Teaching and Learning Forum 2000 [ Proceedings Contents ]

The use of information technology to support a cast of a thousand

Nimilandra Nageswaran, Heinz Dreher and Vanessa Chang
School of Information Systems
Curtin Business School
Curtin University of Technology
    This paper provides a summary of a decade of self directed learning to some 900 on campus and some 400 off campus students in a first year information systems unit. This unit, Information Systems 100, is also offered as a distance education unit. In the early 1990s, a series of computer based learning modules were developed to supplement classroom teaching and electronic mail was used to encourage collaboration amongst students and tutors. In the mid 1990s, the emergence of the Web as a learning environment was at its peak and hence the Web was used to supplement this unit. The Web support has continued to this present day offering of the unit.

    This paper will address the lessons we have learned over the last ten years with a focus on how the Web learning environment has been used in this unit. In this paper, we explain Finder and Raleigh's (1998) four ways in which Web applications could be used in a course. The four Web applications are informational, supplemental, dependent, and fully developed. This paper includes a description of how the Web is integrated in the information systems unit as informational, supplemental and dependent applications using WebCT's clusters of quizzes, bulletin board, e-calendar, chat sessions, and mail.

    The Web learning environment is a powerful teaching and learning arena and the one lesson we have learnt is that for learning to be successfully delivered via the Web, the learning process on the Web needs to be well facilitated. Collins and Berge (1996) categorise the tasks and roles of the online facilitator into four areas of pedagogical, social, managerial, and technical. The social, managerial and technical aspects were addressed in this unit and this is explained in the paper. This paper concludes with a future plan to offer this unit as a fully developed online unit.

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Over the last decade, we have observed how rapidly computer technology is reshaping the educational landscape for students and changing our aspects and concepts of learning and teaching. We have seen the advent of computer based learning (CBL) technology in the 80s and early 90s. Mid-1990s saw the arrival of the Internet or the World Wide Web (WWW / Web). The Web has provided us with enormous amounts of information and various ways of communication which have significantly influenced our teaching and learning processes. Many institutions see the use of CBL and the Web as an opportunity to increase access to learning and to improve the quality of teaching and learning.

This paper will provide an overview of the use of CBL (from 1992 to 1995) and the Web (from 1995 to present) in a first year introductory information systems unit, Information Systems 100 (IS100) at the School of Information Systems, Curtin University of Technology.

Information Systems 100 (IS100)

The unit, IS100, is compulsory for all first year Bachelor of Commerce students and is offered in both first and second semester. The current annual enrolment for this unit is approximately 1500 students. This unit is offered on campus and off campus (eg, Malaysia and Singapore). Students can also study this unit in a distance education mode. Figure 1 shows the current IS100 homepage and the offering of this unit at various campuses.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Offering of IS100

This unit covers Information Systems (IS) and Information Technology (IT) topics which include Computer Systems, Information Systems in Organisation, Database Systems, Systems Development Life Cycle, Data Communications, Computer Security, and End User Computing Concepts and Tools. There are no prerequisites for the unit and partial exemption is not permitted.

1992 to 1995 - Computer based learning environment

In the early 1990, the School of Information Systems decided to introduce the use of self directed learning modules to complement the teaching in this unit. A group of six academic staff members were involved in the planning and development of the self directed Computer Based Learning (CBL) modules. In order to use the computer to enhance teaching and learning, a pedagogical or educational framework must exist to support computer based education. Three educational principles of Mastery Learning (Bloom, 1971; Carroll, 1963), Overlearning and Automaticity (Vockell, 1988; Gagne, 1985), and Prerequisite Knowledge and Skills (Vockell & Schwartz, 1988) underpin the design and use of computer based learning technology in IS100. Eight CBL modules were developed for the unit and these modules were introduced into the IS100 curriculum in 1993. Prior to this introduction, one of the modules was used in a pilot study in 1992. The CBL modules designed were not intended to replace traditional method of classroom teaching but to complement it through self paced learning.

A study was conducted in 1993 and 1994 to ascertain students' perceptions of the use of CBL modules in IS100. In summary, the study revealed that students like CBL provided that CBL is used as a supplement rather than as a substitute for classroom teaching. Many students perceived CBL to be more effective when it includes test questions as these provide them with a guide to their learning. The study also showed that majority of students who use the CBL modules for revision found the modules helped them in their learning.

1996 to present - Web based learning environment

As of 1996, the Web was used to support this unit. Materials concerning the unit programme, assessment and administrative (eg contact details of lecturers, tutors, and School office, book list, etc...) information were placed on the IS100 web site. WebCT is the tool to support the teaching of this unit. Placing these materials online in WebCT (see Figure 2) have enable us to manage and support this unit effectively and efficiently in terms of (1) flexibility to make changes to the information on the site, (2) availability to other links regarding the contents of the unit and unit information, (3) interactivity amongst students and tutors either synchronously or asynchronously, and (4) portability of the unit which enables distance education students to gain access to the unit.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Home page for IS100 WebCT site.

