The Report of the E-Learning Advisory Group March 2002 9/14

Steve Maharey Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)

The Report of the E-Learning Advisory Group March 2002 9/14

Pedagogy and E-Learning

E-learning in New Zealand will only be
successful if it helps students achieve their learning goals and is established
with a strong pedagogical base. While a focus on learning will help to ensure
that the technology is used to add value, it is important to recognise that
e-learning is a voyage into the unknown as new technologies open up new
approaches and opportunities. We must assess its impact on academic staff and
acknowledge that it is going to change their role in all learning environments.

Substantial developments in e-learning are inevitable. Good educators are
already embracing the opportunities it offers to enhance their teaching and
students will increasingly put pressure on teachers to be able to support
learning in this way. Employers want employees who can work effectively in an
information age and businesses are promoting partnerships with institutions to
implement ICT. There are increasing demands from school leavers who have been
raised in a digital age and have an increasing number of elearning opportunities
open to them, both here and abroad.

E-learning offers the potential for an interactive environment facilitated by
an e-educator who is able to use a range of learning environments to best meet
the needs of students. The Internet is also a highly-flexible tool for learning
in the workplace. It is therefore not a question of whether we implement
e-learning, but how well we do it.

The 'e' terms in education

Here are some useful definitions of
e-teachers, elearning and e-education as described in this paper.

Who are e-educators, and what do they do?
E-educators are
the new generation of academic staff who will work in an Internet environment in
both regular and virtual learning situations. They will build new concepts of
working in time and space with more and more 'blended' options including a range
of teaching modes. E-educators collaborate, build and discover new learning
communities and explore resources as they interact with information, materials
and ideas with their students and colleagues. E-educators are sensitive to
strategies that work in the web environment; they do not expect to use classroom
techniques in this medium.

What is e-learning?
E-learning is learning which takes place as a
result of experiences and interaction in an Internet environment. It is not
restricted to times when the teacher is available and can take place in a
variety of locations including home, school and community locations, e.g.
libraries and cafes.

What is e-education?
E-education involves e-teaching and
e-learning along with the various administrative and strategic measures needed
to support teaching and learning in an Internet environment. It will incorporate
a local, regional, national and international view of education.

Some distinctive features of e-learning

  • The speed with which the teaching / learning process can take place enables
    students to study at their own pace. It also facilitates rapid feedback, a
    critical factor in motivation for learning.
  • Discussion can be asynchronous and offer time for reflection and the
    opportunity to return.
  • Opportunities to access a wide range of resources via the Internet.
  • Opportunities to be able to share aspects of learning with other class
    members in different locations.
  • Content can be presented in a digital format with links to information at
    greater depth when and if required. Material can be made available for further
    reflection and study the lecture is not lost.
  • Students are able to publish their work for easy access by other students.

Building a broad vision of e-education

The possibilities for
e-education will only become stronger if it is accompanied by a clear vision and
strategy.

An effective e-learning strategy must be more than technology itself and web
content. It also relies on critical factors such as building a learning culture,
supportive leadership, utilising an appropriate business model and integrating
the e-learning strategy throughout an organisation.

So it is essential that we encourage New Zealand educators to view e-learning
in the widest possible context and broaden their horizons.

The impact of e-learning on teaching and
learning

E-learning is expanding opportunities for teaching and
learning. However, its implementation may present real challenges for educators
to teach in a way they may have never experienced themselves, using unfamiliar
technology.

It is only natural therefore that fear of e-teaching among educators may
become a barrier to realising the possibilities of e-learning. Key concerns
among teachers may include a lack of knowledge about ICT, a perceived lack of
adequate support and an unwillingness to experiment with innovation. These
issues must be acknowledged and addressed before real progress can be made. They
highlight the need for ongoing training and support for educators and
administrators at all levels.

The table below highlights some of the day-to-day features of e-learning that
might impact on educators depending on how an institution chooses to offer
e-education and the choices learners make.

A comparison of conventional learning and e-learning

Conventional learning E-learning
Students attend
an institution in their local community.

Classes are scheduled according to an institution's hours and timetables.

Students are directed to work individually or in groups.

Classes are synchronous. And teachers and students interact in real time.

Students are generally enrolled with one institution.

Learning objectives are set by the teacher and institution.

Students follow a linear pattern influenced by the needs of other class
members and the teacher's planning.

Teachers work in one institution.

Dealing with different learning styles is difficult, particularly if the
class size is large.

Students
participate from a variety of locations and may 'attend' multiple learning
institutions.

Students may determine the times when they access e-learning opportunities.

Students can choose to work individually or collaboratively with people who
may or may not be in their regular class.

