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Cooking online - Investigating the effectiveness of providing on-line support material to students on a professional cookery apprenticeship course

Author - Nuala Harding

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‘If we approach technology with a firm commitment to an epistemological ideal, we will then be able to create new educational environments based soundly on educational principles’. (Bonk and King, 1998)

I agree with Bonk, and with this in mind I adopted the five-stage model for the design of online course materials described by Gilly Salmon (2000). The stages are:

- Access and motivation
- Socialisation
- Information exchange
- Knowledge construction
- Development

The online course materials have to allow students to access information and to communicate with fellow students on a course that is easy to navigate. It is envisaged that students will also have an opportunity to complete induction examinations or other self-tests with rapid feedback about the syllabi. The tutor will have the ability to provide support and be able to communicate with the students as a group outside of the normal day for attendance in college. There will be a ‘help’ section available to facilitate students who have difficulty using the site. The course will be designed to allow students engage in peer collaboration and build on the knowledge and experience gained in face-to-face sessions in college. Crook suggests ‘the main cognitive benefits of peer collaboration to be articulation, conflict and construction’ The electronic conference will provide a space for students to discuss issues and exchange ideas about their practice. According to Reeves ‘collaborative learning is one area in which the use of C & IT (Computer & Information Technology) excels’ (Steeples and Jones 2002).


It is intended that online materials will be made available using Moodle, which is expected to be the platform of choice for the Athlone Institute of Technology. Course materials will be designed based on the syllabus of the apprenticeship programme. Students will receive training in how to use Moodle during the first four-week block in college.

According to Laurillard (1993) students ‘need to be oriented towards the ideas or skills they are about to encounter. This is equally true for media-based materials, whether they are part of a distance learning course, or supplementary to face to face teaching’. Salmon (2000) also emphasises the need for online participant induction. She maintains ‘it is easy to make wrong assumptions about learners’ levels of online competence and early CMC (computer mediated communication) behaviours and needs’, and she concludes ‘that the benefits of effective online induction and preparation are immense’. It is therefore intended that those students requiring extra tuition in information technology will be in a position to access this also during their initial induction period. To ascertain the effectiveness of the online induction and to ensure that all students are equally proficient in the use of the technology it is expected that Moodle induction will be assessed and extra training provided if required.

Pilot Study

'Designers learn more from watching a small group of students trying to learn from their materials than they ever do from questionnaire studies’. This stage of piloting the course materials will, according to Laurillard, allow designers ‘ to discover, through observation and interviewing, for example, the contextual conditions that enable the courseware to work more effectively’. It is envisaged that the course will be piloted and evaluated at first by using a small control group of six to ten students within the institute, as opposed to distance learning. Any adaptations to the design of the support materials will be made based on these in-house observations. The course will then be made available as a pilot study to a control group within the first year cohort of apprenticeship students. All participants will be required to have access to a computer and the internet. This group will be tracked using the Moodle facility for the full academic year and will provide feedback with regard to the course design along with other criteria. A comparative assessment will be made between the pilot group and the students who did not have access to the Moodle.

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