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|Tutor in distance education||
From experiences during the
last ten years, we have changed views and strategies concerning some
important aspects of the delivery of courses on the net, e. g. based
on some expectations concerning student backgrounds, access to equipment
and answers to questions concerning attitudes and preferences of how,
when and where to learn. Our strategies for future developments have
partly been based on subjective experiences of personnel with varying
responsibilities within the organisation; such as developers, academics,
tutors, counsellors, IT support staff and administration, as well as
on formal evaluation studies, discussions with other institutions, students
and tutors. Thus, the study is an attempt to cover some issues which
we felt needed more coherent and updated analysis before completing
the structure and design of the WWW kernel for distance learning in
co-operation with our EU partners:
The questionnaire was distributed to students enrolled in one or more courses offered via the Internet during one full year. Because of a fault in the selection programme, students who had completed or cancelled their studies were excluded. After one reminder we received 64 usable questionnaires back (43 percent response rate).
This article concentrates on results of specific importance for our internal discussions on didactics of Internet teaching.
Reasons for taking the course are mainly related to present job needs, increase possibilities for changing job and increasing formal competence. Technology based (Internet based) studies could be seen as attractive in itself, especially for students choosing information and communication related subjects. None of the students said that interest in this specific form of teaching was the main motive. A large majority of the students had access to computer and Internet both at home and at work and also had an e-mail address before enrolling. It is also worth noting that nearly 70 percent of the students report that the fact that the courses were offered on the net, had some or great significance for their decision to enrol. To see whether Internet studies really attracts new student groups, we asked if the students would consider taking the course as full-time, part-time or correspondence study. (Some of the NKI courses and programmes are, in fact, offered via "the full range" of study forms.) The answers demonstrated very clearly that full-time study was not at all probable (3% on the positive side), part-time study ticked positively by 23% while correspondence study was considered probable by 41%. The answers illustrate that studying via Internet attracts new groups, but also that many could have considered enrolling for traditional correspondence study.
The technological developments
have created and array of different ways of organising teaching and
learning. At one extreme of a continuum of different forms of studies
presented as distance, decentralised, flexible or open learning, one
might find a form which we categorise as 'individual flexible distance
learning' which allows the individual student complete freedom as
to when to start, where to study and which pace to follow. At the other
extreme we find the model of 'the extended classroom' which requires
the students to study as a group, often also that they meet regularly
at a certain place at certain times. Studies offered on the Internet
may be organised as either form or anywhere on this continuum. From
our first pilot trials of offering courses based on computer mediated
communication, we saw that these new technologies represented a qualitatively
different development from most other media solutions presented during
the last 25 to 30 years concerning the possibilities to support open
and flexible learning of high quality.
In the beginning our view
was that efficient information technology based teaching including inter
group support, academic and social communication presupposed fixed start
and progression schedules. This lead to 'electronic' teaching and learning
becoming much less flexible than distance teaching based on traditional
media. Since then we have changed opinion and NKI has changed strategies
to meet what we experience as the needs of the market.
The value of this strategy is clearly demonstrated in the students' answers. Nearly 90% of the respondents look upon 'free starting time' as an advantage. The preference for 'free progression plan' is nearly as great with 80% ticking on the positive side. This is probably due to the fact that some students actually experience that they have a need for a push from the school or some strict requirements to be able to give priority to their studies. E.g. in an early survey some students answered "free pace of study" for both 'the largest advantage' and 'the largest disadvantage' of correspondence study . In an earlier study one student wrote: "If electronic distance studies had been more flexible, it would have been a superb choice". And our conclusion on this point was: "...it is a major challenge to develop methods and organisations in distance education based on computer conferencing systems which take care of the distance student's need for autonomy and flexibility." [8, p. 92]
Table 2 gives an overview
of different didactic elements and the students' attitudes towards their
value for their learning as measured by the question: "The teaching
contains different elements. Try to assess these concerning value for
Interpretation of the information presented in Table 2 is not necessarily easy - as the students answer with reference to their actual experiences in the NKI Internet courses. This means that as NKI has chosen to design the Internet courses, whether based on WWW learning material or not, with great emphasis on flexibility, courses structured into study units with assignments for submission to be commented on by a 'personal' tutor, collaboration and communication with fellow students will receive less attention. Thus, in a way this can be seen as a 'self-fulfilling prophecy'. On the other hand, with some few exceptions there seem to be small differences between students with different experiences, e. g. between students studying programmes which have emphasised conferences and group based progression during the semester.
