Teaching For Flexible Learning: Practices & Perspectives TeachingOnline.Net

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Teaching For Flexible Learning: Practices & Perspectives

Today, there are built-up pressures of income and expenditure, equity U and social justice, deregulation, improved productivity, quality assurance and global competitiveness on every kind of organization whether it is service oriented or production oriented. All universities are facing challenges with regard to these pressures and to survive in the competitive climate of today. Due to all these pressures, the universities are required to find out ways to design and deliver more effective and need  based  undergraduate/ postgraduate as well as continuing professional education programmers. Due to privatization and evolution of self-supporting system of education and training, a number of non-government private institutions are coming up exponentially particularly to provide professional/vocational education and training. The challenges before the  providers (whether internal or external ) may be summed u p as below.

  • To design programmers which meet new quality standards?
  • To customize training for the particular client, both in terms of the organization and the individual learner;
  • To enter into partnership to ensure accreditation and articulation towards higher qualifications;
  • To compete in the global market in terms of quality as well as cost­ effectiveness;
  • To employ flexible delivery modes using a range of technologies; To provide/deliver education at the workplace or in the home;

According to Moore ( 1993), higher education is entering in its third generation

  • The first generation which lasted for centuries, was based on bricks and motor technology, and the degree is awarded by the specific university, on completing the specific course on campus by face­ to-face teaching in a stipulated period and passing the specific examination, conducted on scheduled dates and time at scheduled place by the university;
  • The second generation has been only partially place-free and has involved various forms of open learning universities/agencies and using a range of distance delivery unidirectional modes and technologies;
  • In the third generation, with the advancement of communication technologies and with the development of electronic highways, since 1990s, the interactive delivery alike F 2 F would become possible and as a result virtual labs, virtual classrooms and virtual universities came into existence to deliver higher education.

The increasing demand of higher education, with the changing global scenario of job-market, requires a quick, faster and flexible education system. Further, limited number of existing institutions of higher education has arisen question that to meet out education needs of students and teachers do campus have adequate infrastructure? Is there any possibility of an alternative education system to accommodate the growing college is available for aged population and cater their needs or fulfill their demands effectively? The following specific trends, categorized as student’s enrolment trends, faculty trends, academic trends, technology trends and economic trends have also created the pressure to find out an alternative education system.

Student Enrolment Trends

  • In recent years, the increasing inclination towards higher education among college-aged population, growing enrolment, need for life­ long education for adults; the existing facilities of higher education are not enough to accommodate them.
  • More and more learners are requiring flexible education with their full time job and family responsibilities. Education is becoming a commodity and putting students (consumers) i n a position to shop after the best deal, as per their convenience and needs (Johnstone, et.al. 2002 and Pond, 2003).
  • In distance education, the number of both continuing education students (adults) and number of younger on-campus students is growing remarkably. The reasons for this remarkable growth include efforts to expand access to more students, alleviate capacity constraints, capitalize on emerging market opportunities and serve as a catalyst for institutional transformation. Some other factors e.g. growth in continuing education, flexibility in delivery modes, economic changes, changes in job-potential and students’-age group, etc. is contributing significantly i n creased the enrolment of women and disadvantaged
  • With the advancement of communication technology and borderless education now distinctions among traditional in state, out of state, and international student are being eliminated and the corresponding fee structures for respective groups are also breaking down globally.

Faculty Trends

  • Faculty members usually show their reluctance or resistance to start online courses but now slowly after the immense use of world wide web,(www) the attitude of teachers towards web-based technology is changed;
  • In distance education, the faculty members require some specialized ski l l s and strategies such as they must have expertise in communication technologies to meet out the increased demand of interaction with students.

