ORGANIZATION AND MANAGEMENT OF ONLINE LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS
Instituto Piaget created «Piaget Online», an organic educational and training unit which laid down the guidelines to push forward, during the 2009/2010 school year, online curriculum units using the right kind of teaching-learning methodologies either for semi-presential or non-presential regimes. This process occurs not only from a strategy within the Institute, but also from the need to adequate its academicals practice to the declarations in the Bologna process and to the challenges proposed for Higher Education Institutions towards the 21st Century. In so doing, Instituto Piaget was also reinforcing the ideas presented in the “Reforming Distance Learning Higher Education in Portugal” report (2009). The whole process began with the joining together of the curricular units in order to form the core curriculum, understood as a set of units common to all the courses which concur to the holistic training of the individual, whichever his or hers major subject matter may be. These so-called matrix units, present in every graduate degree offered by Instituto, are cultural, social and ethical training components of a wider humanistic philosophy, which the institution calls its own. Both the common characteristics of those curriculum units and the need for a national integration of the various existing curriculum schedules allowed for the innovative experience of building students virtual classes with members studying different courses and living in different geographical areas.
This paper will give an actual account of this experience by presenting the preliminary reflections on the matrix units implementation based on the following structure:
(1) design of the educational environment
(2) development and implementation of the online curricular units
It will also be presented preliminary statistical data that compare the final results of the online curricular units with previous years in which the adopted regime was, in most cases, 100 % face-to-face. In addition to this data, we draw on other sources, such as surveys and questionnaires answered by students and teachers and also semi-structured interviews answered by teachers. The analysis of the data that was available at the time suggested that the importance of the participation of the students on the online regime methodology was the key for slightly higher grades on average, although there were also a higher number of student failures. We also found other indicators – as far as the effectiveness of the pedagogical process is concerned – which lead us to reflect on various issues, such as: the best way of structuring and sequencing the learning activities (top-down or bottom-up); the advisable number of face-to-face sessions and the need for integrating face-to-face classes with non-presential ones. We believe that such a need for this kind of integration comes either from the will to create environments, which may promote a better and more effective education or from the economic factors at stake, a mounting source of pressure within the higher education institutions nowadays.