Didactic aspects of the teaching and their value for learning (Percentages,
|Quality of the study guide||55||28||15||-||2||
|Quality of assignm. for subm.||37||52||10||2||-||
|Work with assignm. for subm.||50||42||8||-||-||
|Academ. comm. with fellow st.||17||17||30||27||10||
|Social comm. with fellow st.||8||7||32||25||28||
|Individual comm. with tutor||33||33||23||8||2||
Generally, we may note that the students emphasise aspects known from individual distance education, such as quality of the study guide, individual reading/studying, work with assignments for submission, tutor's comments, individual communication with their tutor and individual flexibility as most important for their learning, while the specific aspects of computer mediated communication, such as social and academic communication with fellow students and social and academic conferences as well as collaborative learning seem to be regarded as less important. Concerning the first mentioned aspects, it is of course important to realise that these also can be more efficiently organised in distance learning systems applying the Internet and WWW for distribution of material and communication.
The electronic or virtual
environment offered to the students may be used or taken advantage
of in different ways. The use may be passive as when reading
or active when writing to fellow students or tutors or contributing
to conferences. Passive use may help the student in his or her individual
learning process, but does not contribute to the social system of learning,
to other students' learning or to the construction of a social climate.
The students' actual participation in the communication was also measured
by a number of different variables.
It seems very clear that the students make little use of the communication possibilities that are organised for them as part of the Internet/computer mediated communication courses. This fact might either indicate that these possibilities are of relatively little importance, that the actual use satisfies the needs they have for communication for efficiently completing their studies, or that the organisation or content of conferences is unsatisfactory. Writing to the tutor and to the administration and reading in academic conferences are the most frequent ways of using the communication possibilities.
Actual use of resources/means for learning during the study programmes
|Write to the tutor||15||15||20||40||10||
|Write to fellow students||2||2||12||37||48||
|Write to academ. conf||2||2||10||27||60||
|Write to social conferences||2||-||12||15||72||
|Write to the administration||-||8||17||32||43||
|Read in academic conf||5||12||13||27||43||
|Read in social conferences||-||2||10||24||64||
Among the courses included
in the evaluation there were some with learning material on the WWW
and some applying only e-mail and conferencing facilities. We asked
the students studying courses that did not include material presented
on the WWW, whether they would see it as an advantage to have the study
material presented on the WWW. On a 5-graded scale from 'absolutely
an advantage' to 'does not matter' half the students ticked
the middle alternative with the rest distributed on both sides.
Students on courses involving
WWW material were somewhat more positive towards presenting the material
on the WWW than were students of Internet courses not including this
type of course presentation. However, the enthusiasm was not very large
in any of the groups.
We have internally discussed
whether the students would prefer receiving the WWW material also in
printed form. The answers showed that the views differed a lot. Different
views may have resulted from different experiences and needs in different
courses. This question should be further examined.
We also asked about opinion
on the importance of 'presenting the material on the WWW', of
'Internal hyper-links' and of 'hyper-links to external material'.
Most students ticked on the positive side for all three aspects of WWW
materials. It seemed that the use of hyper-links to external resources
was the facility most appreciated by the students.
The actual use of WWW facilities. (Percentages, N=33).
|Use of internal hyper-links||24||15||42||9||9||
|Use of external hyper-links||24||21||24||15||15||
|Search in external resources||27||18||36||6||12||
Again, we may note that there are large differences in how much the students have actually used the WWW facilities. Differences in use may, of course, be related to how much of the course/programme the students have actually completed. The number of students was too small to really examine such relationships.
