Peculiarities SocioSite Subject Areas Society Search About us Contact

Structuring the
Learning Experience

Empirical Results

Author:
Connie Menting

Description of the Training

Description of the Training

The training under investigation is called Telematics Applications in Education and Training (TAET) and is offered by the Faculty of Educational Science and Technology, University of Twente. It is a 1-year course leading to a MSc degree as 'educational telelearning designer'. The training started in November 1999. The course is new, and experimental in the sense that it is the first training that has been offered completely online. The training was intended for unemployed post-academics and unemployed post-higher education students and was subsidised by the European Social Fund so that no tuition fees were required.

The background of the students varied greatly. A requirement was that applicants had an educational background, either as a teacher or as an 'organiser' of educational or training activities. The students were also expected to have a good knowledge of the English language and to possess the required computer skills. These skills were not tested before the training started. The actual group started with 16 students: 6 male and 10 female. 3 of the students had a different mother-tongue than the Dutch one. Students were expected to work 40 hours a week on the different courses. The students and teachers only met at an introductory meeting, at the end of each set of core courses, and for the introduction of some optional courses.

The core courses consisted of the following subjects:

  1. CC1 = Telematics Applications for Education and Training
  2. CC2 = Learning and Instruction Supported by Telematics
  3. CC3 = Design, Development and Evaluation of Tele-learning Systems
  4. CC4 = Policy, Strategy and Management of Telematics Applications in Educational and Training Organisations
  5. CC5 = Implementation of Telematics Applications in Education and Training
  6. CC6 = Student Assessment & Programme Evaluation in a Tele-learning Environment

Each subject required 20 hours of studying per week and took 6 weeks to complete. Two subjects were taken at the same time. Of these two subjects one was more theoretically and the other more practically oriented. The final assignment of each subject consisted of taking an exam, developing a website or writing a thesis. After the core phase followed a phase of 9 optional subjects, out of which 4 had to be chosen, with a 'workload' of 120 hours each. It was also possible to write a literature study instead of one optional subject. The final phase of the training consisted of an apprenticeship in an educational or training institution and resulted in a final project/thesis.

During the course 3 students dropped out. At this stage of the training it is not known how many students will complete the training within the set time. Apparently the programme management realised at a certain moment that it would be impossible or very difficult for some students to finish their final project on time, so in September 2000 they informed us that we were granted an extension of one month.

At the end of the course students were expected to be able to:

  1. start a career as educational designer with telelearning as field of application.
  2. support a school or training organisation in strategic and operational policy development before and during the introduction of telelearning.
  3. manage and support teachers/trainers/instructors in the implementation process of telelearning in the organisation.
  4. communicate effectively with experts in the field of ICT, network technologies, and educational software.

A TAET-graduate has the professional capacity to transform traditional educational services into new telelearning environments and is well-equipped to guide educational and training organisations on their road to computer-mediated learning practices.

Index
Students in Pieces

First we will see what the students of TAET have to say about their expectations of the training, their study experiences and joys, their worries and dreams. How did they respond to the questionnaire? 11 out of 15 students responded to the questionnaire. I excluded myself from answering the questions. My personal view on the training can be found in the appendix 'A Personal View'. From the 4 students who did not respond 3 had stopped studying and 1 did not react to several requests from my part [see also section Questionnaires and Response]. Besides using the information from the questionnaires I also made use of several Question & Answer pages and Discussion pages in TeleTOP and personal email.

Previous work experience and basic skills

All students are adults with quite some working experience behind them. They have worked in quite a few branches of society: education (teaching and educational management), health care, welfare work, computerisation, translation, municipality. Their working experience ranged from approximately 10 years to more than 30 years. Not all students were unemployed and received a benefit: 6 out of 11 did receive a social or other benefit. Some of the students worked part-time beside the training.

In order to find out whether the students were well-equipped to follow the courses I asked them about their computer-related skills. A majority of the students reported that their computer skills-level was average. Three students called themselves highly skilled and three students had no previous computer experience at all. During the presentation of their first website in January 2000, which had clearly taken them quite an effort to complete, one student jocularly remarked that when he started "he couldn't distinguish the keyboard from the computer screen." As regards their internet skills-level most students called it average. One student was highly skilled and a minority possessed no internet skills at all. None of the students had any experience with electronic learning environments. Therefore it seems a bit surprising that a vast majority of the students called themselves sufficiently prepared to follow the training. Only one student called herself insufficiently prepared and one student more than sufficiently prepared.

However, in an informal discussion round in an earlier stage of TAET the students discussed their tremendous workload of the first month. This was done in the Discussion section of CC1, which was actually intended for discussions on topics related to the course, such as whether to buy or build a course support system. Since they had no asynchronous conferencing system at their disposal, students started using this Discussion page to ventilate the problems they experienced in the courses. One of the students regretted that they had not been given the opportunity to use the first two weeks of November 1999 to get familiar with the subject matter and the computer, with TeleTOP and especially with html. Given the relatively low level of basic skills of most students, this would certainly not have been a luxurious investment.

Technology-related problems

In practice students experienced quite some technology-related problems. Half the group had problems with their computer. These problems varied. It took some students a great deal of effort to master the technical aspects of the computer: how to send in assignments, how to use html and build websites. One student reported 'fear of failure' and by just trying and doing and some outside help she could overcome this. Another student had extreme problems during the first exam, which they took at home. While working on it he lost part of his exam and couldn't retrieve it anymore. Later he had his computer completely reinstalled.

Access to the Twente-server was hardly any problem for the students, with a few exceptions of being denied access to the Twente server a few times. One student, however, found herself in a maze in the beginning: trying to find the right pages, remembering her password, not being able to 'hop' from one course to the other. Nowadays students even have to log in twice to get access to a course.

Some software problems were met with. These mainly had to do with unfamiliarity with existing programmes that could be helpful in their course, such as a programme to make flow charts, an anti-virus programme, a webdesign programme and a drawing programme. It took quite some time to get familiar with particular software programmes, such as Cosmo World. Even with the help of a - terribly long - manual it didn't really work properly. However, some students found it a challenging experience to find out by trial and error how to work with some of these programmes.

The internet connection was sometimes problematic. Some students mention the slowness of their connection and the expenses of telephone ticks, which often made them work late at night. Sometimes it was difficult to get connected to certain sites, but this may also be due to outdated internet addresses.

