December 1994 // Volume 32 // Number 4 // Feature Articles // 4FEA2

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Designing Meaningful Satellite Programs: The Many Faces of Homelessness Project

Satellite videoconferences require careful program planning and instructional design to be effective, especially for non-traditional Extension topics. The article addresses how the program planning team for a particular satellite program on homelessness successfully met design challenges. The results of the program evaluation are discussed. The success of the videoconference suggests that distance learning programs should be integrated with overall Extension programs, and specific program planning guidelines for videoconferences in general are recommended.

Edrie Greer
Program Specialist
Telecommunications and Professional Development
Division of Continuing Education and Summer School
East Carolina University
Internet address:

Ann Ziebarth
Housing Policy Specialist
University of Wisconsin - Cooperative Extension

Satellite videoconferencing is no longer a novel programming method for Extension staff or much of our clientele. This distance education medium can be highly successful when program planners follow effective instructional design principles (Marder, 1987). Such programs also save specialist and participant travel time and bring to remote sites a wealth of expertise that might not otherwise be available.

We have difficulty, however, designing programs that address topics outside Extension's traditional areas of expertise such as homelessness in non-metropolitan areas. A recent satellite videoconference in Wisconsin successfully united more than 300 people in 40 locations across the state to learn more about urgent housing needs, share their perceptions about homelessness, and question experts about alternative solutions.

Here is what some of the viewers had to say about the program, which was called "The Many Faces of Homelessness:"

     "I am very excited about the enthusiasm of the group
     that attended in our county.  We will be starting a
     housing coalition.  This satellite program served as a
     catalyst in bringing these people together."

     "Participants seemed particularly touched by the case
     studies.  We will be meeting again to form a housing
     coalition to look at substandard housing in the

     "Opened my eyes to the large number of homeless people.

     It let me see the situation through their eyes."

Program Design

The design team, composed of two content specialists, one producer/instructional designer, several Extension Family Living county faculty members, and representatives from various state agencies and organizations, developed the following program goals:

  1. To increase participants' awareness of the urgent housing needs in non-metropolitan as well as metropolitan areas.

  2. To illustrate successful programs that have mitigated the homeless problem in specific non-metropolitan areas of Wisconsin.

  3. To help build local coalitions of participants who can address the problem.

The University of Wisconsin-Extension Cooperative Extension follows a philosophy that the satellite portion of the videoconference is only one part of the total learning experience; on-site activities and print materials are just as important. Because the video portion tends to take more time and monetary resources, it is often easy to relegate other teaching tools to the background. A special attempt was made with "The Many Faces of Homelessness" to design a total distance education learning experience. The importance of the local site facilitator was underscored by involving several county faculty members in the videoconference design, thereby giving them the opportunity to feel "ownership" in the program.

Challenges to Program Design

Developing a satellite video program on homelessness presented several challenges. First, there was a common misperception that homelessness is only an issue in our larger metropolitan cities. Studies have shown, however, that there is a significant number of homeless people in rural areas and in smaller towns and cities across the state. Many of these individuals are in greater crisis because of the lack of assistance in their communities (Legislative Council Staff, 1991). To make this point "real" to the participants, our design team decided to tape on-location interviews with homeless people living in various non-metropolitan places. Although this added significantly to our budget, we anticipated that these interviews would illustrate the reality of non-metropolitan homelessness and highlight a few programs that have made a difference in people's lives.

Our second challenge was to encourage participants to follow through in a meaningful way with the information and ideas obtained from the program. To increase chances for follow-up, we designed pre-and post-program activities into the program mix. Given the subject of the program, we expected that many of the participants would come with diverse backgrounds and would not necessarily know each other before the meeting. We also anticipated that for some participants, this would be their first Extension program.

Meeting the Program Design Challenges

To encourage interaction at each site, we gave facilitators specific guidelines for involving participants in the distance learning experience. A few days before the program, site facilitators were asked to participate in a phone conference, where the materials in the Site Facilitator's Guide were reviewed. The program agenda, protocol for interaction, overview of print materials and a brief background discussion strengthened the site facilitators' comfort level about their roles.

