ESSENTIAL FACTORS AFFECTING ELEARNING DEVELOPMENT

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1 Gontjarow Julitta ESSENTIAL FACTORS AFFECTING ELEARNING DEVELOPMENT CASE: VIRTUAL POLYTECHNIC Diploma Work Information and Media Technology Programme Media Technology Option December 2003

2 TABLE OF CONTENTS GLOSSARY LIST OF FIGURES AND TABLES 1. INTRODUCTION 1 2. ELEARNING What is elearning? Different types of elearning ELearning Environments ELearning Evolution Aspiration and Trends ELEARNING DEVELOPMENT Factors affecting elearning Development Requirements for elearning Providers Remote connections Requirements for students Technical requirements to Online Studying Computer system Browser Other possible requirements VIRTUAL POLYTECHNIC Introduction ELearning Portal Approach to the Development Online Studying at Virtual Polytechnic Services for students Aspiration to future services Mapping the Essential Factors Research Method Implementation and goal of the study 42

3 5. RESULTS Observations and comments Suggestions to Development Reliability of the Study CONCLUSION REFERENCES 63 APPENDIX 68

4 GLOSSARY ADSL Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line CBT Computer-based training. COLLABORATIVE SOFTWARE Also known as groupware. Software that integrates work on a single project by several concurrent users at separated workstations. CSS Cascading Style Sheets is a language that is used to describe the stylistic presentation of a structured document written in HTML or XML. DISTANCE EDUCATION Distance education is a method of teaching in which the students are not required to be physically present at a specific location. Most often, regular mail is used to send written material, videos, audiotapes, and CD- ROMs to the student and to turn in the exercises; nowadays and the Web are used as well. DOM Document Object Model is a form of representation of structured documents as an Object oriented model. DOM is the official World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standard for representing structured documents in a platform- and language-neutral manner. DOM initially supported web browsers to manipulate elements in a HTML document. DOM was a way of dynamically accessing and updating the content, structure and style of documents.

5 ELEARNING The use of new multimedia technologies and the Internet to improve the quality of learning by facilitating access to resources and services as well as remote exchanges and collaboration. HTML Hypertext Markup Language is a markup language designed for creating web pages, that is, information presented on the World Wide Web. HTTP HyperText Transfer Protocol is the primary method used to communicate information on the Web. HTTP is a request / response protocol between clients and servers. An HTTP client, such as a web browser, initiates a request by connecting to (usually) TCP/IP port 80. ICT Information and Communications Technologies. An expression embracing all the technologies that go to form the Information Society: data processing, Internet, multimedia, etc., and the telecommunications system that enable information to be distributed. IDLN Interactive distance learning network. INTERNET The network of servers, mainframes and personal computers that use computer-mediated communications technology to link people around the world into an information-sharing system. ISDN Integrated Services Digital Network JavaScript JavaScript is an object-oriented scripting language that connects through interfaces called Document

6 Object Models to applications. Many web sites use client-side JavaScript technology to create powerful dynamic web applications. One major use of JavaScript is to write little functions that are embedded in HTML pages and interact with the DOM of the browser to perform certain tasks not possible in static HTML alone, such as opening a new window, checking input values, changing images as the mouse cursor moves over etc. JUST-IN-TIME LEARNING ELearning materials can be accessed at the most convenient time, in short segments and can be customised to suit learner needs. MathML Mathematical Markup Language is an XML based markup language that is used to describe mathematical symbols and formulas, so that they can be presented in a familiar way in Web documents. MENTORING One-to-one interactions between individuals. MLE Managed Learning Environment. MOODLE A course management system designed to help educators who want to create quality online courses. This php-based software is used all over the world by universities, schools, companies and independent teachers. Moodle is open source and completely free to use. MULTIMEDIA A term referring to the different media users can access or control from a computer (video, sound, animation, text, graphics).

7 OHP The Overhead Projector. RDF Resource Description Framework is the specification for a metadata model often implemented as an application of XML. This model is based upon the idea of making statements about resources in the form of a subject-predicate-object expression (in RDF terms, called a triple). The subject is essentially the resource, the "thing", being described. SCROM Sharable Content Object Reference Model. Standard for web-based E-learning. SGML The Standard Generalized Markup Language is a metalanguage in which one can define markup languages for documents. SMIL Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language. It is a W3C Recommendation for describing multimedia presentations using XML. It defines timing markup, layout markup, animations, visual transitions, and media embedding, among other things. Often used in streaming media presentations. SVG Scalable Vector Graphics is a language for describing two-dimensional static and animated vector graphics in XML. SVG is natively supported in Amaya web browser. In other ones, a plug-in, like Adobe SVG Viewer or Corel SVG Viewer, is needed to see SVG images, but they can be displayed by external editors and viewers. SVG allows three types of graphic objects: vector graphic shapes, images and text.

