Thursday, 2 December 2010

VCILT wins prestigious Commonwealth of Learning Excellence Award

Ten years of hard work and sustained effort finally gets worldwide recognition. After being a finalist in the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) Awards by the Qatar Foundation, the VCILT gets recognised by the Commonwealth of Learning for its work in the educational technology field.

The award was conferred upon to the VCILT, University of Mauritius in the PCF6 forum on the 25th November 2010. The VCILT sets an example that the collective is far greater than the individual, by getting recognition at the level of the institution. The VCILT is proud to bring this recognition to the University of Mauritius.

We thank all staff of the University, whether academic or non-academic who have directly or indirectly supported us throughout these years. We also need to thank our students whose continous positive feedback of our work has kept us going and strengthened our belief in what we are doing.
Congratulations to us all once again.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The buzzword is currently Quality Education – what is quality all about?

The concept of quality and the process of assuring that quality is maintained are very important in the educational setting. However, quality is non-referential concept. This means that it depends on the point of reference that we take when we define what we mean by quality in educational processes.  Concepts associated with quality are often confused especially when the term quality assurance is used. Quality assurance is first and foremost, a process. Any process by definition of first principles have input(s) and then produces the output(s). The outcome of the process is therefore important to determine if quality (the objective) has been achieved or not. Therefore quality cannot be directly related to a standardized process and universally applied at the different levels of the educational system. In one scenario, quality can be linked to the number of students successfully passing a final exam and graduating from the University. In another context, quality can be linked to indicators such as external audit reports and the grades being achieved by students. 

While quality measurement through quantifiable variables can be straightforward, quality in the process is much more difficult to measure. For instance, quality of the instruction or teaching is very difficult to measure through quantifiable techniques. As a consequence, we find that feedback forms will be used for students to judge their perceived quality of the instruction, very often by agreeing or disagreeing with one or at most a few statements.  However, experience, field practices and research have shown that most of the time the filling of such questionnaires are mainly done in a rather subjective way by the students. A consequent number of them just fill in to get it ‘done’ or because it has been ‘imposed’ on them. When a student is not allowed to register for the coming semester because he has not completed the feedback forms for the courses he took in the previous semester, then the whole process of quality assurance through feedback is flawed.

In a recent workshop at the University of Mauritius with renowned international education specialists, the emphasis of the Financial Secretary was on quality education. Yet the term quality being mentioned repeatedly without having a clue from the policy makers what they mean by quality in a contextualized situation. For a Financial Secretary, for instance, quality might well be to produce more graduates with less money, while for an educational manager, quality can be reasonably defined as having fewer but more competent graduates with more investment in resources.  Quality and access to education are clearly two complementary elements of the educational landscape but in many situations they can become contradictory. Some people argue that opening access to under-qualified learners will automatically have an impact on the quality. 

The same argument is used when it comes to increasing intake. Again, without the existence of a unified framework to define quality in a contextualized multi-tier setting, quality will always remain a flawed concept and false debate around the educational landscape. Issues of quality in educational processes normally arise in terms of the content, the pedagogical approach used, the delivery of the course as per established rules, the facilities available, the skill of the facilitator and students’ satisfaction and performance. Another factor which is also very important with regards to quality education is the quality of students’ learning itself which gives completely different indications from students’ performances. Quality of students’ learning is often obvious in the competencies they develop rather than the tacit knowledge they acquire and reproduce in examinations.

