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Online communication and information technology education

By A Heinze and CT Procter

Abstract

Blended Learning, a learning facilitation that incorporates different modes of delivery, models of teaching, and learning styles, introduces multiple media to the dialog between the learner and the facilitator. This paper examines online communication as the link between established theory of learning and literature on e-learning in order to better understand the appropriate use of blended learning in an actual Information Technology course. First, previously defined theoretical constructs that utilize communication as a facilitator for learning are considered. Then, using the Interpretivist standpoint, we examine data gathered from focus groups and interviews to gauge the experience of staff and students who were participants in a Blended Learning course.\ud \ud There are four previously defined theoretical constructs of greatest relevance to blended learning. Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development highlights the importance of communication with capable peers who can provide stimuli and feedback to a learning individual. Wegner’s Communities\ud of Practice are groups of individuals who share a common practice interest and rely on a dialogue to facilitate learning. Laurillard’s Conversational Framework includes a pragmatic 12- step model that teachers can use to structure their learning facilitation. Finally, Salmon’s EModeration considers five stages of online communication in terms of how the moderator might facilitate dialogue among learners. These four theoretical models form the basis for understanding the implementation of blended learning discussed here.\ud \ud The course studied was a part-time Bachelor of Science degree in Information Technology (IT), delivered using Blended Learning. Students were required to attend one evening per week and make substantial use of Web based learning over a period of five years. Students were mature,\ud some already working in the IT field. Forty students in a first cohort and eighteen students in a second cohort were studied during the first year of their course. While students in the first cohort who succeeded in the course often found the discussion boards to be of considerable value in discussing assignments and sharing learning, the boards also could discourage those with less technical\ud backgrounds. There is data to suggest that a high rate of dropouts and failures among the first cohort after just one year may have been influenced by discouragement felt by those who could not keep up with the technical level of the discussion board posts. As a result of this data, for the second cohort, the number of online communications was reduced to one assessed online discussion that was closely monitored. As a result, discussions were more on-topic; however students reported significantly less sense of community. Again, a high dropout rate resulted. \ud \ud Our results suggest that communication is both a challenge and an enabler for facilitating a successful blended learning course. Blended learning is not simply a matter of the combination of face-to-face and online instruction, but it has to have elements of social interaction. It appears to be important to allow students to bond together and to socialize. Knowing each other eases the communication barriers and reduces the fear of posting messages into an open forum. At its best, online communication can provide study help, social interaction, and a sense of community. We have evidence that when students are required more frequently to cooperate online, they share a common problem and on some level create their own “problem solving” community. However, our data from the first cohort indicates that unguided communication of a Community of Practice can lead to undesirable effects. At the same time, our data from the second cohort indicates that a very structured approach is also undesirable. The ideal situation, it seems, is somewhere in the middle. However, the middle is not easily defined. Because the community depends on the individuals who are the main components of it, it is difficult to predict how the same environment would influence different individuals or different cohorts. Thus, the ultimate responsibility is on the lecturer to listen to the students and engage in continuous dialogue

Topics: QA75, LB2300, other
Publisher: Informing Science Institute
OAI identifier: oai:usir.salford.ac.uk:1659

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