8 VLE Virtual Learning Environment. This expression refers to the spaces where on-line interaction takes place, with any purpose, including learning, between students and teachers. VSAT Via Satellite WAN A wide area network or WAN is a computer network covering multiple buildings, often across the world. The best example of a WAN is the Internet. W3C The World Wide Web Consortium produces standards for the World Wide Web. WWW World Wide Web or Web for short is a hypertext system that operates over the Internet. XML Extensible Markup Language. A W3C Recommendation for creating special-purpose markup languages. It is a simplified subset of SGML, capable of describing many different kinds of data. Its primary purpose is to facilitate the sharing of structured text and information across the Internet. Languages based on XML (for example, RDF, SMIL, MathML, and SVG) are themselves described in a formal way, allowing programs to modify and validate documents in these languages without prior knowledge of their form. (URL [6]) XSLT Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations. XSLT is a XML transformation language, which transforms documents in XML format. To transform in this context means to take all data or part of it and create another XML document or a document in a

9 format, which can directly be used for displaying or printing.

10 LIST OF FIGURES AND TABLES Chapter 2 Table 1. Traditional education vs. elearning benefits Chapter 3 Figure 1. elearning ecosystem Table 2. ADSL connections Table 3. Computer system recommendations Chapter 4 Figure 2. Finnish Virtual Polytechnic Portal main page Figure 3. Virtual Polytechnic general view (Report 1) (Virtuaaliammattikorkealun portaali, portaalin eopintopalvelut.pdf) Figure 4. Data transfer between Administrative - and eservice systems Figure 5. Registration and login (URL [VP7]) Figure 6. eservice links (URL [VP7]) Figure 7. Browsing for course (URL [VP7]) Figure 8. Applying for the course Figure 9. Applying situation and cancelling opportunity Chapter 5 Figure 10. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 1 Figure 11. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 2 Figure 12. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 3 Figure 13. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 4 Figure 14. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 5 Figure 15. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 6 Figure 16. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 7 Figure 17. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 7 Figure 18. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 7 Figure 19. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 7 Figure 20. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 8 Figure 21. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 9 Figure 22. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 10 Figure 23. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 11 Figure 24. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 12 Figure 25. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 13

11 Figure 26. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 14 Figure 27. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 15 Figure 28. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 15 Figure 29. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 16 Figure 30. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 17 Figure 31. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 18 Figure 32. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 19 Figure 33. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 20 Figure 34. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 21 Figure 35. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 22 Figure 36. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 23 Figure 37. Result to questionnaire part 1, question 24

12 1 1. INTRODUCTION ELearning is the use of network technology, namely the Internet, to design, deliver, select, administer and extend learning. Most often it s an approach to facilitate and enhance learning by means of personal computers. Advantages are seen in that courses can be tailored to specific needs synchronously or asynchronously. ELearning attempts to be a student-centred learning solution. This study deals with the means for students to study in more versatile way as well as the practical problems and the fashion elearning has been actualised. The study focuses on the productive ways to administrate learners and instructors as well as the content that creates the effective learning. The basis of this study is the content management project that sets the standards for the content development at Virtual Polytechnic. Project consists several settlements of different stages of production. It deals with development and maintenance including pedagogical issues. Technical quality, instructors and tutors as well as technical staff are all part of the qualitative aspect, all and all most things that take part in elearning development. With efficient ways to track content delivery and impact on learners we can create great content and manage it. At the moment, getting students to adopt elearning as one form of everyday studying and making sure that equal opportunities to perform studies online are provided, are the two main preconditions to elearning development and its continuation. For that reason students are the main target group this study focuses on. The first and the second chapter deal with the theoretical perspective of this case. ELearning as a concept is analysed. Most of the forms and ways it appears are dealt with. Also both students and providers requirements to elearning are discussed of.

13 2 The third chapter introduces Virtual Polytechnic, its approach to the development and the current services to polytechnic students. Also the aspiration to future services along with mapping the essential factors affecting elearning development are discussed. The actual questionnaire research method and its implementation and goals are introduced on following chapters in full details. The last chapter will give achieved results of the questionnaire divided in three main parts but examining each question in full detail. Also some suggestions to development, a conclusion of the results and finally finding the study reliable. All quotations and bits of Finnish language text I used as base material while developing this study, have been loosely translated trying to avoid transmutations and irrelevances of the subject in question and focusing solely to the essential part of the message. This study is done in the spirit of making elearning equally available to all in spite of time, pace or financial restrictions.