The Open University of ....... Mauritius

In between the year 2000 to 2005, the concepts of open learning and technology-enhanced learning were on the political agenda of the government. The first such initiative in terms of technology-enhanced learning was the very successful initiative called the Mass Computer Proficiency Project (CPP) that was targeted at making mass training in basic information technology in a bid to sustain the strategic objective of making Mauritius a cyber-island. The initiative was later enhanced, but within the same goal through the Universal IC3 (Internet and Computing Core Certification) in 2005. The pedagogical philosophy behind the CPP and IC3 courses was based on the “learning-by-doing” approach and “learning IT through IT” which meant that contents were made available in digitized form comprising of multimedia and hypermedia elements. At the same time during the 2000-2005 period, the government came up with the idea of an open-learning institute which would be fundamentally absorb the Mauritius College of the Air. The idea later evolved into that of an Open University in 2005 but it never came into operation, until a revamped bill was presented in 2010 in Parliament. A study of the bill reveals that the third public university of Mauritius is essentially a University on its own with more or less the same structure and functioning. The only or major difference is that this university will focus on flexible learning, open learning through distance learning and that this university is supposed to have a ‘thinner’ structure than the other two public universities. The question of distance learning as it regains momentum when the concept of Open University is debated retains the attention. Why do we not call “Open” universities as “Distance” universities instead? Is open learning same as distance learning? Of course not! But many of us will no doubt find an automatic association of open-learning to distance-learning and vice-versa. The other term that is often associated with open learning and distance learning is lifelong learning. While distance learning reflects more to the mode of delivery of content and the delocalized and asynchronous type of interaction between the learner and the teacher, the terms open, lifelong and flexible learning mainly reflect of mode of education. The mode of education is often confused with the mode of delivery of learning content. The mode of delivery of content for open, lifelong and flexible learning can very much be traditional face-to-face classroom-based lectures while the mode of delivery for distance learning can be printed manuals, digitized content on CD/DVD, websites and so on.

Open learning basically puts the emphasis on two major concepts, namely that of access and flexibility. This means that access to education and training is provided to those, who in a traditional setting would not be in a position to afford (financial, professional or social constraints) getting to full-time education or to attend scheduled classes at well-defined specific times. Access is also related to those who lack formal entry requirements on courses but who have years of working experience which can be used as recognition to compensate the lack of formal entry requirements to their desired study field. Open learning also provides the flexibility to those who want to study at their own pace and who only want to get a certain specific knowledge about a specific subject without the hassle of official enrolment and sitting for exams. Over the recent years, open education has taken yet another dimension, that of free education, but mostly in an informal mode of learning. What has emerged as open educational resources, are basically courseware released by known universities like the MIT and Open University of the UK, where anyone can ‘enroll’ without the payment of any fees and follow the courses on their own. 

Open Universities are mainly appropriate where the base market is quite large as such universities become cost-effective by making economies of scale. India, Malaysia, South Africa, the UK and Canada, for instance, have successfully implemented such initiatives. Moreover, the customer base of these universities more precisely the UNISA (South Africa) and IGNOU (India) span internationally. The cost of access to these universities is also quite low compared to other traditional universities. The funding mechanism of these universities need to be also effective, unless they are fully funded through public funds, which in the longer term and difficult economic situations may prove to be less sustainable. Mauritius, on the other hand, with respect to its size, geographical location and economic capability will definitely face much bigger challenges than the other open universities. 

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Quality Assurance and OER in Courseware Development (Part II)

This perspective of viewing quality poses a problem for bringing innovation and creativity in the learning process. Quality is a non-referential concept and quality assurance techniques that are applicable in behaviorist learning environments are not compatible in socio-constructivist ones. The quality framework that can be applied depends on the learning design approach to be adopted. Quality assurance needs to be an ongoing and iterative activity and student feedback on their own learning (problems encountered, things that were easily understood, communication problems and other related issues) contribute towards making them better learners and develop the required competencies.

The issue of quality in OER-based courseware development process relates only to the content development phase on which the author has no particular control. This is where most of the concerns related to quality assurance lies. Traditionally speaking, reliable sources of academic information were only books, and published research (journal articles and conference papers) as well as from the academic’s philosophical perception of things (academic freedom). With the democratisation of access to content and the removal of publishing constraints via the web, reliability of information presented in content has been of great concerns to educational authorities. In this context we wish to highlight a very simple fact that out of ten consecutive searches that were tried on different topics on Wikipedia returned a number of resources which warned on the top about the reliability of the content (information) being presented to the user. Furthermore, most searches done on Google for particular information would most likely return Wikipedia as one of the top 5 sources. 

