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Criminal Justice Distance Education:
Problems and Prospects

Kenneth Mentor J.D., Ph.D.
Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice
University of North Carolina Pembroke

This presentation was prepared for the
Annual Meetings of the American Society of Criminology
Chicago, November 2002

ABSTRACT

Educational institutions are increasingly venturing into new modes of distance education. Criminal Justice programs are no exception. Students can take "hybrid" courses, which include traditional and distance content. In some cases entire courses are available online. Several programs have developed entire degree programs. Based on data collected in a survey of criminal justice educators, this research describes the range of offerings, the motivations for developing distance courses, and many issues related to institutional support of distance education. Implications for the future of criminal justice education are also discussed.

The internet has opened many new opportunities for distance education. New technology has also altered the way in which distance courses are offered. Many of the "correspondence courses" offered in the past were abandoned as technological advances allowed teleconferencing and synchronous electronic classrooms. Institutions invested in satellites, electronic classrooms, and expensive teleconferencing equipment. Universities often developed regional "campuses" where students would gather to participate in a televised class with a professor and group of students meeting at other locations. The cost of this new technology could be very high for the institution and/or the student.  Unfortunately, pressures to reduce these costs often reduced the quality of the distance education experience.

The most recent technological advances in distance education have the potential to eliminate the quality/quantity tradeoff. The next generation of distance education relies heavily on the internet and various technologies that have been developed as the internet has grown. Internet technology has the capacity to provide both asynchronous and synchronous learning opportunities. The flexibility provided by the internet allows courses and programs to be designed around proven strategies for teaching and learning. This can be accomplished without the significant expenses associated with video conferencing, travel, and other delivery methods.

Today's web-based courses allow a structured experience that leads to a collaborative learning environment. In effect, every computer becomes a classroom. Students learn from the comfort of home while participating in a high quality learning environment that includes interaction with other learners. This is a significant improvement over distance models in which many offerings of a course were to a class of one.

Educators value a collaborative environment. Administrators value an efficient environment. Web-based courses have the potential to eliminate the conflicting demands of these values. However, this is accomplished through a shifting of institutional resources that place a greater burden on individual faculty members.

This shift is a double edged sword for educators. Quality control is gained as educators take responsibility for delivering course content. This relieves administrators from the burdens of coordinating the mailing of course materials, the hiring of graders, and communication with students in diverse locations. Web-based education also eliminates the need for "satellite campuses" with support staff, expensive teleconferencing equipment, and a range of additional costs. The on-campus costs of distance education are reduced to computers, software, and salaries - costs the university is accustomed to paying. Off-campus costs are shifted to students who are responsible for computer equipment and internet access - again, something many are paying for already.

The shifting of costs can be very compelling to administrators. This model can also be compelling to educators that long for efficiency, control, and academic freedom. We believe this trade-off can be beneficial to students and educators. Further, we proceed under the assumption that skilled distance educators will, when provided with adequate resources, create online learning environments that are equivalent to, or superior to, the learning environment found in "traditional" classrooms.

Criminal Justice Distance Education

Criminal justice programs are in a unique position regarding distance education. Relative to other majors, criminal justice departments typically do not need to recruit majors. Campus programs are overcrowded and faculty are reluctant to add new majors without additional resources. Although expansion is not necessarily desired, criminal justice programs are in a position to attract many new students who are employed in the justice system and are unable to relocate to attend school full time.

The popularity of criminal justice education, combined with the potential for reaching many more students with distance technology, makes criminal justice an attractive candidate for administrators who seek to expand distance offerings at their institution. As many of us know, criminal justice programs are typically at a disadvantage relative to other departments. As a result, administrative pressure to develop distance courses is sure to be met with counter proposals intended to increase departmental resources. 

Criminal justice educators and programs that begin developing and offering distance courses or degrees are faced with a range of issues. Are criminal justice educators prepared to design and teach online courses? Will the university provide adequate support to enable educators the opportunity to develop high quality distance courses? Do reward structures need to be altered as faculty begin to adopt different roles? Do faculty at all ranks support distance education? What individual and professional development opportunities are gained by those who begin to develop and teach online courses?

