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What is E-learning? “E-learning” is a broader term used to represent the electronic or technological way through which education is delivered. It may encompass all aspects of machine-based learning and technology-enhanced education, such as online learning, web-based learning, computer-aided learning, and electronic books and course materials. In addition, those more conventional methods of at-distance education delivery can also be included in the category of E-learning, such as videoconferencing, videotape, TV, CD-ROM/DVD, and even satellite broadcast, etc.

In contrast to traditional face-to-face classroom or laboratory lecturing, E-learning generally explores the advantages of computers, communications and information technology (CCIT) and harnesses them in knowledge dissemination and education delivery. Many other terms have been used or are in use for “E-learning” e. g. E-education (Landoni and Diaz, 2003), Web-based training or WBT (Minotti and Diaz, 2003), computer aided learning or CAL (Davies and Crowther 1995). CTI (Computers in Teaching Initiative) is also commonly used (e. g.

Miller, 1999) after the HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) initiative launched in 1989, this was superseded in 2000 by the Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN). As pointed out by Jackson (2002), E-learning can be subdivided into two categories: technology-enhanced learning and technology-delivered learning. The former supplements traditional face-to-face classes and the learner has frequent opportunities to meet face-to-face with the instructor. On the contrary, in the later learning style, the learner is never in physical proximity to the instructor.

However, to maximise the benefits of E-learning, it is highly likely that combinations of various delivery methods and E-learning tools may be incorporated into conventional lecturing, in order to meet the different learning styles and tastes of a large group of students. Universities such as the Open University with 200 000 students, define E-learning as “making intelligent use of media such as computer conferencing, email, CD-Roms, DVDs and the internet” (E-Learning and the OU factsheet, 2003). While using these tools they do not aim to become an “on-line” university.

Similarly we plan to implement e-learning initially as a supplement to lectures rather than introduce courses that are fully on line. Although E-learning is currently boosted by the technological revolution brought by the advancement of CCIT, the concepts of machine-based learning or technology-enhanced teaching are not new. For example, it is interesting to note that the teaching machines described by Skinner (1961) can be regarded as one of the earliest E-learning tools developed shortly after the computer was invented.

This teaching machine used computers to deliver textbook material, and used testing to reinforce learning. As developments in computer technology have occurred they are applied to the field of E-learning, since education is such an important sector for the development of our society. Why is E-learning needed? Higher education, like other sectors of society, is undergoing a technological revolution brought about by the rapid advancement of CCIT.

Today’s students enter university with considerable experience of computer literacy, and they expect more access to the knowledge resources in the Internet and World Wide Web (WWW). When they graduate, they join a workforce which requires 90% of them to have skills in CCIT. Therefore, E-learning is becoming an important component of today’s teaching and learning in higher education (Beetham & Bishop, 1999). Recent years have seen increasing numbers of students joining university, with a significant proportion of international (overseas) students.

Teaching large groups (e. g. classes with 300-400 students are not unusual in the School of Computer Science and Information Technology at the University of Nottingham) presents many challenges to the lecturer, such as individual communication, coursework assessment, and various learning styles. On the other hand, student diversity is another important factor affecting the overall academic standards. It is usually difficult to provide a lecture to meet the learning style of every student. Instead, a more flexible learning nvironment which promotes student-centred learning is required to enhance conventional lecturing and learning. This is exactly what E-learning can provide to help the lecturer (Dewhurst et al. , 2000). With the availability of commercial E-learning tools (including hardware and software), the implementation of E-learning into lecturing is not a hard task. The instructor may not need any special training in order to use those E-learning tools. In addition, the time required to design and organise all course materials and to transfer knowledge into the electronic media can be significantly reduced.

Therefore, it is not surprising that it is expected that all courses need to have certain aspects of E-learning in the future. In fact, a survey conducted by Wilson (2003) indicates that all course instructors in Business, Engineering, Geography, Languages, Law, Medicine, and Science would use E-learning tools or consider recommending electronic material to students for further studying. The above discussion has illustrated some advantages of E-learning. Here it seems impossible to enumerate every aspect of benefits that E-learning can bring to the higher education.

For further information, these references listed in the bibliography can be consulted. Here it is worth pointing out the driving forces for E-learning from the government or other policy-making committees. In particular, the Dearing Committee (1997) conducted a review of higher education in the UK and recommended that there should be national coordinated development and promotion of computer-based learning materials, and that institutions should harness and maximise the benefits of communications and information technology (Wilson, 2003).

