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Combining face to face teaching and learning with online support: An exploration of some opportunities for process improvement

Eilean Fairholme
School of Information Systems
Curtin University of Technology

Introduction

This unit is intended to be student centred and to promote flexible learning in the student cohort. Strategies that appear to lend themselves to these outcomes have been examined for possible inclusion. One such strategy has been to present Time Management as a professional skill seen as necessary to underpin the whole concept of student centredness. Although operating as a traditional face to face unit with lectures, tutorials and laboratory activities, a second strategy has been to exploit access to online resources as a means of stimulating students to perform and share their own research into EC topics. Before discussing these two strategies, some background information on the Unit needs to be provided.

1. The structure of the Unit under discussion

EC201 (Internet Functions and Facilities) is a foundation unit for the Electronic Commerce courses offered at undergraduate level by the School of Information Systems within the Curtin Business School. Students from other schools can also undertake the unit as an elective.

The published objectives of the Unit are to develop students':

Students have been assessed as follows:

Assignment 110%Individual response posted to one online question each week.
Assignment 210%Tutorial Presentation on current discussion item (individual)
Assignment 320%Curriculum Vitae/Resume Web Pages (individual) in HTML
Assignment 430%Business Website Specification (groups of 3)
Assignment 530%Business Website Development in Dreamweaver (groups of 3)
Total marks100%

The unit is presented in face to face mode but with heavy reliance on access to online resources on Blackboard, a proprietary web based software environment similar to the WebCT environment which was previously used to host the teaching resources and to support discussion fora, as well as other asynchronous communication between students and tutors.

2. The Blackboard online communications and resource repository

Blackboard is a proprietary software environment from accessible from an Internet Browser. It was introduced as a prototypal alternative to the use of WebCT. Some of its uses are listed here:

Time management as a professional skill: Self regulation

As part of taking responsibility for their own learning, each student was asked to assume the role of being their own Project Manager for the unit. This was emphasised during the first Lecture by offering the Unit Outline as the Project Specification. The students were encouraged to consider other resources such as online material, textbooks, lecture notes and their own time. It was suggested that they might draw up a timeline and weekly task list, to monitor and update this information throughout the semester. This message was repeated during Tutorials on, initially a weekly basis, and subsequently at Assignment milestones.

There are opportunities for improvement, here. A sample timeline will be published on Blackboard, for the students to update for themselves in Excel or Word. Additional time will be allocated to setting this up, as a Tutorial exercise during the first week. Milestones will be published in the Unit Outline.

Using online Tutorial Questions to stimulate research into EC topics

This was intended to be a use of 'triggers', a term used by Andrews, Bahr & Bahr (2000) to describe material intended to "stimulate the students' interest in a topic, raise their awareness ... and provide a launching point for their engagement".

Each week, structured questions were posted, online by the tutor, replies posted online, to be followed up by a presentation from selected students on their findings in class the following week. Here are some examples of the topics covered:

Even though this was a face to face unit, the use of online facilities in this instance was intended to give the students a feeling of being part of a discovery process where they engaged in some research of 'leading edge' topics and shared their learning with their peers and tutor. It was emphasised that in a subject such as Electronic Commerce, we were all responsible for keeping up to date. The questions were associated with Tutorials rather than Lectures, intended as a small group exercise with additional, social learning opportunities and consistent with the theories of Vygotsky, (1978), and Bandura (1993).

Strategy

The topics were posted at the end of each week's Tutorial, the intention being to restrict preparation in advance, and possible cross fertilisation of other Tutorial Groups. Access to each Forum was restricted to members of their own Tutorial Group. Latecomers were able to see earlier postings and copy ideas, however where this happened it was obvious to all. Responses were reviewed at the start of the following week's Tutorial, before two students elected to give a short (5-minute) presentation on their findings. The follow up Presentations were intended to reinforce and consolidate ideas, and the ensuing discussion was directed at getting the students to read and focus on other people's contributions and findings.

Problems arising/opportunities for improvement

  1. Very little online discussion was generated from the responses. However this could be built into with a marking scheme that reflected this as a requirement.

  2. The motivational aspect was most encouraging with nearly universal acclaim from verbal and written student feedback. The only real criticism voiced was a request for a marking scheme to reflect the amount of effort that had been in many cases so energetically contributed.