Academic  Trends

  • With the emergence of World Wide Web, education became borderless and also a commodity. It has emerged as competitive market and only quality institutions will survive. This phenomenon could have a drastic impact on higher education. The government policy directives are also that educational institutions should be self­ reliant and work as “For-profit Institutions”. Therefore, private sector is concentrating on those areas of teaching subjects where profits can be made easily and which are more marketable e.g. business programmers, information technology and computer courses. This indicates that in next 20 years, in higher education landscape, the number of tradition campuses will be changed into off-campus/on-line degree granting institutions and many existing independent colleges of traditional courses (arts and social sciences) will be either closed or merged or significantly altered in mission. ‘Then on-profit ‘private institutions of higher education will largely disappear (White 2003). Some institutions are beginning to consider distance learning as a possible solution to this dilemma but the main barrier is the start-up expense, which are typically high for distance education programmes.
  • There is growing demand for academic accountability along with expansion of distance education. There is a very fast proliferation of new information. In past, information was doubled in every 10 years and presently it takes only four years for the same (Aslanian 2001 ). Therefore, accreditation and programmed approval should be based on educational outcomes to meet out the consumer demands successfully.
  • There is a demand and need for certification of competency, knowledge, performance and skills than awarding degree on completion of a course. Therefore, now instead of theoretical knowledge, integrating on the job experience and applied knowledge as a critical component of education needs to be integrated which require lots of additional infrastructure in traditional universities/ colleges.
  • Traditional universities are independent, freestanding and competitive whereas distance-learning institutions have been more cooperative and accommodating with partner institutions. With the paradigm shift now traditional universities are also developing partnerships with other institutions, industries companies, etc. to share technology and to produce and deliver the courses.
  • Instructional approaches are becoming more learner-centered, recursive, nonlinear, self-directed and meaningful from the learners’ perspective. It is not just ‘transmission’ or lecture type approach to teaching. A pedagogical shift is likewise occurring within distance education, moving from the transmission model to constructivist, socio-cultural and meta-cognitive models. These models use computer-mediated communication and emphasize students’ responsibility for their own learning.

Technology  Trends

  • One of the most apparent trends affecting distance education is the advancement of technology as a result technological devices which are becoming more versatile and ubiquitous. Computer, video, audio, duplication and other modalities are merging and becoming available at ever-cheaper prices. Computers are able to translate languages in real-time with the accuracy and speed required for effective communication. Video-conferencing and other technologies have played remarkable role to enrich distance education and provide many benefits of F 2 F instruction. The growth in Internet usage is tremendous in last few years;
  • Internet is becoming dominant among other distance education media. The drastic growth in internet usage in distance education has shifted the focus dramatically toward network based technologies as well as internet-based delivery. One of the important reasons for this growth is, that digital media are quickly transferable, storable and widely accessible (Pond, 2003);

Due to information age, the continuous cycle of retraining and retooling has added the demand of flexible open learning so that to fulfill the job requirements and to catch the promotion avenues, life­ long learning became important. There is a growing demand of short, accelerating, well-suited programmers for on-line delivery and portfolio credentials (Gallagher, 2003);

Technological advancements have naturally caused distance educators to ask how new tech neologies such as wireless, mobile laptop computing, personal digital assistants (PDAs), video­ conferencing, video-training, virtual reality and gaming environments enhanced distributed learning (Crawford, et. al. 2003). However, countries like ours still have limited access to these new technologies, but increasing investments in telecommunications and information systems are improving drastically the access of higher education. Distance education/learning  researches should focus on delivery strategies which can solve the capacity constraints, economic concerns and higher education consumer needs.

The term open in reference of education and training has come to be widely used. In distance learning, use of technologies for flexible delivery is considered as important component of an open learning approach. Along with I 0 State Open Universities, Indira Gandhi National Open University is contributing significantly in expanding higher education qualitatively and quantitatively. It was desired that in Xth Plan period, this open learning system should have covered 30% of the total enrolment in higher education.

The term flexible implies flexibility in both access and choice in learning. For higher education and industry training as well as for all types of professional institutions, this approach facilitates flexible delivery to suit the work patterns and professional needs of adult learners. The interactive technologies, equally empower both the ends-instructor (teacher) and learners.

The Major Dimensions of Flexible Teaching and Learning

  • Flexibility can be provided through a range of teaching-learning strategies including various resource-based options;
  • Flexibility may also be provided in curriculum by providing alternative pathways through mod vulgarization in content, allowing learners to choose to sequence and negotiate assessment;
  • Flexibility in open entry and exit, through modular/credit system.

