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Serving the Montana business community via television.

In general, times are tough for higher education in Montana. The economy is not booming and financial resources are scarce, including those allocated to higher education. This article discusses live television teaching as a partial solution for alleviating Montana's resource problems in higher education.

The Situation

Billings, Montana's largest city, is the location of Eastern Montana College (EMC). Eastern has had an undergraduate business program for some time, but the community expressed a desire and need for a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) program. The University of Montana (UM) is the only university unit in the state offering an MBA program.

To avoid costly duplication of programs, the Montana Board of Regents had previously mandated that all graduate level business courses would be offered by UM. To follow this mandate, the Board of Regents asked UM to offer the MBA program in Billings.

The UM business school is accredited at the graduate and undergraduate level by the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). Most, if not all, of the MBA courses taught by UM must be taught by doctorally-qualified business faculty in order for the university's MBA program to maintain its accredited status. Billings is 350 miles from Missoula and it was apparent that it would not be easy for UM faculty to begin teaching in Billings.

First, resources were not available to hire additional faculty to teach the MBA courses in Billings. Second, due to the distance and winter weather conditions, travel between the two locations can also be a problem.

A Potential Solution

At the time, then UM President James Koch suggested that one way to resolve the problem was for UM to offer several MBA courses via television. Koch had come to Montana from Indiana's Ball State University, where television teaching was used quite Successfully. In addition, UM has a Radio-Television department housing a television studio and the faculty members were enthusiastic about using their expertise to televise MBA classes in Billings.

The Montana Legislature provided the initial funding, allowing UM business faculty to begin teaching some MBA courses via television for Billings students on a trial basis. The goal was not just to offer the classes, but also to ascertain the viability of this form of teaching in Montana.

The overall plan was that some of the classes would be offered via live interactive television, and other classes would be taught by UM faculty who would travel to Billings to teach the classes in person. Doctorally-qualified EMC faculty would also teach some of the classes.

Teaching on Television

By far, the most uncertain aspect of initiating the MBA program in Billings was offering classes via live television. Everyone involved in the process was curious and a bit apprehensive about offering classes through the medium of live TV This was the first such undertaking in Montana.

The idea of TV teaching has logical appeal due to Montana's small population and vast geographical space. Students, teachers, and administrators alike were just a bit nervous, however, about the success of such an undertaking. All wanted the courses offered via TV to be high-quality courses. They were concerned that a good course offered in person wouldn't necessarily adapt to a different medium.

To ensure quality, the UM business school faculty involved worked closely with students, UM and EMC administrators, and the UM Radio-TV department. From the beginning, the entire process was a cooperative, joint effort between these diverse groups.

Because student participation is important, TV classes have been conducted via live interactive television. This means that the students in Billings watch the teacher live on two 27-inch TV screens in their classroom. They can hear and see the teacher in Missoula. An interactive audio system was installed in the Billings classroom so that students can sit in their seats and ask questions of the teacher without using a telephone.

To date, several very different MBA courses have been taught via live TV The first three were administrative accounting controls, computer applications in business, and research methods. All have been labelled by all concerned as being successful. Actual research and anecdotal evidence at UM and from other states indicate that TV courses can be educationally effective if they are done well.

The results have been very good. Follow-up surveys at the completion of each course indicate that even students who were skeptical about taking a class via TV were pleasantly surprised at how good the TV courses were. Most of them commented that they forgot after the first five minutes that they were receiving the course via TV Some even went so far as to say that they thought the TV courses were better than courses where the teacher was with them in the classroom because their attention was directed to the TV screen at all times, with less chance for distractions.

Fine Tuning the Process

Enrollment in the televised courses has been so high that the UM studio is not large enough to hold all the Missoula MBA students taking the TV courses. As a result, an interactive remote classroom similar to the one in Billings had to be installed on the Missoula campus. This means that the teacher has three classes of students: one group of students in the studio live with the teacher; one group in Missoula via TV; and one in Billings taking the class via TV This additional permutation has not seemed to affect the quality of the classes. It does indicate how unforseen situations arise that require continuous adjustment and changes to ensure quality in the TV classes.

The biggest drawback of TV teaching is that the teacher in Missoula can hear but cannot see the Billings students. Many teachers feel eye contact with students is necessary for successful teaching. However, since Missoula students are in the TV studio, the teacher has a live audience for eye contact. The TV teachers have found that it is not crucial to have direct eye contact with the Billings students when they have actual students in the studio. If students in the studio clearly understand the material being taught, the unseen students probably are learning effectively as well. Also, the remote group can easily ask questions at any time. Some of the students are understandably hesitant to ask questions with this system. Others do not mind at all and actually seat themselves directly in front of the TV when they ask questions because it appears that the teacher is looking right at them.

