The Death of Distance: Documenting the Effects of Distance Education In South Dakota


South Dakota has arguably the most technologically advanced educational system in the United States. The state boasts a population of approximately 750,000 residents, distributed across an area measuring approximately 250 by 400 miles. South Dakota is experiencing a shortage of specialist teachers and university faculty, and the vast geographical distances prohibit the physical sharing of educational resources. To begin to address these issues, every school, college and university in the state has recently been connected with wide band communications cable, and equipped with specialized telecommunications suites. The use of public television broadcasting, videoconferencing, Internet based resources and distance learning methods has been introduced in a rationalized attempt to overcome the vast distances between schools and communities across a predominantly rural state. There is also a high percentage of Native Americans living in the state, located in tribal reservation areas as well as integrated within the general community. Because of social, economic or technological effects of any significant changes often have a detrimental effect on indigenous populations. The effectiveness of distance education and technology supported learning then, is a hotly contended issue. A major evaluation project was set up between 2002-2003 to measure the success rate of the new technology based learning approaches, and the extent to which the 'tyranny of distance' could be overcome. Surveys and interviews with key instructors and administrators across the state were conducted, which yielded a rich vein of data. In this paper, the authors document the broader effects that the introduction of the technical infrastructure has had on the general population of South Dakota.

KEYWORDS: Evaluation, Evaluation Project, Distance Education, Certificate Program