Distance Education Plan

AFS provides a wide array of continuing education opportunities using innovative methods to reach the widest possible audience of fisheries professionals

Distance Education Plan
American Fisheries Society
February 11, 2011

Prepared by:
Melissa Wuellner (Chair of Distance Education Subcommittee, South Dakota State University)
Dan Dauwalter (Chair of the Continuing Education Committee, Trout Unlimited)
Amanda Rosenburger (University of Alaska – Fairbanks)
John Woodling (University of Colorado – Boulder)

Executive Summary

  •  Budgetary, travel, and time constraints often preclude the participation of AFS members in currently offered continuing educations opportunities, such as courses and workshops presented prior to the AFS Annual Meeting.
  •  The proliferation of low-cost, easy-to-use technologies coupled with the increased experience of AFS members and universities in online instruction suggests that AFS could expand its current continuing education program to include more distance education opportunities via the online environment.
  •  This plan describes the spectrum of distance education opportunities available to AFS, with emphasis on factors to consider when offering such courses, examples of potential courses that could be offered, and means of measuring the success of distance education for the Society.

I. Survey of the Environment:

The AFS Strategic Plan for 2010-2014 mandates that the Society should provide a “wide array of continuing education opportunities using innovative methods to reach the widest possible audience of fisheries professionals” (see Goal 2; Objective 2.3).  Distance education is one strategy that can be used to meet this objective as it is innovative and the low-cost and wide availability of the technology used to deliver courses allows the content to be available to a wide audience across spatial and, often, temporal boundaries.  The purpose of the Continuing Education Committee is to help develop a comprehensive continuing education program.

AFS President Wayne Hubert has made education a focal topic of his presidency.  As such, he has charged the Continuing Education Committee to form a Distance Education Subcommittee to draft a plan that outlines options and methods for offering continuing education via distance learning with recommendations to the Governing Board.  This plan, therefore, was produced by the Distance Education Subcommittee as a means to describe how distance education can be offered to members as a means to complement the existing continuing education program of AFS.  As we outline below, factors of the current environment support the initiation of distance education in the Society; these factors include (but are not limited to):

  •  Current expansion of online courses and full online degrees among several university fisheries programs (e.g., Oregon State University, South Dakota State University, University of Alaska system), government agencies (e.g., USGS), and other scientific societies (e.g., The Wildlife Society, Ecological Society of America); and
  •  Increases in travel restrictions and budgetary constraints for many members of AFS that disallow participation in continuing education workshops held at Parent Society, division, or state meetings; and
  •  The multitude of low-cost opportunities and the number of AFS members who have experience teaching in such a medium to provide asynchronous and synchronous short- and long-term courses continues to grow and improve.

This plan outlines options for offering distance education courses to better serve the membership of AFS; descriptions of pilot cases and means to evaluate the success of the AFS distance education program are offered herein.  This plan is intended to provide guidance for expanding continuing education opportunities, and distance education should not be considered a substitute to current continuing education offerings.

II. The Spectrum of Distance Education:

A. Distance education technologies are rapidly expanding and options are nearly limitless.  We identify five categories that are important to consider when deciding on how to best offer distance education through AFS:

 1) Synchronous versus Asynchronous Delivery – Distance workshops or courses can be provided synchronously or asynchronously.  In synchronous delivery, courses are broadcasted via audio- or videoconferencing software to participants in real time during a designated meeting time.  In contrast, asynchronous delivery allows participants to access course materials on their own schedule.  Course materials can include audio and video recordings, print media, and electronic communication (see Seitz and Sutton 2010, Fisheries v35).  Asynchronous delivery allows for flexibility in schedule for participants and instructors but requires self-motivation on the part of the learner.  Synchronous delivery most closely mimics learning face-to-face as student-instructor and student-student interactions can occur in real time; however, learners who cannot access the course during the designated meeting time may be precluded from the learning experience.  Some topics require immediate feedback from the instructor or the student and would require synchronous delivery, but other topics lend themselves for independent learning.  Finally, synchronous delivery of courses may require more sophisticated technology than asynchronous delivery.  Instructors should consider audience needs, learning objectives, student and instructor comfort with technology, and his/her personal teaching pedagogy when determining whether a course or workshop should be delivered in a synchronous or asynchronous format.

