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Distance Teaching with Service Learning and Civic Engagement BETA

A Toolkit from University of Maine at Augusta, and University of Southern Maine

Print Version of the Toolkit: uma.edu/faculty-cedoc

Distance Courses

The University of Maine System offers classes in a variety of distance formats. Once upon a time, students would arrive at a brick-and-mortar institution and take their entire class in a single room with a single instructor with perhaps a few breaks to visit tutoring centers or the library. Distance course delivery, though, has changed the menu. Students can now select their course delivery from a variety of options, such as:

Online or e-Learning

These courses are generally facilitated 100% online. An online course can have a variety of social interactions and delivery requirements, ranging from digital-meetings over the phone or via desktop video-conferencing to text-based interactions, such as discussion boards and paper-based assignments. Online courses can even require proctored exams, requiring students attend a physical location to take tests for the course.

The critical aspects of online courses are that they are delivered entirely over the web, they are likely asynchronous, there usually aren’t set meeting times (though there are likely set due-dates for deliverables), and students engage significantly with a device (computer or tablet) to complete work. Note, though, that it is not impossible for online courses to include face-to-face meetings over the web or to require students to go out into the community and report back. It just takes a little creative engineering with the help of an instructional designer.

Compressed Video

Sometimes called “V/C” or referred to by the brand name of the devices used to facilitate these courses (“Polycom” or “Tandberg” to name a couple), Compressed Video courses are live courses  taught by an instructor over a video-network that broadcasts the course from one location to several other locations in real time. In compressed video courses, students may be scattered across several locations, campuses or outreach centers, connecting to a compressed video unit in a designated classroom at their sites while the instructor connects from another room entirely. Students and faculty communicate through noise-cancelling microphones and sound-responsive video units.

The critical aspects of compressed video courses are that they are very similar to the traditional, in-classroom models of teaching and learning where students and faculty all meet at the same time in a classroom outside of their homes. The meeting takes place through a two-way video display that allows students and faculty to communicate with one another in real time. Note that compressed video courses tend to be offered within a single state’s borders, but can represent a wide range of communities as students may be scattered around the entire state. Because compressed video requires a specific unit, though, you can count on students in V/C classes having some connection to a support network--a UMA Center, a Campus, or a subcontracted “receive site,” which is usually a public school.


ITV, or Interactive Television, is a television, one-way broadcast model of teaching that allows an instructor to teach in a “homeroom” and broadcast the class in real-time or as “delayed viewing” to students around the state using television broadcasting features to distribute the classroom lessons. Because ITV is broadcast, instructors in this modality usually have a broadcast support technician (Media Service Technician), who can manage the technical aspects of television broadcasting, including switching out the backdrop behind the professor with a powerpoint or a beach scene just like film producers can do with green screens. ITV is a one-way transfer, but students in receive sites, or locations where they are receiving the broadcast from around the state, can interact with the professor in real-time by calling in via telephone or cellphone during the class.

Because ITV is broadcast via television systems, the course broadcast can be recorded and streamed for later viewing by students who either missed the class or who signed up as “delayed viewing” students. This gives instructors and students some flexibility with the creation and access of course materials. It’s also a great transitional medium for folks returning to school after a period away. They don’t have to relocate to take a program, but they also don’t have to jump into the potentially high-tech world of online learning all at once. Note that ITV classes, like V/C classes, are apt to include students from all over the state and beyond and thus may represent several communities.

Center-Based (Off-Campus)

UMA Centers are located in eight underserved regions of the state of Maine, and they have a mission to provide access to degrees and programs from all campuses in the University of Maine System to students and citizens all around the state. Centers are located in Rockland, Ellsworth, Brunswick, Rumford, South Paris, Saco, Houlton and East Millinocket. These centers provide access to campus resources, including off-campus library services, tutoring services, equipment and technology, and on-site classes from one of the seven campuses. Students can take live, in-person, “traditional” courses right on site at these Centers, taught by an instructor right there in the room. Faculty who teach these classes teach for any of the campuses in the system, but use Center facilities to deliver that in-person experience. Thus, a Civic Engagement experience in a Center-based distance class could easily wrap around the community nearest the center even if the course is originating out of a campus far away from that community. In other words, a faculty member might be on-site in Ellsworth teaching a class for USM, and the community project could be centered around Ellsworth’s community rather than Portland’s (where USM’s primary campus is located).

Hybrid or Blended

Some people use the terms “hybrid” and “blended” interchangeably to refer to classes that don’t quite fit the mold of an online course or a traditional face-to-face course. Generally, hybrid courses have some residential or “real time” requirements and some online or e-learning requirements. An example of a blended course might be a nursing class that requires only four in-person meetings over the course of the semester, but requires the remainder of the work to take place weekly online using the learning management system. Another example would be to have a fully online course in which students are required to meet in real-time using desktop video-conferencing of conference-call-in-phone-lines. This is a hybrid because the course requires some real-time meeting even though students can do that meeting online or by phone. Because hybrid classes allow instructors and students to congregate together, it can be easier to find a community partner for these types of courses as faculty can arrange to bring that partner on-site during one of the live meeting times.


Web-facilitated is the final element of “distance” courses, though they don’t technically qualify as distance in the strictest sense. Web-facilitated courses represent any course--even a traditional, face-to-face, in-the-classroom course--which uses the web to support the learning. There are lots of ways this can happen. Some faculty use the learning management system to host course materials for students to access. Some faculty ask students to take virtual field trips or explore websites as part of their learning, or even to engage in out-of-class discussions on social media or discussion boards. In a web-facilitated class, a faculty member could consider pulling in a global community partner using web-technologies to allow students in the face-to-face classroom to impact a global community with web-facilitation.

The aforementioned definitions for various types of distance learning in the University of Maine System are defined by Senior Instructional Designer, Araminta Matthews, of  University of Maine, Augusta.

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