February 2000 // Volume 38 // Number 1 // Research in Brief // 1RIB3

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Interaction Analyzed in Traditional and Satellite-Delivered Extension Educational Presentations

Although satellite technology for distance-delivery of educational programs has been available for a decade, Oregon State University Extension educators have made limited use of the technology. Many educators seem concerned that separation of instructor and learner in distance-delivered presentations will lead to unacceptably low levels of instructor-learner interaction. This study employed the Verbal Interaction Category System to measure and compare levels of instructor-learner interaction in satellite-delivered presentations and traditionally-delivered presentations. Study participants were adults enrolled in the Master Gardener training program in six Oregon counties. Interaction analysis results indicated relatively small differences in interaction levels of traditional and distance sessions.

Bob Rost
Communications Associate
Oregon State University
Corvallis, Oregon
Internet address: bob.rost@orst.edu


Delivery of educational programs via distance education technology is becoming common. But in the Oregon State University Extension Service, the technology's potential seems to remain partially unfulfilled. Perhaps the situation in other states is similar to that in Texas where, according to Hiel and Herrington (1997) ". . . this technology [distance education technology] is embraced by a few individuals who are willing to take risks, many others continue to work with traditional methods."

A common concern about the use of satellite transmission technology is the loss of interaction due to the separation of teacher from student. This separation, critics complain, makes it impossible for a teacher and students to talk to each other as freely and easily as they could if they were in the same room. As a result, the quality of the learning transaction suffers.

Hiel and Herrington (1997) noted, "Several individuals expressed concern about the loss of personal contact with their clients and peers while conducting activities over the Trans Texas Videoconferencing Network. One Extension staff member lamented: "As an educator I feel that in isolating the teacher from the learners, the passion is lost, it's not the same."

This is predictable. Educators who have done most of their learning and teaching in the traditional way--face-to-face contact between learner and instructor--often believe that teaching without the possibility of face-to-face interaction is hopelessly flawed.

However, it is incorrect to assume that limited instructor-student interaction will inevitably occur when an educational program is presented via satellite transmission. According to a study of adults participating in an Extension Service Master Gardener training program, (Rost, 1997) levels of student-teacher interaction in a satellite-delivered class can approximate levels of interaction of a traditional class where student and teachers meet face-to-face.

Design of the Study

The study examined training sessions at six Oregon county Extension Service offices. It compared levels of interaction for two modes of instructional delivery: distance delivery via satellite transmission and traditional classroom presentation. The study subjects were adult learners participating in the Master Gardener training program. Measurements of interaction were conducted for satellite-delivered and traditional class sessions at five offices, and for two traditional class sessions at the sixth county office, which was included as a control group.

The interaction analysis tool used, the Verbal Interaction Category System (VICS) (Amidon and Hough, 1967) required an audio record of each class. Cassette tape recordings were made of all the training sessions. The tapes formed the body of raw data analyzed in accordance with VICS procedure.

The subject matter presented to participants in the study was a two-hour unit of instruction on wildlife in the home landscape divided into two one-hour components. The first (referred to as Part 1) was called Landscaping for Wildlife--designing home landscape features that attract wildlife. The other was called Wildlife Control in the Home Landscape, Part 2.

Participants at five county sites, the treatment group, received Part 1 of the instruction via satellite delivery on one day, and Part 2 of the instruction via traditional presentation, on a second day. The control group at the sixth county site received both parts of the instruction via traditional presentation on the same day. The contents of parts 1 and 2 of the instruction were similar, but not identical.

Interaction at downlink sites was facilitated with the availability of audio convener units, electronic devices that mute and delay television audio signals so participants can talk through a microphone to the instructor at the distant site. The audio convener eliminates the possibility of ear-splitting audio feedback that commonly occurs when telephones are used for instructor/student interaction during satellite-delivered educational programs. Although not that common a few years ago, audio conveners are now generally available in classrooms used for satellite-delivered educational presentations.

Extension agents at the five sites in the treatment group acted as downlink site coordinators for the distance-delivered unit of instruction. The agents assisted with interaction by making learners aware of the opportunity to interact with the instructor and encouraging learners to ask questions. These steps are described in the discussion section.