The pre-satellite segment was primarily devoted to one of two site activities that facilitators could select, depending on the experience and composition of the local audience. Because this was the first statewide program addressing non-metropolitan homeless issues, and because there was little research available on the extent of homelessness in these areas, participants were asked to make a quick assessment of the perceived number of homeless persons, as well as the availability of affordable housing in their communities. At the end of the activity, pre-selected facilitators from six sites faxed to the studio a summary of their results using a special sheet that was provided in the Site Facilitator's Guide. The results were not meant to be scientific, but were designed to reflect a "snapshot" of the current homeless picture as our participants across the state perceived it.

During the first half-hour of the satellite segment, one of the content specialists analyzed the site activity data and reported the results. This was an exciting and innovative use of real-time interaction, which is an important component of successful distance education programs.

Other satellite segments included live interviews with statewide experts on homelessness, pre-recorded interviews with homeless persons, a panel discussion with directors of successful programs assisting homeless persons, and call-in question and answer opportunities for participants to interact with our panelists. Post-satellite activities were designed to focus on the third program goal of building local coalitions to address urgent housing needs. Participants were provided a list of local services available to assist homeless persons, a resource list, an opinion poll, and a program evaluation instrument. Site facilitators were encouraged to invite discussion of local concerns and to provide opportunities for participants to schedule future meetings to discuss coordinating local services or how to take steps to address local housing needs.

Reviewing the Impacts

Thirty of the 40 site facilitators responded to the evaluation instrument included in the Site Facilitator's Guide. Eighty-nine percent of facilitators felt that homelessness was an issue of importance to their community.

Eighty-one percent of the 240 respondents indicated that, overall, the program provided what they wanted. Nearly half of the respondents (48%) were new to Extension, never having attended an Extension program before. In addition, although the program was not promoted outside of Wisconsin, a number of out-of-state viewers watched the program. These viewers were from Utah, Ohio, New York, the District of Columbia, Nevada, Kentucky, Arkansas, Minnesota, Idaho, Oregon and Nebraska.

The supporting print materials, including a Site Facilitator's Guide and Participant handouts, were rated as very useful by 81% of the facilitators. Fifty-two percent of the facilitators considered the promotional materials highly useful.

More than half of the respondents indicated that they planned to share the knowledge they gained from the program with others, and 71% learned new things. Most importantly, half of the respondents indicated that they planned future programming on the homelessness issue in their counties during the next year.

Written comments on the evaluation instruments from both facilitators and participants indicated there was strong interest in meeting again to discuss local action. More than 25% of the sites planned post-program activities designed to build or strengthen coalitions of people influencing housing in local areas.


The success of this videoconference resulted partly from integrating the conference with an overall Extension program focusing on concerns about affordable housing. By following sound principles of good videoconference planning, we achieved our program goals of increasing awareness of urgent housing needs in non-metropolitan areas, highlighting successful programs addressing homelessness, and facilitating community coalition-building to ameliorate urgent housing needs in the state.

We recommend that others planning similar programs follow some or all of the following guidelines used in designing this satellite videoconference. First, we identified a critical issue that was part of an on-going Extension effort. Second, we built a team to plan and produce the program including those with content expertise, production/instructional design skills, and people outside the University who have special knowledge and community contacts. Third, we clearly identified the target group that could make a difference in addressing the concerns of homeless people. Fourth, we involved site facilitators and gave them an orientation prior to the program broadcast. Fifth, we built pre- and post-satellite segment activities into the program to provide a local framework for important concepts. Sixth, during the program, we shared the human side of the issue through on-location interviews with homeless people. Seventh, we made printed materials an integral part of the program and did not subordinate them to the satellite broadcast. Finally, we provided both participants and facilitators with the opportunity to interact and share their ideas though live question and answer segments, "instant" opinion polls, and evaluation instruments.

Overall, we believe that following these and similar instructional design guidelines in the future will magnify the success of Extension's issues programming delivered via distance learning.


Marder, J. (1987, August). Principles of effective videoteleconferencing--what to do and what to avoid. Paper presented at Distance Learning Conference, Madison, WI.

Legislative Council Staff. (1991). Legislation on homelessness. Wisconsin Legislative Council Report No. 12 to the 1991 Legislature. Madison: Wisconsin Legislative Council.