The fact that OERs came into the limelight more or less with the emergence of Web 2.0 era (contrary to the Learning Objects Concept) contributed to the significance of the concerns regarding QA issues. Therefore academics and instructors using OERs need to have a well-established set of guidelines that would provide a framework for the search and use of freely available content from the Web. De-facto trusted sites like the OpenLearn platform, Connexions and Curriki, just to name a few would greatly help but it is in fact very difficult for an institution to control such activities of their staff. One possibility would be for OERs to form an integral part of the institution’s courseware development policies rather than being used on piece-meal basis by individual academics. 

It is important to note that peer-reviewing has over the years proved useful in research-related quality assurance systems. With the concept of collaborative editing through wiki technologies, the concept of peer-reviewing has been very much the motor for those promoting an approach based of OER development through communities of practice. However, the issue that remains contradictive is the impersonation issue. While there are ways to counter this, sites like Wikipedia and others will definitely encounter difficulties to enforce identity checks for its users. One recent article on the web also mentioned the declining number of people who were involved in ‘watching’ of pages and their content on Wikipedia. 

One possibility to counter the above problem is therefore to completely rethink (re-engineer) the pedagogical approaches used when designing courses using OERs. When courses are fully content-oriented, it is obvious that quality assurance processes will focus mainly on the content being used and presented to the users. However, if the content is not the central focus, but an element in a broader pedagogical scenario, then the whole quality assurance issue takes a different perspective.

The concept of project/activity-based learning that focus on the development of a set of skills and competencies by the student through socio-constructivist models can be useful. Quality assurance will in this case be a process that ensures the learning path of the learner will lead to the desired outcomes. In doing so, using a variety of available contents on the web which are labelled as OER is not a problem as the learners will develop higher order cognitive skills where they can synthesize, argue and discuss on the contents rather than adopting them to be factual information. However, again as was mentioned earlier, this different perspective can be disruptive to the traditional organisational processes of QA.

Quality Assurance and OERs in Courseware Development (Part I)

Open Educational Resources provide instructors with an innovative way to conceptualise courses. The philosophy behind it is that courseware development becomes a distributed and a split 3-phased approach. This means that the development of content can be done by anyone, anywhere and at any point in time, thus becoming the first phase of the process. The instructor involved in the use of OERs has practically no control over this phase but has access to a range of tools than can give him access to content having been developed in that phase. A simple example would be to use a search engine to look for related content or to access OER repositories. 

The other phase would be to build-up the course from the content available manually or through the help of courseware building tools. The third phase would be the delivery and dissemination of the course content in a face-to-face classroom or via an Elearning platform. The instructor might have control on both phase 2 and 3 or on only one of them. This approach being an innovative way in itself, is set however to be a “disruptive process” in well established traditional educational systems. Issues of quality in educational processes normally arises in terms of 

  1. The content
  2. The pedagogical approach used
  3. The delivery of the course as per established rules
  4. Students’ satisfaction and performance
The issue of quality assurance (QA) has increasingly become a priority for Higher Education institutions. As universities compete to attract more students, but also to attract financing through various projects, quality represents one of the main criteria for ensuring a significant share of the educational market (Abdous 2009, p. 281). Guaranteeing quality, however, is not always an easy process, first and foremost because the very concept of "quality" is disputed and many different, contextual definitions are used (Mihai 2009).  
The main barrier to such an innovative way to reconceptualise the educational process in traditional universities are the quality assurance procedures that need to be 'strictly' followed. In a traditional lecture, quality is believed to be maintained if the lecturer spends 3 hours in the classroom irrespective of what he does or not. This is proved by the log book in which he signs. In another context, quality is maintained if students' results follow the normal distribution and if academic/administrative records related to the course are duly kept. Furthermore, quality is considered maintained if feedback forms are given, at the end of the semester, to students who fill in most of the time in a subjective way. 

