|[ Teaching and Learning Forum 2001 ] [ Proceedings Contents ]|
This paper is presented in a narrative format with supporting examples and data. It traces the personal journey of a postgraduate student across a variety of study modes, resources, technological and physical environments. I have used this experience to analyse the various aspects of each mode of study. In this paper, each mode is examined and evaluated using contemporary higher education course evaluation models. The following features of each mode of study are appraised: flexibility, assessment, collaborative learning opportunities, learning activities, content presentation and communication techniques. While focusing on the aspects of course features which are recommended to increase the quality of student learning, some examples will be given of less successful techniques which may limit student learning or cause unnecessarily high course withdrawal rates. In conclusion, the paper will recommend a model of integration based on a combination of the three popular forms of unit delivery: face to face classes, external print materials and online delivery.
My academic and employment history in Australian higher education has fortunately provided me with a broad yet deep experience. Across two decades, my experience as an enrolled student in a range of universities and colleges has spanned many states, various modes of study and an assortment of education styles. In more recent years, I have been able to extend my perspective as a student through my work as a university teacher and curriculum designer. This development has placed me in situations where the two roles have coincided or corresponded. In such cases, I have been able to put ideas into practice, test out theories and collect genuine evidence for educational research.
My study trail has followed a path which began at the teaching diploma course level in the early 1980s, a qualification which was converted to degree standard after a qualifying period of teaching employment. This was followed by a period of ten years in which I enrolled and completed a variety of adult education, TAFE and interest based courses at the local community and institutional level while being employed full time. A decade later, I developed a desire to further extend my involvement in higher education, a yearning I satisfied in 1998 by commencing a Graduate Certificate in Interactive Multimedia Technologies. A year later, I converted my enrolment to the Master of Education course, majoring in interactive multimedia technologies. Today I stand at the brink between the end of a Masters degree and the beginning of a doctoral study, being driven by a general but continued interest in the deep value of learning and a specific interest in how online technologies can help learners to realise this experience.
This type of education was known for its collective intended outcomes of teacher training and practical assessment measures. Collaborative learning opportunities were provided through assigned group task preparation and presentation and supported "the social negotiation of meaning" (Fineman & Bootz, 1995, p. 2). Content was presented in a variety of ways but was primarily delivered via lectures, textbook reading and some practical demonstrations. Communication techniques employed by us college students and our lecturers included a mixture of face to face interactions (both one to one and one to many), some telephone communication and written correspondence. Personally, I was motivated by a general desire to teach and a specific awareness that I had better quickly develop a repertoire of useful skills to ensure that I survived the upcoming classroom experience.
After the first year of teaching using a baptism of fire approach, I then converted my Diploma of Teaching to a Bachelor of Education. Now employed in a full time position in the hospitality industry that was not related to education, I began the search for a conversion course that fulfilled four main criteria. The course I was looking for needed to be one which didn't require me to attend any on campus sessions, one which didn't require me to be working in a school, one which I could study from home and, lastly, one which had a reasonable reputation. After repeated recommendations to do so, I enrolled in the Bachelor of Education at the Western Australian College of Advanced Education in 1986, and completed it over a two year period as an external part time student.
The study materials used in this course were delivered to my doorstop in tell tale yellow envelopes which typically enclosed printed study guides and books of readings, the quality of which directly influenced the quality of the learning I experienced (Naidu, 1994). Sometimes videos, pamphlets and audio tapes were also included. I usually only worked through the learning activities that were directly related to my assignments, read the essential readings, bought the textbook if I had spare cash and laboriously completed and posted assignment after assignment. To the course designer's credit, many of the activities and assessment tasks were community based and didn't solely rely on the use of textual resources. In relation to the communication techniques employed by me as an external student, besides library and mailing staff, I had no voice or face to face contact with my lecturers during this entire two year period. I had almost no opportunity to practise what I was learning, as the course content was fairly irrelevant to my work and interests at the time (through no fault of the course). My motivation was to obtain the final "piece of paper", an aim which I was intent on achieving with as little real academic effort as possible. My fairly disparate relationship with the course's outcomes meant that I was a student motivated by achievement who employed surface learning strategies (Biggs & Moore, 1993).
