Issues of Pedagogy and Design in e-learning Systems

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1 2004 ACM Symposium on Applied Computing Issues of Pedagogy and Design in e-learning Systems Charalambos Vrasidas Intercollege 46 Makedonitissas Ave. P.O. Box Nicosia, 1700, Cyprus Tel ABSTRACT The purpose of this paper is to discuss some pedagogical issues surrounding e-learning systems. We have been involved in distance education and e-learning for the last 15 years and developed education and training delivered to a wide range of audiences. Based on our experiences, results from evaluation studies we conducted, and the literature in the field we provide a constructive critique of LMS and discuss some guidelines for future developments of e-learning systems. The emphasis will be on the needs of the online teacher and how these needs can best be supported by the design of appropriate technologies. Categories and Subject Descriptors K.3.1 [Computer Uses in Education], H.4.3 [Communications Applications]. General Terms Management, Design, Human Factors. Keywords Instructional design, e-learning, pedagogy, technology-supported learning. 1. INTRODUCTION E-learning and distance education are dramatically growing. Regardless of the growth in e-learning, teachers and faculty do not always use technology as expected. With regards to online teaching, the National Center for Educational Statistics released a report which showed that during Fall1998, only 6% of faculty and staff who reported teaching one or more for-credit classes stated that they taught at least one distance education class [17]. Therefore, it is clear that only a small percentage of teachers actually teach online classes. Some of the barriers to teaching online include the following: Permission to make digital or hard copies of all or part of this work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and the full citation on the first page. To copy otherwise, or republish, to post on servers or to redistribute to lists, requires prior specific permission and/or a fee. SAC2004, March, 14-17, 2004, Nicosia, Cyprus. Copyright 2004 ACM_ /03/04...$5.00 Lack of skills and knowledge needed to design and teach online classes Lack of support, training, and help needed for planning online instruction The lack of face-to-face contact violates the culture of traditional teaching and raises concerns among teachers Lack of appropriate design and development tools that will help faculty to easily plan and deliver online instruction Lack of a solid technology infrastructure Lack of time to plan, design, and teach online Lack of incentives and compensation needed to motivate faculty to teach online [3, 16, 18, 21]. Educators rarely have all the technology skills needed to develop custom websites for online classes. Therefore, the use of LMS has grown dramatically. Such systems are used widely in education and training. The two major categories of functionality associated with LMS are the course administration and management and course pedagogy, teaching, and learning. In the following sections, the emphasis will be on the pedagogy part and the needs of the online teacher, and how these needs can best be supported by the design of appropriate technologies. We will synthesize the literature and findings from our work and will present a set of pedagogical considerations that designers should consider as they develop e-learning systems. 2. TECHNOLOGY TOOLS TO SUPPORT TEACHING AND LEARNING In the online environment, technology plays a central role. All interactions take place via an LMS. Moving technology to the center of an educational transaction raises the visibility of a set of issues that have been seriously de-emphasized. Such a move should not suggest that technology is more important than the learner and the learning processes, but that focusing on technology and studying the ways in which technology affordances shape interaction among learners-teacher-content will also help us understand how technology-mediated interaction influences social presence, structure, learner control, and feedback. Technology should not be studied in isolation nor as a mere vehicle [7], but within the context and structure of a 911

2 program in order to examine how the synergy of technology, instructional methods, subject matter, and other contextual factors provide the conditions necessary to support knowledge construction and learning when teachers and learners are separated [13]. Researchers, educators, and computer scientists should collaborate to examine the ways that technologies can facilitate teaching and learning and conduct research that can point the way to improve the development of such technologies. Examples of questions that can be asked and addressed, as e-learning systems are developed, include the following: How do technology affordances permit and constrain certain kinds of interactions? How does technology-mediated interaction shape structure, learning, learner control, and social presence? What technologies can be used to undertake the kinds of tasks that learners and teachers cannot easily perform (e.g., store and retrieve information, execute advanced calculations) and allocate learners and teachers the tasks they do best (e.g. use Intelligent Agents)? How has technology made some content obsolete and other content more important than ever? What content should be relegated to an LMS instead of the teacher and students? What combination of technologies, content, context, and instructional methods are appropriate for what kinds of instructional goals, teachers, and learners? [22]. 