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Towards the promotion of effective e-learning practice for academic-staff development in DIT

Author - Roisin Donnelly and Frances O' Brien


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Despite the many challenges facing educators today, as well as the array of teaching paradigms on offer, the principal goals of higher education will always remain the same: higher education plays a central role in the development of human beings and modern societies alike, as it enhances social, cultural and economic development, active citizenship and ethical values (HEA, 2003).

Globalisation of higher education, increased initiatives aiming at internationalisation, the activities of ‘so-called’ new providers and various forms of ‘borderless’ higher education, challenge the higher-education community worldwide and call for new and imaginative strategies. To successfully fulfil their educational, research, and informational functions in the twenty-first century, higher education institutions need to be able to respond effectively to changing education and training needs, to adapt to a rapidly shifting higher education landscape, and to adopt more flexible modes of organisation and operation (World Bank et al., 2000). Europe, which enjoys one of the highest levels of education and has the necessary investment capacity, still lags far behind the US in the use of the new information and communication technologies (ICTs).

Given the new technologies available to us, the question now is how best can educators accomplish the goals of higher education (Black, 2001). The continuing interest and emergent delving into e-learning by academic staff in DIT has been directed primarily towards getting to grips with the technology of WebCT. Whether it is to increase student numbers, widen access and meet the demands of lifelong learning, great demands are made on the time of academic staff to keep up-to-date with their training in this area. The cyberspace classroom, however, is quite different from that of the traditional face-to-face classroom, and substantial pedagogical shifts are required for successful online learning.

Over the past number of years, there has been a great dichotomy of opinion as to the value of ICTs to learning, and indeed as to the value of online learning itself. One group declares that online learning can resolve all the problems facing traditional education, while the other insists that ‘courses taught on the net are incapable of living up to the standards of the traditional bricks and mortar classroom’ (Institute for Higher Educational Policy, 2000). Research, however, suggests that students prefer hybrid courses to either online-only or classroom-only courses, as they ‘receive the benefit of face-to-face interaction with faculty and student while at the same time being exposed to web-based learning paradigms’ (Black, 2001) Furthermore, studies have also shown that students who had access to both modes of delivery performed better than either those studying completely online or entirely in the classroom (Karr, 2003).