October 2000 // Volume 38 // Number 5 // Research in Brief // 5RIB1

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Delivering Short Seminars and Workshops to Farmers and Ranchers with Low Bandwidth On-line Technologies

One hundred fifty-three designers of on-line instruction completed a 35-item on-line questionnaire and recommended the following top three low bandwidth technologies to use when delivering short seminars and workshops: 1) Web page (text and < 50K graphics) with asynchronous discussion. 2) Web page only, and 3) Web-based training (user submit and feedback) with asynchronous discussion. There were no significant differences between how females and males rated the various technologies or when the data was controlled for age of the respondents. Experience designing on-line courses produced a significant finding at the .05 level for the rating of "Web Page with Asynchronous Discussion" (p = .032 and df = 145).

Bart Beaudin
Team Leader, Information Dissemination, Education and Training
High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety
Colorado State University
Internet Address: beaudin@lamar.colostate.edu


Cooperative Extension needs to continue to embrace the use of the Internet (Tennessen, PonTell, Romine, & Motheral, 1997). LaPaglia (1998) reports that more than one-third of the readers of Farmer- Stockman are accessing the Internet and have access to resources such as real-time weather reports, veterinary and livestock information, advice, and commodity and futures market prices.

Extension has traditionally delivered short seminars and workshops face-to-face to constituents, and now may be the opportunity to expand offering of programs over the Internet. The aim of this exploratory study was to bring together what has been learned from other fields delivering on-line courses and to provide a series of recommendations for agents planning to deliver on-line instruction. The research questions for this study were:

  • Which low bandwidth on-line technologies do on-line instructors recommend to teach concepts when delivering short (1-3 hour) seminars and workshops?
  • What are the relationships between on-line instructor characteristics (gender, experience, and training) and the extent to which they recommend various low bandwidth on-line technologies when teaching concepts?

Review of the Literature

The on-line instruction literature was reviewed, and no data-based studies were found that investigated low bandwidth methods for delivering on-line instruction. However, several authors (Bates, 1995; Driscoll, 1998; Hall, 1997;) see the availability of bandwidth (network capacity) as a serious problem in the offering of on-line learning. Hall (1997) suggests that limited bandwidth causes long waits for downloads over the Internet and that this in turn negatively affects learning. From the Extension perspective, O'Neill (1999) sees the "wait time" for downloading information from a Web site as an issue.

The most common ways to design Web-based content over the Internet are to use Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), Dynamic HTML, Java, Active-X, and Plug-ins (Hall, 1999). HTML is an electronic document that contains special instructions that tell a Web browser how to display the text, graphics, and background of a Web page. Dynamic HTML is used to provide visitors the opportunity for interaction with the displayed information. Java and Active-X are small programs that expand the interactive capabilities of Web pages. A plug-in is a software module that adds specific features to a site (video, sound, etc.).

Alvear (1998) says that Java effectively eliminates the need for plug-ins, external applications, or Active-X controls. He goes on to predict that Java applets (small programs) will be all that is needed as long as the user has a Java enabled browser. Regardless of what is left to use, HTML is still the key ingredient for creating Web-based learning.

Bates (1995) sees bandwidth as being an expensive venture and suggests alternative formatting should be considered. Driscoll (1998) adds that design options are very limited when there is a concern about bandwidth. However, Hall (1999) predicts that the bandwidth issue will be resolved by within 18 months. Hall's optimism, however, doesn't take into consideration older computers and owners reluctant to download plug- ins.


Study Participants

A purposive study sample was established from various international distance education listserves. Tracking the postings to the listserv allowed the researcher to conclude that the membership included experienced on-line instructors. A request for study participation was sent to the listserv, and willing participants were linked to the on-line questionnaire.

Data Collection Instrument

A 35-item on-line questionnaire was developed to measure the level of recommendation of specific low bandwidth on-line technologies for delivering factual information (concepts) through short on-line seminars and workshops. Respondents were asked to assume that the target audience:

  1. Connects over unstable telephone lines at a 28.8 baud rate at best,
  2. Has a 14" monitor limited to 256 colors,
  3. Uses a 4.0 Browser, and
  4. Is not willing to download plug-ins or request a CD.

Reaction rating scales were presented, with ratings from 1 = very low recommendation to 6 = very high recommendation. DeVellis (1991) suggests that either an odd or even number of choices can be used for the response scale, depending upon the phenomenon being investigated and the goals of the investigator.

A six-point Likert scale was chosen for this study to force respondents to take a position as to whether they would recommend a specific technique. Content validity was established by the use of a panel of on-line instructors not part of the study. The last seven items on the questionnaire collected information related to the on-line instructional designer's background and experience.

Data Collection Design and Procedures

An email message was posted to several international distance education listserves requesting the participation of on-line instructors who design on-line instruction. The email explained the purpose of the study and insured confidentiality and anonymity.

The baseline sample size used to establish the response rate was calculated using the study participants and the total number of visitors to the questionnaire site. In this case, the main assumption for deriving a reasonably accurate sample size is that listserv members usually respond to messages posted and that qualified non-participants visited the site but did not complete the questionnaire.

Analysis and Results

The questionnaire was the only means of data collection for the study. The purposive sample consisted of 153 on-line instructors who had experience designing on-line instruction. A response rate of 78% (153/195) was achieved using the total number of possible respondents who visited the questionnaire site. In retrospect, the response rate cannot be verified because some of the visits to the questionnaire site may not have been from experienced on-line instruction designers. The results of this study are thus only generalizable to the survey participants and should not be construed as representing opinions and beliefs of all on-line instructors.

