Spring 1985 // Volume 23 // Number 1 // Feature Articles // 1FEA6

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How Closed-Circuit TV Works for Extension

Abstract
Old and new audiences are attracted and learn.


Floyd F. Branson, Jr.
Assistant Director, Personnel and Training
Indiana Cooperative Extension Service
Purdue University - West Lafayette

Shirley M. Davis
Director, Division of Independent Study
Continuing Education Administration
Purdue University - West Lafayette


Over the years, Extension specialists have driven many miles throughout Indiana to reach its 5 1/2 million residents. The state has 4 major population centers that together only account for 21% of the residents. Indiana is heavily agricultural, and with this dispersed population, educational programs designed to reach the agricultural and urban communities at the local level are difficult to deliver.

As needs of clients changed and cost of travel increased, Extension was forced to review other delivery methods for fulfilling its commitments to the citizens of the state.

Closed-circuit television provided an effective medium for statewide communication, and the existing Indiana Higher Education Telecommunications System (IHETS) supplied an excellent distribution system, at a lower cost than developing a new system.

Closed-Circuit Network

The Indiana Higher Education Telecommunications System (IHETS) was established in 1967 to serve the various communication needs of the public and independent institutions of higher education in Indiana. To carry out this mission, both an audio (telephone) and a video (television) network were established. Currently, 45 colleges and universities statewide are linked by the system, with 5 of these institutions able to input programming directly into the system. Team-taught credit courses, as well as very specialized credit and non-credit courses that augment the offerings of another campus, reach students via the network.

Three types of transmissions are used to deliver the video signal: microwave, instructional television fixed service (ITFS), and cable television. The backbone of the statewide system is leased microwave lines, with multiple lines running through the most heavily populated portions of the state. In local areas, ITFS stations and local cable TV systems distribute the signal.

A talk-back facility, called "tele-response," enables students at distant locations to question the instructor directly during a program, reducing the psychological distance between them. The audioonly response system allows students to interact with the TV instructor or other students at all network sites. Dedicated intercity telephone lines and specially wired TV classrooms provide high quality transmission and instantaneous operation.

Under the sponsorship of the initial group of colleges and universities, many other receive-only sites have been added to the system, including 17 Indiana Cooperative Extension Service sites. A description and evaluation of the Extension Service programs in NETS is the focus of this article.

Educational TV Programs

The Extension Service identified three major educational thrusts to fulfill its mission on TV: graduate-level courses in agriculture, in-service training in specialty areas for the field Extension staff, and specialty training for general clientele in the "missions areas." With the existence of a strong, statewide recommendation that Extension agents and vocational agricultural teachers complete advanced degree work, graduate agricultural courses via IHETS have been very popular.

With in-service training for the 320 field Extension staff, timely information may be delivered to 17 field locations throughout the state, saving considerable time and expense in keeping field staff up to date with campus specialists. Traditional speciality areas like agricultural marketing, community development, home economics, and youth leadership are addressed, as well as topics often omitted in live presentations like Equal Employment Opportunity, administrative procedures, the proper use of audiovisuals, and writing news releases.

Client Programs

The real highlight of the CES-IHETS marriage is the increased "clientele training," which offers specific educational programs to the citizens of the state. Clientele training in agriculture, home economics, 4-H and youth, and community development is provided at sites located a short drive away for most citizens of the state. Last year, over 750 people were enrolled in a 4-session soil fertility course and just under 500 took part in a swine production series. The number of sites used is a function of the anticipated client interest in different portions of the state, as assessed by the state specialists, area administrators, and county agents. The wide variation in enrollments is a result of the specialized audiences each course attracts.

The programs are produced in a TV studio-classroom equipped with three cameras that can be controlled by a single engineer. There's seating for a studio audience of 55 people, with a TV monitor for each 2 people. At the front of the room, an instructor sits at a desk large enough to seat a panel of four to six people. Clients who attend the courses at the production site may watch the presenter directly or may view the monitors in front of them. The monitors are needed for seeing any printed material or handwritten items instructors show via the vertical camera positioned directly over the desk.