2) Selecting a Medium for Delivery – One can deliver curricula from a distance with a variety of media, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.  An instructor should evaluate all potential options, whether high tech (synchronous, web-based) or low tech (printed or video media), and consider a variety of potential combinations.  The oldest and most obvious media is through printed material, which is relatively inexpensive and readily available.  In the case of distance education, printed material is usually supplementary and can improve the retention and preparedness of course participants.  Audio and video is also useful for asynchronous delivery of course material; the advantages of these media are that they are low in cost and less dependent on broadband; technology such as DVD and CD players are readily and widely available.  However, the flexibility of such media and the opportunity for instructor-student interaction is poor; an instructor may instead favor technology that allows synchronous student-instructor interaction.
Computers and videoconferencing allows learners and instructors to interact directly, but is sometimes subject to technological limitations.  Low-tech, inexpensive approaches for synchronous delivery include tele- or audioconferencing, supplemented with visual material provided beforehand. Most instructors, however, find this environment restrictive.  Videoconferencing one classroom setting to another (or a classroom setting to an individual) has greater flexibility and allows for more student-instructor interaction; however, it requires technology that may or may not be available in conference rooms or classrooms.   This contrasts to wide availability of computer cameras (e.g., webcams) for conferencing purposes; computer conferencing provides a good quality, intuitive environment for delivery.  However, these cameras are best for one-on-one interaction and do not allow a participant to view the full classroom or interact with fellow participants.  In many ways, the technologies presented above are intended to substitute for direct interaction between participants and instructors, and, in many ways, are poor substitutes.  The distance-learning option may be best viewed as a means to introduce participants to novel experiences unique to the online setting.  This is best accomplished through the use of online tools.

  Recent advances in software and technology have made the online environment more accessible to both instructor and student.  Leading course-authoring platforms include WebCTTM, BlackboardTM, ConveneTM, and eCollegeTM. They also allow a combination of delivery methods, including PowerPoint presentations (in sync with audio), online discussion boards, and interactive lessons using tools like Adobe Flash PlayerTM. These are excellent vehicles for online delivery, but their utility and quality is only as good the instructors behind them.  Crafting a high-quality online course is a daunting task that requires a great deal of preparation and training from the instructor beforehand.  In addition, once this effort is put into place, it is important to have a location to archive the online course material to make available to future classes or an alternate instructor.  However, the online environment may be the best option for giving both the student and instructor the greatest flexibility for course delivery, combining the strengths of all of the other options listed above.  Regardless, selecting the appropriate medium will require an instructor matching the best approach with the most appropriate cost, quality, and access for their participants and subject matter.

3) Cost to Participants – Similar to face-to-face workshops currently offered by AFS, the cost of online workshops and courses offered through AFS can vary widely.  Costs incurred for online delivery of a workshop or course may include software, course administration, and instructor compensation.  However, some costs may be avoided in certain courses if free technology and instruction is utilized.  To meet the goal of providing educational opportunities to the “widest possible audience of fisheries professionals,” (Goal 2 of Strategic Plan) instructors should strive to use the least expensive technology that fulfills the objectives of the course and is easily delivered to a wide audience of varying levels of technological experience and access. Instructors or the Society may also want to consider charging a lower registration fee for the courses to AFS Parent Society member as an additional benefit of Society membership at the national level.

4) Length of Workshop/Course – The length of online workshops and courses would vary depending on the subject.  Workshops and shorter courses would be appropriate for subjects that emphasize factual knowledge (e.g., species identifications) or develop narrow skill sets (e.g., résumé writing).  A long-term educational experience would be desirable for topics that require feedback from the instructor or a repetitive learning experience for participants to gain proficiency in a topic (e.g., scientific writing).  The instructor should consider the appropriate time frame that allows for effective delivery of the course while maximizing student learning in accordance with the course objectives.  Instructors should also bear in mind that longer courses may be associated with higher cost and decreased student enrollment relative to shorter courses.