In the category other problems some students mentioned problems that were already signalled in the previous categories: students were quite distressed by their lack of html skills and consequent difficulties in building a website. There was hardly any time to learn these skills, because handing in assignments was already a race against the clock [see section on workload]. Moreover, more "guidance and more background information about the structure" would have been helpful in this process. During the presentation of these first websites in January 2000 many students made it clear that they had spent an enormous amount of time on building the website and therefore had not been able to spend much time on the content of the course (CC1). Finally, two students mentioned lack of typing skills as a huge drawback.

All these problems together have influenced the students' work rhythm. Although we have seen earlier that most students called themselves sufficiently prepared to follow the course, even more students stated very clearly that grasping the technology and getting familiar with html and building their (in most cases first) website took them quite some extra time and in some cases led to a delay in submitting assignments in the first 6 weeks of the training. Two students expressed their feeling of discouragement and suffered from lack of concentration at different points of time, leading to arrears in work. A minority of the students quite often worked at night, partly due to the internet connection and cheaper telephone ticks, but also due to domestic duties during the daytime (some students had to combine study and family obligations).

We were also curious to find out about the positive experiences students had with the technology. It is clear that most students have learnt a lot: they have acquired much more computer knowledge, "more feeling and more practice", and they have discovered many of the possibilities of the internet. Students have also been introduced to and have learnt to work with quite a number of software programmes which are useful for their working practice, such as PowerPoint, Filemaker, MindMap. Two students expressed that their main 'gain' was overcoming their computer fear. One student made it clear that the study opened the world to her professional interests. For some students the advanced technology (and the distance learning mode) enabled them to study again. Due to their personal situation (family life) they would never have been able to take regular courses at pre-set times.

It didn't take most students long to get familiar with the TeleTOP environment. Only two students replied that it took quite some time at the beginning of the training.

Coaching expectations

Students were questioned about their expectations of coaching by their teachers when they started with TAET. The group was divided in their opinions. Nearly half the group expected nothing or hardly anything when they started. Their view was that TAET was an independent distance training and perhaps all that could be expected was that course matters were well-organised, that there would be some sort of logical order of courses and events, that teachers would correct submitted assignments and that there would be clarity of assignments and expectations. One student elaborates on this issue of clarity. Being clear in instructions already takes quite an effort, so perhaps no more than this can be expected of teachers.

Instructions in the champions league

Instructions play an important role in the structuring of the learning experiences. Therefore it is important to know how the students valued the instructions for the assignments. I first asked the students about the six core courses and let them choose between the options 'clear', 'ambiguous' and 'unclear'. In order to make a comparison between the instructions of the different courses we first have to aggregate the qualifications for the instructions of the individual courses. The most effective - but maybe not most elegant - way to accomplish this is to apply the 'rule of the champions league': 'clear' gets 3 points, 'ambiguous' gets 1 point and 'unclear' gets 0 points. In order to get a clear view on the relative weights of the instructions of individual courses, I have divided the amount of scored points by the maximum number of points that could be scored (11 students could each have given maximally 3 points per course, so the maximum number of points is 11x3=33). The results are presented in the next table.

Table 1: Instructions in Core Courses
 
Clear
Ambiguous
Unclear
Points
%
CC1
6
4
1
22
0,66
CC2 2 2 7
8
0,24
CC3 7 2 2
23
0,69
CC4 5 2 4
17
0,52
CC5 7 4 0
25
0,76
CC6 7 1 3
22
0,66
total
34
15
17
117
Average=0,59
'clear' = 3 points; 'ambiguous' = 1 point; 'unclear' = 0 points

[CC1 = Telematics Applications for Education and Training; CC2 = Learning and Instruction Supported by Telematics; CC3 = Design, Development and Evaluation of Tele-learning Systems; CC4 = Policy, Strategy and Management of Telematics Applications in Educational and Training Organisations; CC5 = Implementation of Telematics Applications in Education and Training; CC6 = Student Assessment & Programme Evaluation in a Tele-learning Environment].

From this table we can infer that the instructions of 2/3 of the core courses have been clear for only a slight majority of the students, while for almost half of the students they were ambiguous or unclear. This overall result can hardly be called a very positive evaluation of the instructions of core courses as a whole. But there are rather big differences in the valuations of the individual core courses. The average weighed score of the core courses is 19.5 points. The instructions of courses CC2 and to a less extreme extent CC4 are least valued by the students, while CC5 gets the highest value.

It is not easy to induce more specific conclusions from these scores, since I did not ask the students explicitly what their opinion was based on. Yet, some explanations can be given if we consider the reactions on the Q&A pages and reactions elsewhere in the questionnaire. A high score on clarity of instructions is not always given on the basis of clear instructions from the beginning, but also on the willingness of the instructor to explain the intention of assignments from different angles, over and over again. This was, for example, the case in CC3 (Design, Development and Evaluation of Tele-learning Systems). Students had problems in understanding the final assignment and its relation with earlier assignments. In the Q&A page they frequently asked the instructor for clarification, which he patiently and rapidly gave. And this may explain the relatively high score of the instructions of this core course.

In the next table the results for the optional courses are presented. These figures have to be handled with more prudence, because the number of students participating differ per course. Therefore we have not only added the weighed points, but also divided them by the maximum amount of points that could be scored by the number of participating students per course.

Table 2: Instructions in Optional Courses
 
Clear
Ambiguous
Unclear
Points
%
IPSS
1
1
3
4
0,27
HRD 2 0 0
6
1,00
VE 1 1 2
4
0,33
HCI 3 2 1
11
0,61
TEL 2 3 0
9
0,60
TS 0 1 0
1
0,33
WBT 2 1 0
7
0,78
CE 1 0 2
3
0,50
TM 1 0 0
3
1,00
Total
13
9
8
48
Average=0,60
'clear' = 3 points; 'ambiguous' = 1 point; 'unclear' = 0 point

[IPSS = Integrated performance Support Systems; HRD = Human Resource Development; VE = Learning in Virtual Environments; HCI = Human Computer Interaction; TEL = Tele-Learning; TS = Teacher Support; WBT = Web-Based Training; CE = Cost-Effectiveness of Technology in Education and Training; TM = Inleiding Telematica].

From this table we can infer that the instructions of the optional courses have been clear for only a minority of the students, while for most students they were problematic (i.e. ambiguous or unclear). Therefore it seems fair to conclude that the overall result is a rather negative evaluation of the instructions of the optional courses, and certainly worse than the general evaluation of instructions of the core courses. And just like in the case of the core course, the students' valuations of the instructions of the individual optional course vary strikingly.

Taking into account the number of participating students, the average weighed score of the optional courses is 0,6. The instructions of HRD and TM and to a lesser extent WBT are most valued by the students, while IPSS, VE, TS and CE receive the lowest value.