14 3 2. ELEARNING ELearning is difficult to define unambiguously (URL [5]). The concept has yet formed neither one set definition nor designation. ELearning as a concept is difficult to outline for it holds so many concepts within. Its vocabulary is still under development, terms are being gathered and implications are being cultivated. Nevertheless, there are some distinctive features that could be described as elearning. Elearningeuropa.info defines elearning as using new multimedia technologies and Internet to improve the quality of learning (URL [1]). In the context of this study elearning is considered as online studying. 2.1 What is elearning? ELearning is an extension to distance education, enabled by the new information and communication technologies. (URL [23]) ELearning such as distance education normally occurs in a different place from teaching and as a result requires special techniques of course design, special instructional techniques, special methods of communication, as well as special organizational and administrative arrangements. (URL [23]) To put in a nutshell elearning is the use of network technology, namely the Internet, to design, deliver, select, administer and extend learning. In fact elearning is one buzzword in the world of Internet and distance education. Has anyone yet worked out what is so special with "e-"? (K. Donert, International Fellow and Senior Lecturer, Liverpool Hope University College). ELearning most often means an approach to facilitate and enhance learning by means of personal computers, CDROMs and the Internet. This includes , discussion forums and collaborative software. Advantages are seen in that justin-time learning is possible, courses can be tailored to specific needs and asynchronous learning is conceivable. ELearning may also be used to support

15 4 distance learning through the use of WANs, and may also be considered to be a form of flexible learning. Often, but not always, elearning will also attempt to be a student-centred learning solution. Some view elearning as a means to effective or efficient learning; due to its ease of access and the pace being determined by the learner, but to date little research has reinforced this. (URL [6]) There is no difference between elearning and learning - so why bother with the 'e'? Let's focus on the learning, especially in understanding the learning and the situations that it can happen and what promotes it and how to establish and indeed measure 'deeper' meaningful learning experiences (URL [9], Donert). Even though there should be no difference between elearning and learning, there are definitely differences between elearning and elearning. Nowadays elearning label is hung on about every course material placed on the web. Regrettably it s the case of students browsing through pages of text and then printing it out to be read later on. When planning online studies a reasonable question to ask is: does this qualify as elearning, or is it merely just a way to distribute lecture notes?. It might be more to the point to define what is not online studying or elearning. This is more a case of quality- than concept-analysis. The two most important criteria for evaluating quality in elearning are that it should Function technically without problems across all users and have clearly explicit pedagogical design principles appropriate to learner type, needs and context (Massy 2002). On the practical side, some elearning is about organizing the topics to be taught and creating multimedia CDROMs or web sites. An important advantage is generally seen in the fact that hyperlinking is possible and having interactive parts illustrating difficult things or for doing exercises. (URL [6]) I doubt whether it s wise to even try to define elearning by examples of online studies, where the examples don t include all the features and technology that we want to see in the new generation of online education. One idea to set online studying apart from all the other web sites or so-called Traditional Education is

16 5 to find common unifying factors and benefits that are hoped to be particularly appropriate and illustrating to elearning. I choose to start disentangling this huddle by trying to find the most distinguishing features of Traditional Education versus elearning benefits, which nicely describe the differences and gives us an idea of the ideal situation. Table 1: Traditional Education vs. elearning benefits (URL [2]) Traditional Education One time, one place learning. ELearning Anytime, anywhere learning. Fixed timetable. No fixed timetable. Text based courseware. Interactive Multimedia courseware. Books and content developed in the form of condensed text based notes which are not selfexplanatory, leads to poor retention levels and dissatisfaction among the students. Interactive Multimedia makes learning interesting and engaging. It s intuitive and leads to significantly higher retention level among the students. Self-assessment not easy. Self-assessment made easy. Self-evaluation unreliable especially if understanding of the topics covered unclear. Self-evaluation of the topics covered made easier by providing self-assessment questionnaire. Limited library facilities. Online library facilities Library facility contains a limited number of books. Digital libraries of colleges and universities worldwide. Minimal use of technologies Extensive use of latest technologies Still mostly traditional blackboard-chalk method of imparting education. Apart from intuitive learning material, elearning also enables Synchronous Learning technologies like VSAT to provide live lectures in real-time. Limited interactivity Unlimited interactivity Probable hesitation to interact and ask questions. Questions and queries without any hesitation. Can be made possible in both real-time or through and discussion