5) Continuing Education versus College Course for Credit – Workshops or courses could be offered for credit towards professional certification or development or for college credit depending on the topic and student needs. Currently, the AFS Certification Program does not require continuing education unit (CEU) credits in order to earn Professional Development Quality Points (see II.B. below), but CEU credits could be beneficial to AFS members whose employers reward participation in professional development activities.

  Longer courses provided by a university could be taken for college credit.  Some universities already offer online courses (see first bullet in section I. above), and other universities may develop online courses in the future.  AFS could provide advertisement for such courses to the membership, but the interested member would need to work with the university regarding admission and tuition at a minimum.

  College or CEU credits should be awarded based on time investment, with longer courses earning more credit than shorter courses.  If credits are to be awarded, then the instructor or the student should contact a transcripting entity or university to determine the logistics of awarding credit.

B. Other considerations for establishing distance education for AFS.

 In addition to deciding what type of distance education opportunity to offer and what technology will be used, there are multiple short- and long-term considerations to implementing distance education opportunities for AFS.  These considerations include tracking participants, ensuring participants receive proper credit, increasing technological capacities of the Society, making certain that distance education opportunities are not a replacement for current continuing education opportunities, and coordination of advertising and archiving courses.

 An important logistical consideration for offering distance education opportunities is the need and ability to track course participants.  First, there may not be a need to track participation.  A distance education opportunity may simply be offered to distance learners to expand their knowledge on a specific subject and in these cases is would not be necessary to document participation.  However, other distance education opportunities may offer a participation certificate, continuing education unit credits that may be used toward a certification or certificate program, or college credit.  In these cases, it may be important to be able to track participation over one or multiple sessions.  Many technologies that are suitable for distance education allow tracking of participation.  For example, most web conferencing systems (e.g., ReadyTalk.com) offer options for participant registration that allows instructors to track participation.  Proof of participation could be done by tracking participation across one or multiple sessions, or by requiring successful completion of an exit exam or evaluation.  For example, the USGS webinar series requires that participants log in for one-half of multiple sessions to receive a certificate of participation.  Certificate programs are becoming more prevalent in many professions, such as education, technology, and health and medicine.  Such programs could be developed in the future for AFS members.  Tracking participation in such cases would be beneficial to the learner for proof of completion, especially for a suite of courses taken for a certificate program.  When planning a distance education course or workshop, determining how to track participation should be considered when determining which technology to use.

 University credit may also be available for distance education opportunities.  In these cases, credits would be tracked using typical university tracking systems.  That is, a student would enroll in the course through the university, the student would receive a grade for taking the distance course, and proof of credit would be made available on university transcripts.

 The need for tracking participation in distance education is dependent on distance learner needs for proof of credit.  For some needs, participation in distance education is taken at the participant’s honor, whereas other needs may require university transcripts.  For example, the AFS Certification Program does not require any proof of participation to apply for Professional Development Quality Points in their certification application; rather, all items listed on the application for certification are taken at the honor of each individual.

 In other instances course instructors may need to track continuing education unit credits.  In the past, AFS offered self-accredited CEU credits as an affiliate of the American Council on Education (ACE).  AFS has canceled its membership to ACE due to substantial cost increases associated with membership, required training as an ‘Authorized Provider,’ and the fact that most participants in continuing education courses and workshops offered at meetings did not do so to obtain CEUs (Long and Williams 2005, Fisheries v30).  However, a learner may be seeking educational opportunities in line with a certificate program.  In this case, tracking CEU credits may be required.  If there is a need to track CEUs for distance education opportunities offered by AFS, the affiliation with ACE or another transcripting entity must be reinstituted and course instructors must submit course for CEUs.  The cost per course participant would be approximately $40 USD, with an additional $15 USD for each additional transcript.  The need to track participation could become important if AFS decided to offer a certificate program for Society members in the future.  Individual members or instructors may also pursue CEUs but doing so would require work on the part of the individual or the instructor to determine cost or other logistics required to obtain credits.