This research, which is preliminary at this point, examines the concerns of criminal justice educators. Several topics were addressed in a web-based survey of criminal justice educators. The results are presented in the following section. In addition to discussion of faculty concerns this survey assessed the skill level of potential distance educators. Finally, examples of criminal justice distance courses and programs follow this discussion. 

Research Methodology

Criminal Justice faculty throughout the United States were invited to participate in a web-based survey. This survey assessed opinions regarding distance education. The process of designing and administering this survey is discussed in another presentation. Click here for the survey research presentation which provides a full description of the methodology used for the present research. The following discussion is a brief overview of the methods.

Sample

A list of criminal justice programs, along with websites and contact information, was assembled in January 2002 (click here to review the list). Contacts included faculty, department heads, and in a few cases, admissions office personnel. The contacts were determined by reviewing program information provided by the various institutions. Programs were identified by examining various internet listings and searching for programs by state. The final list includes 172 programs that offered criminal justice, justice studies, or related degrees. Each of the 172 contact people were invited to participate in the survey.

The Survey

The survey was developed using Microsoft FrontPage. Although the learning curve can be a bit steep, the program enables a "non-programmer" to create online surveys. The process is somewhat repetitive and time consuming but can be completed with minimal expenses. The survey tools provided in FrontPage require that the survey be published on a server with "FrontPage extensions" installed. In addition, database support will be required so that the results can be collected in a form that can be imported into Access, Excel, SPSS, or other data management program.

The survey contains 45 items plus an open ended question at the end. Most questions followed a similar format and were answered by clicking on circles l0cated above each possible response. You are welcome to complete the survey although your responses will not be used in the data analysis.

Participants were invited to complete the survey and were provided with instructions. The invitation included a "verification word" that was to be entered at the beginning of the survey. This word, which was the same for all participants, was used to verify that the respondent was among those who were invited to participate in the survey.

Response

Between May 3 and May 29, 2002, the survey was completed by 63 respondents. All but 6 entered the correct verification word. One respondent entered the correct word but did not complete any other items. Two other respondents also entered the verification word but did not complete the survey on the first try. Each immediately tried again and successfully completed the survey. Out of the initial group of 172, the survey was successfully completed by 54 respondents.  The response rate of 31 percent was lower than we would have liked, but we acknowledge that there were problems with the initial sample. Several of the addresses were out of date, even though they had been verified a few months earlier. These e-mails came back undeliverable. The undeliverable rate was less than 10 percent, which is lower than found in previous internet surveys (Weible and Wallace, 1998).

Survey Results

Several demographic items were included in the survey. The survey was completed by 36 males and 17 females. Responded age was assessed on an eight point scale. No respondents were under 26 years old. Other demographics:

 

 

Frequency

Percent

AGE

26-30

2

3.6

 

31-35

9

16.4

 

36-40

4

7.3

 

41-45

7

12.7

 

46-50

10

18.2

 

51-60

19

34.5

 

over 60

2

3.6

 

Total

53

96.4

Respondents were also asked to report their academic rank:

 

 

Frequency

Percent

RANK

Full Professor

17

30.9

 

Associate Professor

16

29.1

 

Assistant Professor

12

21.8

 

FT - Non-tenure

6

10.9

 

PT - non-tenure

2

3.6

 

Total

53

96.4

Respondents were also asked about the highest degrees offered in their department:

 

 

Frequency

Percent

DEGREES

Ph.D

10

18.2

 

Master's

25

45.5

 

Bachelor's

17

30.9

 

Associate's

1

1.8

 

Total

53

96.4

These demographics indicate that a range of programs and educators were reached through this method of data collection. The programs grant degrees ranging from Associate's to Doctoral. It would appear that there is some bias toward Doctoral programs as community colleges and other smaller institutions are under-represented in the sample.

The sample included more men than women, as might be expected given statistics regarding internet usage (Stanton, 1998).  However, these statistics would also predict that a sample of internet users would be younger than the general population (Couper, 2000). In the current survey 60% of the respondents were older than 45. The methods used in identifying the contact people for various programs most likely resulted in the names of department heads and senior faculty. This could be expected to be an older population. This appears to be verified by the fact that the majority of respondents hold Full or Associate faculty ranks.

