Using the Internet to enhance the learning experience

In research I have been conducting today, I am finding support for the idea that the Internet and web technology can enhance the overall learning experience for students.

From Donnelly, R. (2004). Online Learning in Teacher Education: Enhanced with a Problem-based Learning Approach. AACE Journal. 12 (2), pp. 236-247. Norfolk, VA: AACE.  [pdf] :

Computer mediated communication including web pages, e-mail and web-based discussion boards have been reported by students using them as assisting in increasing satisfaction with their studies, decreasing feelings of isolation and providing better support for their learning processes (Geelan & Taylor, 2001). (241, pdf at 6)

[…] The role of technology in learning is to provide a flexible learning environment that supports student learning rather than the transmission of ideas for passive use in a highly deterministic educational regime. It is this constructivist approach to teaching and learning which is the critical feature of all successful learning environments. (244, pdf at 9)

From Kwan, R., Chan, C., & Lui, A. (2004). Reaching an ITopia in distance learning—A case study. AACE Journal, 12(2), 171-187. [pdf] :

… the Internet is really useful for presenting the multimedia elements as well as providing the capacity to hyperlink to other useful sites to assist student learning. […]

As a matter of fact, students with experience in Learning Space or WebCT tended to ask why all courses were not on them. (179, pdf at 9)

[…] We began to see students relying on the course Web site for information, discussion, and socialization. Students were demonstrating the skills to communicate freely on the Web. They began to conduct very extensive discussions on ideas and course content over the Internet as reflected by the quality and quantity of messages they posted on the discussion board. (180, pdf at 10)

These studies also discuss how web technology can facilitate “active” learning:

From Donnelly, R. (2004). [pdf] :

The self-directed learning was an important aspect of the PBL group process. A online library of relevant key articles and reports was initially set up by the module tutor, but this was incrementally developed by the PBL group members themselves as the module progressed, and they discovered further rich resources which deserved sharing with their peers.

De Boer and Collis (2002) argued that in higher education learning situations, such submissions become part of the learning resources of others, and is a way to engage students more directly in the learning process as contributors as well as consumers of preselected learning materials.

The question can be asked why use an online approach for this module in conjunction with face-to-face teaching sessions, rather than continue allowing the lecturers to work solely in a face-to-face learning environment? Quite simply, the main idea is to provide them with an opportunity to experience online learning as students, and the problem-based learning aspect played an important role in allowing them to experience the benefits of collaboration.

The problem-based learning* approach used for this module is a motivating way to learn for the lecturers; they are involved in active learning, working with real problems encountered in their everyday teaching. (240, pdf at 5) (emphasis added)

( * problem-based learning is the learning that results from a group of people working towards the resolution of a real life problem, (242, pdf at 7))

[…] Laurillard (1993) has argued that discussion, interaction, adaptation, and reflection are crucial elements in the effective use of technology in education. Where students are given opportunities to discuss and interact, they can adapt their understandings and reflect upon them. The online reflective journal is an instrument for the lecturers to achieve this over time.

Despite caveats about the overwhelming flood of information from the discussion board, there is no doubt that these discussions can be an illuminating place to look for comments of a reflective nature from the module, both from students and tutors (Taylor, Woodman, Summer, & Blake, 2000). (244, pdf at 9)

or at least the distinct possibility that web technology can facilitate active learning:

From Kwan, R., Chan, C., & Lui, A. (2004) [pdf] :

Though the Computing team (department) is experimenting with “Active Learning” as described by McIntyre and Wolff (1998), different instructional tools on the Web (Gray, 1998), and the hypertextbooks (Boroni, 2001) for the Web, more research has to be done before we can subscribe to what Makkonen (2000) did when he claimed, “hypertext enables learning as a knowledge construction process,…, hypertext as a cognitive tool for knowledge construction” (p. 1057). (179, pdf at 9) (emphasis added)

Both of these studies look at barriers to effective online programs, including the technological competency of the instructors.

From Donnelly, R. (2004) [pdf] :

The transformational use of the computer as a tool for mediation, such as was planned for this module, rather than simply as a mechanism for delivery of content, has not been widely implemented (Littlejohn, 2002). This is unsurprising, since many academics have limited experience of ICT for teaching and learning and lack familiarity with current thinking in educational technology. (238, pdf at 3)

From Kwan, R., Chan, C., & Lui, A. (2004). [pdf] :

The initial reluctance to get on the IT bandwagon towards an “ITopia” in teaching and learning was mainly due to the lack of skills of some of the faculty members. Most of them were also embarrassed to attend training session organized by the Information Technology Unit of the University.

