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Teaching learning materials developed within a web publishing environment

Peter R. Davis
School of Architecture, Construction and Planning
Curtin University of Technology

Introduction

A philosophy espoused by McGeorge (1996) that learning should be student centred, flexible and informative is the driver that motives the writer to explore Web based learning and delivery. It is found that WebCT provides a technical and pedagogical template for online development of learning material. It allows designers to concentrate on learning issues, requiring limited technical input.

It is not a proposition that online teaching should take over from current learning environments, but rather acts to enhance traditional learning. Indeed the web interaction described is wholly for the benefit of students that are prepared to go "that bit further." It is not the purpose of this paper to catalogue the operation of WebCT; rather with the use of several units and assignments from the School of Architecture, Construction and Planning (ACP) as case studies the writer will describe the teaching/ learning outcomes and record benefits and shortcomings that both the tutor and students may experience.

Case studies

The units that represent the case studies are fairly diverse in their nature, taken from core units in three courses within the School of ACP. They range from a first year construction management unit to a research methods unit taught to construction students in their penultimate semester. One of the units is based on a problem based learning (PBL) philosophy, whilst another represents a unit from Architecture. The final case study is a management unit taught to postgraduate project management students.

Discussion

As eluded to in the introduction a keenness to supplement teaching resources, incrementally deepen student learning experiences, as Porter (1997), and provide enhanced units in a short time frame are primary objectives.

The main theme of the paper is interactive assignment based learning, however several subordinate associated applications receive mention. These are:

  1. Locate and publicise web sites of interest that discuss topics covered in units;
  2. Attach electronic articles available either online or via CD-ROM;
  3. Be available to student from locations other than Curtin campus.
For a more detailed insight into these 3 items see Davis (2000).

Assignments that require using web sites

Organisations typically publish a plethora of information about themselves. They record their expertise and services offered. Information for case studies and scenarios are freely available. These simply require minor rework to be presented as a suitable developed framework for an assignment. Model answers are available for those prepared to undertake research and evaluation. The web framework allows students to be innovative and novel in their approach to an 'answer' and effective in their research using both web and traditional research sources.

The writer has experienced many occasions where students, for any number of reasons, fail to research sufficient texts to adequately cover the scope of the assignment. They seem content to refer to notes and handouts provided. When quizzed concerning their failure to cite any texts at all in their research, "a lack of available books..." is given as the answer.

Web assignments are posted on the web several weeks prior to hard copy hand out date. Prompt students have the opportunity to source texts from libraries at an early date and replace them. This allows access to late starters, who are reminded of the assignment by a hand out in hard copy. As the assignment instructions represent a web page in a WebCT path editor it is possible to associate further web sources via their URLs. An example of this is shown below, Exhibit 1.

Exhibit 1

Exhibit 1: WebCT path editor page that identifies the assignment at point 2.2.3

The same facility provides the opportunity for tutors to supplement assignments with useful web sites to provide guidance to all students. Attaching selected electronic articles associated with a unit encourages students to look further. This may be due to the ease of access, however the tutor has the opportunity to provide online guidance and counselling as appropriate in accordance with the objectives of the particular part of the unit. For example in Exhibit 1 the page associated with item 2.2.3 details the scope of a Literature review assignment in the particular unit. Attached to this page are several links designed to assist in a successful outcome of the assignment. When the student selects 2.2.3 they will be taken to the assignment question, from this point it is possible to select an icon (a light bulb or visually appropriate cartoon figure) that directs them to assignment links. Typical links are shown in Exhibit 2 below. These links may be increased as new sources are discovered.

Exhibit 2

Exhibit 2: Links associated with an assignment

Interactive problem solving assignments

In a traditional teaching/ learning environment it is unclear how much time students commit to interactive discussion whilst working on a particular problem or assessable piece of work. Certainly interactive behaviours enhance the outcome in problem solving and deep learning (Schreiber & Berge 1998; Radloff and Murphy 1992).

The bulletin board noted earlier provides a suitable template for interaction. Tutors are able to monitor discussion on the bulletin board and assess various aspects of the discussion as an assessable piece of work. This allows the students to benefit from one another in interactive problem solving with virtual 'real life' examples.