3. CRITICISM OF LMS A major criticism is that LMS are often used in very ineffective ways. Faculty and teachers use LMS to put content online without applying any sound pedagogical principles. This should not suggest that it is only because of the bad design in LMS, since the lack of teachers pedagogical skills is also a factor. The challenge faced by developers of LMS is to develop such tools so that they better serve the needs of a diverse audience. The major challenge faced by teachers is to use the existing tools in pedagogically sound ways so that they take advantage of the online medium s affordances. However, scholars have criticized the pedagogical affordances of existing LMS. Specifically, several researchers argued that commercial LMS do not allow the use of constructivist learning strategies and that most LMS replicate the sterile traditional F2F instruction [10, 15]. Another study showed that most faculty who teach online prefer to use technical options that are consistent with traditional face-to-face modes of teaching [4]. There is a strong direction among academic circles towards constructivist learning. Some of the basic assumptions of constructivist learning are listed below. Learners learn best when: They engage in active learning Represent knowledge in multiple ways Participate in authentic activities with real-world connections Their work is evaluated following authentic assessment Collaborate with peers in solving real world problems. Have access to distributed tools for meaningful learning [15, 20]. It has been argued that very little online learning employs constructivist, problem oriented approaches to learning in any significant way (p. 304) [15]. Most of online education replicates the traditional face-to-face instruction. Furthermore, it is argued that the major reason for not employing constructivist learning principles in online education is that LMS do not support constructivist learning and do not provide teachers and students with the tools needed to engage in constructivist learning. The most important barriers to constructivist online learning are inherent in LMS design and have to do with their lack of: Tools and affordances to allow learners to represent knowledge in multiple ways Tools to support authentic assessment. Usually online assessment is based on written essays, short answers, and multiple choice quizzes. Therefore, faculty often times use the tools to create content based kinds of assessment, even though they do not match the instructional objectives of the course. Distributed tools for meaningful learning. Using video, audio, multimedia production tools, laboratory experimental tools, expert systems, etc. to allow students to build knowledge artifacts to represent their learning. Visualization tools to allow learners to visually express and construct meaning Communication tools to allow learners and teachers to seamlessly interact [15]. The vision for an ideal online learning environment is the one that scaffold s and supports maximal intellectual development in learners [14]. An example of future developments is the use of constraint-based conversation tools. During an online discussion, messages are usually threaded and the topic s heading and title are chosen by the teacher or moderators. Software are needed that break the mold of online conversations and force students (particularly un-decisive students) to chose a direction and argument to support. Additional problems often associated with the quality offered by LMS are low performance of the LMS, poor usability that causes serious problems for teachers and students, poor customizability of the system so that it makes it difficult to serve the specific needs of institutions, limited interoperability with other LMS, poor reusability, and high cost [1]. 912