Friday, 17 September 2010

Activity-Based Learning

the VCILT has been since 2003 an active promoter of the pedagogical concept of activity-based learning where the students is provided with a number of learning scenarios rather than e-book versions of paper-based manuals. As mentioned the real drive at the VCILT to engage in such approaches came from the interactions that the academic staff engaged with high-profile researchers and practitioners like Daniel Schneider of TECFA, Pierre Tchounikine of LIUM and Gilbert Paquette of TELUQ , just to name a few, in the field of educational technology. The VCILT was also very fortunate to have the visit of people from the Center for Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research of the University of Helsinki who are involved in transformative pedagogies and work intensively on activity theory. Consequently, the academics of the VCILT embraced that approach which proposed a clear demarcation from the use of the web as only a new delivery medium for learning materials. It was clear that this concept would bring about a new paradigm in the teaching and learning of the University of Mauritius.

The two educational philosophies that influenced the VCILT's pedagogical approaches mainly came from the activity-theoretical method of conceiving the learning process together with Schneider's definition of project/activity-based learning. In one of the presentations that Daniel Schneider made in Mauritius, he argued that new pedagogies alone including project-based and collaborative learning do not guarantee automatic results. The role of the teacher was therefore still very crucial for meaningful and successful learning to occur. However, the teacher was not the same "know-it-all" version that we are accustomed to but mainly with a redefined role mainly that of a facilitator, orchestrator and manager of the pedagogical scenarios that he elaborates for the students. As orchestrator, the teacher can be seen as the one who is the author of the pedagogical scenarios and learning content. As facilitator, he is the one who is the pivotal point for learner support as he needs to be there to clarify concepts, resolve students' perceived deadlocks, and helping in the fuzzy parts of the learning activity. While the role of the teacher as manager is described by Schneider (2003) as "make sure that such loops are productive, e.g. that the students produce something, that it is task related, that they engage themselves in meta-reflection (look critically at their own work) and that they discuss and share with others", it is also important for the teacher to manage the affective side of the students' engagement in the learning activity.

The first problem which is of pedagogical nature, that can arise in such situations are the possibilities of over-structuring of the scenarios that result in the same 'spoonfeeding' technique that is so much criticized by proponents of socio-constructivism. It is this lack of too much structure in the learning activity steps that creates the fuzzy element to foster original thinking as well as unique and different solutions from the learners. The idea is to have semi-structured learning activities or scenarios to prevent learners to propose stereotyped work that look similar to each other.

Learners should have the freedom to propose their own solutions but in a negotiated way with the teacher. Daniel Schneider also concurs with this by highlighting the need for equilibrium between liberty and guidance (figure 3.1). 

The second issue is more complex, given that the teacher no longer performs one single role, but panoply of roles from orchestrator and facilitator to the management of the learning process. From experience, this can be a really difficult situation for the teacher who is more and more solicited by the students and at any time. The time that a lecturer has to devote with respect to project/activity-based learning also increases drastically with respect to the number of students and/or the number of learning activities to be monitored. It also depends on the number of courses being taught by one academic. While the first implementations of activity-based learning at the VCILT were within the Masters in Computer-Mediated Communications and Pedagogies course, the number of students was less than twenty and it was perfectly manageable for the academic. However, as the number of students started to grow and the VCILT started to diversify its courses, the workload of academics involved in activity-based pedagogies increased to a great extent. At some point, taking into account the constraints, the exigencies of service and other professional commitments, we tend to realize that having recourse to such efficient, innovative and competencies-based pedagogies are not affordable and sustainable by institutions in developing countries with limited resources.