At distant viewing sites, local Extension agents serve as program hosts, interpreting the technical information, if needed, and adding a personal touch as Purdue University's on-site representatives. Most groups meet in the Cooperative Extension Service offices, using one or more monitors to view the program. In a few areas, however, where local offices aren't yet able to receive, Purdue pays a network-established rate for the use of facilities and technical support at the campus of another school.

Evaluation of Client Programs

Assessing the effectiveness of a closed-circuit TV network for delivering CES client programs must incorporate the reactions of three separate groups: the clients themselves, the specialists who prepare and present the programs, and the administrative officers of the CES.

Clients' Evaluations

Client comments were collected and analyzed at the conclusion of a 6-week grain marketing course that took place in early 1982. The course was attended by full- and part-time farmers (89%), grain dealers (2.1 %), Extension staff, farm managers, bankers, loan officers, and others. A total of 421 of the more than 600 clients filled out evaluative questionnaires.

Nearly half of the respondents (49.6/a) were under 35 years old, indicating that television is readily accepted by younger farmers as a way to obtain information.1 The respondents traveled from 1 to 80 miles each way to attend each session, with the average distance from home to viewing center 23.7 miles. Nearly 95% of all respondents said that the TV series lived up to or exceeded their expectations. Nearly 70% said that new information was made clear to them and rated the instructor's presentation of new material as "easy" or "fairly easy" to understand. All but 7 of the 421 respondents indicated that they'd attend televised Extension Service programs in the future.

Responses were cross-tabulated so that broader trends could be observed and the perceived usefulness of the program could be correlated to personal variables among those enrolled. Majorities in all occupation groups viewed the program as "good" or 4"excellent." The fact that five percent of the people thought the program was worse than expected is cause for modest concern, but can be viewed as an acceptable level of discontent. Comments indicated `'that some participants thought the material was too (basic, while others thought it wasn't basic enough. Some wanted the instructors to spend more time on major topics, others less. The results indicate that while some improvement is needed, CES clients on the whole view closed-circuit TV as a satisfactory way of receiving this kind of information.

Data for a similar study were collected from the more than 500 clients enrolled in a 4-session course on swine breeding held in early 1983. The interdisciplinary effort, involving presentations by 11 staff members from 3 departments, focused on reproduction, housing, nutrition, and disease immunity. This activity replaced a number of county swine meetings resulting in an estimated 50% reduction in travel costs for the winter by Extension specialists.2 At the end of the 4-session series, 79% answered that the new information was clear and understandable and 84% rated the series as "good" or "excellent." This evaluation also included a pre-test and a post-test for the first two-hour session. Scores showed an average increase in knowledge of the subject from 58.5% to 85.8%.

Through client evaluation gathered in fall, 1983, some trends are beginning to develop that describe the typical audiences and the effectiveness of the programs. Typically, 50%-65% of those who attend are college graduates or have attended college; they tend to be younger than those typically attending open meetings, with 50%-60% in the 31-34 age bracket. Many women are attending programs not oriented toward traditional female concerns; for example, women made up 20% of the audience in a recent beef production course. Overall, agents have estimated that often 25%-30% of the attendees at the TV programs haven't previously attended open meetings, attesting to the acceptance of the medium by new clients.

Clients who come are generally well-educated, successful people who are serious about seeking more information. Because of this, they're pushing the specialists to bring in new material, to treat topics succinctly, and to provide objective data in lieu of general advice. Clients comment favorably when the special strengths of the medium are used well.

As the study of clients' reactions evolves, specialists are hoping to learn whether participants are actually making changes in their farm or livestock management practices based on information gained in the courses and whether the part-time farmer needs different kinds of information from the fulltime farmer. In general, evaluators are trying to learn more about the information-seeking behavior of the adults who make up their potential clientele.