This new paradigm is based on needs, interests, abilities and convenience of the clients (learners) and the responsibility is also shifted from teacher to learner. Thus, flexible teaching and learning is an idealized state where there is a mixture of educational philosophy, pedagogical strategies, delivery modalities and administrative structures which allows for maximum choice to meet the individual differences in student’s learning needs, styles and circumstances.

Historical Evolution of Distance Education

Delivery Modes

Distance education is not a new concept it has been in existence since last more than 100 years. The medium has changed from pencil and paper correspondence courses conducted by post in the I 920s to a real time Internet web-based/video conferencing courses.

Technology has made a major contribution to the dramatic transformation of distance learning. The use of technology in distance learning is not new. Radio and television have been used effectively for more than fifty years. But allowed only one-way delivery of instruction from teacher to student and teaching is again controlled by the teacher alike conventional mode. Now, the advent of interactive television (ITV) technology made it possible to link learners at multiple locations into a single virtual classroom through voice and video transmissions.

In 1960s, the development of Computer Assisted Instruction/Leaning, (CAI)/ (CAL), focussed on the capability of the learner. A step ahead provides stimuli and feedback to the learners (Settler, 1990). The advent of networking and universal availability of e-mail and the web in the 1990s, enabled the creation of virtual classrooms in cyberspace. The Satellite and Internet has transformed the world into a borderless educational arena, benefitting the previously underserved rural and remote citizens as well as educational entrepreneurs.

Interactive Technologies

The face-to-face human interaction, which is the main bone of education i n conventional system of education, can now be replicated effectively through emerging information and communication technologies by various forms of teleconferencing .

Mutual interaction is one of the significant determinants of meaningful learning and it is worthwhile to note that the new systems/technologies  have varying degrees of interactivity. The satellites, computers, tale-texts, view data, cassettes, cable and videodiscs, all fit to provide ways for individual to step-out from the mass audiences and participate actively to give his/her individual reactions in the process by which information is transmitted. To link people between two or more locations by electronics is called teleconferencing. The five types of tele-conferencing is presently in operation:

(i).   Radio teleconferencing

(ii). Audio graphic teleconferencing

(iii).  Video teleconferencing

(iv).  Business television (BTV) conferencing

 (v).  Computer teleconferencing

The common factors that contribute to tele-conferencing are

  • Use of communication channels
  • Links people at multiple locations
  • Interactive provides two way communication
  • Dynamic requires users active participation

Radio Conferencing

FM radio channel is being used for Audio-Conferencing by 2G Mou in distance education. Interactivity links people from remote location via telephone lines. Radio counseling is being provided for 1 hour from 186 Radio Stations of All India Radio. Toll free Teleconferencing facility is available in 80 cities, enabling the learners to interact freely with experts. It is most cost effective i n delivery education at a distance, however, not as popular for the purpose as for entertainment and information dissemination.

Audio-Graphic Teleconferencing

It uses narrow band telecommunication  channels to transmit visual information such as graphics, alpha numeric’s, documents and video pictures as an adjunct to voice communication. Other terms are desktop computer conferencing and enhanced audio. Devices include electronic tablets/boards, freeze frame video terminals, integrated graphic systems (as part of personal computers), fax, remote access microfilm and slide projectors, optical graphic scanners and voice/data terminals. Audio-graphic teleconferencing can be used for conveying the meetings or learning at a distance.

Video Conferencing

On combining audio and video together gives voice-communication and video images. It can be one-way video/two-way audio, two-way video/two way audio. The advantage is the capability to deliver moving, live images. Two-way audio/video tele-conferences have the potential of face-to-face meeting. Classroom teaching and enable participants to see the facial expressions as well as interact and participate in the learning process from the remote sites. Graphics and other 3-dimensional visuals can also be used to enhance the understanding and receiving potential among recipients (learners). Video may be presented in three forms: (a) freeze frames, (b) compressed frames and (c) full motion video. Interactive television is an extremely capital-intensive technology requiring massive investment usually at the state or system level and has geographical limitations as well.

Video conferencing is an effective mode for a teacher to teach as well as interact, a large number of students located at various sites at a time. It is a very cost-effective for a larger population of students located at far-flung/ rural and remote areas where quality teachers are not available. Thus, through video conferencing, all the students may be served equitably.