With the Web, knowledge has become powerful, dynamic and interlinked. Anyone can provide information. Anyone can access learning materials in any route, any place with an Internet connection. The rationale of using the Web as a tool has led us to investigate how the Web should be best used in IS100. The following section outlines Finder and Raleigh's (1998) applications of the Web in a unit or course.

Web based learning applications

Finder and Raleigh (1998) explain four ways in which Web applications could be used in a course: (1) Informational, (2) Supplemental, (3) Dependent, and (4) Fully Developed. Informational use is described where course information such as course outline and assignment descriptions are available on the Web. Supplemental use includes student's use of the Web to complete part of the course and the learning materials generally include links to related sources. Dependent use is described as that most learning materials exist on the Web and students use the Web to complete course assignments. Fully Developed use is viewed as using the Web to deliver the entire course. This is deemed as offering the course totally online where students and teacher may never meet face to face.

Based on the above Web applications description, IS100 is seen as utilising the Web as an informational, supplemental and dependent use. In terms of informational use, IS100's unit outline, assessment descriptions and other general information are available on the web site. For supplemental use, website links are provided to students and finally, in terms of dependent use, students are able to access most learning materials from the publisher, links to related sources and students' own initiative to conduct research on the assigned assignment topic.

Lessons learnt: Management of IS100 Web based learning environment

Over the years, the offering of IS100 in an online environment has provided us many insightful lessons. We have found that our lessons fit in with Collins and Berge (1996) analysis where in order to ensure the success of managing any web based learning environment, there need to be a shift from traditional teaching role to an online facilitator role; and a student to an online learner role.

Roles of the online facilitator

Collins and Berge (1996) categorise the tasks and roles of the online facilitator into four areas: (1) pedagogical, (2) social, (3) managerial, and (4) technical. They described pedagogical as function and task that revolves around educational facilitation. Social function is described as the promotion of friendly social environment which is needed in the process of online learning. The managerial aspects of online learning involve setting agenda, objectives, rules and decision making norms. The technical aspect focuses on the teachers' proficiency with the use of the technology. Collins and Berge (1996) view that teachers or facilitators in an online course must first become proficient and comfortable with the technology to ensure the comfort of the learners.

Roles of the online learner

A successful learner should be active in an online learning environment. The learner is responsible for actively seeking solutions to problems confined within the knowledge area being studied with guidance from the teacher. They are expected to view problems and questions presented by the teacher and those of other students. Students in the online learning environment are also expected to learn collaboratively and cooperatively (Palloff & Pratt, 1998). Students are expected to work together in order to generate deeper levels of understanding of the course material. Students are also expected to share the resources and other materials that they are finding with other learners.

From the above description of the roles of the online facilitator, IS100 would fit under the category of social, managerial, and technical areas. It is seen at this stage that since IS100 is not offered as a fully developed online unit, the pedagogical area is not applicable in the online offering of this unit. We are able to promote the social context by allowing students to interact via email, bulleting board and chat tools. In terms of the managerial aspects, we have incorporated general unit information. Finally, we have competent staff members who are proficient and able to support us with the use of the technology.

Future of IS100

IS100 has successfully use the Web as an information, supplemental and dependent applications. It is decided at this stage that it is not feasible to offer a first year first semester undergraduate unit in a fully developed online mode. Also, based on student feedback, many would like to have classroom teaching and especially contacts with other students and their tutors. Our view is that for a large unit, the Web should be used to supplement classroom contact. Academics should be made aware that using the Web involves a shift in the role as a traditional teacher to an online facilitator; and students too, should be made aware of their role as an online learner.


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Collins, M. P. & Berge Z. L. (1996). Facilitating interaction in computer mediated online classrooms. In Getting It Together, FSU/AECT Conference on Distance Learning, Tallahassee, Florida, June.

Finder, K. & Raleigh D. (1998). Web applications in the classroom. Society for Information Technology in Education Conference, Washington DC.

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Authors: Nimilandra Nageswaran, Heinz Dreher and Vanessa Chang
School of Information Systems, Curtin Business School,
Curtin University of Technology
Perth, Western Australia 6845


Please cite as: Nageswaran, N., Dreher, H. and Chang, V. (2000). The use of information technology to support a cast of a thousand. In A. Herrmann and M.M. Kulski (Eds), Flexible Futures in Tertiary Teaching. Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 2-4 February 2000. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2000/nageswaran.html

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