Faculty Opinions

Several areas were examined in the survey. One group of questions asked about time demands and rewards for developing online courses. Other questions asked respondents to give their opinion about the value of distance education. Another Another group of questions focused on tenure and professional development issues. Perceptions of institutional support were also assessed. Finally, respondents were asked about the current distance offerings and any plans to move toward distance courses in the future.

At this time, only the raw data is presented. A modification of this survey will be offered to a larger sample so the following results are preliminary. Each of the following items was assessed on a seven point scale anchored at one end by "very strongly agree" which was coded as one. "Very strongly disagree," which was coded as a seven, was at the other end of the scale. Mean scores and the actual wording of each question are included below. Lower scores indicate agreement with the statement.

Time Demands and Motivation to Develop Online Courses

  MEAN
 
Online courses place greater demands on the time and effort of the instructor.
 
2.46

 
My teaching style will not be effective in an online course.

 
4.17

 
Additional compensation would motivate me to develop an online course.
 
2.96

 
Addition release time would motivate me to develop an online course.
 
3.06

 
Concerns about copyright and ownership issues have discouraged me from teaching online.
 
4.39

 

Value of Distance Education

Online courses are inferior to courses offered in a traditional classroom environment.
 
4.02

 

In an online course I would miss the face-to-face opportunities available in a traditional classroom.
 
2.54

 

Online courses offer greater flexibility for educators.

 

3.24

 

I value the opportunity to serve non-traditional students through distance education.  
 
3.07

 

Online courses give me the opportunity to interact more frequently with students.
 
4.17

 

Tenure Related Issues

Untenured faculty should be discouraged from online teaching.

 

4.19

 

Research expectations should be reduced for faculty who are developing and teaching online courses.
 
3.70

 

Faculty reward structures should place a higher value on innovation and technological change.
 
3.20

 

Promotion and tenure policies should be altered to reward innovative efforts to teach online.
 
3.67

 

Professional Development

My professional prestige and status is enhanced by the ability to teach online.
 
4.17

 

The ability to develop and teach online makes me more marketable.
 
3.43

 

Institutional Support

My institution offers the training and support needed to prepare an online course.
 
3.48

 

Senior faculty support efforts to develop online course material.

 

4.48

 

My institution offers adequate support for faculty interested in distance education.
 
4.07

 

My Dean and/or Chair supports efforts to develop online course material.
 
3.39

 

Other Issues

Most courses in the criminal justice curriculum can be taught online.
 
4.00

 

Web-based courses are most appropriate for lower division students.
 
4.85

 

Web-based courses are most appropriate for upper division students.
 
3.96

 

A faculty member should not be asked to teach more than one distance course per year.
 
3.80

 

Our pool of prospective students is sufficient to support a distance Master's degree program.
 
3.94

 

Our pool of prospective students is sufficient to support a distance Bachelor's degree program.  
 
3.63

 

Distance Education Experience and Plans

Faculty were asked whether they have taught, or plan to teach, FULL COURSES online:

 

Frequency

Percent

3-5 years

10

18.2

1-2 years

6

10.9

Plan in 3-5

1

1.8

Plan in 1-2

11

20.0

No experience or plans

25

45.5

Total

53

96.4

Faculty were asked whether they have, or plan to, INTEGRATE ONLINE MATERIALS in traditional courses:

 

Frequency

Percent

3-5 years

14

25.5

1-2 years

22

40.0

Plan in next 3-5

3

5.5

Plan in next 1-2

5

9.1

No experience or plans

9

16.4

Total

53

96.4

Faculty were asked about the highest level of online offering CURRENTLY AVAILABLE  in their department:

 

Frequency

Percent

Online graduate program

4

7.3

Online undergraduate program

5

9.1

Online courses

19

34.5

Online Content in traditional Courses

12

21.8

None

12

21.8

Total

52

94.5

Faculty were asked about the highest level of online offering UNDER CONSIDERATION for the future:

 

Frequency

Percent

Online graduate program

10

18.2

Online undergraduate Program

5

9.1

Online courses

18

32.7

Online content in traditional courses

7

12.7

None

11

20.0

Total

51

92.7

Faculty Preparation

I am able to send attachments with e-mail.