Return information on feedback

We have seen above that a high valuation of the instructions of courses is not always given on the basis of the instructions as such, but also on the willingness of the instructor to explain the purpose of assignments from different angles, over and over again. Learning is a communicative process, and therefore the return information of instructors is of eminent importance for the quality of the learning experiences. In order to get an idea of what might be important in feedback in online learning processes we asked the students about their appreciation of the feedback of their teachers (on assignments and exams).

Just as students are divided in their opinions on their teachers' instructions, they are divided in their appreciation of the feedback given in the different courses. In general, though, one can state that the students appreciate fast, to-the-point, constructive and personal feedback. The problem in describing this issue is that some students were specific as to the feedback given in the separate courses, and others were more general in their reactions. I will try to clarify this in the table below.

Table 3: Feedback in Core Courses
 Course
Comment
CC1
In general their feedback was appreciated positively, although some students 'complained' that their feedback was sometimes too brief, too abstract or came too late to continue with the practical work (building a website). Their motivating emails were mentioned explicitly.
CC2
In general their feedback was appreciated negatively. Feedback on assignments was often late and not to the point. This was, according to quite a few students, caused by the fact that the subject was taught by different instructors who did not seem to coordinate their work and did not show an interest in the group. It seemed as if no one took responsibility for the course. And therefore some students felt like orphans.
CC3
In general the feedback in this course was appreciated positively, in spite of the sometimes indistinctness of the open assignments. This has already been reported in the previous paragraph. Feedback was timely, useful tips were given, and the instructor really seemed to think along with the students in the development of their design project. One student says that this feedback helped her to construct her own understanding of webeducation, which was a very valuable experience.
CC4
The students' reactions are clearly ambiguous. In general the students appreciated the personal feedback they received as precise, positive and constructive. However, most of them objected to the overload of feedback (lengthy answering models and personal feedback) and its rigidity and formality. Students put forward that it was not a matter of knowledge construction but of pure knowledge reproduction: if they accommodated the instructor(s) they had it made. If they did not, they had to 'do their homework again'. This was quite frustrating in a period which was generally experienced as the heaviest in the core course phase.
CC5
Most students appreciated the feedback given in this core course. It was personal, useful and constructive and here again the instructor(s) seemed to think along with the students and to really do something with their work. As objections were raised: too abstract return information on the theoretical part of the course and an apparent missing link between the two instructors.
CC6
In general the appreciation of return information given in this course can be rated as average or at least ambiguous. Some students thought the feedback was too brief and regretted that the teacher remained more or less invisible. Others were satisfied with the amount and timeliness of feedback because they could follow the course independently and needed no more. The ambiguous attitude of students may be explained by the fact that there had not been a face-to-face introductory meeting for this course and that immediately after the final exam the instructor made his exit. A request to give feedback on the exam (if desired) in the Q&A page was never answered. This was very much in contradiction with his timely replies to the many questions for explanation on the Q&A page during the course.

In general we can conclude that the feedback that was given in some courses (CC5, CC3, and CC1) is rather highly appreciated. Students value the feedback on these five expectations: 1) feedback must be timely: not too late but 'just-in-time'; 2) feedback must be supportive: useful tips, constructive suggestions instead of 'abstract' -i.e. formalised - criticism; 3) feedback must be motivating and not frustrating; 4) feedback must be given in a personal and not formal style, and 5) feedback must be given on a more or less regular basis without unannounced interruptions. In some other courses (CC2 and to a lesser extent CC4) the given feedback was valued relatively low because the quality, frequency and timeliness of the return-information did not meet one or more of the five students' expectations.

It is less easy to give an accurate description of students' appreciation of the feedback that was given in the optional courses. The first reason is that sometimes only 1 student gave specific information. A second reason is that some students had not yet started one or more optional courses at the time of this investigation. Still, a tentative attempt will be made to point out some strengths and weaknesses of the feedback given in these courses.

Table 4: Feedback in Optional Courses
 Course
Comment
IPSS
Feedback unclear and assignments too brief.
No complaint, helped by feedback.
Feedback mediocre, teacher left for three weeks without notice.
HRD
Good feedback, sometimes untimely but useful.
VE
Feedback was given with a lick and a promise, just like the course was organised.
HCI
No complaint, helped by feedback.
Feedback mediocre, teacher left for three weeks without notice.
TEL
Good and useful feedback, although untimely sometimes, motivating emails.
TS
Very brief, came too late in the day and as regards content mediocre.
WBT
No complaint, helped by feedback.
CE
Unstimulating feedback, unclear and too experimental.
Very good, but teacher suddenly left for a week without notice.
TM
Clarity of course served as a guideline for good feedback.

As indicated before, some students made more general remarks on feedback in this training, and not per course. The biggest 'sin' seems to occur when a teacher does not give his feedback on time, i.e. at the time the student expects to hear something from his or her coach. One student was on the whole satisfied with the feedback from her teachers, but related this to the fact that she had her final project outlined from the beginning and could start working on it immediately in most of her courses. So the feedback she received was mostly usable for her final project. Another student argued that feedback is a critical issue in any learning situation, and that how it is appreciated greatly depends on the style of the instructor. The problem is that what works for one student doesn't have to work out for another. This can clearly be seen in the reactions on feedback in the optional courses.


Overall coaching

The TAET students value the overall coaching quite differently. Their assessment of coaching apparently depends on their specific individual needs and expectations. Some students have valued the coaching highly. The fact that this was the first time a fully online training was given was taken into consideration. Moreover, TAET-students are all adults and can decide for themselves if they need coaching. Other students are more ambiguous or negative. They say that some instructors did not seem to be interested in the 'specifics' of the group, did not stimulate open and friendly communication and could invest more in explanation and guidance. Attention for and involvement in students are reported as lacking. This might be an even bigger 'sin' than giving feedback too late. Good coaches give their students the attention they deserve and involve themselves in the learning process of their pupils. And therefore some students say that good coaching and giving good feedback go hand in hand and are completely dependent on the individual teachers.

Management support

Telelearning processes are not limited to the interaction between students and teachers. In order to get the most optimal results, clear and consistent management support is necessary. I asked the students how they appreciated the support of the management team (e.g. technical support, administrative support and general support).

Not many students needed technical support and if this occurred a fast solution was given in most, though not all cases. Often technical problems were solved with the help of someone in the neighbourhood. In general the administrative support is highly valued and there is great appreciation for their quick and friendly reactions to requests for information, literature and so on. Some students say that once in a while their requests were overlooked but these seemed to be mere incidents.