 Effective distance education relies on technology that provides relatively fast and consistent connection to learning and is also easy to access from nearly any location (e.g., home, office, and hotel).  As previously mentioned, the mediums for delivery of courses are vast, but some options are more sophisticated (i.e., higher tech) than others.  If such media are desired for use, it may be necessary for AFS to increase its own technological capacity to meet the demands of the software (e.g., improved server capacity, increased bandwidth).  Additionally, the AFS website could be a powerful tool for expanding distance education opportunities through advertisement, delivery, and archiving of courses.  Future plans for distance education for the Society should be made in cooperation with AFS information technology staff.

 Use of the distance environment to deliver a course may be an excellent way to offer continuing education opportunities to AFS members who no longer have the means to attend annual Parent Society meetings. However, use of the distance environment as a mere replacement or substitute for the current program vastly underutilizes its potential to expand and enlarge the continuing education program.  The flexibility of the online environment allows for comprehensive courses that may extend beyond a few days.   It allows for participation of instructors from any location.  Further, it offers an opportunity for archiving and collecting course material for future use.  However, coordinating these distance education opportunities may require a concerted, consistent effort on the part of the Society to insure the quality of course delivery and offer a clearinghouse for course materials and online technology.  An expanded distance education program offered by AFS could require considerable effort to coordinate depending on the exact nature of the program as outlined elsewhere in this plan.  This effort may be too great to place on a committee or an AFS section, but rather be better served by a dedicated member of the AFS staff.   Currently, the Continuing Education Coordinator and Hutton Coordinator duties are handled by one AFS employee.  If AFS increases its continuing education program by offering more distance education opportunities, then coordination of these additional opportunities will need to expand in parallel and may require that a part-time or full-time dedicated staff person be assigned as the Continuing Education Coordinator.

III. Pilot cases:

We identify several cases of course offerings that could be sponsored or supported by AFS.  The cases in parts A and B cover the spectrum of distance education identified in Section IIA above.  The cases presented are ranked in order of complexity (least to most complex). These cases demonstrate current and potential continuing education opportunities which could be adapted for distance delivery for the benefit of AFS members.  The description of the cases below in no way guarantees that such courses will be available via distance education but simply provides suggestions and guidelines for potential future offerings and demonstrates the capacity of AFS to advance continuing education.

A. Short-term; Synchronous; Relatively Low Cost; Continuing Education

 1) Single-day course: Leading at All Levels of AFS

 Description: Leading at All Levels of AFS is a half-day workshop that has been provided free of charge at the AFS Annual Meeting and some division meetings for several years.  The goal of the workshop is to help future AFS leaders work effectively within the Society’s governance structure.  Short presentations are given on topics including: leadership; structure and function of AFS; constitution, rules, and procedures; planning in AFS; exercising leadership in your Unit; and parliamentary procedure and running a meeting.  These short presentations are given by various invited speakers that are then followed by group discussion that includes the leadership experiences of workshop participants.

 a) Plan #1 (Ideal): The ideal scenario for providing the Leading at All Levels of AFS workshop to distant learners is to do the workshop synchronously to allow virtual workshop attendance.  This can be achieved by use of technology that allows distance learners to simultaneously view PowerPoint presentations and speakers side-by-side with real-time audio using a simple internet connection.  The system must also allow workshop instructors the ability to interact with virtual attendees.  An example of the technology that would best facilitate virtual attendance is WyoCast used at the University of Wyoming (http://uwadmnweb.uwyo.edu/infotech/wyocast/).  WyoCast can capture sound, video, computer images, and presentations in a way that can be viewed live (real-time) or later if necessary.  The system provides side-by-side views of PowerPoint slides and the speaker with live audio.  The speaker, possibly assisted by a moderator, can interact with and field questions from virtual participants as needed.  Live lectures and presentations can be recorded and viewed later on demand.  This setup would allow live virtual attendance, but recorded sessions could also be made available on demand for later viewing.

