Implementing Learning Support Systems

Implementing Learning Support Systems

J. Bernardes (University of Wolverhampton, UK) and J. O’Donoghue (University of Wolverhampton, UK)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 9
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch160
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Abstract

Kearsley (1998) writes that “technology is often seen as a quick fix, a siren song,” and warns that “educational technology is a distraction … from what matters most— effective learning and good teaching.” The approach taken often seems more in the vein of entertainment than education, with television-type material creating an expectation of how information will be presented; the linkup of the Internet and television through streamed video may just exacerbate this. It is our view that information technology (IT) is unlikely to create empty institutions delivering distance learning, but is more likely to create distanceless learning, which is actually more accessible to all potential students. What this implies, and few in the academic professions yet understand properly, is that the whole business of delivering teaching is likely to be transformed in a way that has not happened for generations. While it is possible to develop IT-based approaches that, to some extent, mirror traditional methods of remote learning by isolated individuals and which has little or nothing to do with lifelong experiences or expertise, most academics will find themselves forced to confront very basic questions about what it is that they are trying to achieve and how they might best go about achieving those desired outcomes.
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Introduction

Kearsley (1998) writes that “technology is often seen as a quick fix, a siren song,” and warns that “educational technology is a distraction … from what matters most—effective learning and good teaching.” The approach taken often seems more in the vein of entertainment than education, with television-type material creating an expectation of how information will be presented; the linkup of the Internet and television through streamed video may just exacerbate this.

It is our view that information technology (IT) is unlikely to create empty institutions delivering distance learning, but is more likely to create distanceless learning, which is actually more accessible to all potential students. What this implies, and few in the academic professions yet understand properly, is that the whole business of delivering teaching is likely to be transformed in a way that has not happened for generations. While it is possible to develop IT-based approaches that, to some extent, mirror traditional methods of remote learning by isolated individuals and which has little or nothing to do with lifelong experiences or expertise, most academics will find themselves forced to confront very basic questions about what it is that they are trying to achieve and how they might best go about achieving those desired outcomes.

What seems certain is that delivery systems are likely to change the role of academics in higher education. Quite what those changes will be depends upon closely observing current developments and exploring what works and what does not work. What follows is an attempt to pick out some of the issues which arise from the attempt to use one particular IT delivery platform (Wolverhampton Online Learning Framework, or WOLF) at one institution over four semesters. WOLF exhibits the fundamental components of a virtual learning environment (VLE), in which learners and tutors participate in “online” interactions of various kinds, including online learning, collaboration, teaching and delivery.

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The Role Of Technology

One of the major problems we faced was that of creating a culture shift in terms of understanding what technology is and what it might achieve in higher education. The shift to focus more on learning outcomes in recent years may make this process less painful, but the development of IT delivery platforms requires academic staff not only to rethink what they deliver (Should I amend that lecture, since students did not appear to understand the argument?), but also how they deliver their content (What kind of activity will enable students to understand the argument?). In the short term, it is likely that IT-based delivery systems will be seen as the most appropriate alternative means of delivering content, if only because of the Internet and the massive spread of IT-based solutions in our lives.

Higher education is best seen as a process focused on learning in which content is combined in some way with some forms of technology, whether they be “chalk and talk,” television broadcast or an IT-based delivery platform. It is our view that the development of technology-based enhancements to formal teaching and learning strategies will assist the education and training sector best, in part supported by Achacoso (2003). In some ways, the changes currently going on are compelling us to examine issues about how we support student learning, an issue which many of us might prefer to ignore (Bensusan, 2001). The most obvious comment, and one heard quite frequently by the authors from less IT-committed colleagues, is, “I simply don’t have time to change the way I do my teaching.” Behind this statement perhaps there is also a few staff that do not have time or inclination to critically examine or reflect on what and how they do what they do.

Over the recent past, some naive attempts have been made to address these issues. The most simplistic solution adopted by some institutions has been to invest heavily in technology. It is actually a relatively painless, one-off capital cost to purchase a lot of hardware to introduce technology, videoconferencing and large labs of PCs with very powerful software. Significant investment has been made in technology within schools, colleges and universities. While staff have readily taken up e-mail and to some extent the Internet, their “deeper” adoption of the technology in the context of learning delivery has been limited (O’Donoghue, Singh, Caswell, & Molyneux, 2001).

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