Students with Special Needs for Distant Learning In Nursing Education

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Distant Learning In Nursing Education and Students with Special Needs

Students with Special Needs for Distant Learning In Nursing Education

Who are Students With Special Needs,Providing Technical Support In Distant Learning,Course Resource Support In Distant Education.

Who are Students With Special Needs

    One of the emerging issues for DE programs is the accommodation of students with varying forms of disabilities. There has been little organized effort nationally in the United States to develop DE materials that are easily accessible to students with special needs. The US government has only recently mandated that government Web sites must be accessible to those who are blind and mobility impaired (Farrell, 2001). 

    General Web site design principles can be applied when designing DE materials for online posting and test sites are available to evaluate usability of Web based materials that are developed. Farrell (2001) reports that “disability interest groups such as the Blind Citizens Australia have made progress in producing appropriate principles for access to online courses. 

    Links to information about adaptive computer products and publications can be found  and can serve as a starting point for opening access to DE courses for students with special needs. 

Providing Technical Support In Distant Learning

    Although basic information about the technology can be provided during an orientation session, ongoing technical support is critical to supporting the learners and establishing successful learning communities. Technical help is particularly important during the first few weeks of the course, when specific problems with setting up technology and accessing the course are likely. 

    Technical support is critical to student satisfaction with teaching effectiveness. Students perceive failure of the technology as failure of the instructor (Anderson, Banks, & Leary, 2002). Ideally, there should be a central technical support center that is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to fulfill the DE promise of learning that is accessible anytime, anywhere, and anyplace. 

    However, this increase in support comes at a steep institutional cost. “Macquarie University in Australia and the London School of Economics have partnered to provide 20-hour help desk support, without adding to institutional costs by utilizing the difference in time zones between the two institutions to provide coverage to each other's students” (Farrell, 2001 ). 

    The support center must be able to assist students with common software and hardware problems and to troubleshoot and establish connections to the course during peak hours. Many technical support centers have a toll-free number, a pager system, or e-mail that students can easily access. Course faculty must be certain students know how to contact the support center.

    Technical support personnel are particularly critical for Internet courses and must be able to troubleshoot problems with hardware, software, Internet service providers, and network connections. When trouble-shooting, the technical support team should ask students calling for assistance what type of computer equipment they are using. 

    Cobb and Mueller (1998) found that despite instructions regarding the type of computer equipment necessary for Web-based courses, some students chose to continue using their home computer regardless of whether or not it met the hardware requirements for enrollment in the course, and these incompatibilities caused problems for course access. 

    Cartwright and Menkens (2002) found that many incoming students either overestimated their computer literacy skills or underestimated program technology requirements. Providing a variety of computer skill related information can ease students' transition into DE. Printed troubleshooting tips, online FAQ (frequently asked question) pages, and online flash movies demonstrating commonly used computer skills (eg, e-mail attachments, using the “drop box” in a learning management system to turn in assignments, and Web searching) can decrease calls to the help desk for support, and increase students' satisfaction and comfort with the online learning environment. 

    Cartwright and Menkens (2002) found that students also develop informal support networks of peers who are willing to assist other students with technical problems and questions. These peer networks work well and provide support just when students need it, as research supports that technical skills are often best learned in a subject specific context, and hence integrated into the subject material of courses (Rossiter & Watters, 2000). 

Course Resource Support In Distant Education

    Additional course resource support is needed for DE students. When students are far from campus, arrangements should be made with support offices to deal with DE students by some means other than face-to-face, or a special office should be set up to handle DE students. Providing a single contact point with in an area or a special office for DE students allows students to move directly to their questions and avoid explaining their situation each time. 

    Kazmer (2002) found that DE students were more comfortable with the latter option because they knew the name of the person to call for assistance. A review of activity logs for students in a program using a combination of videoconferencing and Web-based technology found that more than 40% of students were online between 10:00 pm and midnight during the week and during the weekend (Cartwright & Menkens, 2002 ).

    Therefore, support offices need to have hours outside the normal 8:30 am to 5:00 pm to best meet the needs of DE students. Support staff are the silent heroes of DE and ensure that the myriad details required for program success are dealt with effectively.

    There should also be provision for telephone or online registration (including drop/add) and advertising. Oehlkers and Gibson (2001) report that advisors are the “go-to person” when students have questions. Early assignment of an advisor and advising continuity enhances communication and problem solving.

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