Task-Oriented Information Organization and Retrieval in Online Learning

Task-Oriented Information Organization and Retrieval in Online Learning

Kyung-Sun Kim (University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA) and Joi L. Moore (University of Missouri-Columbia, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 9
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch298
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Abstract

The number of institutions offering online courses has been growing steadily. According to the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2003), approximately 90% of public four-year institutions and about 50% of private institutions were offering, or planning to offer, distance education programs in 2000–2001. By 2006, 90% of public two- and four-year institutions actually offered distance education courses (NCES, 2006). In response to the increasing interest in and demand for online instruction, various course management systems (CMS) have been developed, including commercial systems, such as Blackboard, Angel and Desire to Learn, and open source systems, such as Moodle and Sakai. The CMSs, defined as software systems specifically designed for teaching and learning, are useful tools for online instruction. They make it easy to organize and deliver content, including lecture materials, and to link the course web site to other related web sites. They also provide tools for communication, learning assessment and activity management (Colaric & Jonassen, 2001; Morgan, 2003).
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Introduction

The number of institutions offering online courses has been growing steadily. According to the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2003), approximately 90% of public four-year institutions and about 50% of private institutions were offering, or planning to offer, distance education programs in 2000–2001. By 2006, 90% of public two- and four-year institutions actually offered distance education courses (NCES, 2006). In response to the increasing interest in and demand for online instruction, various course management systems (CMS) have been developed, including commercial systems, such as Blackboard, Angel and Desire to Learn, and open source systems, such as Moodle and Sakai. The CMSs, defined as software systems specifically designed for teaching and learning, are useful tools for online instruction. They make it easy to organize and deliver content, including lecture materials, and to link the course web site to other related web sites. They also provide tools for communication, learning assessment and activity management (Colaric & Jonassen, 2001; Morgan, 2003).

With the increasing popularity of online learning, the primary environment for connecting students with their instructors, their classmates, and course content is changing from the traditional face-to-face model to the online environment defined by a CMS. Instructors who are already challenged with keeping up with constant changes in their fields of expertise and online technologies, are left with little time to understand how their course materials should be organized and presented through the CMS. This usually results in course materials being organized based on an individual instructor’s mental model and preferences. The course organization by the instructor, however, may not guarantee effective retrieval of course materials by learners. While learners may be able to find the information that they need and desire by exploring the course structure and organization, retrieving information can often be inefficient and time-consuming.

Studies show that different instructors and students prefer different ways of organizing course sites (Caplow, 2006; Moore, Downing, & York, 2002). Such preferred organizational differences between the instructor and learners become more problematic when learners begin the course with little orientation to the structure of the particular course site. Earlier research suggests that the course structure (Romiszowski & Cheng, 1992) and the interface design of an online course (Eastmond, 1995) have an impact on student satisfaction and learning in online courses. A transparent and easy-to-use interface of the course is crucial in facilitating the online learning.

In this article, a faceted approach is proposed to organize course materials, which can support efficient execution of learning tasks by students in online courses. A faceted approach to classifying information differs from the traditional methods in that it does not assign a fixed slot to a subject within a hierarchical structure. Using clearly defined and mutually exclusive aspects/dimensions of a subject, a faceted classification allows a subject to be classed under multiple locations, rather than one. These aspects or dimensions used for classification are called ‘facets’ of a class or subject, a term introduced into classification theory by the Indian classificationist S.R. Ranganathan in the early 1930s (Taylor, 2006). Since a faceted classification system allows learning material to be classed and placed under multiple facets in a systematic way, it helps students to access and retrieve learning materials more easily.

In this article, we will first review issues related to the CMS used for online courses. Then, we will discuss different approaches to organizing and retrieving course materials, reviewing recent efforts to improve the CMS for the better organization and presentation of course materials. Finally, we will propose a task-oriented framework for organizing course materials, based on faceted approach. Using an existing online course as an example case, we will illustrate how the faceted system can support learning tasks and activities. This paper will shed light on how the organization of information can help students carry out learning tasks efficiently in online courses, and suggest future research on the organizational scheme for online courses.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Faceted Classification: A classification system that assigns a subject to clearly defined, mutually exclusive aspects of a class. Different from hierarchical classification systems, a faceted classification system allows a subject material to be classed under more than one facet, which creates more than one path to access the material.

Course Management System (CMS): A CMS is an internet-based application that provides access to course content, manages student enrollment, and monitors student performance. Content management system and learning management system are terms used to refer to a CMS.

Multiple Course Phenomenon: A unique acclimation period that an online learner will experience for each course structure and organization (Moore et al., 2002).

Task: A learning activity designed to help a learner achieve a specific objective related to a topic with a concrete outcome.

Metadata: Structured information that describes, explains, locates, or otherwise makes it easier to retrieve, use or manage an information resource (Hodge, 2001). An example of metadata is a library catalog record of an item, which usually includes descriptive information (e.g., title, author, publication information), subject information (e.g., subject headings, index terms), administrative information (e.g., location).

Hierarchical Classification: A classification system that arranges subject materials in a hierarchy of classes, divisions, and subdivisions. A hierarchical classification system allows a subject material to be classed in one fixed slot.

Mental Model: A user’s understanding of concepts and procedures for selecting goals and executing actions (Carroll & Olson, 1988).

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