The study population consisted of 87 females and 66 males, with 80% of the respondents being over the age of 40. Approximately 69% had been designing on-line courses for less than 2 years. Sixty-eight percent had participated in formal training in instructional design, and only 48% had received training in writing hypertext markup language (HTML) code. Thirty-seven percent of the respondents had received formal training in using authoring languages, and less than 10% received training in writing CGI scripts or dynamic hypertext markup language (DHTML).

The first research question of the study was designed to identify which low bandwidth technologies designers of on-line instruction recommend when designing short on-line seminars and workshops. Table 1 presents the mean rank order of on-line technologies designers of on-line instruction recommend.

The top-two-recommended low bandwidth means for delivering factual information included the simple presentation of text and graphics. Interaction was incorporated in the top-rated choice by using asynchronous discussion. Asynchronous discussion is a discussion in which the participants are not on-line at the same time. The third-ranked combination of technologies also included asynchronous discussion.

Table 1:Means and Standard Deviations of What On-line Instructors Recommend for
Low Bandwidth Technologies When Delivering On-line Short Seminars and Workshops
(by Descending Mean Rank Order)

Low Bandwidth Technologies



Std Dev

Web Page

(Text and < 50K Graphics) WITH

Asynchronous (Delayed) Discussion

147 4.9796 1.3970

Web Page

(Text and < 50K Graphics) ONLY

150 4.8800 1.4697


(User "submit and feedback" with No plug-ins, No CD's) WITH

Asynchronous Discussion

150 4.3800 1.5787

Stand Alone WBT

(User "submit and feedback" with No plug-ins, No CD's)

147 4.1837 1.6921


(User "submit and feedback" with No plug-ins, No CD's)


Asynchronous and Synchronous (Real Time) Discussion

147 3.9388 1.5756


(User "submit and feedback" with No plug-ins, No CD's) WITH

Synchronous Discussion

147 3.2857 1.7556

Web Page

(Text and < 50K Graphics) WITH

Synchronous Discussion

147 3.1837 1.6553

The second research question investigated the relationships between on-line instructor characteristics and the extent to which they recommend various low bandwidth technologies. A series of independent variables (gender; age; experience designing on-line courses; formal training in instructional design, writing HTML code, writing CGI scripts, and designing on-line instruction using course authoring packages) were identified, and data were collected in an attempt to explain why some low bandwidth technologies were recommended over others.

There were no major significant differences between how females and males rated the various technologies using the Independent Samples t-tests. One exception occurred in the ratings of "Web-Based Training with Asynchronous and Synchronous Discussion" (p =.020 and df = 145 at the .05 level of significance).

Age ranges were transformed into two categories, and no significant differences were calculated using Independent Samples t-tests.

Experience designing on-line courses produced a significant finding at the.05 level for the rating of "Web Page with Asynchronous Discussion" (p =.032 and df = 145). The less experienced respondents rated this low bandwidth technology more highly than experienced respondents. None of the other six low bandwidth technologies rated produced significant differences between how respondents rated them.

Whether respondents received formal training produced no significant differences in how they recommended the technologies, except for those respondents who had training writing HTML code. Four of the seven technology choices produced significant t-tests at the .05 level. Each of these choices had "Web-Based Training" as a component.

Discussion and Recommendations for Practice

The purpose of this exploratory research was to identify what experienced designers of instruction would recommend for delivering short seminars and workshops when the delivery modality was restricted to the use of low bandwidth technologies. The results of the study are not generalizable beyond the study population. However, there are ideas that may assist Extension agents in deciding which technologies to use for their target audience.

The following presents a highlight of the results and possible implications for practice.

  1. The most useful finding of this study was the ranking of the various low bandwidth technologies. The top-two-ranked technologies suggest that Extension agents view the use of a Web page as an important component when delivering short seminars and workshops.
  2. One assumption in the study was to keep graphics to less than 50 Kilobytes on a Web page. This can be accomplished by processing any graphics through a program that reduces the file size.
  3. Asynchronous (delayed time) discussion was the preferred means of interaction over synchronous (real time) discussion, according to the mean ranks presented in Table 1. It is recommended that Extension agents focus on using email and listserves with workshop participants to allow for interaction.
  4. Incorporating the use of synchronous discussion received the lowest rankings of respondents when low bandwidth is an issue. Extension agents are recommended to not use the real-time "chat room" as a delivery method. Those institutions using WebCT from their Web site may wish to experiment as the technology becomes more reliable.
  5. The top low bandwidth technology ranking for delivering seminars and workshops was the "Web Page WITH Asynchronous Discussion." When the results were controlled for experience in designing on-line courses, the less experienced designers rated the top-ranked recommendation higher than did their more experienced counterparts. Extension agents viewing themselves as experienced might want to incorporate a mix of technologies.
  6. When results were controlled for formal training in writing HTML code, it appeared that those who had formal training were more likely to recommend "Web-Based Training." Extension agents who wish to use this form of on-line delivery method may want to pursue formal instruction in writing HTML code to gain a better understanding of WBT.

Extension agents remain a key link to farmers and ranchers. By providing on-line seminars and workshops delivered using low bandwidth technologies, that link will be enhanced.


Alvear, J. (1998). Web developer.com guide to streaming multimedia. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Bates, A.W. (1995). Technology, open learning and distance education. London: Routledge.

Driscoll, M. (1998). Web-based training: tactics and techniques for designing adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass / Pfeiffer.

Hall, B. (1999). Five common questions - and the answers. Inside Technology Training, 3(2), 42-43.

Hall, B. (1997). Web-based training cookbook. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

LaPaglia, A. (1998). A cooperative ladder to the web. Farmer-Stockman, October, 8-9.

Tennessen, D.J., PonTell, S., Romine, V., & Motheral, S.W. (1997). Opportunities for Cooperative Extension and local communities in the information age. Journal of Extension [On-line], 35(5). Available: http://www.joe.org/joe/1997october/comm1.html