The training instructor tape-recorded the traditional class sessions and the downlink site coordinators tape-recorded the distance-delivered sessions. Unfortunately, technical problems led to the failure to record two distance sessions and one traditional session. However, sufficient data was gathered to allow a reasonable comparison of interaction levels in both types of instructional sessions.

The Verbal Interaction Category System (VICS)

The Verbal Interaction Category System was developed by Edmund Amidon in association with Ned Flanders (Amidon and Hough, 1967). It was originally developed to study teacher-pupil interaction and how the teacher either maintained control in the classroom by doing most of the talking, or allowed pupils some freedom by letting them talk intermittently. The VICS technique utilizes verbal behavior because it is easy to recognize and can be observed with "high reliability." Because of these characteristics, VICS was a logical choice for this study.

VICS outlines eleven categories of verbal behavior: five categories for teachers- (a) presenting information, (b) giving instructions, (c) asking a question, (d) responding by accepting an idea from a student, (e) responding by rejecting an idea from a student; four categories for learners- (a) learner initiates talk with teacher, (b) learner initiates talk with another learner, (c) learner responds to question or comment from teacher, (d) learner responds to question or comment from another learner; and two additional categories for "silence" (no talking in the classroom) and "confusion" (everyone talking at once). These categories are assigned numerical designators. An observer can then inventory classroom interaction by listening to a class, or a tape of the classroom session as was done in this study, and marking the appropriate category designator every three seconds. These tallies are then rerecorded on a specially designed chart that yields percentage values of various kinds of communication. These percentage values represent the comparative amounts of the eleven categories of verbal activity that took place during the class.

To simplify presentation of the data for this paper, the categories of interaction were folded into three general categories: teacher talk, learner talk, and silence/confusion.


The data (see Table 1) show that levels of interaction in distance sessions were very close to the levels of interaction recorded for the traditional sessions of the Master Gardener training classes. The least and the most amounts of interaction were recorded in the control group sessions. Learner talk consumed just 4% of the time in Yamhill County's Session 1, while the same learners talked 14% of the time in Yamhill County Session 2. These sessions were presented consecutively on the same day.

Table 1
Interaction Analysis results (Findings are given in percentages of time in a 60-minute long training session.)
Teacher initiated talk and response to learner comments, questionsLearner initiated talk and questions or commentsConfusion
Yamhill County Session 1 (control group)95%04%01%
Yamhill County Session 2 (control group)85%14%01%
Marion County (traditional session)90%10%
Marion County (distance session)87%12%01%
Polk County (traditional session)92%08%
Polk County (distance session)89%11%
Deschutes County (traditional session)95%05%
Deschutes County (distance session)incomplete data
Jackson County (traditional session)86%13%01%
Jackson County (distance session)incomplete data
Lane County (distance session)88%10%02%
Lane County (traditional session)incomplete data

All other observations fell between these extremes. The greatest amount of learner talk recorded in the experimental group was 13% for the Jackson County traditional session. The least amount of learner talk recorded in the experimental group was 5% for the Deschutes County traditional session. Learner talk recorded in the three distance sessions was 15% for the Marion County distance session; 10% for the Polk County distance session, and 10% for the Lane County distance session.

The results show a lot of variation that may be due to a number of factors including:

Size of class. Classes at some counties numbered 45-50 learners while others had 20 learners or less.

Time of day of the class. The distance presentation was delivered at 10 a.m. to all sites in the study group. The traditional presentation was delivered in the morning at some sites and in the afternoon at others. It may be that learners were more active in asking questions in morning sessions and less so in sessions taking place after lunch, or vice versa.

Varying learner interest in the subject matter. Some groups of learners at some of the county sites may have been more interested in the topic presented, "Wildlife in the Home Landscape," and therefore more apt to ask questions.

The findings show that the interaction levels of a distance-delivered Extension Service educational class session can approximate the interaction levels of a traditionally delivered class.

In addition to interaction analysis, the study included an attitude survey administered to participants in both the traditional and distance sessions. The response to one of the survey items lends support to the finding of minimal difference in interaction levels between the traditional and distance sessions. Participants were asked to indicate their level of agreement with the statement, "I was satisfied with the amount of communication between the instructor and students during the presentation." Ninety-one percent of 151 participants in the traditional session agreed or strongly agreed. Ninety-three percent of 147 participants in the distance session agreed or strongly agreed.


