June 1999 // Volume 37 // Number 3 // Feature Articles // 3FEA5

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Food Safety Instructor Training Using Distance Education

An instructor training program was designed to provide state mandated food safety updates for certified Food Protection Management (FPM) instructors using the Trans-Texas Videoconferencing Network (TTVN). The distance education train-the-trainer program featured innovative, interactive, computer-based instructional components including multimedia class materials and activities. A telephone survey of 89 participants indicated that videoconferencing was just as effective as face-to-face instruction and that there was a substantial increase in self-reported knowledge of food safety content after the training program.

Kim E. Dooley
Assistant Professor
Department of Agricultural Education
Internet Address: k-dooley@tamu.edu

Peggy Gentry Van Laanen
Associate Professor and Extension Nutrition Specialist
Department of Animal Science
Internet Address: p-vanlaanen@tamu.edu

Rickie D. Fletcher
Research Associate
Public Policy Research Institute
Internet Address: r-fletcher@tamu.edu

Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas


The Texas Agricultural Extension Service (TAEX) initiated the Food Protection Management (FPM) program in 1996. The FPM program provides required update training for instructors conducting certification programs for food service establishment managers. The instructors are required by state rule to obtain seven hours of approved update training every three years in order to maintain instructor status with the Texas Department of Health (TDH).

Working through the Institute of Food Science and Engineering at Texas A&M University, TAEX and TDH collaborated to provide a continuing education program to reach across the state using distance education. With over 100 interactive video sites, the Trans-Texas Videoconference Network was the selected method of delivery. A U.S. Department of Agriculture telecommunications grant provided funding for the development, implementation, and evaluation components of the program. A fee-based program strategy is being used to provide program sustainability. This project may serve as a model for other states planning to use distance education methodology for continuing education activities for professionals.


The objectives of this project included: (a) collaboration in an instructional team with the TDH, local and regional health departments, the Texas Restaurant Association, the Educational Foundation of the National Restaurant Association, and coordinators of accredited FPM programs in Texas to determine appropriate training content and curriculum; (b) development and production of innovative distance learning materials utilizing the expertise of distance education specialists; (c) improvement of accuracy and consistency of food safety information and enhancement of teaching techniques used by FPM instructors in Texas; and (d) exploration of the advantages of distance learning technology to reduce overall training costs by decreasing the number of times courses need to be delivered to the target audience.

Instructional Methodology and Strategies

The hallmark of distance learning is combining technology and education to reach audiences across vast distances, which is particularly relevant in conducting uniform training on a statewide basis. For this project, interactive videoconferencing provided the opportunity for FPM instructors across the state to receive required training without excessive costs in travel and time.

Also, using multimedia and interactive teaching strategies helps foster student-centered approaches to learning, allowing participants to interact fully with the program content, each other, and the course instructors (Moore, 1989). Interestingly, comparative studies show little difference in learning outcomes among various methods of delivery (Russell, 1996). Generally, the success of one medium over another depends on the attention given to instructional design.

Yet, distance education delivery systems do warrant special preparation. Although an instructor in a traditionally taught, face-to-face session may focus on the preparation and delivery of lectures to groups of students meeting at one location, instructors using mediated technology are more likely to focus on communication strategies, building rapport, and allowing for active, self-directed learning. Dillon and Walsh (1992) suggest that teaching at a distance requires different skills and practices by instructors.

Trainers must learn how to make the best use of the technologies available in order to personalize their instruction and actively involve learners. Important instructor skills and behaviors include: (a) competent faculty skilled in their subject area and in presentation skills, (b) meaningful interactions that occur between and among instructor(s), site facilitators and students, (c) well organized and readily available support materials, (d) effective collaboration between instructors, program planners and instructional designers, (e) integration of multimedia, and (f) instruction that is responsive to student learning needs (Egan & Sebastian, 1993).

In addition to the instructor skills and behaviors previously mentioned, the FPM instructors and site facilitators were trained on the importance of "immediacy" behaviors, that is behaviors that help the learner overcome the feelings of isolation often associated with distance learning environments (Hackman & Walker, 1990). Immediacy behaviors include making eye contact with the camera, building rapport with the audience, giving feedback to ensure content understanding, and using participant examples and prior experiences, as well as providing advanced organizers and content outlines. To maintain interest and use interactive videoconferencing to its best advantage, a combination of mini-lectures and interactive (small group) strategies was used. Short, alternating activities helped to take advantage of differences in preferred learning styles and to vary the pace of instruction.

The FPM Instructor Training Program

To provide optimal interaction between instructors and the course participants, only three remote sites were used: Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, with the program originating in College Station.

Program content, as recommended by the instructional team, focused on the application of the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system in food service operations. The content was delivered by three specialists with expertise in food microbiology, the HACCP concept/principles, and sanitation practices. The specialists represented university academia and research (Texas A&M University), government (Food and Drug Administration) and industry (National Restaurant Association). Following each presentation, an "application activity" was used to enhance retention and transfer. Questioning played an important role in guiding the learner, as did discussion and other forms of peer or collaborative learning. Providing activities at each distant site, as well as between sites, encouraged participants to solve problems in both small and large group settings.

Because the participants were new to distance education delivery, FPM training sessions began with an introduction to videoconferencing. This helped to build rapport and established the protocol for using this technology in a non-threatening way. Only one remote site could be viewed at a time using this system, so each participant's nametag was color coded, allowing instructors to call upon "teams" at each site. This strategy was effective in gaining interaction at multiple sites.

Participants were provided notebooks that contained instructional materials and copies of the presenter's PowerPoint® slides. Also, a HACCP reference book and adult teaching strategies were included so participants could develop their own training materials.