  3. The Tutors realised that more effort should have been made to convey information searching skills, initially, and this will be rectified next semester.

  4. The students tend to copy and paste large amounts of information from online sources (which they do acknowledge) rather than re-thinking and re-wording it in their own way.

  5. On the subject of plagiarism, there was a problem of students later in the week using other students already posted material.

Summary

This was an example of learning by discovering and processing new information, where the students felt empowered to teach themselves and each other, and considered themselves to be working at the leading edge of a relatively new Unit topic.

Improvements envisaged

The issue of time management skills has already been discussed. Other overall changes that need to occur should aim to improve support for both administration and the student cohort. . Opportunities will be sought to provide students with more constructivist access to knowledge. The problem of validation needs to be addressed immediately, although eventually research will offer an automatic process for online assessment of assignments. Also, the schema for assessing Tutorial contributions will be revised.

These envisaged improvements are expanded upon below.

Database support

There is a need to implement back end database support for such a large online unit, linked to the existing online resources. The following functionality is desirable in a database.

Interactive access to a knowledge repository

"The user as designer" concept is held to be a very powerful learning support mechanism by Jonassen (1993, 1995). Some of the following may be considered to offer this kind of support mechanism. It is possible that environments such as WebCT and Blackboard will continue to develop in this direction.

Virtual testing, validation, evaluation and feedback

In the search for a process of validating the students' online contributions, the following strategies may prove useful, in both negating plagiarism, and in building scaffolding for a facilitated environment where students might construct their own knowledge.

Mason (1998) suggests a continuous feedback evaluation process. The students begin by making online contributions to some topic. They are then expected to submit a critique of at least two of their peers' online contributions. From the feedback they receive from their peers and the tutor, they then revisit their work, in order to improve upon their original submission. Their work can then be marked over a period, where it would be expected to demonstrate some consistency in style and authorship, and thus provide a mechanism for validation. This exercise also offers students the opportunity to develop their skills of analysing, commenting on and revising written material.

For group work, McLoughlin, & Luca, (2000) apply techniques for integrating assessment processes with learning processes and formative evaluation progressively throughout the semester. This is done through:

Conclusions

Firstly, we could 'walk the walk', by making the technology work for the online learner, in providing interactive access to a knowledge repository.

Two approaches to assessment and validation should be investigated further. The use of 'trigger' online tutorial questions is seen as a foundation on which to build a continuous assessment model. The negotiation of evaluation criteria among the student cohort is perceived as a mechanism for improving their own analysis skills, while the application of those criteria can exercise their evaluation skills further.

Thirdly, the student's own management of their learning situation will be emphasised with more examples and regular moderation and interaction with the tutor and peer cohort.

References

Andrews, T., Bahr, N. & Bahr, M. (2000). Learning for life: Bridging the gap between learning and work. Open Learning 2000 Conference Proceedings. Learning Network Queensland.

Bandura, A. (1993). Perceived self efficacy in cognitive development and functioning. Educational Psychologist, 28(2), 117-148.

Digital Document Discourse Environment. http://d3e.open.ac.uk/ [verified 22 Dec 2000]

Hall, W., Davis, H. C. & Hutchings, G. (1996). Rethinking Hypermedia - The Microcosm Approach. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Harasim, L., Starr, R., Teles, L. & Turoff, M. (1995). Learning Networks. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Jonassen, D. et al. (1993). Constructivist uses of expert systems to support learning. Journal of Computer Based Instruction, 20(3), 86-94.

Jonassen, D. (1995). Computers as cognitive tools: Learning with technology, not from technology. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 6(2), 40-73.

Mason, R. (1998). Globalising Education: Trends and Applications. Routledge, London.

McLoughlin, C. & Luca, J. (2000). Learner managed learning: An innovative approach to developing team skills through web based teaching. Open Learning 2000 Conference Proceedings. Open Learning Network, Queensland.

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in Society. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Author: Eilean Fairholme
School of Information Systems
Curtin University of Technology
Email: fairholm@cbs.curtin.edu.au
Telephone: +61 8 9266 7682 Fax: +61 8 9266 3706

Please cite as: Fairholme, E. (2001). Combining face to face teaching and learning with online support: An exploration of some opportunities for process improvement. 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/fairholme.html


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