b) Plan #2 (Feasible alternative): While live virtual attendance is the ideal set up, it is possible for distance learners to gain useful information by participating from a distance with no interaction with the instructor or on-site participants; that is, they view the workshop from a distance with no interaction with the instructor or on-site participants.  Passive participation could still allow distance learners to experience dialog among workshop instructors and attendees.  Recordings of the live workshop could be recorded and made available to be viewed on demand since there is no fee for the workshop.

  •  Timeline for action plan:
    •  February 2011 – Coordinate with workshop instructor (2011, Dirk Miller, Wyoming Game and Fish Department) to determine interest in offering workshop.
      •  March 2011 – Coordinate with Continuing Education Coordinator (2011, Kathryn Winkler) to add workshop to continuing Education agenda for AFS Seattle 2011 meeting.
      •  April 2011 – Coordinate with Annual Meeting Program Committee’s Continuing Education Chair (2011, Bob McClure, BioSonics) to determine efficacy to support virtual workshop attendance at annual meeting venue (availability and cost for room with technology, contractual impediments, etc).
      •  April – August 2011 – Finalize contract, if necessary, with meeting venue for technology support and operation.  Advertise course through the AFS listserv, website, and Fisheries magazine.
    •  August 2011 – Finalize details for operating technology with supporting venue.  Distribute information to virtual attendees on how to log in and participate in the workshop.
    •  September 2011 – Deliver workshop.  Evaluate workshop and make improvements where possible.

 2) Single-day course: Résumé and CV Workshop

 Description: This course provides an overview of how to successfully put together a résumé and/or CV for both undergraduate and graduate students in fisheries.  Emphasis is placed on format, writing style, and differences between the two ways of summarizing one’s personal experience.  The workshop closely follows the recommendations outlined in the AFS publication: The AFS Guide to Fisheries Employment.  This portion of the class is followed by a discussion and outline of proper job interview and on-the-job etiquette.  It is followed by peer-review of résumés and seminars between participants followed by a review by the instructor.

 a) Plan #1(Ideal): A webinar or recorded seminar, followed by a synchronous online meeting of participants where they can exchange résumés and CVs for peer review.

 b) Plan #2 (Feasible alternative): A simple recording of the seminar.

  •  Timeline for action plan:
    •  Fall 2011 – Identify instructor or team.  Identify online environment.
      •  Spring 2012 – Train instructors on how to use chosen online forum.  Develop instructions for participants on how to access course.
      •  Summer 2012 – Advertise course through AFS listserv, website, and Fisheries magazine.
      •  Fall/Winter 2012 – Offer course for the first time.
      •  Winter 2012 – Evaluate course and make improvements where possible.

 3) Short courses requiring more than one log-in day: Excel for Fisheries Professionals

 Description: This course would provide helpful tips for using Excel for managing, manipulating, and analyzing fisheries data.  Topics could include subjects such as database management and quality control features, graphs, running queries, pivot tables, and statistical packages such as PopTools or Solver functions.

 a) Plan #1 (Ideal): The U.S. Geological Survey has been hosting webinars of a similar time scale using GoToMeeting.com (see http://www.fort.usgs.gov/brdscience/Courses.htm).  The webinar service is free for users but a license for administrators will cost at least $99 per month.  The service appears to be easy to use and can accommodate large groups of people; one USGS webinar held during the summer of 2010 had 291 total participants from across the globe.

 b) Plan #2 (Feasible alternative): Free webinar software is available from many sites; one free webinar service is Freebinar (http://www.freebinar.com). Screen sharing capabilities and a post-webinar survey or quiz are two features built in to the Freebinar system, to name a few.  However, Freebinar may be more limited in function and capacity than a paid-for system and more complex for both instructors and participants to use.  We know of no agency or group that has tested this software to date.