Business Television (BTV) Conferencing

BTV is the production and distribution of video programmers by satellites for a closed user group of learners. It often has two way audio interactions simply through a telephone Iine. BTV is becoming an increasingly popular information delivery method. It is being used to deliver information, lectures, training, meetings, updating data and other events that needs Iive-broadcast at multiple locations. Through BTV information can be disseminated to thousands of people at a time. The advent of smaller receiving stations called VSATs have made private communication networks much more economical to operate. BTV has a number of tangible benefits such as immediate delivery, elimination of cassette’s duplication and distribution hassles.

Educational adaptation of BTV can be used by institutions in several ways. An institution with multiple sites can create its own network and deliver information as and when desired. The information can be administrative or can be to train the administrators/faculty/or to transmit the knowledge to the students. The second use of educational adaptation of BTV networks is to deliver the educational credit directly at the work place of learners. Similarly, for institutions involved in literacy training, this opens an alternative route to reach workers who need basic skills, because this is effectively a new outreach programmed. It can also be useful in organising contract and continuing education, training, seminars, etc. for business, industry and agriculture people. Through BTV, side-by-side the deliberations can not only be delivered to the workers/farmers working at their sites (fields/farms) at various pl aces but can also deliver their reactions immediately.

Computer Teleconferencing

It uses telephone lines to connect two or more computers and modems. Any message from computer can be sent over the lines. It can be synchronous or asynchronous. The best example of asynchronous mode is electronic mail (e-mail). Using E-mail – Memos, reports, updates and newsletters can be sent to any one on the Local Area Network (LAN) or world wide web.

Computer Conferencing is an emerging area for interaction/exchange of ideas or messages as well as for distance education. Today institutions are offering credit programmes completely through computer. Students receive texts and workbooks via e-mail. Teachers can upload syllabi, lectures, and assignments. They can also receive the completed assignment from students for evaluation and give the grades and remarks. Students may download these files and compose their assignments and remarks off-line and then upload them to send them back to the teachers. Through computer facility, students and administrators have easy access to one another as well as access to database resources provided through libraries and Internet. Similarly, administrators can access student files, retrieve institutional information and central repositories or communicate their messages/feelings/ reactions to teacher, students and the agencies and vice-versa.

Very little researches have been carried out on communication skills of teaching and learning within IT degree. It is found that role-playing often helps_ students to understand and develop effective communication techniques (Constanzo 1992, Hudson et al  1991). Further Johnson, Sultan & Harris (200 I ) revealed that IT students perceived problem solving, effective learning and anger management as relatively more important skills whereas assertion and disclosure were perceived to be of least importance.

The researcher also observed that teaching methods that students seem to be enjoy most are role-play, discussion and group work. Consistent findings were reported by Constanzo ( 1992) and Hudson et. al. ( 1991).

In brief, the proper use of information requires moving it, so that, it can eventually combine with other information into new patterns, new ideas and ultimately new solutions to problems. Today, however, Internet applications such as e-mail and multi user object-oriented environment (MOOs) are still in use,the world wide web has completely overshadowed them as a platform for the delivery of distance education.

Perspectives of Distance Education Vs Flexible Learning

The World Wide Web ( Presented)

The World Wide Web consists of resources and users on internet utilizing HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol), a set of rules for exchanging files, including text, graphic images, sound, videos and other multimedia but web is unable to offer anything approaching ITVs replication of the face-to­ face communicative environment of the traditional classroom. Despite advances in the handling of streaming media, at present it is still not practical for many learners to be brought together synchronously on the web to create the environment similar to classroom instruction including live audio­ video (as it is found in ITV). It is unidirectional from instructor to learner and ‘canned’ (i.e.pre-packaged rather than composed in response to ongoing student needs) and students as well as instructors must rely on keyboard for two-way communication.

World Wide Web (The Future)

The advancement in web-technology is continuous and within few years, it will be much easier for individual users to send and receive audio and video. Due to universal reach of the web and the need in instructional contexts to archive the materials, it is more likely that teachers and learners would be able to interact asynchronously by e-mailing written video/audio messages to each other or placing them in discussion forums (also known as threaded discussions). It will require a strong initiative and autonomy to each user who sends or records to the forums, teacher support will be afterward rather than ongoing in real time.