17 6 forums. No facility to review a lecture Lectures and material can be reviewed multiple times. Lectures given in a classroom are usually not archived and are lost as soon as the faculty walks out of the classroom. Study material as well as chat sessions can be archived. Lectures and other material can be reviewed as many times as required. Not up-to-date Up-to-date Lecture material as well as books sometimes out of date. Content can be easily updated from one central source. Not empowering Empowering Does not give new qualities or abilities. Increases people s IT skills. There are many opinions of what elearning is, or rather what it should be. Interestingly enough as to content, most opinions have basically the same substance, separated only by the comprehension of the concepts extensiveness. It s mostly due to the additional value that separates elearning from ordinary web material. In its broadest form, elearning encompasses: The provision of information via information or communication technologies in a very accessible and immediate way that can enable individuals to refresh or extend their knowledge and improve their performance The provision of interactive learning materials and packages designed to facilitate skills or wider personal development. At the third level, elearning is multi-dimensional and embraces both the first two levels into a wider performance support framework. This is coupled with processes to administer and monitor learning provision and outcomes, and to provide learners with various forms of support from experts and peers.

18 7 (URL [7], IES) Different types of elearning There are several potential drawbacks to elearning, to be considered as such, regardless of the amount of elearning offered by an institute. Most institutes have web sites containing contact information for consulting purposes of various academic, administrative or technical problems students may be facing. Therefore interaction with institution or access to information isn t any longer an issue. In various types of elearning, students need access to appropriate hardware and software to fully benefit the system and materials, for beyond dispute elearning is technology dependent regardless of the elearning level. Often the nonexistent bandwidth gives a particular problem. There s been debate about how suitable elearning is to skill development that relies on interpersonal contact. However even in these cases elearning can be taken as acquiring communication skills or made use as a pre- or post-course. ELearning is sometimes seen as cold and impersonal while requires high levels of self-discipline and self-motivation, yet elearning is dependent on human support both using software and supporting learning (URL [7], IES). If made correctly, elearning material and environment should give a sense of organisation and community to the learner. Without a doubt learners will require mentoring as well as synchronous and asynchronous contacts between other learners and the tutors. ELearning is said to be a kind of studying where communication technology is adapted to learning purposes in appropriate way. (URL [4], Sivén). Sometimes elearning is seen as organising Traditional Education in a way that it is jointly visible and present and sometimes its been used the old-fashioned way to substitute books, lectures and people (URL [4], Högström). Various purposes have obliged on elearning. A general purpose was to gather and place the sort of material on a web, which needed to be distributed at the

19 8 time. In most of the cases this meant text-intensive, fast loading page that learner will find easy to use. Different types of elearning can be categorized according to the amount of online studying applied. According to Harasim (URL [22]), three new modes of education delivery make online education distinctive. Levels of elearning: Adjunct mode Mixed mode Totally online mode The first level of elearning, Adjunct mode can be seen as the ancestor of the elearning genre. It is mainly optional learning material in addition to so-called Traditional Education. Spontaneous information scrubbing from Internet to enrich teaching also falls into this category. Its main purpose is to use networking to enhance traditional face-to-face education or distance education. The second level of elearning, Mixed mode imparts online studying as a fixed part of education and is used side by side with Traditional Education. It is employing networking as a significant portion of a traditional classroom or distance course. In the third level of elearning, Totally online mode the whole of training takes place online without any arranged contact training. It relies on networking as the primary teaching medium for the entire course or program. Blended learning is one of the catch phrases of the moment. Today most implemented elearning solutions are combinations of online studying and Traditional Education. This has adopted the name Blended Learning which belongs to the second level of elearning, Mixed mode. The term Blended learning, is often understood as the need to support e-learning systems with other forms of learning, such as classroom situations. (URL [12], Saarinen)

20 9 Even if this concept has varying meanings and connotations, it seems to be taking over from the view that elearning systems are separate entities from the rest of the training and education structures. The concept of Blended Learning is bringing pedagogies and the learner into the focus of elearning. (URL [12], Saarinen) 2.2 ELearning Environments For professional development delivered online, as with any learning, it is vital that the medium should not restrict the learning, which is occurring. (URL [11], Millian) To fully perform elearning we need platforms such as Managed Learning Environments (MLEs) or Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs). These revolutionize the way institutions deliver its learning and teaching and how it conducts its administration activities. There are several definitions of VLEs. In a recent statement Verkkotutor declared that VLEs are holistic working environments. These environments are combinations of different influences. Environment itself, learners, teachers, various learning conceptions and working patterns as well as learning material and tools are all part of the framework. VLEs are much more than environments where learning and teaching takes place. (URL [10]) A trend of emphasising on VLEs pedagogical development can be identified. This includes learning resources as well as support systems for groups in risk of exclusion. (URL [12], Workshop, elearning for diverse learners). A learner driven pedagogy rather than a product driven one could be experienced as the real challenge as it may confront equal opportunities and the democratisation of learning environments, be it blended learning approaches or others. (URL [12], Derksen Uwe) It should be pointed out that elearning platforms are not ready Virtual Learning Environments until they are customised and up and running. ELearning

