Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Trudi's Dilemma

In a state-wide learning environment of home-based child care trainees, Trudi encountered a dilemma which led her to enquire about access issues for the rural and remote learners. While some of these learners joined the centralized online programs, a significant proportion did not. The Australian Flexible Learning Framework (2003) conducted extensive studies into online learning, including research into access and equity for rural and remote learners. Trudi used this research and framed further questions for an e-survey among her university cohorts, then discussed these issues during a live-to-air university event.

This synchronous event demonstrated the same two learning platforms used in the state-wide Children’s Services programs. The event was facilitated via Centra Symposium and demonstrations of approaches using both Centra and a Moodle group were shared. In this way, it was possible to conduct some evaluation of these technologies with regard to the rural access theme. The topic was therefore discussed with reference to the event participants’ experiences, the results of the in-course Zoomerang survey, published research and the technologies being demonstrated during the event.

Aspects influencing access by rural and remote learners were gleaned from the research (Australian Flexible Learning Framework, 2003) and formed eleven factors:

1.culture and language; 2. affordability; 3. age; 4. degree of isolation; 5. level of education;
6. access to internet; 7. technology skills; 8. course design; 9. staff support;
10. peer support and 11. access to support resources.

The in-course survey results and event discussion indicated that access to internet was considered most crucial, followed by ease of use with course software and platforms. This outcome partly mirrored the research report (Australian Flexible Learning Framework, 2003) that identified key barriers as distance related technology and infrastructure costs. The report also acknowledged the diversity of needs for regional and remote learners as well as the need for community-based coordination of services and industry involvement.

Effectiveness of instructional design was also considered very important by the university course participants. This included providing limited text, effective use of friendly pictures and many opportunities for interaction, both verbal and graphic. The issue of course affordability was minimized as discussion related to contexts where learners were already highly subsidized. All eleven factors were considered to have some impact on learner access and engagement.

The synchronous and asynchronous platforms highlighted in this event afford users a range of opportunities for interaction and social learning. The extent to which these tools can enable learner- initiated activities for distant students would depend on the pedagogical approach and the impact of the eleven identified features above. Once distance learners become connected, the virtual classroom could be seen to simply replicate the ‘chalk and talk’ physical classroom if used in an objectivist way. However, the break-out rooms, collaborative mark-up tools, text chat and verbal interaction features, when used effectively, will support a social constructivist learning environment. The ‘any time any place’ learner-driven Moodle forums, blogs, wikis and resource sharing clearly support a connectivist pedagogy and allow the learner to take an active approach to group learning. The value of these technologies and approaches is recognized in the report, (Australian Flexible Learning Framework, 2003) and the recommended Commonwealth funds for projects supportive of rural and remote learners has been translated into current projects such as those currently sponsored by LearnScope.


Judy said...

Good point Trudi,
One definite advantage to having all these tools under the same 'umbrella'(Moodle in this instance), is that students do not get distracted, or frustrated because their virtual classroom is now virtually in several places and they may or may not remember their password, etc. It is all within the single login of the course.

Trudi said...

Thanks for your comment Judy. We have certainly found the challenges of navigating and exploring an array of tools quite time-consuming and at times confusing! I agree, that it is important to make the experience as seemless as possible or we risk putting up more barriers for learners.
What was that password again!!!

Cathy said...

Judy I agree with you completely! It is challenging to check all the different places and to remember the correct log in information.

Cathy Graham said...

I concur that the Moodle "eggs in one basket" approach is centralised and convenient, but circumstances may warrant or benefit from the use of different systems. So long as these are used a part of an integrated pedagogical strategy, with clear guidelines and support, then I see no reason why a reasonable range of different technologies can't be used successfully.

For example, WebCT is the hub of FET8604, but many of us have chosen different forums for our seminar presentations and pedagogical events. I believe that this has been successful and beneficial for those events, but as part of the facilitation strategy for those events, there needs to be clear guidelines and support in place to ensure learners don't get "lost in transit".

Trudi said...

Cathy G when you say; "but circumstances may warrant or benefit from the use of different systems" I take it that you mean we might want to use various tools (such as this blog on blogger.com)- maybe yes - but maybe if we were using Moodle we wouldn't need to go searching as we could use the Moodle blogs, wikis, surveys, evaluations, chats, RSS feeds,journals, quizes, forums, resource sharing, etc, etc all on the one site.
When you go shopping do you like to get it all in one spot or traypse around from one centre to another? Some may say yes but I think most people like to save time and effort - as long as the product is good.

Jenny said...

I like the 'eggs in one basket' approach to a certain extent. BUT ..We use WebCT in my college and I find that its interface lacks the appeal that wikis and blogs have. Also our students have to log into webCT first and then navigate to the built in blog. How much easier is it to just go online and navigate directly to the blog/wiki! So Moodle seems to offer the best of both worlds. I am interested to find out more about it.