On the other hand, after going through this painstaking process, the results are more than comforting for the practitioners when students are able to demonstrate the competencies they have developed. For instance, some years ago the VCILT offered a module on "Educational Technologies" which was offered as a general elective module. The course had three main learning activities and the outcome that students had to achieve was the production of an educational website. In the first learning activity they had to use concept mapping tool to devise an appropriate structure for their course. The second activity was based on presentation software to model a prototype of the final web based learning environment while the third activity was to actually learn to use a web authoring software to develop a small educational website. While the students came from different fields and with different levels of exposure and skills with respect to computers and information technology, they all (those who submitted their work) managed, in successive cohorts to achieve well above average in the course. The illustrations below (Fig 3.2) are sample of the outcomes of activity-based approaches to learning.

figure 3.2
This leads us to the third important issue related to the implementation of activity-based pedagogies. While teachers need to have the right mindset to be able to keep up with their new roles, students need to also understand their new responsibilities and tasks. In an e-learning environment focused on the development of skills and competencies, students are no longer mere recipients for 'pre-cooked' knowledge. Students need to be equipped with the relevant techniques of methods of inquiries, information search, retrieval and classification as well as application in context-dependent scenarios. Therefore, students need to show a more entrepreneurship culture and independence in the learning process. An entrepreneurship culture would therefore mean more autonomy, development of self-management and self-regulation abilities in terms of commitment, time management and work rate. 

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

e-Learning Insight

“ eLearning ?? What’s the big deal? Just go on, download and install the learning platform, put some contents, enrol your students and there you go!” Well that would be the first reaction of any newly employed IT graduate or the recently recruited academic e-learning enthusiast. With such a recipe at hand, any new e-learning initiative is bound to be a disaster. 

What does it take to have successful eLearning in an institution? What are the day-to-day issues that an academic involved in teaching online has to deal with? To what extent is prior planning important? What are the implications of adopting innovative pedagogies for a transformation of the learning process? Why is online teaching different to self-learning? How is eLearning similar and different to traditional distance education concepts? What are the mistakes that policy makers generally do in trying to get eLearning to kickoff in their institutions, in particular traditional institutions?  

Recently during a visit to the University of the South Pacific, where I met with some academics from the Open University UK, from Scotland and from Jamaica just to name a few, all of us recognized that whether you are in a developed or a developing country did not really matter, the problems and issues related to eLearning are pretty much the same. We just had a one week in Mauritius in the company of our external examiner from Malaysia, and in the context of the research week 2010 of the University of Mauritius, our newly appointed Vice-Chancellor, who apparently has intensive experience in the field highlighted the same issues, which were mainly the findings of the MASSIVE project. But the real debate is not around the issues because everyone knows about them through peer exchanges, their own experiences or from research findings, but very few of us, have found effective and efficient solutions to these. There have only been possible solutions that were put forward and not concrete reports or evidence of any solutions that worked and that can be applied de-facto elsewhere to solve existing concerns.

Monday, 13 September 2010

DE: Facts and Fallacies for the Mauritian Context

The University of Mauritius has a long history of more than 40 years since it was established in 1965. The concept of distance education emerged in the 1990s and the Centre for Distance Learning was established in 1993. The impetus came from the need to adopt a new teaching, and learning approach in certain modules, due to the inadequacy of the conventional method to fulfil the expectations of both “the students and the Faculty members”. In this endeavour, the University of Mauritius was backed financially, and also in terms of expertise (through the Laurentian University, Canada), by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). In 2004 a number of 45-hour learning units were currently offered using print-based distance learning mode at the University of Mauritius via the Centre for Distance Learning (CDL). It has to be noted that at the CDL, "DE" is used to refer to the use of a mixed mode approach, where there is more frequent interaction between the tutor and the student and where the clientele consists mainly of on-campus students. It is only quite recently that the concept has been extended to a number of ‘off-campus’ students.

