Distance Learning Techniques in University Courses

Distance Learning Techniques in University Courses

Paolo Frignani (University of Ferrara, Italy)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 7
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-845-1.ch022
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Abstract

Distance learning (DL) is not, and must not become, a surrogate for traditional learning with the teacher (Trentin, 1998). For this reason, alongside virtual classroom technologies such as chat and video-audio conferences and methods typical of synchronous DL which requires the simultaneous presence of lecturers, tutors and students online, it is important to implement asynchronous interaction tools for: • Accessing content; • Self-testing; • Distance dialogue between students, tutors and teachers. Asynchronous DL therefore offers an important innovative possibility for classroom teaching (whether it be real or virtual): automatic link between content and structure. From this it is easy to deduce that DL is characterized by three types of activity: 1. Transmission of content prepared by the teacher (configured as content expert); 2. Test and self-test of learning through the use of online interactive tools; 3. Dialogue between students, tutors and teachers. This complex structure which generates articulated processes designed to create environments favourable to teaching but above all to learning, also requires to be considered, and above all defined, in the light of the roles and professional figures involved (Frignani, 2003).
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Introduction

Distance learning (DL) is not, and must not become, a surrogate for traditional learning with the teacher (Trentin, 1998). For this reason, alongside virtual classroom technologies such as chat and video-audio conferences and methods typical of synchronous DL which requires the simultaneous presence of lecturers, tutors and students online, it is important to implement asynchronous interaction tools for:

  • • Accessing content;

  • • Self-testing;

  • • Distance dialogue between students, tutors and teachers.

Asynchronous DL therefore offers an important innovative possibility for classroom teaching (whether it be real or virtual): automatic link between content and structure.

  • From this it is easy to deduce that DL is characterized by three types of activity:

    • 1.

      Transmission of content prepared by the teacher (configured as content expert);

    • 2.

      Test and self-test of learning through the use of online interactive tools;

    • 3.

      Dialogue between students, tutors and teachers.

This complex structure which generates articulated processes designed to create environments favourable to teaching but above all to learning, also requires to be considered, and above all defined, in the light of the roles and professional figures involved (Frignani, 2003).

This particular analysis begins by defining two macroareas:

  • • The teaching methodology area, to which all of the figures called upon to plan and manage the teaching and learning process belong;

  • • The field of the analogue, digital and online teaching technologies to which all of the figures called upon to plan and manage the technological process sustaining the teaching and learning process belong;

The definition of the professional figures who will be later described and the processes with which they are associated are the fruit of the ten years’ experience which CARID (University Centre for Research, Teaching Innovation and Distance Learning) in the University of Ferrara has gained in the design and management of degree courses with integrated and distance teaching techniques.

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Teaching Methods Area

The first figure belonging to this field is the scientific coordinator who is the course designer from the content point of view. Together with teaching and technology experts the coordinator prepares the course design and flow chart. This figure is also required to have knowledge of the teaching-technological state of the art as regards the specific learning proposal for which the coordinator is responsible: the scientific coordinator’s job is to manage the general course project, together with the director of studies and teaching managers, assuming responsibility for the scientific activities of the content experts.

The role of content expert tends to be assumed by the teacher of a course taught using distance teaching methods, since aspects such as the actual teaching of the course itself and the direct contact with the students are delegated to teaching tutors or content tutors. As such, the aforementioned teacher is responsible vis-à-vis the scientific coordinator and the area coordinator for defining the specific cognitive areas of the reference subject. The eexpert must be able to perform the wide range of activities listed next:

  • • Prepare teaching materials and a cognitive map of the topics that he/she intends to cover. The teaching materials will be fruit of the collaboration with the content experts, communication technology experts and teaching experts. The materials that are required to prepare shall be tools that, when used in synergy, facilitate learning and may be used as a guide for exploring and understanding the cognitive areas and content transmission tools (Learning Objects).

  • • Prepare, in close collaboration with performance assessment experts, tests and self-tests deemed suitable both in form and aims.

  • • Interact with the system tutor in the handling of organisational problems and with the content tutor for the management of tools geared to stimulate dialogue and online learning in students;

Key Terms in this Chapter

System Tutor: Professional figure that accompanies the student throughout his/her entire university course, from the first contact in which the information relative to the course of interest is provided right up until the discussion of the final examination.

Integrated Learning: A learning context which combines distance learning with full immersion meetings (seminars, workshops). Integrated learning guarantees optimization of the time available, limiting and concentrating the learning moments requiring physical presence and the reinforcing through DL strategies of learning and testing activities.

Tutor: Professional figure assigned to artificially reconstruct the interaction processes with the student so as to eliminate the condition of physical detachment created by the distance teaching method.

Structured Forum: The term “structured” means that the forums are divided into various types. In structured forums, the positioning of each intervention (whether it be a question, answer or contribution) within this structure, depending on the topic chosen—facilitates its traceability (in a nonstructured forum containing thousands of interventions, the user cannot check whether the user’s question has already been posed).

Content Tutor: Expert in a subject or subject area who collaborates with the teachers holding the courses in that particular subject area. The tutor is responsible for supervising the student throughout the latter’s learning path and facilitating the student’s understanding of the contents of the individual courses.

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