3 4. ONLINE TEACHER ROLES AND TASKS Although an LMS should take into account the needs of both teachers and learners, the focus of this discussion will be on the teachers roles and needs. The online teacher is asked to perform a variety of tasks and undertake numerous roles such as the role of designer, teacher, evaluator, and administrator. Some of these are discussed below [2, 8, 11, 14, 19]. Some of the specific duties and tasks of the teacher as designer are: Design the overall structure of the course, the syllabus, and establish expectations for successful course completion. Select the activities that students will be asked to engage in while taking the online course. When is it appropriate to use individual assignments, collaborative groups, online discussions and debates, etc.? Select the learning strategies and appropriate media that will be more likely to help students achieve the desired outcomes. For example, decide when to use a visual illustration, a video clip, an audio strip, or an animation, and how it will support learning. Some of the duties and tasks of the teacher as administrator and manager include the following: Monitor student enrollment, maintain student records, ensure security of online information, and handle all the managerial and administrative tasks that relate to the online class. Establish the rules and procedures to be followed in course activities and discussions. Some of the specific duties and tasks of the teacher/evaluator are: Prepare assessment that is in alignment with learning outcomes and the goals of the course. Maintain student records and assessment results, and monitor student progress. Provide students with constructive and immediate feedback. Make sure that the students work submitted as part of course requirements are authentic and the students' own. In moderating online discussions the teacher s intellectual role and tasks require that he/she: Establish clear goals, structure, activities, and expectations for online discussions. Unless these are clear, students will not participate. Encourage participation by employing various techniques and strategies (e.g., collaborative projects, debates, small group-discussions) to stimulate the interest of students. The above list of roles and tasks of the online teacher are not exhaustive and should not be taken as rules but rather as guides. It is obvious that there is a great overlap among the various roles. These are things that teachers do as they engage in the design and teaching of online classes. Computer scientists, educators, designers, and others should engage in collaborative, interdisciplinary research that will lead to the development of e- learning systems that can best support teachers and students in e- learning environments. 5. IMPLICATIONS FOR DESIGN Some of the major learning guidelines on which the design of a LMS should be based are summarized below. Because of space limitations, these principles are not discussed in detail. The LMS needs to be intuitive and designed so that it supports learning principles and also support the online teachers tasks. Some of the tools that would be helpful to online teachers are those that support them: Plan and identify goals, objectives, standards, and content for the course Conduct learner and audience analysis Identify technology requirements Review of other similar courses Facilitate the content analysis phase Examine samples of activities to match instructional objectives Review samples of evaluation activities to match objectives and content Examine templates for syllabus design for a variety of levels Select the appropriate collaboration activities and choose the right media attributes to support the objectives of the learning experience. Below is a summary of learning principles for effective online learning and the respective need for LMS support. Learner-centered: Learners organize information and knowledge, take control of their learning, act as autonomous individuals who plan and execute learning tasks. An LMS should provide tools that allow learners to organize information, contribute content, and engage in learning activities. Engaged and Active: Learners engage in interesting activities that motivate them and employ active learning principles to solve class problems. An LMS should 913

4 provide tools that support active learning and problem solving. Constructive: Learning is a constructive process during which students co-construct knowledge and meaning while interacting with peers, tools, and content. An LMS should provide tools that support various kinds of student-teacher and student-student interactions. Situated and Contextual: Learning is situated in real world contexts where it gets its actual meaning. An LMS should provide tools that enable students and teachers to seamlessly integrate real-world authentic activities within class schedule. Social and Collaborative: Learning is a social activity and students learn best when they interact frequently with teachers and peers. An LMS should allow learners to interact by providing synchronous and asynchronous communication tools. Reflective: Learners engage in reflective thinking about their actions, skills, competencies, knowledge, and meta-learning skills. An LMS should provide tools that scaffold and support reflection on the learning process. e.g. journal keeping, probing questions to reflect on, etc. Requires prompt feedback. Integrate feedback within the grade book. An LMS can use Intelligent Agents to provide feedback to student work and help the teacher monitor student progress [5, 6, 9, 12, 20]. Furthermore, teachers are required to keep close track of students work and make sure that no student is left behind. Monitoring student work in an online class is time consuming and requires a frequent action plan. An Intelligent Agent can undertake some of the tasks that the teacher has to perform. For example, when the teacher logs into the course, he/she can instantly receive a message from the agent reporting a list of the students who have not turned in their assignments on time, have not contributed in this week s discussion, or have not taken the online test. The Agent can also be programmed to send personal s and notes to those students who have done better than average or worse than expected [12]. 