Program Results So Far

Several University of Montana MBA courses have now been offered in Billings. The university recognizes that most of the Billings MBA students work full time and, therefore, almost all of the courses are offered in the evenings and meet once or twice a week. Two courses are normally offered each quarter. One of the courses may be televised and the other is taught by EMC faculty or by UM faculty who travel from Missoula. Students from as far away as Poplar and Colstrip make the weekly or bi-weekly trips to Billings. It takes about two- and-one-half to three years for a student to finish the MBA.

UM has a full-time resident administrator in Billings who teaches some of the classes and oversees the MBA program. Enrollment has grown from about eighteen to over forty students. All of these students do not take classes every quarter. They take classes as they can fit them into their busy schedules. Graduate courses take a great amount of time, and it is not always easy for people to add an MBA program to their lives.


If it is a goal of the Montana University System to eliminate program duplication, live TV teaching may, indeed, be one possible solution. There appear to be several advantages:
 * Accreditation standards
 are being met;
 * Only one unit in the
 university system is offering
 graduate business
 * The Billings students
 are pleased with the
 program and enrollment
 in the program
 has grown substantially
 in the two years since
 its inception; thus, the
 television format does
 not seem to be a deter
- rent.
Additional side benefits
also exist:
 * Radio and TV
 students run the
 cameras and production
 room during the
 "live" TV classes. They
 are getting invaluable
 experience in their program
 * Television has also
 been used to transmit
 continuing education
 courses in Pharmacy to
 pharmacists in the Billings
 area via use of the
 MBA television system
 * Television teaching
 allows an excellent instructional
 opportunity for
 School of Business
 faculty. For example,
 the TV classes are
 video-taped and the
 faculty member can
 critique these tapes to
 enhance teaching
 As always, there are
some disadvan
 * The start-up costs for
 any new endeavor such
 as this in any state are
 high. In the long run,
 TV teaching in Montana
 may become cost
 effective, and if TV
 teaching is to continue,
 it must be evaluated by
 its long-run potential.
 If TV teaching can
 eliminate or reduce
 program duplication in
 the university system
 over time, and if it
 allows Montana
 citizens to have access
 to university classes in
 their own communities,
 then it may
 pay for itself in the
 long run.

The Future?

James Koch, who just ended his term as UM president, stated, "My ambition is nothing less than for everybody in the State of Montana to turn on their television sets and pick up the University of Montana." Only time will tell whether this ambitious goal is to become a reality. The UM Billings MBA program is a start.

Teresa Beed, professor of accounting; Lee Tangedahl, professor of management; Gerald Evans, assistant professor of management; are all University of Montana School of Business Administration faculty. They have all taught the televised courses for the Billings MBA program.

Billings Students Rate TV Courses

Even though the teacher is about 350 miles away and only four inches tall, Billings MBA students thought her presentation was just like one in any normal graduate-level course.

Several students interviewed all say that frequent travel to Missoula is impossible for them and televised courses are an effective alternative to live instruction.

"It's the future for education in Montana," says Ray Sheldon, a Billings marketing analyst. "Television instruction is better than a live teacher."

Since he is near sighted, he says the television's graphics are better than handwritten overheads or chalkboards, "There is tremendous potential for computer and animated graphics." Another advantage, Sheldon adds, is the student's ease to make up missed classes. "Just watch the video cassette when you have time."

Another student, Robert Fannon, believes that video and live instruction are similar. "The professors make the difference," he says. "A boring professor would be boring live or on television. It was easy to pay attention."

During one class, he says, the television crew in Missoula used the graphics computer to broadcast a championship basketball game's score. "The professors hammed it up for the cameras. It was light and fun."

Kerri Tallerico also likes televised courses. She says that while she asks questions in class, she also wants occasional one-on-one office meetings with her professors. To replace office meetings, she calls the professor. She says she is pleased with how accessible professors are to television students.

Ray Sheldon's only problem with televised courses is the audio feedback. He says that when he tries to ask questions, the professor cannot make "real life" eye contact. He also feels that televised courses will only work well for lectures.

"They won't work where a lot of interaction is required like discussion groups," he says. "But for lectures, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages."
COPYRIGHT 1990 University of Montana
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:University of Montana; Masters in Business Administration program; includes related article on college instruction using television
Author:Beed, Teresa; Tangedahl, Lee; Evans, Gerald
Publication:Montana Business Quarterly
Date:Sep 22, 1990
Previous Article:Montana's log home industry.
Next Article:Big news for small companies.

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