With respect to general support most students are less positive. More than half of the group are disappointed in the support given by the management team. They express the following shortcomings:

The other students ventilate more positive experiences: they had no notable problems with the programme management and were apparently satisfied with the support they received. Reactions on the part of the management team to requests for information were timely and adequate in their eyes. They were also the students who expressed that they appreciated working on their own or who had to work on their own because of a job-on-the-side. They apparently expected no more. The TAET students clearly differ in their needs and expectations of general support. It seems as if the management team have overestimated many of the students' independence and underestimate their specific needs as distance education students. For many, though not all students, studying from a distance can become a very lonely adventure and the more so if they have the feeling that there is no one at the other side of the line who keeps track of them, supports them and guides them when and if needed.

From personal (email) correspondence with quite a few of the students I have understood that, especially during the optional courses and final project phase, they struggled very hard to keep up with their tasks, to develop a suitable final project, and to find a proper place where to execute their plans. This was a very cumbersome and lonely period for most of the students. If the management team had realised the pressure the students were subjected to at that time, they might not have waited till mid September to inform them that they had an extra month to finish their training.

Collaborative learning

I argued before why cooperation is of paramount importance to deepen understanding, sharpen judgement, and extend knowledge. Cooperative learning leads to higher achievement in almost all respects. I wanted to know if the TAET-students developed some sense of learning community and how well they managed to move from outsider to insider in this community. Therefore I asked them how they value collaboration with fellow students in a learning process. They were also asked how they experienced collaboration in this training, and what they valued most or least in this collaboration.

With a few exceptions the students endorse the idea of collaborative learning, but they differ in the extent of collaboration. Some students consider collaboration "extremely important" and see it as the "the strength of innovative learning." Collaborative learning is also seen as a good preparation for the future professional practice of the students, in which they will undoubtedly have to work together with other professionals. Collaboration can lead to a better understanding of content by sharing different views on a subject, but can also offer moral support and motivation, especially in 'lesser times'. However, it is also noted that collaboration should not be 'forced' on students: if a student prefers to work alone she or he should be able to do so. A minority of the students preferred to work alone in this training, mainly for pragmatic reasons, i.e. because they had a job as well and did not have the time or opportunity to work together with other students. It is also observed that collaboration has to 'click': if students with different 'levels' have to work together this may lead to severe problems in the group. This has been the case in some of the subgroups of TAET, as we will see below.

The students' actual experience of collaborative learning is for many of them a positive one. This collaboration was generally seen as very stimulating and motivating. If students had a negative experience with collaborative learning it always had to do with internal problems in a group, for example because a student did not contribute enough or submitted inferior work in the others' eyes. This was the case in 3 groups. These students valued collaboration in other groups, however. Collaboration kept students alert, helped them regain their study skills, functioned as the big stick and gave them a feeling of solidarity. Keeping others informed about the course of studying events and sending good tips by personal email, e.g. about relevant software, were also appreciated as small tokens of collaborative learning. So were the few informal dinners after the few on-campus meetings.

Some students noted here that unfortunately there was not enough time to test and discuss different ideas and assignments extensively. It was seen as a missed chance that there was so little opportunity to work together constructively, certainly when one keeps in mind that the students shared so many common interests and activities. Collaboration was - apart from working together on assignments at the beginning - restricted to exchanging frustrations, tips and tokens of encouragement. There was no or hardly any time to read each other's assignments, let alone work on them together to come to better products.

The main value of collaborative learning for the TAET students lies in going through the same process, sharing the same experiences, receiving feedback, advice and support from others. Most students considered it very important to have personal email contact with each other to ask questions about content and assignments, to get new ideas or to learn from questions of others and simply to keep in touch.

Nearly all students are of the same mind as to the formation of a learning community. No learning community was established and some students indicate explicitly that this has been a missed chance. During the first introductory meeting on-campus no time was allotted to getting acquainted with each other, though this was requested. This could have been the basis of the formation of a learning community, of a feeling of belonging to a special group and of being an insider of this group. The only 'collaborative activity' of that introductory day consisted of the formation of small groups of students for one course. These groups were compounded geographically, because the students came from different parts of the country. For collaboration it seemed better if students who lived closest to each other could work together.

The students have not been stimulated to form a learning community and the programme was too full to do it on their own initiative. In the Question & Answer page of CC1 students expressed their wish to change this style of learning. Collaborative work in small groups on assignments led to a continuation of contact in some cases, depending on students' own initiative. However, quite a few students worked more or less on their own after the core courses were finished. In the final phase of the course an attempt to a lively correspondence was set up by email to inform each other about their plans for the final project. This indicates that students realised that they hardly knew what the others were doing. Unfortunately, the correspondence ended after a few contributions. High workload may have been the reason for a number of students not to react.

Contents of TAET courses

For students the valuation of telecoaching is never disconnected from the appreciation of the content of a course. Therefore students were asked to select a qualification that fitted their appreciation of the content of the courses. They could choose between the following qualifications: excellent, good, average, bad. To aggregate the qualifications for the content of the individual courses we have to weigh the specific qualifications: 'excellent'=3 points; 'good'=2 points; 'average'=1 point, and 'bad'=0 points. In order to get a clear view on the relative weights of the valued content of individual courses, in the last column the amount of scored points is divided by the maximum number of points (10x3=30) that could be scored. The results are presented in the next table.

Table 5: Content of Core Courses
 
Excellent
Good
Average
Bad
No choice Points
%
CC1
1
7
2
0
1
19
0,63
CC2 0 4 2
4
1
10
0,33
CC3 2 5 2
1
1
18
0,60
CC4 1 4 2
3
1
13
0,43
CC5 2 6 2
0
1
20
0,67
CC6 0 3 5
2
1
11
0,37
total
6
29
15
 10
6
95
1,00
Excellent=3 points Good=2 points Average=1 point Bad=0 points

[CC1 = Telematics Applications for Education and Training; CC2 = Learning and Instruction Supported by Telematics; CC3 = Design, Development and Evaluation of Tele-learning Systems; CC4 = Policy, Strategy and Management of Telematics Applications in Educational and Training Organisations; CC5 = Implementation of TelematicsApplications in Education and Training; CC6 = Student Assessment & Programme Evaluation in a Tele-learning Environment].

If we compare this table with table 1 "Instructions of Core Courses" we can see that the results correlate extremely high: in both tables the individual courses have the same place in the order when we look at number of points. The calculated order from high to low valued is: CC5, CC1, CC3, CC4, CC6, CC2.

For the evaluation of the content of the optional courses the same procedure as before is followed, and the results are summarised in the following table.

