Journal of the NACAA
Volume 10, Issue 2 - December, 2017
Evaluating Local and Distance Delivery on the Kenai Peninsula
- Matney, C.A., Agriculture & Horticulture Agent, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Land managers across Alaska are in need of educational programming covering topics of soil and vegetation management. However, many residents have limited access to the internet or have to travel long distances to attend educational events. In order to address these challenges, a series of soil and vegetation workshops were simultaneously delivered on the Kenai Peninsula from two distance delivery classrooms to compare local (face-to-face) and distance delivery methods of education. At the conclusion of each workshop participants were asked to respond to a survey to evaluate the quality of instruction. Results indicate that face-to-face instruction is preferred, but distance delivery is an acceptable option.
The Kenai Peninsula is one of the largest and fastest growing agricultural areas in Alaska. Considering where future agricultural growth could occur, there is great potential for an increase in rangeland and livestock production. However, land managers across the peninsula are in need of educational programming covering topics of soil and vegetation management in order to grow agriculture in the area. Part of this need stems from both limited access to the internet and long travel distances to attend educational events. The Kenai Peninsula is primarily rural and separated from the rest of southcentral Alaska by the Chugach Mountains, with only one access road (Hwy 1) from Anchorage, Alaska. Travel to Soldotna and Homer from Anchorage via ground transportation requires 3 hours (150 miles) and 4.25 hours (220 miles), respectively. In order to address these challenges, a series of soil and vegetation workshops were delivered on the peninsula from two technology classrooms located 75 miles apart: Kenai Peninsula College Kachemak Bay Campus in Homer and Kenai Peninsula College Soldotna Campus in Soldotna, Alaska.
Figure 1. Location of the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska and Workshop Delivery Sites: Soldotna (Northeast) and Homer (Southwest).
Workshops in Soldotna and Homer, Alaska were simultaneously delivered, with the primary source location (local) occurring face-to-face and the secondary location receiving the presentation via distance delivery. The location of the primary and secondary locations were alternated between Homer and Soldotna for a total of five soil and vegetation workshops. Participants were not aware of which sites would be the primary and secondary sites for each workshop, until after they had registered. The delivery equipment used at each location were the same and included a high definition webcam, omnidirectional microphones, multimedia projector, as well as a split screen viewing of the instructor via paired large format monitors. The Kenai Peninsula College distance delivery classrooms that were utilized are considered high quality interactive classrooms that have the ability to transmit and receive to/from multiple sites across Alaska. Other delivery locations were considered, but only Soldotna and Homer were adequately equipped for silmultaneous local and distance delivery. Participants were allowed a 10 to 15 minute intermission during the middle of the workshop. Each location provided snacks and beverages. At the conclusion of each workshop, participants were asked to respond to a survey to evaluate six primary factors: presentation of subject matter, engagement of teaching approach, quality of instructor feedback, whether or not they would recommend the workshop to others, whether or not the workshop helped them learn information, and the miles traveled to the workshop. The rating system for survey questions were on a scale ranging from 1 to 5: 1 = Disagree; 2 = Somewhat Disagree; 3 = Neutral; 4 = Agree; and 5 = Strongly Agree. Information from surveys were compared by method of delivery among the five different workshops that were offered using a two sample t-test (a = 0.05).
Results and Discussion
Face-to-face delivered workshops were rated higher than distance delivered workshops (p < 0.001) for each the five factors evaluated (Figures 2 and 3). Thirteen miles was the average roundtrip distance that workshop participants travelled to attend workshops.
Figure 2. Average Evaluation Scores (Rating) and standard errors of face-to-face (Local) and Distance Delivered Workshop Presentations during 2016 for Subject Matter and Approach, on the Kenai Peninsula (n = 127, a and b denote statistically significant differences between delivery methods (a = 0.05)). Rating scale: 3 = Neutral, 4 = Agree, and 5 = Strongly Agree.
