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Virtual learning environments are prevailing in education nowadays and are effectively used to deliver training materials and assist the progress of communication within a module. There has been a comprehensive study which aimed at exploring the task- technology - for two main groups namely trainers and students with the help of VLE WebCT. It has been apparent that student's task - technology usage, user satisfaction, perspective towards the usage and expected consequences of use were higher than trainers. Trainers had higher perceptions of social rules and regulations with higher perceptions of promoting conditions than students. However, there has been no difference in the level of practice of the VLE between the trainers and students. VLE had more impact on the learning of students rather than trainers in the whole learning process. These outcomes suggest that in spite of high levels of support approved by the tutors, they may still be confused about the benefaction of VLEs to their teaching.
Higher education has been increasingly influenced by the progress of information and technology. The core training requirements in Universities and other institutes involve e-learning processes. Distance education has been possible with the introduction to new innovative courses due to the World Wide Web and online education is now available to in numerous students and lecturers for their training purposes (Peffers and Bloom 1999; Alexander 2001; Chen and Dwyer 2003). Information Technology has introduced new terms and forms which are further categorized into different segments. Some of these are e- learning, distributed learning and technology- mediated learning. The term 'e- learning' has been extensively used to define education and training which is supported by the Internet.
A virtual learning environment (VLE) simplifies e-learning by supporting an information system. Teaching and learning is carried out through communication support, broadcasting educational material, storage and processing of the VLEs. In spite of the omnipresence of VLEs in teaching, much of the proof to support their use is unreliable or inefficiently established. The usage of VLEs by instructors and how they signify student learning has been a topic of debate for many researchers. They believe that an extensive theory should be available which is reliable and rigorous in order to authorize the usage and its complexities (Alavi and leidner 2001; Poccoli et al 2001). This dissertation will mainly focus on the difference between 'Knowledge' which has become more accessible on the Internet and the process of teaching and learning which has changed, but not always improved due to Information Communication Technologies (ICTs). Furthermore, it will also discuss about the 'information society' in a wider context. The title 'global auction' warns that the info society anticipated in the 1980s has failed to generate jobs, instead computer programs are used to substitute for skilled workers (in accountancy, education, law, manufacturing and other occupations) who become unemployed. This is partly because the internet facilitates outsourcing of jobs from the West to China and India, so globalization is another issue which will be discussed.
Student confinement in higher education: What is the work of VLEs? How does it affect the traditional teaching system?
Key words: Virtual learning environment, student confinement, case study, social media
Two beneficial problems for UK higher education are student confinement and the usage of (ICTs) Information communication technologies. Recently, a number of claims have been registered about the cost reduction and proficiency brought in through the introduction of e-learning (Twigg, 2003); on the other hand, the belief on the part of students showed that ICTs would be a curricula for their learning experience (e.g Fielden, 2002). Meanwhile, the 'widening participation' held by the government has clarified the on-going higher education institution concern with the early departure of students, as compression to attract greater rates of students especially from 'non-traditional' context has grown (e.g Johnston, 2002). The online survey and interview taken by me in this thesis discusses about two grave issues, evaluating the claims that have been accomplished for the role of ICTs in aiding student custody or confinement in HE (higher education) and the exploration of the role of VLEs as to how they can support the participation of undergraduate and postgraduate students in the parameter of mixed mode courses in which they are supposed to attend lectures and e-learning materials are built to enhance face-to-face rule rather than replace it. The newspaper articles below show the drawbacks of using technologies which violated copyright law in some cases worldwide.
It has been apparent that Blackboard learning was one of the most broadly adopted VLEs in UK HE sector during the year 2000 and had been started in Kingston University. An assessment research project pondering upon its use to support students from different backgrounds to promote to and succeed in, higher education examined that it was utilized in a number of ways by tutors and students (Heaton-Shrestha et al, 2005 and 2008; Edirisingha et al, 2005) which meant that they would have come across a variety of pedagogies and distinctly structured learning environments. Authors Linsey, Katsifli and Gipps (2005) believe that the way in which students used the VLE was created by subject matter and particular area and of course by the comfort of accessing the computers. Because of this, the research analysed the features of the VLE accustomed by all students which is a constant access to a variety of learning materials and guides, communications with a diverse network of students through discussion boards, blogs and emails and the essentiality of anonymity. This thesis explores the way a VLE can support processes and data known through institutional case study and wider research to augment the decision to withdraw. The main focus is on graduation students on courses that are being taught largely face-to-face on campus but were enhanced by VLE. The data collected from online survey of students have been analysed to present a rich interpretation of its causes lying beneath and the potency of its implications.
National Audit Office, 2007 found in England during a report of student confinement that there has to be a scope for enhancements in retention and that the vitality to address this will become growingly beneficial as widening participation fetches more students who are likely to need assistance; it also emphasizes a necessity to go beyond than simply answering learning deficits.