Table 6: Content of Optional Courses
 
Excellent
Good
Average
Bad
Points
%
IPSS
0
3
4
0 10 0,48
HRD 1 2 0 0 7 0,78
VE 1 1 0 2 5 0,42
HCI 1 2 2 0 9 0,60
TEL 2 1 2 0 10 0,67
TS 0 1 0 0 2 0,67
WBT 1 0 2 0 5 0,55
CE 0 2 0 1 4 0,66
TM 1 0 0
0
3 1,00
Total
7 12 10 3 55 Average=0,60
Excellent=3 points Good=2 points Average=1 point Bad=0 points

[IPSS = Integrated performance Support Systems; HRD = Human Resource Development; VE = Learning in Virtual Environments; HCI = Human Computer Interaction; TEL = Tele-Learning; TS = Teacher Support; WBT = Web-Based Training; CE = Cost-Effectiveness of Technology in Education and Training; TM = Inleiding Telematica].

Looking at these scores it can be concluded that the content of the optional courses is valued quite differently. Although most optional courses are valued as good or even excellent by a majority of students, some courses — VE, IPSS and WBT — are evaluated below average. If we compare this table with table 2 "Instructions of Optional Courses" we can see that the results correlate highly: in both tables the individual courses have more or less the same place in the order when we look at the relative scores. The only exception of this rule is the valuation of the instructions and content of WBT and TS. The calculated order from high to low valued is: TM, HRD, TEL/TS, CE, HCI, WBT, IPSS, VE. The importance of this 'hall of descending fame' must not be exaggerated because at least two of the values that were attributed to the optional courses (TM and TS) are based on the opinion of one student only.

Sequence of Courses

Students valued the order in which the courses were presented as positive or at least had no objections against the order or hadn't really given it much thought. Some students, however, suggested possible improvements.The question was raised if CC1 (Telematics Applications for Education and Training), in which a website had to be built, should not be given at a later stage in the course or be given with more explanation and guidance. After all, not many students had previous experience with html or web-authoring and management systems. Most students had never built a website before and were not familiar with professional siteconstructing software (such as Adobe GoLive or Dreamweaver). At the on-campus meeting in January it turned out that the technical part of the course had taken them so much time that they had hardly had time left to work properly on the content of the website and the course.

The question was raised whether the combination of some subjects wasn't too hard and time-consuming, e.g. the combination of CC3 (Designing, Developing and Evaluating a Telelearning System) and CC4 (Policy, Strategy and Management of Telematics Applications in Educational and Training Organisations). These two courses demanded a lot of the students and perhaps they had better be combined with one of the later courses, which were generally experienced as 'lighter'. The question remains if this 'lighter' subject will not be treated 'more lightly' in case of such a combination.

Another issue was raised which had to do with both order and content of subjects. Some students were of the opinion that Instructional Design was underdeveloped in this training (CC2) and could well be combined with theoretical components of CC3 (Designing, Developing and Evaluating a Telelearning System) and CC6 (Student Assessment & Programme Evaluation in a Tele-learning Environment). Quite a few students see Instructional Design as the core of our future practice and - as was indicated before - are not happy with the way this subject was given as to content and instructions. Two students remarked that they would like to see CC4 (Policy, Strategy and Management of Telematics Applications in Educational and Training Organisations) replaced by another subject: HRD or Teacher Support, which were now presented as optional courses. Teacher Support could have prepared the students on processes of change in practice with the rising possibilities of the web: what will happen in the classroom, how does a teacher deal with these changes, and so on. HRD could have made students with an educational background familiar with the 'world of training'.

One student was very explicit in her positive opinion of the order of courses, because she already had her final project planned in the beginning of the training. The order of the subjects most of the time ran parallel with the phase of her final project she was in. I will return to this later [Final remarks].

Missing elements

"You can't always get what you want" [Mick Jagger] and no training is perfect. The students were asked which elements they missed in the courses, seen from their future professional practice.

Here is a list of elements that they have missed (with the number of students between brackets):

In my final conclusions I will use this list of missing elements for recommendations to improve the TAET course. Adding new elements is easier if we could eliminate, reduce or transform elements that might be problematic or weak. Therefore students were asked what they regarded as less relevant or superfluous. Nearly half the group proclaimed that they did not find any course elements less relevant or superfluous. One student called himself an "omnivore" that swallowed everything with great interest. Another student considered the content of the courses less relevant than the telelearning process in which he took part. Perhaps other subjects could have been added, but that was not the main issue, according to him. The rest of the students believed that (parts of) core course CC4 (Policy, Strategy and Management of Telematics Applications in Educational and Training Organisations) were superfluous or irrelevant for our professional future. This may also have been caused by the degree of difficulty of the course (and especially the final assignment, which can be seen in the Q&A page of that course) and in some cases a lack of interest in the subject. One student changed her mind about this specific course because it gave her an excellent opportunity to compare the teaching styles of two courses that were presented in the same period: CC4 in 'a rigid and formal way' and CC3 (Designing, Developing and Evaluating a Telelearning System) in 'a very flexible way'.

It is to be expected that when students are asked what they liked best about the whole course they will lay the accent on different aspects. This is certainly the case here. In general though, students mention the experience of the distance learning process itself. Different positive aspects are emphasised:

One student emphasised some practical activities as 'best liked': "working together on assignments, surfing during CC1, designing a learning environment for CC3, exploring the teacher networks and making the implementation analysis (final assignment) of CC5."

In reaction to the question what they disliked most about the whole course more than half the group mentioned the stress and the pressure under which they had to work. As one of them described it:

Time to Study?
The required study time for this training was 40 hours per week. Students were informed that this study was a full-time job. I asked the students how many hours a week on average they spent working on this training. Here are the results:
    "I spent
      15-20 hours" said 1 student
      20-30 hours" said 2 students
      30-40 hours" said 6 students
        > 40 hours" said 2 students

This indicates that most students have met the required workload standard. Taken into account that some of them had considerable working and caring obligations next to their study obligations, this is a remarkable accomplishment. On the other hand I have the impression that in the selection process of candidate students this 'time standard' should have been taken more seriously. The fact is that at least a quarter of the students didn't meet the time standard that was announced.

The short time in which students had to finish this training forced them to work under a lot of strain and brought along too much stress. The pressure was so high that there was no or hardly any time for reflection or internalisation of new knowledge ('intellectual recuperation'). Especially in the core course phase the students had to pull out all the stops to finish their weekly assignments on time. Often it was too much work for one week.There was no or hardly any flexibility: the courses and assignments were prescheduled. Flexibility on the part of the teachers as to handing in assignments did not really help out because all courses were tightly scheduled and succeeded each other immediately. The only official time off during the year was a two weeks' holiday around Christmas, but in this period most students had to finish their website and do some assignments as well. Later in the training the programme management recognised this 'stress problem' too and postponed one course one week to give the students a little extra leeway to finish core courses CC3 and CC4.