  •  Timeline for action plan:
    •  Fall 2011: Identify topics and instructors for course.  Obtain license for GoToMeeting.com or sign up for a Freebinar account.
      •  Spring 2012: Train instructors on how to use chosen webinar service.  Develop instructions for participants on how to access course.
      •  Summer 2012: Advertise course through AFS listserv, website, and Fisheries magazine.
      •  Fall/Winter 2012: Offer course for the first time.
      •  Winter 2012: Evaluate course and make improvements where possible.

B. Longer-term; Asynchronous; Higher Cost; College Credit

 1) Semester-long course: Scientific Writing

 Description: This ten- to fifteen-week online course would improve writing skills of fishery professionals.  Participants would be taught how to improve the both their writing skills and improve the quality of manuscripts submitted to peer reviewed fishery publications, reports required by employers, grant proposals and grant completion reports.  Emphasis is placed on using a precise and concise writing style where the writer emphasizes communication with the reader.  Each student prepares a manuscript suitable in format for submission to a multitude of peer reviewed fishery journals.

 a) Plan #1 (Ideal): The class would be presented online by an accredited college or university.  Credits earned by participants could be transferable to other institutions in the future if the participants choose to pursue an advanced degree, but those logistics would need to be determined by the student.

 b) Plan #2 (Feasible alternative): A webinar or recorded seminar, followed by an asynchronous correspondence between participant and instructor where feedback is presented concerning the manuscript prepared by the participant.

  •  Timeline for action plan:
    •  Spring 2011: Develop syllabus and have it approved by host institution.
      •  Fall 2011: Advertise course in appropriate media and gage interest.
      •  Spring 2012: Offer course for the first time.
      •  Summer 2012: Evaluate course and make improvements where possible.

IV. Evaluating the Program

A. In order to determine the success for the distance education program proposed in this plan, several factors should be considered and measured.  These factors include, but are not limited to:

1) Number of participants – Tracking the number of participants in all distance education courses would gage the popularity of the program and individual workshops or courses.  Setting annual participation goals would encourage instructors to recruit and retain online participants.  If the number of participants in online courses increases on an annual basis, this would provide evidence of success.

2) Student evaluations – Evaluations could be created to measure student satisfaction and learning outcomes as a result of taking the course.  Participants attending the face-to-face workshops offered at the annual AFS meeting do fill out evaluation forms at the end of the workshop, and these forms could easily be adapted for electronic delivery.  The instructor could use an appropriate tool to measure the level of learning and determine if participants had achieved the learning outcomes established for the course (i.e., remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating).  If learning outcomes are met and student satisfaction is high, then evidence would suggest that the course is successful.

3) Expense versus revenue– AFS could incur some costs in developing distance education programs; these costs involve delivering the individual courses and maintaining the program (e.g., purchasing appropriate software licenses, providing compensation to instructors, paying staff dedicated to awarding credit for courses).  However, the courses could also provide a source of income for the Society in the form of registration fees or new memberships.  Tracking expenses and revenues would provide useful information on the success of the program; if revenues exceed costs or if the program “breaks even”, then the distance education program could be considered successful.

4) Agency perceptions – Many agencies pay for their employees to receive continuing education or may provide some sort of credit (e.g., bonuses, promotions) for achieving a level of competence (e.g., a degree or certificate).  AFS should determine Prepared by:
Melissa Wuellner (Chair of Distance Education Subcommittee, South Dakota State University)
Dan Dauwalter (Chair of the Continuing Education Committee, Trout Unlimited)
Amanda Rosenburger (University of Alaska – Fairbanks)
John Woodling (University of Colorado – Boulder)
the satisfaction of agencies whose employees are participants of the AFS distance education program.  Agencies should also be polled in order to determine what courses or workshops would be most beneficial to their employees and the agency as a whole.  If the agency is satisfied with the courses and the level of learning achieved by their employees, then the program could be determined to be successful.