 

6.61

 

I am able to scan photographs into digital files.

 

5.5

 

I am able to use software to manipulate digital images.

 

5.07

 

I am able to create a presentation with PowerPoint or other software.
 
5.91

 

I am able to create a web page.

 

4.56

 

I am able to create and maintain a web site.

 

4.36

 

I am familiar with teaching methods appropriate for distance education.
 
4.78

 

I could teach online but do not have the skills needed to design an online course.  (Reverse coded)
 
4.42

 

I have the skills needed to design and teach an online course within the next year.
 
4.69

 

Criminal Justice Distance Degree Programs

University-based

Many criminal justice programs offer, or plan to offer, web-based courses or degrees. The following lists include programs that offer online coursework leading to a complete degree. These lists are limited to programs offered by traditional "brick and mortar" institutions.

Graduate Programs

bullet http://www.crimnolgy.fsu.edu/dlstudents.htm - The Florida State University School of Criminology and Criminal Justice offers two Master's Degrees.  The Criminology degree is delivered on-campus while the Criminal Justice Studies degree is delivered via the Internet.
bullet http://cjms.vu.msu.edu/ - Michigan State University offers two Master of Science Degree Programs.  Specialization in Security Management and International Focus in Criminal Justice.
bullet http://www.cj-direct.com/Masters/home/htm - University of Cincinnati offers a Master of Science in Criminal Justice.
bullet http://www.uwplatt.edu/~disted/criminal_justice.htm - The University of Wisconsin - Platteville offers a Master of Science in Criminal Justice.

Undergraduate Programs

bullet http://distance.wsu.edu/degrees/criminal_justice.asp - Washington State University offers a distance-based Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice.
bullet http://www.cji.nova.edu/ - Nova Southeastern University.
bullet http://spss.fgcu.edu/cj/dl.html - Florida Gulf Coast University offers a BS in Criminal Justice.
bullet http://www.utahcj.org/requirements/html - A consortium of Community Colleges and Universities in Utah offers an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice.

Internet-based

A growing number of criminal justice degree programs are being offered by internet-based institutions.  In contrast to traditional universities, these are "for profit" ventures.  Accreditation is typically from an organization that specializes in accrediting online degree programs.

Remember that an assumption of this presentation is that skilled distance educators will, when provided with adequate resources, create online learning environments that are equivalent to, or superior to, the learning environment found in "traditional" classrooms. As online education begins to expand into criminal justice it will be important to keep this goal in mind.

Criminal Justice Distance Education - Administrative Issues

Institutions are rapidly adopting web-based models of distance education.  Departments, colleges, and individual faculty are being pressured to create online courses and programs, in spite of the lack of experience and expertise in distance education.  To make matters worse, those who are exerting this pressure may be similarly unprepared for the challenges of delivering and supporting web-based educational content.

Is the pressure to move toward web-based models a threat?  Does this pressure lead to opportunity for those that "take the bait?"  How does web-based education interact with intellectual property rights, academic freedom, and tenure?  What level of institutional support will be required?  The following links provide information about a range of issues to be considered.

General Issues

bullet http://www.nea.org/he/heupdate/vol7no2.pdf - This NEA report discusses faculty concerns about human contact, training and support, compensation and property rights, enrollment limits, and quality.
bullet http://www.spjc.edu/eagle/BEEP/BEEP8.htm - Faculty Issues in an E-learning environment.
bullet http://www.westga.edu/~distance/rockwell24.html - Incentives and Obstacles Influencing Higher Education Faculty and Administrators to Teach Via Distance
bullet http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/summer42/bower42.html - Distance Education: Facing the Faculty Challenge
bullet http://www.aft.org/higher_ed/Technology/index.html - AFL-CIO Higher Education Department

Infrastructure

bullet http://www.westga.edu/~distance/rockwell32.html - Faculty Education, Assistance and Support Needed to Deliver Education via Distance
bullet http://www.ous.edu/dist-learn/dist-pol.htm - Oregon University System's Distance Education Policy Framework
bullet http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/ . . . /198FACULTY.HTM - Texas Higher Education Distance Learning Master Plan
bullet http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ . . . /mcalister42.html - Twelve Important Questions to Answer Before You Offer a Web Based Curriculum