Project Management 142 provides the initial case study example for this concept. Exhibit 3 shows the scope of the discussion exercise. The exercise is accessible to students for a limited period providing similar constraints that students expect with a traditional assignment. The aspect of 'real time' problem solving adds a different dimension to the scope of works required from student's perspective. To complete the assignment students are asked to post their thoughts associated with an appropriate article that represents a case study/ scenario. The class are required to manage the discussion (with tutor assistance if required) associated with the parameters of the assignment scope. They are free to revisit their notes from class to assist with discussion and are encouraged to source supplementary information from the Web or library to develop concepts, expand or challenge a colleague's point of view. Exhibit 4 shows 'conversation' taking place during the early stages of a discussion period.

Exhibit 3

Exhibit 3: Example of class discussion

Exhibit 4

Exhibit 4: Students comments posted on the bulletin board

This interactive problem solving approach to assignments has been used in 3 separate units to date including the unit described earlier. The procedure has been developed over time, comprehensive instructions have been put in place to help students and a marking plan has been developed for guidance. To add to the learning experience students now collate their own submissions and summarise the content of the entire discussion. They also provide a short reflective discourse on what they have learnt from undertaking an online assignment. Student benefits arising from this learning mode include:

Student thoughts

SEEQ forms have been used for feedback in 2 recent units and the following summarises the thoughts of students completing the forms:

Conclusion

Student access statistics via WebCT, SEEQ analysis and summative oral testimony suggests that many students are initially reluctant to use online learning tools. Once they do, they soon become aware of many learning benefits.

The initial objective of the use of online teaching/ learning was to supplement unit resources for students and enhance them with additional source material in a time saving manner. Whilst this objective has been largely realised over time, the second objective being to incrementally deepen students learning experiences has come to the fore. In informal discussion with students five learning benefits are ranked as follows:

  1. Discussion groups and tutor contact;
  2. Linking web sites and electronic articles to core unit information;
  3. Supplementation of assignments information;
  4. Facility for flexible learning on line;
  5. Provision of self assessment exercises.
It is clear that students value contact by whatever means available, often they may feel challenged and vulnerable in their research. Virtual contact is a reasonable supplement to personal contact. Additional information is always of value to students of high calibre and there is no surprise with the second and third ranking. It is likely that ranking 4 would be placed higher by students in a distance learning mode due to the characteristics of their particular circumstances, however full time students seem not to value this facet. Rank 5 may appear higher in the order of preference if marks were associated with the several exercises and this may account for the high ranking of the discussion groups as in several units these were assessed.

Distance learning is beyond the scope of this paper, however it is suggested that the strategies reported here are useful for a distance learning environment and may be used with minor alterations. Kelly (2000) suggests that many Australian universities are soliciting income via alternative means and the above discourse may provide a solution for teaching some aspects of Australian degree courses offshore to fee paying students.

References

Boyd, A., Fox, R. & Herrmann, A. (1999). Flexible, open and distance teaching and learning: A guide. Advice and information about the development and delivery of flexible, open and distance education resources at Curtin University, Centre for Educational Advancement Curtin University of Technology.

Davis, P. R. (2000). Using integrated Web publishing environments to develop teaching and learning materials. In Davis, P. R. & Baccarini, D. (Eds), 25th AUBEA Annual Conference: Trends in Construction Education and Research. Curtin University of Technology, School of Architecture, Construction and Planning. Perth WA, pp. 82-94.

Kelly, P. (2000). Beyond the death of learning. The Weekend Australian. Focus section. 10-11 June, 27.

McGeorge, D. (1996). An advocacy for the use of problem based learning in construction management education. Australian Institute of Building Papers: Education for Construction Management, vol. 1, pp. 4-9.

Porter, L. R. (1997). Creating the virtual classroom: Distance learning with the Internet. Wiley & Sons, New York.

Radloff, A., Fox, R. & Herrmann, A. (1999). Successful learning skills: Your guide to tertiary studies through open, distance and flexible learning. Bobby Graham Publishers, Wagga Wagga, NSW.

Radloff, A. and Murphy, E. (1992). Teaching at university. Curtin University of Technology.

Schreiber, D. A. & Berge, Z. L. (1998). Distance training: How innovative organizations are using technology to maximize learning and meet business objectives. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Please cite as: Davis, P. R. (2001). Teaching learning materials developed within a web publishing environment. In A. Herrmann and M. M. Kulski (Eds), Expanding Horizons in Teaching and Learning. Proceedings of the 10th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 7-9 February 2001. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2001/davis.html


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