Classes may be synchronous or asynchronous. Students may take classes from
more than one institution.

Students may set their own objectives and explore their own learning needs
and agendas.

Students can follow a non-linear path at a pace that meets their individual
needs at that time, i.e. just-in-time learning. The teacher is facilitating the
activity.

E-teachers can work in more than one institution.

Differing learning styles can be catered for, allowing a greater breadth and
depth of learning, better tailored to individual student needs.

Similarly, differing teaching styles can easily be adopted and adapted to
suit different communities of learners.

Staff training for on-line learning at Massey University

In 1998,
Massey University in a report from its Information Technology and Distance
Education Taskforce, clarified its vision for On-line Learning and committed to:
'providing more flexible opportunities for students to study, regardless of
their campus or mode of study'(p.5). This statement, together with a key
objective of the Strategic Plan stating that the University will: 'Ensure that
staff are equipped to teach in a multi-campus, multi-modal environment' ,
presented a major challenge for the University's Training and Development Unit
(TDU) to provide the professional development and support necessary for staff to
meet these objectives.

Initially, TDU developed and offered a three-hour module 'An Introduction to
Flexible Learning and Teaching' within its Introduction to Teaching Skills
Certificate. However, the demand for more intensive training led to a new
programme, 'The Certificate in Flexible Learning and Teaching', being developed
by TDU, in association with Massey's extramural Instructional Design
Consultants. This programme was launched in 2000 and consisted of nine
three-hour modules with attendance at six qualifying the participant for the
Certificate. The uptake was immediate and considerable. In 2000, there were 24
offerings of the modules attended by 456 participants across Massey's three
campuses, with 15 staff qualifying for certificates by the end of the year. In
2001 the TDU again delivered 24 modules in the FLT programme. These were
attended by more than 300 participants with a further 30 gaining Certificates.

A second staff development strand supporting On-line Learning is the
programme to develop pedagogical and technical expertise with Web-CT (Massey's
On-line Delivery platform). The Flexible Learning and Teaching module
introducing Web-CT is complemented by a series of eleven different one-hour
'hands-on' workshops. This year the consultants supporting online teaching have
scheduled and run 44 of these workshops attended by more than 250 participants.
In addition, 14 departments have requested training in the use and application
of Web-CT and this has involved 600 staff participating in a further 75 of the
one-hour workshops.

As a third major initiative, TDU has just organised and run Vice-Chancellor's
Symposia on On-line Learning on all three of Massey's Campuses. More than 250
participants attended these symposia. Information about the Symposia, together
with University policies and strategies and presentations from the workshops may
be found on the symposium website at: http://vcsymposium.massey.ac.nz

The changing roles of academic staff in a new classroom
environment

It needs to be acknowledged that many, if not most,
academics have no training in e-teaching. Unfortunately teacher competence in a
traditional campus environment does not automatically translate to success as an
e-educator in a very different environment. In this new teaching world educators
will be required to take on new roles. They may be challenged to make e-learning
an integral part of their campus course or they may be required to create a
virtual learning site which students visit electronically.

This transition to an e-learning environment will not be accomplished simply
by institutions investing in technology. It is not the tools that will make the
difference; it is the communities of educators and students who understand how
they can use them.

Perhaps the greatest catalyst for change will lie in the next generation of
students. Students' familiarity with technology and their openness to
adventurous ways of learning will undoubtedly be a major driver of change in the
e-learning area.

In this new environment students will face new challenges. They will have to
learn to read and write effectively, with well-developed listening and speaking
skills. They must be able to find information, understand and evaluate it, and
be able to apply it to take advantage of opportunities. They must have the
communication skills to be able to share their ideas with diverse groups.

In a recent report, the OECD identified low literacy and inadequate language
skills among students as barriers to Internet use. As much of the content and
interaction on the Internet relies heavily on written communication, students
will need strong digital and information literacy skills to make the most of
web-based learning.

The challenges for educators in meeting these diverse needs of students is
formidable. Both-eeducators and e-learners are now part of a much wider and
complicated learning community that may demand more of educators than they have
been prepared for.

Exploring the role of an e-educator

Teachers themselves vary
greatly in their confidence with new technology. There are some who are not at
all e-literate and others who use the Internet as part of regular classroom
activities.

