Current practice in web-based delivery of IT courses

Tim Roberts, Celia Romm, David Jones, Current Practice in Web-based Delivery of IT Courses, APWEB 2000, Xi’an, China, 27-29 Oct 2000.

Abstract

Distance education students have often been considered to be at a significant disadvantage as compared with their on-campus counterparts – for many reasons. These include the lack of access to the on-campus lectures and tutorial sessions; the difficulty of access to other resources, such as staff members? time, library stocks, etc; the delays caused by the physical transmission of assignments and other course resources; and the expense of connecting to the Web for long periods. For these and other reasons, the development of appropriate web-based models of course delivery is of the utmost importance.

In [7], four models of web-based delivery were described in detail. Each of the four models is in current use for the delivery of one or more courses within the fields of Information Technology, Information Systems, or Electronic Commerce at Central Queensland University (CQU), an Australian institution at the forefront of "flexible delivery" – that is, the delivery of quality education by means other than simply face-to-face lectures and tutorials.

The current paper briefly summarises the four models described earlier – (1) the naïve model, (2) the standard model, (3) the evolutionary model, and (4) the radical model – and expands on the advantages and disadvantages of each approach. It then goes on to recommend the circumstances under which each should be considered as the preferred model

The current authors hope that practitioners at other institutions seeking to move their courses online for the first time, and those seeking to improve their web-based teaching techniques, will be able to adapt various aspects of the models described here so as to provide the best possible learning environments for their students.

Introduction

This paper presents four models of online teaching currently in use within the Faculty of Informatics and Communication at Central Queensland University (CQU), a multi-campus, regional university, with seven campuses in Australia and a further three overseas, and a large number of external students.

The four models of on-line teaching presented here may be described as the naïve model, the standard model, the evolutionary model, and the radical model. All have been described in more detail in [7] .

The naive model

The naïve model may be characterised as "putting the lecture notes on the Web". No extra facilities are provided, and the notes used in live face-to-face lectures are transformed with minimal alteration into a web-based format accessible by a standard browser (such as Internet Explorer or Netscape Communicator).

The point has often been made (eg [1]) that using the internet to support learning and teaching requires a culture change for both the teaching staff and the students. It is not surprising, therefore, that this minimalist model is widely-used by those wary of embarking on such a change.

The standard model

The standard model attempts to actively utilise the advantages provided by the technology to allow a significant degree of communication and interaction between students and staff. Features of the standard model include the following:-


  • a range of electronic resources linked to from the course home page

  • electronic copies of all printed course materials

  • lecture slides in Powerpoint format

  • any notes arising out of on-campus lectures and tutorials;
  • workshop tasks and solutions

  • assignment marking guidelines

  • full contact details of all instructors

  • copies of past examinations for the course

  • hints and tips for the current examination

  • an electronic course discussion list

  • a list of updates and additions, in date order

The evolutionary model

The evolutionary model takes the standard model as a basis and supplements it with many other features to enhance both the teaching and learning environment. Aspects that distinguish the evolutionary model include:


  • distribution on CD-ROM of a mirror of the Web site as it pertains at the beginning of semester

  • pre-recorded audio lectures available both on the CD and from the Web

  • animations to explain many of the concepts

  • ?live? lectures given only in response to specific student requests

  • web-based archives of mailing list discussions from previous semesters

  • electronic assignments submission, recording marking, and return

  • provision of a "feedback barometer" (Svensson et al 1999).

The radical model

Whereas all three previous models attempt, to differing extents, to adapt the traditional face-to-face lecture delivery method to a more suitable web-based format, the radical model dispenses with lectures entirely. Instead, students are formed into groups, and learn by interacting amongst themselves and using the vast amount of existing Web-based resources, with the instructor providing guidance as and when required.