To tackle this problem, S&T hired a full-time IT trainer in 2001. This move started to pay dividend almost immediately. The trainer spends all his time training faculty members individually in the school from effective use of e-mail, designing and constructing web pages, to helping professors to design and deploy online teaching and learning materials using, for example, Macromedia Flash and Authorware®. The key to the success stems from the fact that the training is one-on-one from two to six hours a week per faculty member. (183, pdf at 13)

Both studies offer strategies for creating effective online learning environments.  Donnelly (2004) emphasizes an  assessment of technological competence:

It is important to establish technology-usage patterns of the lecturers before they start the module. The questionnaire is used to ascertain this in addition to establishing whether they have access to their own PCs at work or at home, so technical support issues can be dealt with. The questionnaire also refers to file management requirements. These are established by asking the lecturers if they can create, save, and manage files on their PC. Some basic Internet skills are determined by asking them if they know how to attach a file to an e-mail message. (241-242, pdf at 6-7)

and the role of the social context:

It is important for the group to physically meet each other in this way to assist with the group bonding process that will be so vital when they will be working together online at a later date. (242, pdf at 7)

Interaction is a critical component of constructivist learning environments, whether by way of the web or in person, because learning occurs in a social context through collaboration, negotiation, debate, and peer review (Grabinger & Dunlap, 2000). (245, pdf at 10)

Donnelly (2004) references a goal of “creating a community of learners that can “tap levels of energy that otherwise remain dormant” (Manning, Curtis, & McMillen, 1996)” (245, pdf at 10) and concludes:

In this era of rapid change, we, as educators increasingly recognize that students must learn how to develop and apply knowledge creatively, not simply remember what they have been told (Wiske, Sick, & Wirsig, 2001).

To meet these demands, teachers need professional development opportunities that support them in a transformational process. Online learning and problem-based learning appear to hold promise in overcoming these issues.

Kwan, Chan and Lui (2004) provide greater detail to the “caveat” noted by Donnelly about “the overwhelming flood of information from the discussion board” (244, pdf at 9), with their report that:

Our experience showed that supporting an online course increased the workload of a instructor by about 20% mainly due to the monitoring of the e-mail and discussion board traffic. Even if the instructor did not respond to messages posted on the electronic discussion board, s/he still had to read all messages to ensure that acceptable standard ethics were observed and incorrect answers posted by students were not perpetuated. (182, pdf at 12)

But they also describe time-saving strategies that can be applied in an online environment, including this:

Online counseling included a common e-mail account for a single department, frequently asked questions (FAQs) on the Web and interactive web forms using Java script were developed. This item was created in an attempt to reduce the very high number of phone calls (over 50 on a busy day) and e-mail messages (over 30 in a day) that some teams received during course registrations in the months of June and December.

To make matters worse, students and potential students tended to make multiple phone calls and send multiple e-mail messages to different faculty members asking the same questions. By consolidating all e-mail accounts into a team account, team members could take turns to answer e-mail messages while all the messages stayed in one common account. This also avoided potential confusion when different advice was given by various staff members to the same enquiry. Courtesy copies of messages within each team were also reduced by this arrangement.

Also, once a pattern or a common question has emerged among the e-mail messages, they were turned into FAQs and put on the team Website. Students could then refer to these FAQs to maintain the consistency of our answer. (177-178, pdf at 7-8)

Kwan, Chan and Lui (2004) “look forward to the day when every apartment in the city is connected electronically and broadband connection comes as a standard feature of phone lines.” (186, pdf at 16)

So do I.

———————————————————

notes circa October 15, 2008:

“Attitudes, beliefs and attendance in a hybrid course,” by E. Yudko, R. Hirokawa and R. Chi, Computers & Education, Volume 50, Issue 4, May 2008, Pages 1217-1227, doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2006.11.005

This study notes that “students do believe that they benefit from this technology, but the belief is strongest in those who are most computer/Internet literate.”  This is one of the preliminary barriers to the implementation of effective online learning environments.

Students’ evaluations of the use of e-learning in a collaborative project between two South African universities,” by Poul Rohleder, Vivienne Bozalek, Ronelle Carolissen, Brenda Leibowitz and Leslie Swartz, The International Journal of Higher Education and Educational Planning, 20 August 2007

This study looks at the “virtues of online learning,” including a theme that I have seen throughout my research, that “[w]eb-based learning offers more opportunities for active learning, where students would engage with materials rather than passively receiving knowledge from lecturers.” (from the introduction).