A number of areas have been identified where academic staff will be required
to adopt new roles and approaches in relation to e-teaching. In this new
environment, they will be required to:

  • Look at the course in a new way and re-think existing course delivery
  • Develop skills in designing curricula for web delivery
  • Move from being a content provider to a learning facilitator who has a good
    knowledge of their subject area
  • Gain proficiency in using the tools so that they understand both its
    strengths and its challenges
  • Learn to teach in absence of face-to-face interaction e.g. giving feedback
    electronically; setting up frequently-asked questions; encouraging student
    interaction through guided electronic discussions
  • Gain an understanding of students' needs and lifestyles in their own
    communities
  • Be flexible in mixing a traditional and e-learning approach
  • Develop skills managing the on-line classroom environment and in setting up
    chat groups, discussions, managing emails and be able to develop these in the
    learners who are new to this learning environment.

According to the
OECD report the ideal instructional mix for educators implementing ICT 'will
vary according to student age and maturity level but will always include a
combination of direct instruction, guided and independent practice, group
interaction and individual reflection, search and creation.'

Some New Zealand academics already teach in this way and are able to juggle
the needs of the institution and the curriculum with the needs of their
students. They are confident in integrating a range of technologies into the
learning experience for their students.

Making sure that this approach is standard practice among all academic staff
is the major challenge facing New Zealand's tertiary education system in the
e-learning area.

They may need institutions to put in place:

  • Software platforms that can be managed by the teacher and will provide a
    total environment for all interaction, content and the submission of assignments
  • Software platforms that are linked to the institutions' administrative
    systems for enrolment, backup facilities and ongoing development and support
  • Helpdesk facility and support for students who are not using the technology
    within a controlled campus environment
  • Systems for tracking submission of student assignments
  • Systems for providing technical support for students who are not using the
    technology within a controlled campus environment
  • Systems for supporting staff working from different locations.

Mixed media teacher education at the School of
Education,

University of Waikato

In the mid-1990s, a teacher shortage of significant proportion affected New
Zealand primary schools and its impact was felt predominantly in rural and
remote areas. These areas depend upon recruiting beginning teachers who have
been educated in urban universities, colleges of education and teachers'
colleges. However, most of these new teachers are either reluctant to venture to
what they consider to be remote areas or if they do, they stay for only a short
time. Thus one solution to the teacher shortage is to educate local people who
are likely to stay on a more permanent basis.

In response to the teacher shortage in rural districts, the University of
Waikato decided to develop an alternative way of offering its teacher education
programme to enable prospective teachers to be educated even though they lived
in places far away from a campus and were unable to attend face-to-face classes.
It was thought that such a programme would use some new information and
communication technologies which were in use at that time.

After initial investigations, a decision was made to use an approach which
combined traditional approaches to teacher education with the use of a mixed
media approach. The result was the Mixed Media Programme [MMP], which began with
an initial intake of 54 students in 1997. The elements of the MMP teacher
education programme have been:

  • the students study full-time, but do most of their study 'at home'
  • three one-week block courses held on campus each year
  • tasks carried out in local primary schools
  • use of information and communication technologies to receive coursework,
    submit assignments, and take part in group discussion.

E-learning and staff development at the University of Otago

In
1999, the University decided to adopt Blackboard as its primary electronic
learning management system. Key factors for consideration in the decision
included scalability, reliability, ease of use by students and the provision of
a common entry point across the University for all staff and students on all
campuses. The platform enables educators to enhance on-campus learning and
deliver distance learning that enhances flexibility for students in terms of the
time, place and pace of study.

One success factor in the uptake of e-learning at the University has been the
provision of free training to staff. The University conducted onehour
demonstrations of the benefits of using e-learning, attended by almost 1000
people and then offered staff at all levels of the University free three-hour
hands-on training. About 450 staff attended these sessions.

A CD-ROM and training website are also provided. Additionally, teaching staff
are provided with a presentation which they can customise to help students use
the system. Staff who are experienced in using the e-learning system are invited
to give demonstrations of their teaching to others at university-wide forums.

More than two-thirds of the University's students now access the e-learning
system. Academics are using it for more than half of all the papers taught on
the campuses. It is also used in the distance learning environment for students
located in New Zealand and overseas.

Developing strong pedagogical bases for
e-learning

As argued earlier in this report, substantial investment
in technology will not of itself deliver an effective e-learning environment.
The real gains are to be made by teaching and learning communities understanding
how to make maximum use of these technologies.

These communities require academic staff who:

  • understand what it is like to learn in an e-environment
  • are confident working in diverse environments interacting with communities
    of students and peers they may never see
  • are able to locate and publish in a web-based environment
  • are provided with technical support which is assisting and not driving
    e-teaching activity
  • are able to focus on the context of the e-teaching activity and not just on
    the content.