From DE to e-Learning

In 2001, to catch the eLearning bandwagon, the VCILT was created in bid to modernize the distance education concept by fully utilizing the possibilities offered by IT-enabled networked systems and the Internet. The vision and mission statement of the centre, after nearly 10 years of operation has not changed. But whether it has been able to achieve its mission or at least part of it, is an open question. Whether eLearning can be considered as a successful initiative at the University is also a debatable question. One certainty is that it has surely brought in some non-negligible innovations in the teaching and learning landscape. Inevitably, as any innovative practices, it has brought its share of disruption in the traditional university setting, what I call constructive-disruptive technologies. Well for sure, that’s an oxymoron. As any innovative practice would have to face, the eLearning initiative at the University of Mauritius had to face much more resistance than initially expected and the VCILT has had over the years to fight a battle to justify its existence in a traditional university setting.

Coming back to the vision and mission statement of the VCILT, I shall allow myself to quote it here:

  • Promote innovative teaching and learning practices through the use of distance and flexible learning technologies.
  • Experiment with new educational delivery systems.
  • Establish a partnership with the academic staff to help them meet teaching and learning requirements which attains user satisfaction.
  • Be forward looking and thus supporting a leadership role in the development of telelearning.
  • Be a leading edge, high quality provider of on-line web-based education and telelearning.
  • Provide means to develop an international standing.
  • Help the university become a leading institution.
  • Increase student intake and access to the university.

Fuzzy Issues & Terminologies

As anyone can see, the statements above had all a very close tie with respect to the University’s overall strategic directions. To be frank, even today I cannot figure out why the term telelearning was included in that mission statement. A quick search on Google, telelearning is defined as “education via a computer and telephone connection; also called distance learning; also written tele-education“

One such truth is that nowadays most educational researchers and reflective practitioners would tell you that the teacher has no place in the educational process, but the facilitator has an even more important role than the learner himself! A nice anecdote for this is that provided by the research of a certain Professor Mitra, who I met briefly in the World Innovation Summit for Education in November 2009 in Doha. One of his research titled “can kids teach themselves?” which left the audience in a state which I cannot find the words right now, addressed the fact that students, if provided with the right tool and facilitation will definitely learn and develop competencies much more than is expected from them. His project about leaving a computer in a remote village in India, (where students hardly have access to any modern technology) was simply amazing. When he came back after a few months, the computer was not broken, but the kids had “mastered” using the computer to play games or do any other interesting things on it.

Coming back to the distance education issue, let us take the case of a student who, in the late 1990s, just finished the Higher School Certificate, and enrolls with an institution like the UNISA where the course was offered on distance education through high-quality self learning manuals. A series of assignments were planned for each course, which the student would do and send to the tutor, thousands of miles away. After a few months, the assignment would be returned by post with comments. If the student had trouble understanding something, he/she would either look for someone locally to help or would address a letter to the tutor who lived somewhere in South Africa. The student would then sit back and wait patiently for the response. This is to my view called distance learning or distance education.

With advances in technology and the emergence of the world-wide web, the internet provided for an alternative medium of delivery of course content which was far more rapid and efficient, but only for those who can afford the associated costs. Alternative modes of delivery have always existed in the past. For instance, instead of writing a letter to a tutor, those who could afford it would have made a long-distance call to the person, or simply send a fax at that time or send the mail through rapid services such a FEDEX, DHL and others. With the internet, those who could afford access to a computer would just need to click a button and the message would go. This is basically what telelearning meant in the mission statement of the centre. Unfortunately, telelearning is not and cannot be eLearning if we by the definition quoted above. Either the term was wrongly used, or the one wrote used it had another meaning in mind or it was simply there because the very basic aim was to convert all the printed material that existed already in the Centre for Distance Learning into digital format to be disseminated through the Web.

