HRS Telnet: A Case Study
In an effort to decrease the costs associated with conventional training and to increase continuing education opportunities for its employees, the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) has initiated a $280,000 satellite teleconferencing system at 35 sites across the state. This paper describes the goals of the project, the technology involved, the anticipated impact, and the implications of this technology for instructional designers.
HRS Telnet: A Case Study
Problem/Need Addressed by Project
The Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) is the largest state health and human services agency in the country. It has an annual budget of $9 billion, employs 46,000 people, and serves a state with a large geographic area. Providing conventional training and continuing education for employees results in heavy expenditures in travel, per diem, and staff down-time. The HRS Satellite Teleconference Network (Telnet) is currently being implemented by the department as a means of providing more cost-effective training and professional continuing education to employees (HRS, Note 1).
HRS has identified five major goals for Telnet: 1) to increase employee access to education and training opportunities, 2) to reduce travel and per diem costs, 3) to reduce executive and staff down-time, 4) to maximize use of existing training resources, and 5) to improve communication efficiency and effectiveness (ibid.).
In addition to these goals, several principles were established for the project (ibid.):
* The hardware must be uniform across the state.
* The downlink equipment must be easy to use.
* The network must be cost-effective.
* Training of health professionals must be given highest priority.
* Downlinks must be established at sites where there is administrative support and geographic suitability.
With the assistance of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, the Department of General Services, and the Department of Education, the HRS Office of Staff Development and Training identified an acceptable vendor for the satellite systems and suitable downlink sites. A total of 35 downlink sites were identified. Each of HRS' eleven districts has from two to five sites. These sites are located in a variety of settings--district offices, county public health units, state hospitals, and economic services centers. All downlinks are expected to be operational by October 1, 1991 (Gould, Note 2).
The HRS Staff Development and Training Office continues to serve as the clearinghouse for teleconference opportunities. Using conventional and E-mail, this office notifies potential users of programs and schedules downlink time with each site coordinator (ibid.).
Most teleconference programs originate from out-of-state. A number of governmental and commercial agencies provide training programs via satellite. Some of these are free and others are pay-per-view. Through WFSU-TV, HRS will have access to studio equipment for originating it's own programming. However, development and uplink costs will make this an extremely rare occurrence (ibid.).
Each of the 35 downlink sites is equipped with a Microdyne satellite dish, a Chaparral Videocypher II Plus receiver, a video monitor, a VCR, and a Darome 1640 MD audio convener (ibid.).
The satellite dish can be aimed at a number of telecommunications satellites in geostationary orbit. A trained site coordinator does this by using on-screen menus to program the receiver with the correct satellite, the correct transponder, and the correct audio frequency for the teleconference to be accessed (ibid.).
The satellite dish and receiver are considered to be "high-end consumer" products. That is, they are of better quality than typical home satellite systems, but they are not as expensive as the systems utilized by television companies (ibid.).
The VCR is used to record "live" programs and view them at a later time (ibid).
If the teleconference is interactive, participants may use the audio convener to call the program originator with questions or comments. The audio convener is similar to a telephone but is equipped with a public address speaker and four unidirectional microphones. A participant's questions or comments are transmitted by normal telephone routes to the originator and then are broadcast to other teleconference participants by satellite (ibid.).
In June 1989, HRS conducted an AIDS teleconference at 18 remote viewing sites around the state. More than 3,500 people attended portions of the training. Prior to any instruction, 68 percent of participants correctly answered 80 percent of the pre-test items. Following instruction, 88 percent of the participants correctly answered 80 percent of the post-test items. Thus, percent-correct levels increased 20 percentage points as a result of instruction. A satisfaction survey revealed that the vast majority of participants rated the teleconference as superior or excellent as a learning experience (HRS, Note 4). The positive results of this teleconference was a factor in the department's decision to develop Telnet.
HRS has also been utilizing an audio teleconferencing systems for the past two years. This system uses conventional telephone lines and Darome audio conveners similar to the ones described above. This system has been installed at 90 HRS sites across the state. Although no summative evaluation has taken place, the training and managerial communications opportunities provided by this system paved the way for acceptance of a video teleconferencing system (Gould, Note 2).
Since HRS Telnet is not yet fully operational, little evaluation has been conducted at this time. However, evaluation activities are planned on four levels: 1) user satisfaction, 2) knowledge gain, 3) improved job performance, and 4) overall agency impact. Potential data sources include satisfaction surveys, pre and post-tests, telephone interviews, questionnaires, travel reports, and equipment utilization logs (ibid.).
Start-up costs for the HRS Telnet system was $280,000. Funds for the project were donated by the Florida Nurses Association in hopes of improving the continuing education opportunities for its members. It is expected that the system will pay for itself within two years by decreasing travel, per diem, and down-time costs associate with conventional training (HRS, Note 5).
Implications for Design
Teleconferencing is one of the fastest-growing segments of the telecommunications industry (Heinich, et al., 1989). Teleconferencing is ideal when there are a large number of participants, participants are widely dispersed, training can be administered in short period of time, and significant travel costs are involved. Teleconferencing is less beneficial when the topic requires confidentiality or security, when lengthy training is required. when participants are few and geographically close, or when face-to-face interaction is needed (HRS, Note 2).
Teleconferencing is an effective means of instructional delivery. Rushton (1981) found that learners scored just as well after receiving instruction through teleconferencing as through conventional instruction.
Start-up costs for teleconferencing equipment can be quite expensive, as can accessing pay-for-view training programs. However, these costs can often be quickly recouped by decreasing travel, per diem, and down-time costs that would normally be spent on conventional training (Gould, Note 2).
The costs of in-house development and delivery of high-quality teleconferences is prohibitive for most agencies. In most cases, training programs can be obtained from commercial or governmental sources (ibid.).
Trained coordinators are needed at each downlink site to operate the teleconferencing equipment and to facilitate instructional activities related to the teleconference--such as registration of participants, distribution of training materials, administration of tests, etc. (ibid.).
Teleconference training requires a great deal of advance planning and marketing. Care must be taken to inform potential users of the program, schedule use of the equipment, and dissiminate support materials (ibid.).
Teleconferencing is a medium with its own unique characteristics. Instructional designers should take care to involve a teleconferencing media expert in all phases of the instructional systems process (ibid.).
1. Facts on the hrs teleconference network. Internal document, Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS), 1991.
2. Gould, J. Personal communication, September 23, 1991.
3. Teleconferencing handbook. Internal document, Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) , 1991.
4. Evaluation of the HRS AIDS teleconference training program. Report in preparation, Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS), 1991.
5. Training by satellite. HRS Employee Newsletter, 1(1), p. 5.
Rushton, F. A. Teleconferencing versus conventional delivery of instruction in complex skills (Doctoral dissertation, Florida State University, 1981).
Heinich, R., Molenda, M., & Russell, J.D. Instructional media and the new technologies of instruction. New York: Macmillan, 1989.
Polcyn, K. A. An educator's guide to communication satellite technology. Washington: Academy for Educationational Development, 1973.
Hilton, J., & Jacobi, P. Straight talk about videoconferencing. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1986.