Similarly, the US Department of Education released the US’ first educational technology plan and proposed a national strategy for technology in education in 1996 (USDE, 1996). One of the goals of the strategy is to transform teaching and learning by digital contents and networked applications. How to implement E-learning? The field of E-learning is evolving rapidly worldwide. A simple search for E-learning conducted at www. google. com can result in more than two million links, some of which are the suppliers of E-learning products. Therefore, it is difficult to describe in details all these E-learning tools.

A good summary of E-learning options can be found in Jackson (2002). In general, a simple method of E-learning is to put course materials in the personal web site of the instructor. However, this requires considerable effort to design the web site. If any further course management is needed, the limitation of this method is obvious. Again, some training of web programming needs to be provided for the instructor. Besides, school or university-wide intranets are another option to implement E-learning, which has the same disadvantages as the personal web site.

Design and usability are important aspects to consider (Landoni and Diaz, 2003, Minotti and Giguere, 2003). Commercial E-learning tools provide ready to use tools with no training required other than use of on line manuals and occassional central support. This contrasts with personal Web pages, which require html programming skills or programming support. Currently at the University of Nottingham, the Department of Information Services supports two commercial E-learning tools: BlackBoard© and WebCT©. In fact, BlackBoard is to be integrated in the University Portal.

Due to the fact that BlackBoard is an integrated online learning environment and provides much flexibility and intuitiveness, it is becoming more favoured by some instructors. How to evaluate E-learning? Although E-learning is supported and encouraged at the University of Nottingham, it is important to place it in context of the overall aims of the module and deliver appropriate material. Davies and Crowther (1995) address some “myths” of E-learning, including that  the use of multimedia courseware: •    increases efficiency •    increases students’ motivation •    facilitates active learning     facilitates experiential learning •    facilitates student centred learning. It is important to keep expectations of the technology realistic and introduce it gradually while obtaining student feedback. Some learning experiences e. g. laboratory and field work, may neve successfully delivered by computer while others e. g. lecture material, are more readily delivered in electronic form. Davison et al (1999) address teaching software in the context of different learning styles. There exists a tendency for teachers to teach and assess in a way that suits their own learning style and this may not suit some students.

This should be taken into account in developing E-learning support materials which may be liked by the teacher and some students but actively disliked by others. Oliver and Conole (1998) survey means of evaluating communication and information technologies (C&IT). Tools available include evaluating on line usage, and use of questionnaires. We propose to use both these methods to evaluate the use of Blackboard, introduced to cohorts of students who had for the most part not been previously exposed to it. This implementation was carried out during Spring semester 2003 at the University of Nottingham.

We also propose to include benchmarking of practical Blackboard usage, in particular by discussing and comparing usage among 4 lecturers in 3 different departments. References: * Beetham, H and Bishop, P (1999). Using C&IT for learning and teaching. CTI Primers, Version 1. 1. 0. 1, pp. 3. * Blackboard Web site www. blackboard. com * Davison, L. , Bryan, T. and Griffiths, R. (1999) Reflecting Students Learning Styles. Active Learning 10, Institute of Learning and Teaching * Davies, M. L. and Crowther, D. E. A. (1995).

The benefits of using multimedia in higher education:myths and realities. Active Learning 3, Institute of Learning and Teaching * Dearing (1997) Higher Education in the Learning Society, Report of the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education (Dearing Report) NCIHE. www. leeds. ac. uk/educol/ncihe accessed 5/9/03 * Dewhurst, DG, Macleod, HA and Norris, TAM (2000), Independent student learning aided by computers: an acceptable alternative to lectures. Computers and Education, 35(3), 5-17. * E-Learning and the OU factsheet http://www3. open. ac. k/media/factsheets/ accessed 5/9//03 * Higher Education Funding Council for England http://www. hefce. ac. uk/ * Jackson, RH (2002). Web Learning Resources. http://www. knowledgeability. biz/weblearning/ * Landoni, M. and Diaz, P. (2003)  E-education:Design and Evaluation for Teaching and Learning. Journal of Digital Information, 3(4) 1-3 * Learning and Teaching Support Network http://www. ltsn. ac. uk/ * Miller, P. (1999). The CTI and learning technology in the past decade: the “Director’s cut”. Active Learning 11, Institute of Learning and Teaching * Minotti, J. nd Giguere, P. (2003)  The Realities of Web-Based Training. Technological Horizons in Education, 30(11) * Oliver, M. and Conole, G. (1998)  Evaluating Communication and Information Technologies: A Toolkit for Practitioners. Active Learning 8, Institute of Learning and Teaching * Skinner, BF (1961). Teaching Machines. American Scientists, Vol. , No. , 91-102. * Wilson, R (2003). E-education in the UK. Journal of Digital Information, Vol. 3, No. 4, 1-7. * USDE – US Department of Education (1996). E-learning. http://www. ed. gov/technology/elearning/. Back to Home Page

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