Other sources of displeasure was the enormous distance between some students' home town and the Faculty. Not only was for some the journey very tiresome, but it deprived them of ample opportunity to communicate with fellow students on-campus. Three students who lived in the south of the Netherlands had to travel 10-14 hours to get to the Faculty and back home again. Also the lack of coaching, especially after the core course phase, was disliked and one of these students emphasised that she had the feeling that they had been 'guinea pigs' in this new training and a good 'source of income'.

Distance learning on scales

Because for most students this was their first online learning experience and online learning was the main subject of the course we invited students to outline the advantages and disadvantages of distance learning.

As major advantages of distance learning are considered the possibility to work at your own home, at your own pace, in your own time. In other words: "to choose and manage your study-time." Flexibility is the keyword in this respect. As other advantages are mentioned: the possibility to study at a university that would not be accessible considering the distance or the organisation of the programme and the opportunity to combine learning with taking care of your family.

A critical note is made by one student who claims that in order for a distance learning programmes to be successful flexibility, temporisation, leeway and elasticity should be incorporated. If learning communities would arise, they make a chance of becoming very intensive. Distance and physical presence are not important anymore in that case.

The major disadvantages of distance learning can be summarised in four points:

  1. Nearly half the group believe that the main disadvantages of distance learning are the lack of communication with teachers and fellow students. This obviously is an observation made with the experiences with TAET at the back of their minds. We have seen before that the TAET programme allowed for little collaborative working and extensive discussion of each other's work, let alone future plans. However, it is also noticed that this lack of communication and personal contact can be overcome by the development and mastery of new technologies, which are on their way. It has to be kept in mind though, that more communication and contact can only be realised when students have enough time to spend on it in their programme.

  2. Related disadvantages are the risk of 'drowning' on your own, loneliness and insecurity, caused by lack of communication. Solving problems on your own was also mentioned as a disadvantage, although this can at the same time be seen as an advantage, because you are forced to learn to do things yourself.

  3. The distance is also seen as a disadvantage because many facilities of the University of Twente are out of 'easy' reach, e.g. consulting the library. Visiting the mentor or supervisor takes up a lot of time too.

  4. Another critical note is made here that if the condition of a good student tracking system is lacking it can turn into a disadvantage of a distance learning programme. This was the case in TAET. Some students started running behind and were not 'guided back in line' by teachers or programme management.

To get a more specified idea about how the students 'digested' their online learning experiences I asked them if they would take another distance course if they had the opportunity. If the students were given the opportunity to take another distance course nearly all of them would do so, but most of them with restrictions. Some students would appreciate a more practical course, e.g. breeding fish for consumption, in which there is an immediate relation between the course and practice and which can preferably be followed in a faraway country. The condition in that case would be that all elements of the course can be taken at a distance. Other restrictions mentioned are: as long as real time events, such as meetings with teachers and students and visitations of the library are necessary, a shorter distance would be desirable. A distance course, according to some students, had best be job-related and could also be embedded in network-learning situation.

Nearly all students would recommend distance learning to other people, but again with restrictions. Students have to be motivated and disciplined when they start learning from a distance. They have to show perseverance when there are setbacks. The question is also raised whether a completely online mode is suitable, especially for younger students who might still need 'socialisation in real time'. For these students it might be an additional form of education. One student believes that online learning is only suitable for short courses. It is also believed that distance learning can be very profitable to people who are looking for a second chance and/or who do not have the opportunity to go to school every day.

And last but not least, there are also students who look at distance courses without restrictions, because it has given them the possibility to investigate and challenge this mode of delivering courses. Or simply because it is more flexible and the only way to study for them (especially in combination with a family). Or simply to gratify one's curiosity.

Final remarks

Students were invited to add some final remarks to the questionnaire. One important suggestion was directed towards the programme management: why not let students develop a real practice project from the beginning, so that they can connect the content of the courses immediately to the construction of a final project. This way there would be a more structured building up of the final project.

The question of the order of subjects in the course was raised again. "Why this order? Can it be changed? The beginning was very heavy, 3+4 were top exertions, 5+6 were easier to do."

Some students used this space to show their appreciation for the training or to make clear that in spite of all problems, frustrations and discomforts they were happy to have taken part in the training.

Index Teachers Dissected

Now we will see what the teachers of TAET have to say about their preparations and expectations, their work and joy, their worries and dreams. How did they respond to the questionnaire? 16 of 19 teachers responded to the questionnaire, which can be called extremely rich output. The extensiveness of the replies, however, varied greatly.

Sub-optimal preparation?

How well were the teachers of TAET prepared for online teaching? I asked the teachers if they had previous experiences with online teaching. Half of the group of teachers reported previous experience with online teaching. The other half were novices in distance education. One teacher's experiences with online teaching dated back from 1986. The others had previous experience with one or more (partly) online courses. You might be inclined to conclude that the teachers were at least sub-optimally prepared for their tasks in online courses. However, in the Dutch situation where we are all just starting to discover and practise the possibilities and problems of telelearning, this seems to be the 'normal' case and not the exception.

How were the teachers technically prepared to work with the TeleTOP learning environment? And how were they prepared to teach and coach online? All teachers say that they were technically sufficiently or even more than sufficiently prepared to work within this learning environment. In the preparation for teaching and coaching online teachers were supported in the form of some instructional sessions that were organised by the TeleTOP constructors ('teletubbies', which is clearly used as a pet name), problem-directed support, and a manual about the operation of TeleTOP. They could make use of these forms of support if they wanted to. Some indicate that it was a process of 'learning by doing' and 'trial and error'. The answers to the question do not reveal whether the teachers had had didactic support in teaching online.

Knowing your students' level of experiences and expectations is a crucial element of any educational preparation. How familiar were teachers with the background of the TAET students? What did they know about their level of previous education, working experience and level of computer skills? A majority of teachers claims to be familiar with the level of previous education and working experience of the TAET students. A minority was also familiar with their level of computer skills. And only they knew that the computer skills of some of the students were well below the minimal requirements for this course. From the beginning this was a serious problem in a course in which students had to show their technical computer skills, for example skills to build a website.

This indicates that the weakness in the teachers' preparation is located in the selection process of TAET-students. Telelearning is computer-mediated learning. This means that students who have insufficient basic computer skills are handicapped in their learning performances. And because of this handicap at start, these students keep on running after their tails trying to catch up with the tasks set.