Sustainable e-learning growth in an institution depends on academic staff who
can see the promise offered by on-line opportunities and understand the overall
landscape which e-learning contributes to. It is important that there is a
strategy for developing e-learning initiatives and that e-educators are involved
in planning the strategy and assessing its outcomes.

Staff development for Web delivery at The Open
Polytechnic

Provision for staff development is an integral part of
the Open Polytechnic's decision to offer its degree courses on-line. A priority
has been the support of staff in developing their skills for creating an
e-learning environment. The principle has been to build on existing good
practice from experience culled over time for print delivery. This recognises
the asynchronous nature of the distance mode characterised by the Open
Polytechnic. While courses were often targeted at specific functional areas,
there was a large measure of overlap between these groups due to the need for a
complete overview and understanding of the on-line production process.

The Polytechnic's approach was to build on the Course Design Unit's
experience and research in instructional design. We began with a small team of
three instructional designers who had experience developing on-line learning
material and who subsequently mentored others within the Unit. This experience
was underpinned by research conducted by both individuals and groups. Academic
staff worked alongside instructional designers, honing and crafting course
material, identifying where multimedia would best assist learning and selecting
topics for on-line discussion groups. Existing capability in multimedia
development was increased with the addition of a new staff member and specific
software training courses were provided for production staff.

A number of mechanisms were put in place to prepare teaching staff for
on-line delivery. These include optional courses for tutors new to this
environment such as browser use and Internet searching, as well as general
navigation of our on-line learning environment. The management of on-line
discussion groups is a recognised element of successful e-learning, and all
lecturers receive instruction on setting up and running effective discussion
groups.

The Open Polytechnic has students for whom English is a second language and a
training course on meeting the needs of these students in an on-line environment
is available for academic staff.

On-line submission of assessments is encouraged, and lecturers are shown how
to receive, mark and return assessments electronically. Enhancement of course
materials through the use of interactive multimedia elements is an important
developmental area and workshops were provided to demonstrate the possibilities.
In addition to these core courses, optional advanced courses on on-line editing
were offered.

For The Open Polytechnic, web delivery includes online services such as
enrolments, cross-credits and withdrawals. The project team collaborated with
the relevant functional unit to adapt existing processes and develop new ones.
Training for staff in those processes was provided by a core group who then
trained their colleagues.

Building on teaching strengths

Careful thought needs to be given
to teaching possibilities in an Internet environment. Effective teaching does
not involve dumping vast amounts of content on the Internet but creating
different learning opportunities and experiences. Content must be embedded in a
teaching and learning framework which is flexible and accessible in terms of
design. The substance of learning and teaching remains more or less the same but
the advances in technology allow new flexibility and responsiveness. It is vital
that teachers themselves design learning situations for this environment which
are meaningful and motivating for e-learners.

Beyond technological considerations, our use of ICT must be saturated with
human ideas, feelings, values and understandings. This is where the real
potential of e-learning lies and where e-educators can show their strengths.

Those strengths must be evident both in classroom situations and in a
distance learning context. Clearly technology is set to transform our notions of
a campus to include our homes and workplaces. Wherever e-learning takes place,
the competence and strengths of academic staff in designing effective programmes
will be a key to ensuring a successful learning experience.

It is of great importance therefore that the needs of e-educators feature
prominently in the development of a New Zealand e-learning strategy. Teacher
education institutions will need to meet these new demands and model good
e-teaching practice in their programmes. Ongoing support and education for
experienced teachers will also be a necessity.

Support for e-teaching

Academics need time, support and room to
experiment as they learn to become e-educators. They gain confidence when they
have the time and the opportunity to try new things rather than stay with
familiar methods. It will be a significant challenge for tertiary education
providers to find ways to invest in this critical staff development. There is an
added problem in the age range of academics. Many are coming close to retiring
age and, if they are not computer literate, may not have the motivation to learn
the new skills required.

There is potential for academics to develop their e-teaching skills through
on-line team teaching situations that provide peer support and role models. Some
teachers have opted to enrol in on-line papers and learn from an experienced
e-teacher. However, we believe the issue is far too important to be left to
individuals.

The Advisory Group suggests that institutions provide incentives and support
for academic staff to teach in an e-learning environment.

Traditional university and tertiary staff development practices rely on the
attendance of academic staff at seminars and workshops focusing on curriculum
developments or on the application of alternative teaching strategies. The
Advisory Group recognises that this approach, while effective in the past, is
inappropriate for e-learning.

Experience demonstrates that on-the-job staff development, directly involving
staff in the workplace with e-learning strategies, is a more productive method
of improving teaching skills.

The Advisory Group suggests therefore that on-the-job and just-in-time staff
development be provided by other academic staff experienced in e-learning.