Training

bullet http://www.westga.edu/~distance/clay23.html - Development of Training and Support Programs for Distance Education Instructors

Ownership

bullet http://www.center.rpi.edu/PewSym/mono2.html - Who Owns Online Courses and Course Materials? Intellectual Property Policies for a New Learning Environment
bullet http://www.prospect.org/print/V11/22/green-j-3.html - Superstars online - who owns the course material?
bullet http://www.adec.edu/user/ip-policies.html - Listing of University Intellectual property policies.
bullet http://www.aaup.org/govrel/distlern/deipdocs.htm - AAUP Distance Education & Intellectual Property Issues
bullet http://www.educause.edu/issues/faculty.html - Educause page listing information on Faculty Intellectual Property Rights
bullet http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/html/erm99022.html - Intellectual Property Meets Information Technology
bullet http://www.acenet.edu/washington/ . . . /distance_ed.html - Developing a Distance Education Policy for 21st Century Learning

Compensation

bullet http://www.westga.edu/~distance/schifter31.html - Compensation models in distance education.
bullet http://www.aln.org/alnweb/journal/Vol4_issue1/berg.htm - Early Patterns of Faculty Compensation for Developing and Teaching Distance Learning Courses.
bullet http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eq/a003/eqm003b.pdf - Educause "Research in Brief."
bullet http://chronicle.com/free/v47/i23/23a04101.htm - Is Anyone Making Money on Distance Education?

Tenure

bullet http://chronicle.com/free/v48/i24/24a02501.htm - Ever So Slowly, Colleges Start to Count Work With Technology in Tenure Decisions.

Conclusion

The state of web-based education in criminal justice is unsettled. Some institutions have rapidly, and perhaps naively, expanded their offerings in web-based distance education.  Faculty members have devoted a significant amount of energy in their efforts to "go online."  Students have been lured by promises, either real or imagined, of an educational experience that fits into their busy schedules.

Distance education has always been promoted as a low-cost solution to many problems faced by higher education.  Eventually, institutions get around to counting money.  We are now reaching that stage and these institutions are discovering that distance education is not, at this point, as profitable as they anticipated (see the Chronicle of Higher Education article linked below).

Those who have experienced success in web-based education will be quick to point out that a focus on profitability diverts attention from the effectiveness of web-based course delivery.  Web-based courses have the potential to be at least as effective as traditional courses.  In addition, web-based courses meet distance needs that have always been active, especially in sparsely populated areas that cannot support traditional institutions.

Many criminal justice educators who have integrated web content into their courses report high levels of satisfaction, both with the process and the result.  This effort requires a significant commitment in terms of time and energy.  The results of this survey indicate that many faculty have the skills to begin this process.

Educators have strong feelings about retaining academic freedom. Web-based education provides another battle ground regarding this issue. In many cases the educator feels liberated by an educational setting that offers an unprecedented level of control over course content. However, this freedom can be eliminated if online educators do not make informed arguments about the future of this method of course delivery. In effect, knowledge of the issues surrounding online education are important for all educators, even those who do not plan to teach online.

Is web-based education for everyone?  No, of course not.  Is this method of delivery equally effective in all contexts?  Again, no.  However, for a growing number of administrators, educators, and students, web-based education makes a lot of sense.  Distance education has a past that has not always included successful innovation.  The internet offers an opportunity to resolve many of the problems associated with previous efforts to educate at a distance.  As such, the future of web-based education appears to be quite bright.  Through the careful efforts of educators, that potential may be reached. 

The Future

bullet http://chronicle.com/free/v47/i23/23a04101.htm - Is Anyone Making Money on Distance Education?
bullet http://www.aft.org/higher_ed/downloadable/VirtualRevolution.pdf - A Virtual Revolution: Trends in the Expansion of Distance Education.
bullet http://www.emoderators.com/barriers/index.shtml - Barriers to Distance Education.
bullet http://mason.gmu.edu/~bellis1/future.htm - The Future of Distance Learning.
bullet http://www.ed.gov/offices/AC/WBEC/FinalReport/ - The Power of the Internet for Learning:  Final Report of Web-Based Education Commission.
 

 

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