5) Maintaining currency – Technology evolves rapidly, and distance education is no exception.  Further, the education needs of AFS members changes frequently.  In order to be relevant to members of AFS and fisheries scientists, course offerings and the methods of delivery must change.  Maintaining a database of online courses, instructors, and available software is highly important.   Updating the database at least once per calendar year will help ensure the success for the program.

B. Much can be learned from the work that other scientific societies, agencies, and universities are using to successfully deliver online courses in the most cost-efficient manner possible.  Communication with representatives of these other successful programs will provide insight as to how the AFS distance education program can improve and evolve to meet the needs of the membership.  Below is a brief synopsis of other popular programs provided by professional societies, agencies, and universities to date.  These programs provide education to members, professionals, or the general public.  This list of programs can be updated over time:

 1) Professional societies:

  •  The Wildlife Society – TWS currently has two online programs: the “Online Mentoring Program” and the “Online Mentoring Program for Native Americans”.  Limited information is available regarding the programs on the TWS website (see http://mentor.wildlife.org/about), but the primary goal of the program is to pair a mentee and a mentor for a period of six months to a year.  All communication between a mentor and a mentee is electronic.
  •  Society of American Foresters – SAF members are encouraged to test and recertify as foresters every few years; this helps to address the inconsistency among states regarding the education and experience requirements of being a forester (see http://www.safnet.org/certifiedforester/index.cfm).  Continuing Forestry Education (CFE) credits can be obtained online via the SAF website (http://www.safnet.org/education/continuingeducation.cfm).

 2) Agencies:

  •  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – The National Conservation Training Center (NCTC) has offered distance education courses for many years; most courses were similar to college correspondence courses offered over several months.  In more recent years, NCTC has used interactive television (iTV) and online resources to deliver courses (http://distancelearning.fws.gov). NCTC courses are delivered for the exclusive benefit for employees of USFWS; employees often must visit host sites in order to access courses delivered via satellite.
  •  National Parks Service – NPS hosts the “Bringing the Parks into Your Classroom” program for K-12 educators (see http://www.nps.gov/learn/distance.htm).  Employees at individual parks provide interactive classroom presentations through video conferences during set days and times.  Teachers may also obtain supplementary materials or lessons via the website.
  •  U.S. Geological Survey – USGS offers a multitude of distance learning programs online (http://www.fort.usgs.gov?brdscience/courses.htm).  Currently, USGS employees teach these webinar courses.  Registration is open to anyone, with preference to government employees and then consultants if class size is restricted.  Participants listen to the lecture while viewing PowerPoint slides or notes onscreen.  Participants interact with the instructor either through Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) or through analog or mobile phone lines. Most classes are taught in synchronous format, but others are recorded and archived to allow for flexibility in attendance.  No credit is offered for these classes but completion certificates are awarded at the conclusion of each course.

 3) Universities:

  •  Openculture.com – The website boasts over 250 free online courses from the top U.S. universities (http://www.openculture.com/freeonlinecourses).  Participants can download audio or video courses and can stream them via iTunes, YouTube, or through an mp3 player.  Example courses include animal behavior from University of California – Berkeley; evolution, ecology, and behavior from Yale University; and genetics from University of California – Los Angeles.
  •  MITOpenCourseWare – The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) hosts a popular online warehouse of 2,000 free undergraduate and graduate courses offered at the university (http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm).  The courses are archived from previous semesters, and participants can access lecture notes, assignments, projects, exams, images, online textbooks, or multimedia content, depending on the course.   No registration is required.  Participants can choose from a variety of courses, including biology, mathematics, and writing for science and engineering.

V.  Conclusion:

This plan outlines opportunities for expanding existing AFS continuing education courses using distance education technologies for the benefit of AFS members.  Certainly, this plan is the first step in identifying the potential and the constraints of such a program.  More information regarding member interest in the types of courses offered, the preferred mediums to be used, and the level of satisfaction of with the program by both the participants and the instructors is vital in determining the future direction of the program. Expanding continuing education within AFS must be done purposefully and strategically with continuous measures of improvement or success in order for the program to meet the needs of the membership.