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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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The training programme

There were five aspects to the programme, and each area is here outlined broadly.

Learning theory provides an appropriate theoretical basis for teaching and learning in online environments, and so, in the first workshop, learning theories were explored in some depth to guide the pedagogy in the online environment WebCT. Lecturers attending were afforded the opportunity to differentiate between the main orientations of learning and associated learning theories of Behaviourism, Cognitivism, Humanism and Constructivism, and how each can be applied to the complex world of education. The all-important concept of motivation of students is explored, with practical solutions being offered in a variety of subject disciplines. Learning-style theory was also examined as part of this first workshop, as an understanding of how the individual learns is essential in order to present content online and design activities in a way that enhances the online learning experience of the student. Those attending during the workshop tested their own learning style, discovered what it meant for them, and subsequently examined the types of activities that suit each style in turn.

Using the knowledge of learning theory and different styles of cognitive engagement as a foundation, a second workshop looked at how best to design online learning materials and activities which promote active, meaningful learning. The lecturers ascertained how to plan an online course using a relevant model of instructional design. Linked to this was an evaluation of good and bad approaches to interface design, and the choosing of appropriate learning and teaching strategies to meet the educational needs of online students. Also considered was the discovery of the impact of the practical considerations of plagiarism, copyright and accessibility upon an online course design strategy.

The third workshop was designed to recognise that there are a variety of online communication strategies, and inherent in all is the importance of developing a sense of community and supporting student group work online. In more detail, there was an appraisal of the changing roles of the online student and tutor, and an evaluation of a range of online collaborative activities and resources for specific subject disciplines. The lecturers had the chance to practise using the synchronous chat facility in WebCT through an online role play and discussion of computer mediated conferencing (CMC), as well as using the asynchronous discussion board facility in WebCT through managing a problem situation via online collaboration.

The final workshop was in two parts: firstly, it explored different strategies which can be used in online assessment, coupled with the importance of the role of formative feedback; secondly, it was a summation of topics covered in the previous sessions, reflecting both upon workshop content and also practical case-study experience in order to evaluate the relative effectiveness of different online materials and courses. Assessment is usually intended to provide both instructors and learners with information on progress and to measure achievement of learning goals. It is also always a popular area for academics to discuss and debate, and by the end of this workshop the participants were aware of how to select an appropriate method of assessing specific learning outcomes in their own discipline, design an objective question in their subject discipline and use the assessment features of WebCT to see how online assessment can effectively manage multiple choice quizzes, as well as other types of questions. In addition, they had the chance to review a variety of other methods of using technology to support the assessment practices in third-level learning and teaching, including e-portfolios and e-projects, online role play and online reflective journals and logs.


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