Specialists' Evaluation

Even specialists who have taught clients for years in open county meetings are finding that teaching on TV puts new demands on them. While they about the relative lack of immediate audience reaction they have, getting responses from only those in the studio. Some feel that the question-asking is restrained and not as open, despite the audience members' statements on evaluations that they have enough time to ask questions. On the other hand, a primary advantage that the specialists frequently note is the availability of the videotapes for future use. This reusable resource is, to a measure, compensation for the extra work that goes into the TV production.

Administrative Evaluation

The principal decisions about the usefulness of closed-circuit TV for Extension Service programs lie with the administrative officers and the Advisory Committee, a group of staff representing specialists, county agents, and the coordinating office, who serve as a policysetting group and a clearinghouse. It's this group that, through the district Advisory Committees, assesses client needs, tailors programs to fit these needs, and informs clients about the programs and how they may be able to benefit from them.

The observations of the administrative officers address three areas: the programming, the attitudes of the clients, and the cost-effectiveness of the programs.

Programming. Use of the network for Extension programs is only in its second year. Selection is based increasingly on input from the county and district levels.

It's important, too, to include programming that the network is especially well-suited to carry, the information about current conditions, such as economic trends or weather, and about newly announced government programs. In early 1983, over 2,000 people in Indiana attended a 2-hour telecast to learn about the federal Payment-in-Kind (PIK) program. Several hundred were at receive sites in early 1984 to learn about the 1983 Dairy Adjustment Act.

Clients' Attitudes. Audiences for TV programs are very critical of what they see, and any TV production effort must take this into consideration. Initially, there was the sense that TV had to be entertaining, and if it wasn't, then it was boring. After a year and a half, there's less need for entertainment, and, while the socialization aspects of the meetings remain strong, the clients now go to the programs more to learn than to have fun. It still seems, however, that the successful TV presenters are the ones who have a good professional reputation, pleasing personalities, good appearance, effective teaching styles, and are willing to adapt classroom style to TV presentation. Furthermore, the successful ones do in-depth content preparation targeted to specific client needs.

The extra effort in seeking to meet clients' needs is paying off: agents are saying that new clients or clients who refused other CES-meeting invitations are coming to the TV courses. The questions the administrative officers need to answer are whether the newcomers are attracted by the thrill of new technology, the depth of the information available, the access to campus specialists, or other factors yet unstated.

Costs. Closed-circuit TV gives specialists the potential of reaching large audiences for every program, and this high volume is needed to make the programs cost-effective. Fees are charged to the clients to cover the cost of printed materials, program production, and administrative expenses. Nevertheless, the added preparation time required by the specialists and the production staff results in a program which, while it may not cost less in the final analysis, is often a more information-bearing and effective program. Specialists tend to prepare more carefully to make best use of the medium.

Future Prospects

A wish-list of programs requested by agents and clients is being reviewed for possible production and transmission on an already very busy network. As Cooperative Extension Service programs via television gain more acceptance and new clients are attracted through increased specialization in programming, a parallel increase in the number of receiving locations throughout the state is expected. It's the aim of Indiana CES to have a viewing site in each of the 92 counties.

With closed-circuit TV, Extension is extending its long-standing educational delivery system by exploring ways to exploit what the new communication technologies can offer. And their visions don't end here. They look to the time when the statewide computer network, FACTS, can be coordinated with the video program so that hard copies of graphs, charts, and worksheets can be provided as well as hands-on exercises that accompany each program. Before long, viewers may be able to remain at their own homes, enroll for a course by computer, and use the family or business telephone to call in questions and interact with the other students.

With the current success of closed-circuit television for Extension programs and the popularity of this programming, the Cooperative Extension Service sees the CES-IHETS link as a marriage built to improve as technological advances and local delivery systems evolve. Close attention will continue to be given to the needs of the clients and to finding ways to satisfy those needs.

Footnotes

  1. Horace S. Tyler, Evaluation of the Use of Closed-Circuit Television by a Purdue University Specialist To Teach Grain Marketing Principles, Cooperative Extension Service Paper No. 98 (West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University, 1982).
  2. J. R. Foster and others, "Use of Closed-Circuit Television for Swine Extension Program, Journal of Animal Science, LIX (59-Supplement), 88.