Distinguishing features of the radical model include:


  • a video sent out to all students prior to the commencement of semester explaining the "way the course works";

  • minimal traditional instruction from the instructor

  • an expectation that students will use the set text, and make extensive use of search engines and other facilities to seek out resources available on the Web;
  • compulsory use of the course mailing list for communication;

  • the replacement of lectures by online electronic presentations prepared by the students themselves, each based on the topic for that week;

  • the allocation of students into groups, each of which is responsible not only for providing an electronic presentation at some point during the semester, but also for responding critically to all other such presentations.

The students? final marks are based on a combination of their group work throughout the semester, and their performance in a closed-book end-of-semester examination.

Advantages and disadvantages of the four models

This section attempts to summarise the primary advantages and disadvantages inherent in each of the four models described in section 1.

The naive model

The naïve model has been widely disparaged in the literature. Nevertheless, the naïve model


  • is relatively cheap to implement, in terms of both hardware and software resources and staff time

  • provides web-based material which can add significantly to printed and other material sent out to students prior to the commencement of the course

  • provides material which being web-based can be altered relatively simply (in order to correct errors and/or add extra information)

  • is the least threatening to students, since communication in strictly one-way, instructor to student.

  • requires few prior skills of the student beyond the ability to browse Web pages using a standard browser

  • allows students maximal time to concentrate on the course content (rather than spending time mastering the technology)
  • allows instructors to spend the majority of their time and effort in the preparation of the course

Disadvantages of the naïve model may not be numerous, but they are substantial. They would include


  • no opportunities for interaction or feedback

  • the fact that the notes are usually such as to be ill-suited for display on the Web (having been originally designed primarily for face-to-face lectures)

The standard model

The standard model provides many advantages as compared with the naïve model. Amongst these are


  • the ability for students to communicate easily and effectively with the instructor

  • the ability for students to communicate easily and effectively with each other

  • a large number of extra resources to enhance the learning process

These advantages come at a cost. In particular may be noted the following:


  • the increased amount of time necessary on the part of the instructor, both to upload various items of information throughout the semester, and to ensure currency

  • the increased expectations on the part of many students for online information to be up-to-date and error-free at all times

  • the significant additional workload imposed by the need to respond appropriately to newsgroup postings on a regular basis.

The evolutionary model

The evolutionary model has many advantages over and above those implicit in the standard model. Those worthy of mention include:


  • the provision of the initial Web-site on CD-ROM, which significantly reduces the amount of time students have to spend online

  • the provision of lectures also on CD-ROM, which greatly enhances the learning environment for many students who prefer to hear the spoken word rather than relying on texts

  • the provision of supplementary live lectures only "on demand", which reduces the costs associated with the delivery, and provides equity to all students (while at the same time not denying on-campus students the opportunity for face-to-face lectures as and when the need arises)

  • the illustration of difficult concepts through the use of animations
  • increased equity between on-campus and external students with regard to assignment submission and return

  • greatly enhanced processing of assignments

  • increased feedback from students with regards to all aspects of the course

Disadvantages of the evolutionary model would include


  • the time and resources necessary to prepare the CD-ROM in advance of the commencement of the semester

  • the need to pre-record lectures (either from a previous semester, or as a "one-off special"

  • the time, resources, and expertise necessary to provide appropriate animations

The radical model

Amongst many real advantages of the radical model may be listed


  • the emphasis on group-work

  • the need for students to utilise real-world skills both for effective communication and research

  • the significantly lower demands on staff time than with most other models

  • the greatly increased level of feedback (typically, by the end of semester, students will have received over 100 inputs on their work from other students in the group, other groups, and the instructor).

Amongst the most-commonly expressed disadvantages are that


  • students need to adapt early to the demands of the model (the first presentations are made as early as week three or four of the semester)>

  • students used to a more conservative model of delivery may feel aggrieved at the lack of direct instruction unless the model is fully explained to them at the start of semester

Choice of preferred model

It must be reiterated that the four models have been described as though they were discrete alternative options. In reality, of course, these represent points in a continuous multi-dimensional spectrum; aspects of one model may be quite successfully combined with aspects of another. Therefore, any suggestion to choose a particular model under particular circumstances is to a certain extent necessarily artificial.