This study also looks at the basic barriers of electricity and access to the Internet as fundamental concerns related to the effectiveness of the online learning environment.

Donnelly, R. (2004). Online Learning in Teacher Education: Enhanced with a Problem-based Learning Approach. AACE Journal. 12 (2), pp. 236-247. Norfolk, VA: AACE.  [pdf]

This study seems to emphasize an andragogical approach to the evaluation of online learning environments.  “The role of technology in learning is to provide a flexible learning environment that supports student learning rather than the transmission of ideas for passive use in a highly deterministic educational regime.” (244, pdf at 9)

This study also explores “[t]he problem-based learning approach used for this module is a motivating way to learn for the lecturers; they are involved in active learning, working with real problems encountered in their everyday teaching.” (240, pdf at 5)

From Kwan, R., Chan, C., & Lui, A. (2004). Reaching an ITopia in distance learning—A case study. AACE Journal, 12(2), 171-187. [pdf]

While this study notes “more research has to be done before we can subscribe to what Makkonen (2000) did when he claimed, “hypertext enables learning as a knowledge construction process,…, hypertext as a cognitive tool for knowledge construction” (p. 1057). (179, pdf at 9) (emphasis added), I think that the invention of the hyperlink is a fundamental aspect of why an online learning environment can be so effective in the promotion of active engagement with course materials and related research.

This is an outline that I have developed as an attempt to synthesize the annotated bibliography, the student population profile and the special topic workshop:

1. online learning = active learning

“a critical engagement with information” (Le Grange 2004, p. 89). (Rohleder, 2007)

the capacity to hyperlink; hypertext enables learning as a knowledge construction process, …, hypertext as a cognitive tool (Kwan, 2004)

they discovered further rich resources which deserved sharing with their peers (Donnelly, 2004)

the course Web site for information, discussion, and socialization (Kwan, 2004)

a way to engage students more directly in the learning process as contributors as well as consumers (Donnelly, 2004)

learning occurs in a social context through collaboration, negotiation, debate, and peer review (Grabinger & Dunlap, 2000). (Donnelly, 2004)

2. strategies for effective online learning environments

web pages, e-mail and web-based discussion boards (Donnelly, 2004)

A online library of relevant key articles and reports (Donnelly, 2004)

hypertextbooks (Boroni, 2001) (Kwan, 2004)

multimedia elements (Kwan, 2004)

The online reflective journal (Donnelly, 2004)

the problem-based learning aspect played an important role in allowing them to experience the benefits of collaboration (Donnelly, 2004)

it is important for the group to physically meet each other (Donnelly, 2004)

[the instructor] still had to read all messages to ensure that acceptable standard ethics were observed and incorrect answers posted by students were not perpetuated. (Kwan, 2004)

Online counseling included a common e-mail account for a single department, frequently asked questions (FAQs) on the Web and interactive web forms (Kwan, 2004)

helping students to develop strong computer/Internet skills prior to taking distance education classes may be critically important to improving student engagement. (Yudko, 2008)

3. needs of online learners

– computer and internet literacy

establishing whether they have access to their own PCs at work or at home, so technical support issues can be dealt with. The questionnaire also refers to file management requirements. These are established by asking the lecturers if they can create, save, and manage files on their PC. Some basic Internet skills are determined by asking them if they know how to attach a file to an e-mail message. (Donnelly, 2004)

Students do believe that they benefit from this technology, but the belief is strongest in those who are most computer/Internet literate. (Yudko, 2008)

– technical capacity of the school / faculty

The initial reluctance to get on the IT bandwagon towards an “ITopia” in teaching and learning was mainly due to the lack of skills of some of the faculty members. Most of them were also embarrassed to attend training session organized by the Information Technology Unit of the University.

To tackle this problem, S&T hired a full-time IT trainer in 2001. This move started to pay dividend almost immediately. The trainer spends all his time training faculty members individually in the school from effective use of e-mail, designing and constructing web pages, to helping professors to design and deploy online teaching and learning materials using, for example, Macromedia Flash and Authorware®. The key to the success stems from the fact that the training is one-on-one from two to six hours a week per faculty member. (183, pdf at 13)  (Kwan 2004)

– basic literacy

– remedial instruction re: college learning environment / independent learning / responsibility for education

– adequate access to the internet

(Rohleder, 2007) (Donnelly, 2004)

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