THE CHALLENGE OF TUTORING AUTONOMOUS AND COLLABORATIVE LEARNING IN VIRTUAL UNIVERSITIES
One of the clearest advantages of virtual universities is that the student is typically allowed to organize his progress with maximum freedom. This freedom is very important for those students that have previous duties as, for example, working students. In this sense, virtual universities are of special relevance for life-long learning. On the other hand, collaborative learning is one of the most powerful teaching tools to achieve a significant learning. Technically, it is not complicated to promote the collaborative work between students using the resources of Web 2.0., but it requires a careful planning to promote simultaneously the collaborative and the autonomous learning.
Here we present the results obtained during a two-year experience, in which a science-technical subject (Soil contamination) was given under the "Campus Andaluz Virtual". In this experience, we used mainly the forums together with database and test tools of the MOODLE platform. The main idea was that we wanted to use the PBL (problem-based learning) strategy since we believe that this is a very useful idea to enhance significant learning: The students, working in small groups, have to present a dossier with recommendations of actions that should be accomplished after a soil contamination case. This PBL requires that the students have previously studied the 11 topics into which the subject is divided. The teaching team provides a short dossier about each topic.
We used a serious-game technique in the first part of the semester. The idea is based on the Trivial Pursuit board game: Each one of the about 75 students enrolled have to provide two questions for each topic, with alternative answers and indication of the correct one, using the database tool. Simultaneously, the forum is opened for the discussion of these questions and answers: if a question (or answer) is not clear, is only asking rote learning, or is too similar to a previous question, any student can indicate it to the author of that question. After the discussion of the pertinence of the question, the teaching team makes a decision about maintaining it or not in the database. All the questions that pass this filter are used for the final-test that the students should take. The forum can also be used to ask any question about the topic, or answer questions of other students (and take benefit of the rather multidisciplinary group).
The work presents the analysis of the results obtained during the two-year experience, together with the changes introduced to solve the main problems detected, and the consequences of those changes. A change in the time schedule was introduced in the second year to increase the PBL process. A stage before the soil contamination case study was introduced, in which the students were asked to constitute a company and write the company rules, including the conditions to fire a coworker. These increased the participation in about with respect to the previous year.