Nevertheless, it is apparent that the choice of model will depend on the context within which it is to be applied. The following is therefore intended as a guide.

Then naive model

The naïve model should generally be preferred only in contexts where


  • preparation time is extremely limited, or

  • space on the web server is at a premium, or

  • the instructor is new to web-based delivery and lacking in the most basic computer skills

In most cases it is to be expected that none of these three conditions will apply, and a more sophisticated model can be selected.

The standard model

The standard model is preferred in circumstances where


  • the instructor is experimenting with web-based delivery for the first time, or

  • students are acquainting themselves with a web-based course largely for the first time, or

  • paper-based submission of assignments is preferred for some reason, or

  • lectures cannot be pre-recorded
  • >

The evolutionary model

The evolutionary model has many more features designed to enhance web-based learning, and is recommended whenever circumstances allow – in particular where

  • electronic assignment submission is preferred, and

  • lectures can be pre-recorded, and

  • the instructor has sufficient time throughout the semester to ensure currency of the web-site, and

  • interaction and feedback is actively sought, and

  • complex and/or technical issues have to be explained

The radical model

The radical model should be preferred in cases where

  • the use of group work is considered beneficial, and

  • students have some familiarity with email, the Web and the use of search engines, and

  • students are sufficiently mature to be able to study without continual direct guidance, and have some research skills, and

  • the instructor is happy to act primarily as a guide and a facilitator rather than as a direct purveyor of knowledge, and

  • sufficient resources exist on the Web directly relevant to the course content

Summary

Four different models of online teaching have been presented, all in current use at Central Queensland University; their advanatges and disadvantages have been listed, and guidance provided as to the most suitable model given differing contexts.

In all cases, it is of vital importance that the students be made fully aware from the commencement of the course as to the model to be employed, and its inherent limitations.

As the Web gradually expands to cover the globe, everyone in every country becomes a potential student of every university. The great majority of such potential students will expect the new medium to be used to its fullest extent, rather than acting purely as an electronic repository of old techniques designed for other circumstances. Institutions and courses will be selected according to how well they have adapted to the new medium.

In summary, it is essential that new models continue to be developed and refined which make the best use of this still comparatively-new technology. Hopefully the four models described here will assist online developers throughout the world to push forward the boundaries of current practice.

References

[1] Jefferies P and Hussain F (1998), Using the Internet as a Teaching Resource, Education and Training 40(8): pp359-365.

[2] Jones D (1996a), Solving Some Problems of University Education: A Case Study, in Debreceny R & Ellis A (eds), Proceedings of AusWeb?96, pp243-252, Lismore, NSW.

[3] Jones D (1996b), Computing by Distance Education: Problems and Solutions, Proceedings of the First Integrating Technology into Computer Science Education Conference, pp 139-146, Association for Computing Machinery, Barcelona, Spain.

[4] Jones D (1999a), Solving Some Problems of University Education, Part II: A Case Study, in Proceedings of AusWeb?99, Balina, NSW.

[5] Jones D (1999b), Webfuse: An Integrated, Eclectic Web Authoring Tool, in Collis B & Oliver R (eds), Proceedings of EdMedia’99, pp1799-1800, Seattle, Washington.

[6] Jones D and Jamieson B (1997), Three Generations of Online Assignment Management, in R. Kevill, R. Oliver & R. Phillips (Eds.), What Works and Why, Proceedings of ASCILITE’97, pp 317-323.

[7] Roberts T, Jones D, and Romm C T (2000), Four Models of Online Education, Proceedings of TEND 2000, Abu Dhabi, UAE.

[8] Romm C T and Taylor W (2000), Thinking Creatively About On-line Education,IRMA, Anchorage, Alaska (forthcoming).

[9] Svensson L, Andersson R, Gadd M, and Johnson A, (1999), Course-Barometer: Compensating for the Loss of Informal Feedback in Distance Education, in Collis B & Oliver R (eds), Proceedings of EdMedia ?99, pp1612-1613, Seattle, Washington..

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