There is hardly any doubt
that demands on teachers can be very large and teacher workloads may
become very heavy in courses offered on the Internet. Cost efficiency
of distance study is normally based on the fact that large investments
in developing study material can be justified through less interaction
and rationalisations resulting from large scale teaching. Our experiences
does not support this. Originally we believed that distance teaching
based on computer mediated communication could be based on learning
material more similar to that used in on-campus studies. According to
our experiences this seems not to be the case. Thus, Internet based
distance teaching may become expensive because developing high quality
materials demand resources and student expectations of teacher involvement
tend to become quite high.
The average turn-around time for assignments was 3.1 day, according to the students varying a lot from tutor to tutor. The students' view on the quality of the tutors' work and satisfaction with the turn-around time experienced varied a lot. Some students argued that the tutors should put more effort in facilitating and moderating activities in the academic conferences, and the open answers indicated that one should stress the necessity for giving quick response to student answers and assignments.
The questionnaire ended by
asking: "Would you recommend studies on the Internet to others who were
qualified and interested in the subject?" It was encouraging that a
large majority of the students say that they would recommend Internet
studies to other people (only 5% ticking on the negative side).
The general impression from
the evaluation study was that the students were reasonably satisfied
with their experiences as Internet students with NKI Distance Education.
It generally seems that the students valued the aspects of study that
have been emphasised in distance education systems, such as material
for individual self instruction, two-way communication with enthusiastic
tutors supplying individual support and personal comments and guidance.
The students were not so
concerned about social and academic group communication. The reason
may be either that these aspects are not considered so necessary for
their learning, or that they have taken so little advantage of the possibilities
that they really do not know, or that the possibilities and advantages
are not exploited fully by NKI administration and tutors.
Concerning the use of the
WWW we need to experiment more in different courses to find out how
the Internet resources can be applied in better ways. Presenting material
on the WWW is probably not the most important development. The big challenge
is to use the WWW and its resources for stimulating meaningful activities
including links to external resources based on a course presentation
structure which makes the learning more interesting, efficient - and
Future evaluation should focus more on how to use the Internet and WWW for didactic purposes with an emphasis on the aims, objectives and teaching methods of each specific course.
 Garrison, D.
R.: Multifunction microcomputer enhanced audio teleconferencing: Moving
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 Garrison, D.
R.: Understanding distance education. A Framework for the Future.
Routledge, London. 1989.
 Grepperud, G.:
SOFF and the National Distance Education Network. In: George, J. W.,
Nylehn, B. & Støkken, A. M.: Distance Education in Norway and
Scotland. Experiences and Reflections. Pp. 36-52. Edinburgh: John
Donald Publ. 1996.
 Lauzon, A. C
& Moore, G. A. B.: A fourth generation distance education system:
Integrating computer-assisted learning and computer conferencing. The
Am. J. of Dist. Ed.,3:1, 38-49. 1989.
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F. & Rekkedal, T.: Technology for adult learning in Norway Including
a case study on the NKI Electronic College. In Adult Learning and
Technology in the OECD Countries. OECD. 1996.
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F. & Rekkedal, T.: Computer conferencing - a breakthrough in distance
learning or just another technological gadget? I: Sewart, D. & Daniel,
J. S.: Developing Distance Education. Papers to the 14th
ICDE Conference, Oslo 1988. Oslo: ICDE. 1988.
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Tekniske studier. Korrespondanseundervisning og klasseundervisning.
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Recruitment and Study Barriers in the Electronic College. In: Paulsen,
M. F. & Rekkedal, T.: The Electronic College. Selected Articles
from the EKKO Project. Bekkestua: NKI/SEFU. 1990.
 Rekkedal, T. & Paulsen, M. F.: The Third Generation NKI Electronic College. A Survey of Student Experiences and Attitudes. An Evaluation Report Written for the Leonardo Online Training Project http://www.nki.no/eeileo/. 1997.
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