Many studies of satellite-delivered Extension educational programs conducted over the past 20 years have employed opinion surveys and/or pre- and post-tests. Few, if any, of these studies have included interaction analysis. Although technical problems prevented the collection of a complete set of data in this study, analysis of the information available gives strong support to the notion that interaction levels in the distance classroom can approximate interaction levels of the traditional classroom.

Why is this so important? Because interaction is an indispensable factor in the success of any learning situation. Extension educators know this and strive to make interaction a consistent feature of Extension educational programs. Kolomeychuk and Peltz (1991, p7) noted that "A high level of interaction is important in teaching and learning and in meetings in order to increase the attention and motivation levels." They added that "The greatest challenge in interactive video instruction, or meetings, is overcoming the barriers of distance and technology that hinder, normal personal interaction."

If the formula for success in distance education is "the same as that for face-to-face teaching," as Coyle (1991, p4) states, then it is not unreasonable to believe that Extension educators would be concerned, sometimes overly concerned, about a teaching situation in which freedom of interaction is dependent on the smooth operation of what may seem to the educator to be a very complex array of sophisticated communications equipment. Lending credence to this point of view is a report summarizing the evaluation of the use of distance education programs by the Oklahoma State University Extension Service from 1985-1989.

Bogle, Allen, Grantham, & Allen (1989) noted that surveyed Extension personnel reported the "impersonal nature of the videoconference" as one several barriers to its use. In another portion of the summary report, Extension agents surveyed about the effectiveness of conducting statewide videoconference staff meetings indicated lack of interaction and technical problems were principal weaknesses of these meetings.

The presenter in Oregon used the strategies below to compensate for the lack of visual cues common to the traditional classroom that signal when learners want clarification of a point or have a question to ask. All of these steps could easily be included in the design of any educational program transmitted to a remote site:

1. Before the program, discuss expectations for interaction with down-link site facilitators and urge them to encourage interaction at down-link sites.

2. At the beginning of the program, take a few minutes to conduct a roll call of down-link sites.

3. As part of the distance program planning, "plant" some questions in the viewing audience to be sure a few questions will be asked. This seems to help other viewers overcome their anxiety about speaking up to ask questions.

4. Have a few prepared questions written on 3 X 5 cards ready to use if viewers are hesitant to speak up during question and answer periods. Introduce a prepared question by saying something like, "A question I get frequently on this topic is . . . ."

5. Plan several question and answer periods into the distance program. These breaks provide ample opportunities for questions and comments. Viewers at remote sites are often hesitant to interrupt presenters because simple visual cues, such as raising your hand, don't work for distance-delivered programs.

6. Be aggressive in soliciting questions from viewers. Clearly announce that there will be several question and answer periods during the program. When these periods occur, repeat the call for questions a few times. If none are forthcoming, ask the downlink site coordinators by name if there are questions at their sites.

The results of this study show that, even when presenter and learners are physically separated, it is possible to have good interaction in educational programs delivered at a distance via satellite transmission.


Amidon, E.J., & Hough, J.B. (Eds.) (1967). Interaction analysis, theory, research and application. Reading, PA.: Addison-Wesley Publishing.

Bogle, R.T., Allen, M.E., Grantham, J.O., & Allen, G.A. (1989). A first: Satellite videoconferencing, Final report for W.K. Kellogg Foundation & Oklahoma State University. Cooperative Extension Service, Division of Agriculture, Oklahoma State University.

Coyle, L. (1991). Distance education project: Extending Extension programming via telecommunications technology. TDC Research Report No. 21. St. Paul: Telecommunications Development Center, Minnesota Extension Service, University of Minnesota.

Hiel, E.R., Herrington, D. (1997, August). Plausible uses and limitations of videoconferencing as a tool for achieving technology transfer. Journal of Extension [On-line serial], 35(4). Available at www.joe.org Message: send joe august 1997 research 1

Kolomeychuk, T., & Peltz, D.P. (1991). Assessing the effectiveness of interactive compressed video at the University of Minnesota. TDC Research Report No. 20. St. Paul: Telecommunications Development Center, Minnesota Extension Service, University of Minnesota.

Rost, R.C. (1997). A study of the effectiveness of using distance education to present training programs to Extension Service Master Gardener trainees (Doctoral dissertation, Oregon State University, 1997). American Doctoral Dissertations, 1996-97, ADD9734849.