6. CONCLUSIONS Organizations want to adopt an LMS that can scale up to support an increasing number of teachers and students, can be easily adapted to new technologies as they are being developed, easily and seamlessly integrate with the existing technology infrastructure within the organization, meet the needs of a diverse audience, expectations, and requirements, and allows faculty and students to seamlessly work on what they do best (teaching and learning), without technology impeding their efforts. Taking into consideration the tasks and roles of the online teacher, as they were discussed in this paper, can help e-learning systems designers produce technologies that will have an impact on the educational experiences offered to online students. 7. REFERENCES [1] Avgeriou, P., Retalis, S., and Skordalakis, M. An architecture for open Learning Management Systems. In Y. Manolopoulos, S. Evripidou, and A. C. Kakas (Eds.), Advances in Informatics, Berlin: Springer-Verlag, [2] Berge, Z. L. Facilitating computer conferencing: Recommendations from the field. Educational Technology, 35, 1 (1995), [3] Berge, Z.L. Barriers to online teaching in post-secondary institutions: Can policy changes fix it? Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 2, 1 (Summer, 1998), Retrieved on June 18, 2003 from [4] Berge, Z. L. Characteristics of online teaching in postsecondary, formal education, Educational Technology, 37, 3 (1997), [5] Boettcher, J. V. Course Management Systems and Learning Principles: Getting to Know Each Other, (2003). Retrieved July 10, 2003, from [6] Carmean, C., and Haefner, J. Mind over Matter: Transforming Course Management Systems into effective learning environments. Educause Review, (Nov/Dec., 2002), [7] Clark, R. E. Reconsidering research on learning from media. Review of Educational Research, 53, 4 (1983), [8] Collis, B., and Moonen, J. Flexible learning in a digital world: Experiences and expectations. Kogan Page, London, UK, [9] Duffy, T. M., and Jonassen, D. H. Constructivism: New Implications for Instructional Technology. In T. M. Duffy and D. H. Jonassen (Eds.), Constructivism and the Technology of Instruction, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc. Hillsdale, NJ, [10] Firdyiwek, Y. Web-based courseware tools: Where is the pedagogy? Educational Technology, 39, 1 (1999), [11] Goodyear, P., Salmon, G., Spector, M. J., Steeples, C., and Tickner, S. Competences for online teaching: A special report. Educational Technology Research and Development, 49, 1 (2001), [12] Jafari, A. Conceptualizing Intelligent Agents For Teaching and Learning. Educause Quarterly, 25, 3 (2002). Retrieved on June 24, [13] Kozma, R. B. Learning with media. Review of Educational Research, 61, 2 (1991), [14] Marra, R. M. The ideal online learning environment for supporting epistemic development: Putting the puzzle together. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 3, 1 (2002), [15] Marra, R. M., and Jonassen, D. H. Limitations of online courses for supporting constructive learning. The Quarterly Review of Distance education, 2, 4 (2001),

5 [16] McKenzie, B. K., Mims, N., Bennett, E., and Waugh, M. Needs, concerns, and practices of online instructors. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 3, 3 (Winter, 2000). Retrieved on June 16, 2003 from ml. [17] National Center for Educational Statistics. Distance education instruction by postsecondary faculty and staff: Fall US. Department of Education, Available online at [18] Reeves, T. Distance education and the professorate: The issue of productivity. In C. Vrasidas and C. V Glass (Eds.), Current Perspectives on Applied Information Technologies. Distance Education and Distributed Learning, Information Age Publishing Inc., Greenwich, CT, [19] Salmon, G. E-Moderating: The key to teaching and learning online. Kogan Page, London, [20] Vrasidas, C. Constructivism versus objectivism: Implications for interaction, course design, and evaluation in distance education. International Journal of Educational Telecommunications, 6, 4 (2000), [21] Vrasidas, C. The design, development, and implementation of the LUDA Virtual High School. Computers in the Schools, 20, 1 (2002). [22] Vrasidas, C., and Glass, G. V. A conceptual framework for studying distance education. In C. Vrasidas and G. V. Glass (Eds.), Current Perspectives in Applied Information Technologies: Distance Education and Distributed Learning, Information Age Publishing, Inc., Greenwich, CT,

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