On the web, the significance of distance is greatly reduced; learners may study at home, and, if the web-based course is asynchronous; there is no requirement that all students in a course log on at the same time. In fact as long as use of synchronous tools such as live chat (i.e. a message device allowing multiple users to gather in one or more virtual rooms to exchange messages in real time) may be restricted to some part of the syllabus per semester, even if the students are scattered across the globe may be persuaded to take part in the scheduled synchronous activities. Thus, while the web has certain limitations of application, it does offer global accessibility.

Distance Education and Distributed Learning

All education that has been revolutionized by the availability of electronic resources cannot be categorized as distance education. The boundaries between distance education and conventional education are dissolving. Both distance and traditional education systems make use of multiple technologies especially the web for delivering educational resources -is called the distributed learning.

According to Saltzberg and Polyson ( 1995) the distributed learning is an instructional model that allows instructor, students and text (subject matter) to be located in different, non-centralized locations so that instruction and learning may occur at flexible time and place. The distributed learning model can be used in combination with traditional classroom based courses, to create fully virtual classrooms.

Some of the distributed learning models combined with different media that can be used to deliver instructional resources are discussed below:

(i)  Off-line Independent Learning: In this model, after completing an initial sequence of activities of a course on website, the student uses the CD-ROM off-line, then returns to the class (web-site) for follow-up and communicative tasks with classmates and the teacher.

(ii)  Peer Education/Distributed Cognition: Distributed learning focuses on technological alternatives to the traditional classroom. Here, the word ‘distributed’ across multiple sites (e.g. ITV classroom or individual computers) or modes of delivery (e.g. ITV pl us web). Advances on theories of leaning based on social constructivism (Vygotsky, 1978) and distributed cognition (Pea, 1993, 1994; Salomon, 1993), have highlighted the importance of the background knowledge each learner brings to the learning process and the contribution made by him/her in the learning community.The interplay between knowledge held in the mind and knowledge obtained or recorded in the form of notes, drafts, reference resources and records, etc. contributes significantly meaningful learning.

Further Development in Distributed Learning

Distributed learning is becoming a point of convergence between traditional classroom instruction and distance education. As models of distributed learning, it is to be expected that the advantages of both web-based instruction and F 2 F contact may be realized even in distance education situations by distributing the F 2 Portion of instruction among multiple tutors. In such a model a web-based course serves as a central point of contact between students and instructors who are separated by a geographical distance. In the web-based course, some activities are group-based and some are independent, such as of line use of a CD-ROM.

The Future

With the advent of the “Information Age”, distance delivered education has grown exponentially i n a short duration and will continue to grow in the foreseeable future. Teaching performance based subject such as languages, music, painting, dance, etc. yet presents a special challenge for distance education and distance learner. Beginning students cannot learn to speak, listen, read and write a language effectively if delivered solely on-line until on-line learning delivery is not supported by multi-modality interactions. Therefore, distributed learning is likely to evolve creatively, with varying degrees of success.

In the wake of these theoretical advances, instructional practices have moved from teacher-centred to student-cent red model s featuring collaboration, communication, peer-editing, etc. which de-emphasize the teacher as sole bearer of authorities of meaningful content and validate learner’s ability to serve as educational resources for one another.

In brief, many trends in higher education are influencing the future of distance learning e.g. students’ enrolment are growing to surpass the capacity of traditional  infrastructure, learner profiles are changing, and students are shopping for education that meets their needs. On the other hand, traditional faculty roles, motivation and training needs are shifting while workload enhanced, compensation and instructional issues continue to the faculty from participation in distance education. The institutional and organizational structure of higher education is changing to emphasize academic accountability, competency outcomes, outsourcing content, standardizing and adaptation to learner-consumer demands. The internet and other information technology devices are becoming more ubiquitous while technological fluency is becoming a common expectation .Funding challenges are increasing and it is expected that with fewer resources, the increasing life-long learning demands would to be fulfilled.

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