Regarding the telelearning-distance learning issue, the web can be seen as either a new medium to deliver contents, or a mode of delivery based on improved teacher-learner communication or most interestingly as a new paradigm for teaching and learning. Over the years a number of institutions cropped up, which we usually call in our jargon as “mushroom” institutions (they keep on growing as mushrooms) which represented more and more foreign universities. Students enrolled on courses offered by these foreign universities through those institutions and then attended classes regularly until the end of their courses. Those institutions operate principally as profit making businesses, and having at some point in time been quite involved with them, I found out that the interests of the students were not the priority of their priorities. In a recent workshop organized at the University of Mauritius in the context of a European funded project on distributed education, the VCILT organized in collaboration with the WGDEOL a workshop on capacity-building for ODL practitioners in the SADC countries. In one of the presentations about the state of ODL practice in Mauritius, apart from the ‘ODL’ experiences of the University of Mauritius, the Mauritius College of the Air, the Mauritius Institute of Education but more bizarrely those ‘mushroom’ institutions were portrayed as distance education providers. What I personally noted in those presentations is that most of those institutions through their presenters had an erroneous understanding of the distance education concept, at least from my perspective.

When people talk about distance education in Mauritius, they confuse it either with the number of Mauritians involved in following distance education courses, or the number of Mauritians following courses at institutions who have got franchise agreements to offer courses of other institutions or universities in Mauritius. If were to give it a genuine thought, would a student attending an institution five times a week, sitting in a classroom and listening to the lecture being delivered by some subject matter experts be called a distance education student just because the institution he is attending is offering a franchise course?  Distance education is also very often associated with self-learning. But self-learning does not happen only in distance education contexts. Self-learning is a learning approach that depends on the learning preferences of a particular student. We can say in general terms, that it is a type of ‘learning style’ and nothing more. Self-learning is a concept that highlights the quantum and extent of effort a learner is prepared to put in his or her learning process.

Global Learning – the world is a small village, isn’t it? Then where does the “distance” come from?

In fact, researchers like Shale for instance, in 1991 in his work titled “Towards new conceptualization of distance education” published in the American Journal of Distance Education  argues that the paradox that exists in distance education is that it is a phenomenon that has proved its existence but has not yet been able to define itself. This paradox, according to a number of authors is the result of laying focus on the term “distance” more than the term “education”. Distance education is primarily and above all an educational process. The irony for a country like Mauritius is that while the focus is still on the term distance, Mauritius is so small that it seems a joke to talk about distance education in the 21st century especially with respect to local institutions. In Mauritius for instance, a course manual has never been sent by post to a student. Instead practically all students have made the journey to the University to collect the manual. A much better term to use would be flexible distributed learning and/or lifelong learning in that case as many of the students preferring this modality would be working students aspiring for career progress and who have for instance social, professional and family responsibilities that make it difficult for them to attend classes even beyond regular normal working hours. Distance education is basically characterized by the separation of teacher and learner, usually in both time and space. This separation fosters noncontiguous communication (communication that occurs between the learner and teacher from a distance), which has to be mediated. Mediated communication is an important feature in distance education. On the other hand, this argument is however quite contradictory as it assumes that face-to-face communication in traditional learning environments in not mediated. From a scientific perspective, sound cannot travel without the presence of air (that is a medium). Therefore technically speaking any type of communication needs to have some form of mediation. Nowadays, it is possible to overcome the teacher-student distance problem by a combination of educational methods and interactive technologies. For instance, two-way communication can be mediated by tools like audio and video conferencing as well as computer-supported conferencing. Let us take the concept of video-conferencing for instance. When two persons (or more) are engaged in a video-conference they will most probably be in different locations but their conversations will take place in real-time. Furthermore the comparison of distance education is often made to face-to-face classroom teaching. However, when you have access to technologies such as video-conferencing, you are in fact in a face-to-face conversation with the only difference being that for the other end, you are ‘virtually’ present. If a virtual presence, in real-time is allowing two or more individuals to ‘recreate’ the traditional environment, the ‘distance’ concept as it is defined in the term distance education, no longer holds! Interestingly the question that has to be answered now is that whether a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is a distance education environment especially if it incorporates such advanced mediating instruments like video-conference tools and other advanced interactive facilities for promoting the teacher-learner relationship and communication.