21 10 platforms give a starting point in creating VLEs. These consist of ready-made tools and instruments to manage and make it happen. (URL [25]) Currently there are approximately around 3000 commercial e-learning solutions, ready-touse solutions, tailor made solutions and freeware solutions to be customized. Of these about different elearning platforms are the most common. As a course management system, only a fraction is widely in use. (URL [27]) By the summary of the query carried out by Virtual Polytechnic's development unit, the most widely used and well-known elearning platforms in Finnish polytechnics at the moment are WebCT and R5Generation. These two elearning platforms differ slightly. ELearning platforms should fulfil various kinds of demands. From the technical point of view most contain almost identical substances: , discussion forums, exercises, metadata, collaboration tools, calendar etc. just to mention few (URL [26]) According to the Hypermedia Lab at University of Tampere the solutions differ mostly in the grade of customization possibilities. (URL [26]) WebCT is chosen in many cases due to its affordability but also the fact that it has a large international user base and choices of language versions. According to WebCT s web site (URL [28]) WebCT, Inc. is the world's leading provider of elearning solutions for higher education and is one of the most frequently used platforms as a course management system in universities and other institutes of higher education throughout the world. R5 Generation platform has numerous features, it is easy to use, has a clear structure and it can be highly customized. R5 Generation also looks nice. There are quite a wide variety of solutions currently in use in the Finnish educational institutes. The most common solution seems to be WebCT but it rarely is the only solution. However, the trend currently seems to be to experiment and test different solutions to find the most suitable one. Also, the trend of developing a solution within an institution in order to customize it to the planned use is arising. (URL [27])

22 11 In both WebCT and R5 Generation platforms, technical requirements for the end-user don t much differ from each other. Browser tune-up and the use of validated and compatible browsers are necessary to make sure of the best possible experience. Also adjustments to optimize browser and some plug-in downloading may be required. One key issue in elearning is communication between participants, for which there are two basic types of technological solutions used in elearning platforms. Methods of communication and teaching: Asynchronous Synchronous These two methods are understood and divided in both communication and teaching. In the asynchronous approach, the interaction between parties does not require to be engaged at the same point in time. Examples of technologies for asynchronous communications are Video and conventional www-based CBTs like hypertext publication, , mailing lists, newsgroups, bulletin boards and file download. In synchronous approach the interaction between participants requires simultaneous engagement of the participants. Examples of technologies for synchronous communications are: chat, whiteboard, audio video streaming, videoconference and other IDLNs. By combining these functionalities we get hybrids where part of it is Synchronous and the other part is Asynchronous (URL [8], Raninen). These exist in elearning platforms, such as WebCT, R5 Generation, Lotus Learning Space, Blackboard, Centra, etc and incorporate both models and corresponding services in different ways. (URL [24])

23 12 Developing VLE content often a design approach is implemented which involves creating or re-using learning objects. These are self-contained units properly tagged with keywords, or other metadata, and preferably stored in an XML file format. These are put in a database and creating a course requires putting together a sequence of learning objects. Most often HTML is used to bind together the different elearning media. Sometimes XML based files are created which are then rendered to HTML/CSS/JavaScript by using an XSLT transformation. However, proprietary techniques are used like Macromedia Director, an authoring tool that contains Object-BASIC like scripting language called Lingo. A standard for representing e-learning content in VLEs is SCORM that stands for Sharable Content Object Reference Model. This standard defines web-based elearning. It defines how the individual instruction elements are combined on a technical level and sets conditions for the software needed for using the content. The standard uses XML and it is based on the results of the work done by AICC, IMS, IEEE and ARIADNE (URL [6]). 2.3 ELearning Evolution The increasing importance of distance learning has been a boosting element for the emergence of Internet based education services. Emergence imposes new challenges and management of the dynamics of activities is a key factor for the success of Internet based educations continuance. (URL [23]) ELearning concept has been since Internets prevalence but the actual thing existed long before that. Ever since there were facsimile, bulletin boards, audio conference or electronic mail, there was a form of elearning going on. (URL [4], Vänskä) Even though Online Studying has existed in its simplest forms for a while, the field of online education is new. In fact it s so new that most organizations struggle with where to begin building their learning technology infrastructure. Also the companies involved are still struggling to determine what kind of online studying would work and how should it be developed in various VLEs.

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