Time is - more or less - on our side

Telelearning in a sophisticated virtual learning environment can save time in many respects. The conventional distribution of paper from teachers to students and vice versa was costly, laborious, inflexible and slow. The virtual distribution of digital documents is cheap, elegant, flexible and very fast. If this distribution is completely webbased, i.e. if everybody puts her or his own material on the internet and continues the responsibility to keep this information up to date, then the just-in-time principle of information transfer finally has a chance to punish the conventional just-in-case principle that keeps beating us users with more information overload. There are other aspects of teacher activities that could be done more quickly in a virtual learning environment: creating questionnaires for students to test their progress in the learning process, communicating with colleagues and students, giving feedback on assignments and students' papers. On the other hand we can expect that in student-centred non-linear forms of learning the teachers will have to spend much more time than ever on telecoaching. Will this emerging category of specialised teleteachers have to work harder than their conventional counterparts?

To find only the beginning of an answer to this question I asked the teachers to indicate how much more or less time per week they spent on teaching this course. More than half of the group spent more time on online teaching than on delivering regular face-to-face courses, ranging from 0-5 to 5-10 extra hours. The remaining teachers said that they spent less time on it. These are not results that permit some kind of muscled conclusion. But the teachers themselves articulate some good reasons that explain the difference in time.

As main reasons for this increase of time were given:

  1. giving students personal and regular feedback and tutoring;
  2. answering individual questions of students;
  3. writing precise instructions for assignments;
  4. presentation of communication.

A small minority mentioned typing instructions as a time-consuming factor.

The teachers who spent less time on this online course indicated that this was due to easier administrative possibilities or due to the fact that they were only the 'second' person in the course and could leave the main responsibility in the hands of a colleague.

Now we can conclude that online learning environments economise on teachers' activities such as distributing learning, self-testing and testing material. It rationalises the whole 'economy of information'. But teaching cannot be reduced to the sheer transfer of information in a well-structured learning environment and institution. The core activity of teachers is coaching. In virtual learning environments this coaching will be more and more realised 'at a distance', but it will also be intensified. It will be intensified for two reasons. (a) In a student-centred learning environment students need and ask for more intensive monitoring and guidance. This is what I earlier called 'the revolution of the rising telecoaching expectations'. (b) To prevent that 'learning at a distance' leads to an increasing social distance between teachers and students, teachers will have to intensify their asynchronous and synchronous communication with their students. Teaching at a distance might even facilitate the minimalisation of the social distance between teachers and students that is so prevalent in conventional learning environments. The teachers of TAET have indicated what the new or renewed, time-consuming activities are - in two words: intensive telecoaching.

Unexpected problems

We have seen that most TAET-teachers were familiar with the level of previous education and working experience of the students. To what extent did this familiarity with the 'entry level of knowledge and skills' enable them to anticipate the problems that TAET-students experienced in this course? And what kind of unexpected problems did occur?

Half of the group of instructors said that they were not prepared for some of the students' problems. I asked them to give some examples of problems that they did not expect to occur. The following examples of unexpected problems were given:

Some of these problems - such as lack of computer and group-working skills - directly refer to the background of the TAET-students. The established 'lack of commitment', however, doesn't seem to indicate a general motivation deficiency, but rather a specific problem for some - less motivating - course elements. The lack of interaction between students and teachers and the connected problem of the isolated position of students seem to refer to a more general issue: how strong are the interactive and communicative qualities of the TeleTOP-system and how well did teachers and students use these qualities? One teacher suggests that those students who have worked in a rather isolated position in the TAET-course are people who have lost their prior job because of their low level of social integration: "I think this 'tele'construct is far from beneficial for them. I guess they would blossom more in the real campus setting." It is not possible to sustain this suggestion on the basis of our empirical research. But it is reasonable to assume that people with a low level of social integration might be better off in campus-based learning environments. And it is plausible to make a similar assumption for teachers: teachers with a relatively low level of interactive skills and communicative aspiration might blossom more in a local campus setting.

As we have seen before teachers underestimated the level of computer and internet skills of the TAET-students. This has been the main reason why some students had difficulties in participating in the online discourse. In the analysis of students' reactions we concluded that the 'speed of feedback' (critical interactivity) is one of the main factors that structure the learning experiences. Students expect a more or less direct and personal feedback on their accomplishments in order to move on to the next step. We have also seen that the quality and speed of feedback has been quite different for the separate elements of the course. Lack of clarity and sluggishness of return-information in some core and optional courses have been a breeding ground for students' complaints. And students don't have to be blessed with a 'quarrelsome nature' to articulate these complaints. Blessed are the teachers with many students who contradict them.

The TeleTOP System

The TeleTOP (TT) System is an ambitious telelearning initiative of the University of Twente, Faculty of Educational Science and Technology.

The core ideas behind the TeleTOP System were supposed to extend the level of activity and commitment of the students and to extend the effect and influence of the teachers. This initiative runs parallel with a new educational approach of both regular students and more 'mature' students who wish to "remain in their homes and jobs while participating in our program" [De Boer & Collis 1999]. Since no existing system met the basic requirements that were needed it was decided to build their own system, based upon a Lotus Notes database.

In order to find out about the teachers' experiences with the TeleTOP learning environment they were asked what they see as advantages and disadvantages of the system. Let's begin with the advantages.

First of all, TeleTOP is considered to be a "simple, quick, and easy (....) tool for course organisation, information and communication." It is easy to insert relevant and interesting webpages and information sources and to point them out to students, which is seen as an improvement of both teaching and learning. Secondly, it is also seen as a flexible tool, enabling teachers to organise their course and course material in a way and at times convenient to them, even from abroad. The content can be tailored to target groups and "it is very easy to adapt guidelines, assignments, links, etc. during the course" when unpredictable events are experienced during a course.

TeleTOP 'forces' teachers to be more explicit in text writing and to have a closer look at the content, organisation and assessment of their course or subject. An added value of this is that it can lead to improvement of content. As another advantage of TeleTOP some teachers see the more intensive interaction with students compared with the regular lecture-based way of teaching and the possibility of stimulating active learning methods. TeleTOP can also function as a "starting point and archive for next years' courses." If desired, TeleTOP also makes it far easier to find relevant information about courses of fellow teachers.

