INNOVATIVE USES OF VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS AND APPLICATION TO STUDENT CENTRED LEARNING
S. O' Sullivan
Educare Consulting IRELAND and Cork Institute of Technology, Cork (IRELAND)
Higher education has evolved and is further evolving from the more traditional factory model of processes and outputs (graduates) to outcomes and significant learning experiences. The challenge for us as third level educators is that we need to provide educational programs that result in different and significant learning experiences. The traditional transmission model has paved the way for an increasingly more student centred approach where students have become more autonomous in their learning; where participation and involvement is paramount and the role of the teacher shifts from being in charge of learning to the role of facilitator. An important factor to consider in the development of virtual learning environments (VLEs) is its application to pedagogical theory. While there is a danger and tendency of many to use technology as a transmission model i.e. just using it as a means of delivering lectures online, the challenge lies as to how to use the VLE to encourage more active and deeper learning and to provide a resource for shared experience.
This paper details the effectiveness of Blackboard used in addition to face to face teaching in the professional development of secondary school Science teachers. With the advent of Bebo, Facebook and other chat rooms which second and third level students frequently access, this tool was developed to accompany the biology component of a Masters in Science Education (Biology) postgraduate course to give second level teachers an insight into how VLEs can be used constructively to improve their teaching. For all the teachers involved, this was their first experience of a VLE. The development of the site is documented and its growth is measured in terms of its extended use over a 2 year period.
Initially used as a means of communication between the lecturer and students in terms of alerting the class of upcoming lectures and laboratory assignments, the VLE was further developed to include a large resource element. Resources shared among the group included PowerPoint presentations of syllabus topics, posters, web links and background reading. Photographs taken during laboratory work were stored in an image file which was subsequently stored as a resource for laboratory report writing.
The purpose of the site was to try to develop the students’ meta-awareness of their own learning and to encourage peer-learning. Education is a social practice involving interaction of teachers and students. As the course involved just a 3 hour session once a week, Blackboard was of enormous benefit in keeping the momentum of the course moving and in extending student student interaction and learning outside of the classroom. This blended learning strategy of face to face teaching and technology use is assessed and evaluated.