail.

But as computer technology improves and becomes more widespread, faculty and students are turning to cyberspace. A handful of Guided Correspondence Study courses are available over the Internet and others are in development.

(more) 8/13/97

In other courses, students send in their assignments and communicate with their instructors by email.

While there are some drawbacks -- foreign language instruction and mathematical equations do not work well as email -- having the option of communicating by email saves students a lot of money in postage, long-distance charges (if they are faxing) and a lot of time.

The new technologies also often give students a sense of immediacy that is a hallmark of taking classes by correspondence.

"When guided correspondence study works well, there's a real one-to-one relationship between the student and the instructor," Hirst says. "The person doesn't feel as if they are one person in a class of 300 students. They feel as if the instructor is talking directly to them."

Hirst has taught courses in traditional classroom formats as well as by using the state's interactive video system known as the Iowa Communications Network (ICN), email, and the World Wide Web. She says currently there is a lot of exploring and experimenting among educators when it comes to new technologies.

Some faculty use websites and email to augment other forms of delivering education, such as in-class lectures. Some faculty are finding that the Internet can provide additional information and contact for students who take courses through the ICN.

The goal is to be as flexible as possible in offering students educational options, Hirst says.

"If the computer breaks down, students can still always mail their assignments in, or fax them," she says. "Or, if they happen to be on campus, they can drop them off."


For more information about the Guided Correspondence Study program at the UI, visit the website at or call (tollfree) 800-272-6430.