Research Design for Educational Technologists

This is a "crash course" on Research Design, Research Methodology and some practical issues regarding the making of an MSc thesis. Target audience are Master Students in Educational Technology from various backgrounds.

  • Know about fundamental principles of an academic project 
  • Be familiar with three major classes of research designs: (1) Theory-testing approaches, (2) Qualitative and new theory-creating research, (3) Design-science research. 
  • Be aware of the fundamental elements of a Research Design (1) Definition of a subject, (2) Research Goals and Questions, (3) Literature Review and selection of theoretical and conceptual frameworks, (4) Approach and Methodology: Operational Research Questions, Analysis frameworks and methodological techniques. 
  • Learn basic (or at least the existence) of a few selected research methodologies, e.g. data gathering, sampling, simple quantitative and qualitative data analysis. 
  • Deliverable: A draft project for your master thesis.
Full Course

Thursday, 9 September 2010

OERs - "how to use" guides

A link to the discoverED initiative that aims to be a sort of search engine for Open Educational Resources

A GREAT site on how to use web 2.0 technology for education

The Educause '7 things you should know about...' series is a good introduction to many new technologies:

A site devoted to teaching about how to use Creative Commons materials in education Also see for a guide on how to license your own work under Creative Commons.
A good site on how to use various tools for education, explained in simple English

Good site to learn how to use Digital Images in your educational work

Some useful links on best practice in online education provided at

New toolkit from JISC on the issues of intellectual property rights and the internet at

Free OER Applications

A large list of FREE software applications that can be downloaded to memory stick from JISC Scotland - specifically customised for educational use -

An interesting link to collaborative drawings online

A great wee programme to take your photographs and create thumbnails (that take up MUCH less memory space) for using as icons and so on, to illustrate your online work. Download free software and install from

This is a useful site to compare wikis

A handy tool for downloading YouTube videos etc is at

A nice wee freeware application to send voice snippets by email - download at

GIMP - Open Source application for manipulating digital graphics and photographs downloadable at
A useful tool for capturing images on screen is at

Dspace - open source repository software for sharing resources at

Fedora - commons repository software for maintaining and linking resources at

Open Archives Initiative - standards for web content interoperability -

Jorum - tool for the deposit and use of OER for UK Higher and Further Education at

A fun tool for designing your own (educational) cartoons for teaching and learning is at

Interesting Literature on Open Educational Resources (OERs)

A link to a great resource on OER for education is the Open Education Resources Handbook for educators at

An interesting report on the impact of web 2.0 innovations on Education and Training in Europe is at (a pdf to download)

A good dissertation on how and why learning objects are re-used (or not!)

A good,clear summary of Creative Commons licences is at the JISC publications site at

The African Copyright & Access to Knowledge (ACA2K) Project is probing the relationship in African countries between national copyright environments and access to hard-copy and digital learning materials. The project is probing this relationship

An open e-book on 'how to tutor online' with some good tips and resources - more relevant to the general topic of online course design and construction

The OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) - links to more information on OER,3343,en_2649_35845581_35023444_1_1_1_1,00.html
UNESCO Open Training Platform - policy guidelines and lots of other resources from UNESCO at
Opening Up Education (MIT Press) - a wide selection of articles and sample chapters on open education and open processes at
The Instructional Use of Learning Objects (free online book) at

Link to Athabasca University Press (buy books in hard copy or download and print free Especially worth noting is
"The theory and practice of online learning" at

Giving knowledge for free: The emergence of Open Educational Resources OECD Publication, ISBN 978-92-64-03174-6 available for purchase from