Evaluation and Results

Following the program, 89 conference participants were interviewed by the Public Policy Research Institute (PPRI) at Texas A&M University. A telephone survey was designed to elicit respondents' views of the videoconference technology, as well as the subject matter delivered. There were no refusals and no terminated interviews for an outstanding cooperation rate of 100%. In addition, 25% of the completed interviews were gathered through the use of PPRI's toll-free telephone number, as hard-to-reach respondents were invited to call PPRI. Consequently, 22 of the 89 interviews involved respondents returning telephone calls from PPRI, suggesting that HACCP training participants were eager to discuss their experiences with interviewers.

One of the unique characteristics of the HACCP training was that it was presented via the Trans-Texas Videoconference Network to Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio rather than in a face-to-face format. Consequently, the Texas Agricultural Extension Service wanted to ask questions of participants concerning this specific type of technology.

One of the major conclusions of the survey was that nearly three-fourths (71.9%) of respondents indicated that the distance education technology was as effective as face-to-face training. Saving money, reducing travel time, interactivity and the ability to ask questions were included in the favorable comments. On the other hand, those who did not prefer this technology (28.1%) felt that delays in transmission, an impersonal atmosphere, and their unfamiliarity with the technology were detrimental aspects of videoconferencing technology.

A total of 96.6% of respondents felt that this technology should be used in the future for this type of training. Those in favor felt it was economical, educational, interactive, and benefited large, diverse groups of people. The few negative comments (3.4%) involved the perceived lack of comfort and impersonal nature of videoconferencing technology.

Furthermore, 91.0% of respondents felt that there was enough balance in the conference program between lecture (speaker presentations) and interactive activities. Reasons given by respondents included splitting off into work groups, high levels of participation, and the ability to ask questions. The site facilitators played a major role in this dimension of the program.

The second major conclusion of the survey was the substantial increase in self-reported knowledge of the HACCP concept and principles after attending the TAEX sponsored program. Respondents were asked to rate their knowledge on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being "not very knowledgeable" and 5 "very knowledgeable." Table 1 shows these self-ratings.

Table 1
Self-Rating by Respondents of HACCP Concept
& Principles Before and After Training
Before After
Very knowledgeable 14.6% 51.7%
4 28.1% 44.9%
3 36.0% 3.4%
2 16.9% 0.0%
Not very knowledgeable 4.5% 0.0%

Since ratings of 4 and 5 can be considered higher self-knowledge, the percentage of HACCP training respondents who considered themselves knowledgeable of the HACCP concept and principles increased from 42.7% before the training to 96.6% after the training. Conversely, the percentage of respondents who felt they had little knowledge of the HACCP concept and principles decreased from 21.4% before the training to 0.0% after the training. The average score (mean) for respondents before training was 3.31, but 4.48 after the training (Table 2). Examination of the t-test between these two items revealed statistically significant differences between the before and after self-rating scores at the .0001 level. One can conclude that this difference in perceived knowledge was due to the HACCP training.

Table 2
Means and T-Test Results of Before and After Items
Mean T-test Standard Error Prob T
Before HACCP training 3.31 ---- ---- ----
After HACCP training 4.48 ---- ---- ----
12.15 0.10 .0001

There were three additional questions asked in the HACCP survey. First, they were asked how useful they thought the printed materials they received would be in conducting their own FPM training programs (Table 3). More than three-fourths (76.4%) of the participants agreed that the printed materials were useful or very useful (ratings of 4 and 5). Second, respondents were asked how prepared they felt after the training to teach others about the HACCP concept and principles. Responses indicated that 87.6% felt prepared and very prepared (Table 3). Finally, respondents were asked to make additional comments concerning the training. There were numerous comments praising both the HACCP system and the videoconference technology. Most of the respondents wanted to see more training programs designed in this format.

Table 3
Percentage of Respondents Finding Printed Materials
Useful and Feeling Prepared to Train Others
Rating Scale 5 4 3 2 1
Usefulness of printed materials 47.2 29.2 15.7 4.5 3.41
How prepared after the training 43.8 43.8 7.9 3.4 1.11


The Texas Agricultural Extension Service (TAEX) sponsored a seven-hour Food Protection Management update instructor training at three locations simultaneously using the Trans-Texas Videoconference Network. Participants were interviewed by the Public Policy Research Institute using a telephone survey to elicit respondents' views of the videoconferencing technology and the subject matter delivered.

The vast majority of respondents were favorably inclined towards the use of videoconferencing for this type of training. They felt this type of distance education was just as effective as face-to-face training and that videoconferencing should be used for similar types of training in the future. Moreover, there was a substantial increase in self-reported knowledge of the HACCP concept and principles after attending the TAEX training, as compared to before the training. Overall, one can conclude that the Food Safety Instructor Training using distance education was very effective in disseminating the concept and principles of HACCP to the FPM instructors.


Dillon, C. L., & Walsh, S. J. (1992). Faculty: The neglected resource in distance education. American Journal of Distance Education, 6(3), 5-21.

Egan, M. W., & Sebastian, J. (1996). Teaching strategies for conventional and television instruction: Which ones contribute to positive outcomes for college students? The Quality Distance Education homepage (www.uwex.edu/disted/html), Madison, WI: Cooperative Extension, University of Wisconsin.

Hackman, M. Z., & Walker, K. B. (1990). Instructional communication in the televised classroom: The effects of system design and teacher immediacy on student learning and satisfaction. Communication Education, 39, 196-206.

Moore, M. G. (1989). Three types of interaction. The American Journal of Distance Education. 3(2), 1-6.

Russell, T. L. (1996). The "no significant difference" phenomenon. Research Reports, Summaries, Papers. Raleigh, NC: Office of Telecommunications, North Carolina State University.