Figure 3. Average Evaluation Scores (Rating) and standard errors of face-to-face (Local) and Distance Delivered Workshop Presentations during 2016 for Feedback, Learning, and Recommendation, on the Kenai Peninsula (n = 127, a and b denote statistically significant differences between delivery methods (a = 0.05)). Rating scale: 3 = Neutral, 4 = Agree, and 5 = Strongly Agree.
Even though all participants were delivered the same content and had the same instructors, face-to-face presentations received superior marks when compared to distance delivery. This could partly be due to feeling physically closer to the instructor (in the same room), as well as having access to the instructor to ask additional questions during the intermission and after the workshop. While face-to-face delivery of workshops may have yielded higher scores by workshop participants, distance delivery still received satisfactory marks. In this way, distance delivery was verified as a viable and important means of instruction in southcentral Alaska when trying to reach a larger audience as has been noted in other states that are utilizing distance delivery extension programs (Campbell et al. 2013 and Mullenix et al. 2016). In Alaska, where communities are often remote, offering distance delivery of workshops provides learning opportunities for smaller and insular communities that may not otherwise have access to Alaska Cooperative Extension Services. This way of thinking is further supported by the fact that the average participant in this study traveled only 13 miles roundtrip to attend a workshop, with only three individuals traveling distances greater than 20 miles (25, 35, and 70 miles). Overall, the data in our study suggests that while some individuals were willing to commute long distances to attend workshops, most individuals did not travel a roundtrip distance greater than 20 miles. These findings are somewhat in agreement with information from the Delmarva Peninsula on the Atlantic Coast where more than half of respondents (54%) in a survey indicated they would not travel more than 60 miles from home to attend agricultural field days (Miller et al. 2016). Additionally, another recent travel distance study conducted in the state of Washington examing medical care recipients found that most individuals in-state were only willing to travel up to 20 miles one-way to receive either routine or urgent care, with a maximum travel time of 30 minutes (Yen, 2013). Expecting participants to travel long distances, especially more than 40 to 60 miles roundtrip, to participate in face-to-face programming may not be realistic, unless there are mitigating factors such as travel stipends or other coinciding activities that compel participants to travel. The lower rating of the distance delivery method may be somewhat overcome in future workshops by utilizing a portable microphone for instructors and converting the format of visual aids to include larger fonts and simplified figures and charts. Allowing a question and answer forum during the intermission, with access to the instructor, could also possibly bolster ratings from distance delivery participants. Finally, in the future, distance delivery could potentially be enhanced by offering instruction directly to a participant’s home computer via platforms such as BlueJeans, Zoom, or Adobe Connect; rather than convincing a participant to travel to a distance delivery classroom. Future research should aim to compare these platforms to face-to-face as well as other distance delivery methods.
Miller, J.O.; Dill, S.; Rhodes, J.; Fiorellino, N.; and J. McGrath. (2016). An Annual Precision Agriculture Field Day on the Delmarva. Journal of the NACAA. Vol 9;1. Retrieved from https://www.nacaa.com/journal/index.php?jid=600
Mullenix, M.K.; Tucker, J.J.; Anderson, L.K.; Rodning, S.P.; Tigue, A. and L. Marks. (2016). Beef Basics: An Online Short Course for Beef Cattle Farmers. Journal of the NACAA. Vol. 9:2. Retrieved from https://www.nacaa.com/journal/index.php?jid=636.
Campbell, C.; Koszewski, W.M.; and D. Behrends. (2013). The Effectiveness of Distance Education, Using Blended Method of Delivery for Limited-Resource Audiences in the Nutrition Education Program. Journal of Extension. Vol 51:4. Retrieved from https://www.joe.org/joe/2013august/a4.php.
Yen, Wei. (2013). How Long and Far Do Adults Travel and Will Adults Travel for Primary Care. Washington State Health Services Research Project, Research Brief No. 70. Retrieved from https://ofm.wa.gov/sites/default/files/public/legacy/researchbriefs/2013/brief070.pdf