As to the disadvantages one instructor remarks that it is not correct to talk of disadvantages because they are constantly improving the system and many things have been made handier already. No system can be perfect, and this also true for the virtual learning system of TeleTOP: "I don't see anything as a disadvantage, but I see many things we still will do to grow and mature." Yet, other instructors do report some disadvantages or perhaps it is better to speak of what they find is lacking. Not all functionalities are fully developed and are sometimes still in the prototype phase. What the teachers especially miss is:

As technical disadvantages are seen: (a) in order to get an overview you need "a lot of clicking", (b) interface to fill out forms needs improvement, (c) "including external links is cumbersome." Some of the technical problems have been improved however and some new functionalities have been implemented, as I gathered from personal communication with one of our teachers. Workspaces have been made better surveyable. Students can add weblinks now. Some new resources have been added to the menu, such as quiz, archive and sheets. In the concluding part I will continue this discussion on the future of TeleTOP.

Learning in Collaboration

Learning in a virtual environment is a highly individual, but not a solo activity. Webbased learning facilitates cooperation between students. And previous research has demonstrated that this collaborative potential is the secret of students' better performances in online learning configurations. Therefore I asked the teachers to explain their ideas about collaborative learning. How can collaborative learning contribute to knowledge building? And how can teachers structure and coach a collaborative learning process?

In general the group of teachers is positive about collaborative learning. Especially adult students can learn a lot from other students' previous practice experience (peer learning). However, the instructors differ in their views of what collaborative learning is and how far its scope should reach: to what extent can collaborative learning replace all traditional forms of education?

Some teachers support collaborative learning as a process of learning by doing, of knowledge building, in which each student is responsible for a specific task, in which students share their acquired knowledge and take their own responsibility for the learning process and the quality of learning. In this view the teacher is more a facilitator of the learning process but also a learner in this process. Both teachers and students have to be explicit as to the division of the different tasks ("based on expertise, experience, interest, familiarity, etc.") and the division of responsibilities. For students who actively participate in the courses it can be a most rewarding, valuable and pleasant experience to contribute learning materials and resources to the course, which subsequently can be used for other courses.

Other teachers support cooperative learning, in which students work together on specific tasks, and which doesn't go as far as collaborative learning. Quite a few teachers mention the risks involved in such a learning process. How to organise it? How to provide the necessary and appropriate tools for building and sharing knowledge? One teacher is very outspoken about not introducing groupwork to beginning students, because of their lack of knowledge of a newly introduced subject. Moreover, the question is whether all traditional forms of education can or should be replaced by collaborative learning.

The ideas of the role of the coach in collaborative learning vary as well. Only a small minority of teachers did not express a view on the issue of collaborative learning. Some teachers support strong guidance by the instructor, not only in instruction, but also in creating a good group 'atmosphere'. Others see the teacher more as a member of the learning community and as a facilitator whose main task it is to support and control the knowledge transfer process between group members and to evaluate the learning progression of the individual students and the group. One teacher expressed a wish to alternate collaborative learning with face-to-face meetings once in a while. This is touched upon later again.

Coaching in online learning processes

Teachers were asked to describe their role as a coach in online learning processes. The variation in their reactions correspond with their views on collaborative or cooperative learning. There is a wide range of opinions. Some teachers regard their role as restricted to show students the essence of the content and to apply content. But they are exceptions to the rule. Most teachers mention the following 'services' as being part of their task as a coach:

There are also some teachers who try to articulate a new vision on the principles of online learning. They define teachers as moderators or coaches who offer the best possible conditions for the learning process and with whom the students share their responsibility for the learning process. Structuring and describing the learning activities should be done in such a way that it stimulates students to take up their tasks with a great amount of self-responsibility. These new principles of online learning are highly valuable for further elaboration.

The Value of Online Learning

In order to get insight into the foci of interest in teachers' perceptions of online learning I asked them what they valued most in this online course. Some teachers express their enthusiasm about the active participation of the students, their personal expertise and "the energy and the speed of most of the students, working on their assignments." This has been a relevant learning experience for them. Also the intensive contact (either face-to-face or by email) with the students, including reflection on and discussions about their work are valued highly by quite a few teachers. As one teacher wrote:

Another teacher 'seconds' this statement and claims to value most "the professional input from students based on their own work or life experiences." One teachers sees this online course as a 'testbed for new ideas'.

The flexibility of online learning and subsequent opportunities for individualisation are also highly appreciated. The flexibility of TeleTOP (and online learning in general) has as a great advantage that students can follow courses which they wouldn't be able to follow in regular face-to-face education. Some teachers also mention as valuable the fact that you get an even better insight in your subject and the 'excitement' of having students translate organisational material to a telematics context.

Problems of Online Learning

It goes without saying that after asking what teachers valued most in this online course they were invited to describe what they find most problematic in this online course. It is clear that what some teachers value most also has a snag and can be the most problematic aspect of online teaching for them. Attributing high value to the personal expertise of the students implies that "the idea of a down-sized course is not good. It should be highly tuned to the students' situation, personality, prior skills, etc." This will definitely bring about extra work and extra time. The different personal expertise, academic backgrounds and differences in computer literacy of the TAET group are difficult to deal with and demand a differentiated approach, which is also time-consuming. Having intensive contact with students, which is seen as very valuable by a number of teachers, entails extra coaching time. Considering the course as a "testbed for new ideas" involves the difficulty of finding "the balance between providing a smooth, well-described learning experience and being a testbed for new ideas."

For many TAET-teachers the problems of online learning are concentrated on finding the balance between direct and computer-mediated personal contact, i.e. between face-to-face and CMC. Lack of face-to-face contact with the students, that is lack of direct personal contact, is seen as problematic by nearly half of the group of teachers. A face-to-face meeting once in a while would be very beneficial to both teachers and students. No face-to-face contact can also imply a lack of monitoring of students and unnecessary struggling on assignments, if they do not express their doubts online. One teacher is very firm about the consequences of a lack of face-fo-face contact and online learning:

Finally, planning of activities can be problematic because the online learning situation is more difficult to control as to time and content compared to formal lectures.

Final Remarks

Of course the teachers were also given an opportunity to add some final remarks or comments to the questionnaire. One teacher is very outspoken about not teaching completely online: "I think that the optimal mix of a course is 3 times live (start-intermediate-closing time) and the rest supported by the internet." This is of course a confirmation of what some teachers express as having missed or being the most problematic aspect of online teaching.

Some suggestions for improvement are given: It is very important that systems such as TeLeTOP are improved firmly in four directions:

Quite a few teachers are enthusiastic about the way this investigation was conducted and would like to be informed of the final results. And they will be!

Next Chapter: Conclusions

Index
Peculiarities SocioSite Subject Areas Society Search About us Contact

Connie Menting
Amsterdam, May, 2000
Last updated: 13th September, 2013