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"Distance learning" through TV university courses is billed as the wave of the future. But anyone who has sat through one of these knows the professor can make the difference between a class that sparkles or is dull as dust.

Ramrod-stiff academics droning on and on or choking with "mike fright" just don't cut it on TV. The small screen also can't make sense of classroom-use documents and audio-visual materials that haven't been adapted for TV.To guard against the student-snooze factor, the University of Utah now is requiring all professors who do TV stints to go through some special training.

"It's not an acting class," said Krista Rodin-Popich, director of academic programs in the U.'s Division of Continuing Education.

However, the instructors do get camera time and a chance to critique their own delivery style, help in learning how to use document display equipment and advice for redoing a course syllabus to synchronize with TV delivery.

"The instructor must reorganize the class so it fits the medium and student-centered learning concepts," said Rodin-Popich. "It's rethinking the class."

Professors get help from several departments, including the Division of Continuing Education; Media Solutions, which operates in conjunction with the Utah Education Network; Instructional Media Services; the new Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence; and Independent Study.

Professors aren't expected to be jazzy entertainers, but distance-learning students are a discerning and critical audience, according to Zachary Tippetts, who coordinates audio-visual distribution for the U.'s Instructional Media Services.

Many students must take courses from afar because certain classes are required, but the U. doesn't have enough classroom space to accommodate everyone who needs a particular course, Tippetts said. As a result, these students really demand value for money.

And with some good advice, it isn't that hard to gear up for TV. For example, a written document on letter-size paper used with an overhead projector is unreadable on television. But it quickly can become readable if an instructor changes the margins and uses larger type.

Also, nervous or stiff instructors can change their lecture style after viewing themselves on tape. "Generally, people adapt quickly," Tippetts said.

Participants said the training sessions are worth it.

"This forces you to be more structured and more prepared," said Steven Ott, associate professor of political science and director of the master of public administration program.

In a traditional classroom, Ott prefers engaging students in give-and-take discussions and wants to transfer that to TV.

"I tend to be very interactive in my teaching style. The question is: How do students learn? The focus needs to be on student learning and adapting the delivery," Ott said. "I was very pleased when I found the training program was available."