Technology-Mediated Instruction: Shifting the Paradigm of Horticultural Education
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Technology-mediated instruction is the term applied collectively to a variety of methods that use digital technology in its many forms to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge by students. Although the origins of technology-mediated instruction predate the development of the World Wide Web, there is little doubt that the rapid rise in the use of instructional technology has been enabled by the widespread availability of internet connectivity. Early adopters used the Web to archive and deliver instructional materials such as class notes, slide sets, and assignments. Concomitant with the development of advanced Web browsers and wider availability of broadband connections, a whole host of interactive tools, including streaming video delivery and desktop conferencing, have enabled instructors to create a virtual classroom environment that is independent of distance and time. Horticultural educators are adopting technology for a variety of reasons. The decline in the number of professional horticulturists and the number of academic departments offering courses in certain horticultural specialties has necessitated the creation of regional teaching collaboratives. These regional teaching collaboratives use Web technology to design, develop, and deliver academic coursework. The growing importance of providing continuing education and "re-education" of former students who are changing careers has meant that traditional semester-long; on-campus approaches to degree programs must be altered. Currently employed students who are placebound by work or family obligations require distance-delivered degree programs. Furthermore, the rate of change of horticultural production technology has increased to the point that all practitioners need to be in a mode of constant learning, and educators must update their course offerings constantly. Paradigm-shifting educational methods often encounter significant resistance. Barriers include the distribution of tuition and fees among the employing institutions of collaborating faculty and performance evaluation of teams of professionals rather than evaluation by individual achievement. Adoption of technology is expensive for both the educator and the student, and these costs are exacerbated by the rapid rate at which digital technology becomes obsolete.