Recent investigations of learning, however, challenge this separating of what is learned from how it is learned and used. The activity in which knowledge is developed and deployed, it is not argued, is not separable from or ancillary to learning or cognition. Nor is it neutral. Rather, it is an integral part of what is learned. Situations might be said to co-produce knowledge through activity. Learning and cognition, it is now possible to argue, are fundamentally situated. (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989, p. 1)Although such courses were usually delivered in a face to face mode, the depth of feeling and devotion that many of these teachers possessed and shared for their subject matter seemed to transcend the boundaries of any face to face lesson, lecture hall, workshop, media or print based resource. From these courses, I not only learned about the value of skills centred, problem based, context dependent teaching techniques, I also learned about the power of passionate teaching by educators who are enthralled by their course's content. This quality that separates the committed educator from the less interested teacher, I believe, can be communicated through and inherent in all modes of study - online, face to face and external modes. It is a quality which is remembered by the learner long after the initial lesson has passed and one which is often integrated into the learner's psyche as part of their own personal motivation to learn. Numerous people have followed a life of work in one particular area, or developed a passion for a subject or topic which can be traced back to an inspirational teacher. In the past these teachers expressed their enthusiasm through face to face teaching. In more recent years, such subject passion was delivered through some well designed print based external units. Currently, online educators are working out ways to express their devotion and love of their discipline through Internet based courses, a process which clearly still requires a teacher's presence.
Another component of my Master of Education course involved studying an online unit at a university in the eastern states. Through this experience, I was offered many perspectives on various topics. Students from a range of countries employed in all sorts of occupations discussed open learning and instructional design. Furthermore, this mode of study provided me with the valuable experience of viewing examples of other students' work, an experience which I have never previously experienced in any other mode of study. Lastly, the manner in which the online lecturer was able to meet and monitor individual student needs through the use of online communication tools was most impressive.
The on campus class within this Master of Education course was characterised by inspirational teachers using a combination of lectures, workshops and presentations to deliver some reasonably complex material. Although the flexibility of time and place for this class was limited, student choice was provided for within assessment structures and groupwork activities. Discussion, problem solving and stimulating tasks managed to maintain a challenging educational experience for me and my fellow students. As a result of my newfound enthusiasm for study and commitment to my academic success, my old surface learning strategies have been replaced by deep strategies driven by a more intrinsic level of motivation (Biggs & Moore, 1993). My approach is generally more that of a "reflective" student (Hart, Bowden & Watters, 1998).
Finally, from a point of view which is representative of my experiences and perspectives as a learner and an educator, I propose that the most ideal course for many tertiary learners is one which combines the affordances offered by each of the three main modes of study explored in this paper: online, face to face and external. The socio cognitive benefits gained from contact with course lecturers and other students (Shulman, cited in Fetherston, 1998) can obviously be achieved through the traditional face to face on campus teaching mode. The external mode of study which has traditionally used printed materials offers advantages of flexibility in place, time and access (Nikolova & Collis, cited in Oliver, Herrington & Omari, 1998; Naidu, 1994). Finally, the benefits offered by online technologies (Bennett, Priest & Macpherson), especially those associated with interactivity (Lander, 1999), constructivist learning patterns (Harper, Hedberg & Wright, 2000), access to global resources and the flexibility of asynchronous communication, can also be incorporated into courses tailored for the contemporary student. This recommendation is acknowledged by Fox in his description of the situation at Deakin University:
The three dominant modes of teaching at Deakin are the traditional mode of on campus teaching, the mainly print based distance education mode and the recent Internet based teaching mode. While academic staff are struggling to integrate and rationalise these modes, the current tendency is to use them in an additive fashion, one of top of the other and without any real rationalisation. (Fox, 1999, p. 1)A skilful amalgamation of the three main modes of course delivery based on sound instructional design principles will no doubt result in courses which are more flexible, content appropriate (Curoe, 1999) and student friendly compared to the traditional use of single mode course delivery. Educational resources will ideally be developed with the cross portability of course delivery modes in mind (Collis & De Diana, 1994). Course designers "need to re-examine the instructional design paradigms they are using" (Harper, Hedberg & Wright, 2000, p. 165) and select the delivery mode to suit the content, the learner and the teacher, not just the institution. It is partly the responsibility of the instructional designer to ensure the appropriateness of such courses:
Attention to instructional design is one of the most critical factors in successful learning networks, whether course activity is delivered totally or partially online or in adjunct mode. All education, on a network or in a face to face environment, involves the intervention by an expert (the instructor) to organise the content, sequence the instructional activities, structure task and group interaction and evaluate the process. (Harasim, 1995, p. 125).
This conference paper will be presented in narrative format supported by visual and verbal examples from each of the three modes of study mentioned throughout this paper. Quantitative and qualitative results of the evaluation of each study mode will also be presented based on Reeves' and Nicholson's higher education courseware evaluation tools.
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|Please cite as: Northcote, M. (2001). A comparison of internal, external and online study: A student's point of view. 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/northcote2.html|