Perhaps the model developed had a great impact to calculate the early departure of students from the HE is that of author Tinto (1987) according to which, the reason behind the stay or withdrawal of a student largely depends on the fact that how much he or she has succeeded in becoming socially and academically involved into the institution. Forbes (2008) has adapted this by taking more into account of the necessities of part-time pupil and added external factors such as the requirement for paid employment. By doing so, this 'new confinement model' stresses the importance of peer interaction to support retention through both academic assimilation and social adjustment, and of exact and accurate information being given to prospective students before enrolment. This is approved by research at Kingston University which examined the main reported reasons for student withdrawal, particularly in the beginning of the semester, to be associated to unmet expectations and the inevitable pressure of finance (May and Bousted, 2003). Examples of good practice was identified by Thomas (2002) which included the arrangement of peer- assisted learning scenarios and targeted services for low class groups and likewise, research at Kingston university found that civil engagement and peer support were main factors for the 1st year students in their decisions to continue the courses (May and Bousted 2004) ICTs have been reportedly used to provide support and online guidance in the widening participation and confinement initiatives conducted by the North East Universities (Dodgson and Bolam 2002; Hodgson, May and Marks 2008). A very crucial contribution to student confinement was decided to be its significant role in enhancing social integration by proposing improved means of communication and interaction. Considerably, ICTs played an important role in improving student confinement by putting in effort for more flexible learning patterns, permitting students to scroll down through resources and services without the physical need to attend and to use them beyond traditional opening hours. Having said that, authors Dodgson and Bolam (2002, 3) commented that 'universities believe that progression in flexible learning will outcast the likelihood of student dropouts'.
On the other hand, empirical studies evaluating the role of ICTs in enhancing confinement rates in campus-based undergraduate courses have been primarily lacking. This brings in more regret since the mixture of flexibility with opportunities for social interaction in 'composite learning' (i.e merging face-to-face and electronic media) may lead us to anticipate higher retention rates on 'composite'- mode programmes.
Expansion of Flexible Learning
In her book 'University of Google' Tara Brabazon shares an insightful story of her work which started at 3am in the morning, followed by answering about 300 emails from students a day, stressfully converting her job from an academic to counsellor. The everyday life of a busy academic is written beautifully, emphasizing on the fact that while e-learning or technologies has made the life of students more flexible, and the life of teachers had been shuffling with general duties and academic work of 17 hours at a stretch. In some cases, they forget what their life is all about or they do not seem to get adequate time to sit and think for themselves. This thing especially holds true when I tried to probe about the situation in an interview with my previous module leader Jo Littler. She believes that "there is sometimes an idea that technology can replace teaching time, but in fact it requires as much or as more tutor time to use them in a manner useful for students".
Yet Tara described her apparent exhaustion for working more hours to be 'few talk' about the contemporary university system. In another instance, i.e in October 2004, she was clearly occupied answering desperate questions of students waiting outside her office whole day but when she was about to leave, a young woman, drunk and upset, 'cutting' herself (more precisely her arm) with razor appeared from nowhere. Tara had to make her feel comfortable after two hours of consoling and calling her parents. But this story defines what she was meant to do in her university which demanded staffs to embrace 'flexible learning', which is represented to internet-mediated communication in lieu of the many possible media and conditions that this phrase could adapt. This is meant to be the specific 'flexibility' in her view. Students have the option to 'time-shift' and become 'consumers' in university system if they feel confused, detached or alienated. In her opinion, she states that "being a teacher she can relate to students as people who want to feel connected beyond the realms of 'ourselves' or single person, hopefully to an idea to provide meaning and context" . She reckons that 'flexibility' does not solve learner's problems as most of the time at least one from the whole ratio brings in heavy emotional baggage, challenging the classroom environment.
During university lectures and assignments, very rare cases of people having emotional challenges make tutors to evaluate the cause behind their depression and assist them to be academically on track. The role of teaching thus goes beyond the realms of normal classroom discussions. Making it seem and obliviously 'flexible'. Contradicting most of the above theories and discussions I presented in this thesis for supporting 'flexibility', Tara believes that it doesn't merely come in the context of technologies if they are meant to be ideological by nature, "then let the theorists look at the model for corporeal flexibility that requires no investment in technology; but builds on decades of Knowledge, practice and reflection". (Tara Brabazon, University of Google, P 71-75)
Virtual learning Environment
Virtual learning environment (VLEs) are defined as "computer based environments that are relatively open systems, allowing interactions and encounters with other participants" and delivering a huge database (Wilson 1996, p 8). Furthermore, he suggests that VLEs differ from computer micro-worlds and classroom based learning environments where we use technologies as tools or in micro-worlds where students help themselves by entering a self- contained computer based learning environment. Computer aided instruction (CAI) or computer micro-worlds have many similarities with VLEs. For instance, materials can be fetched or accessed individually by learners; different paths can be followed through them and can be utilized in material displays discrepantly. Although we see, that the VLE concept is much different and broader than the CAI as it adds new dimensions to individual learning. Electronic interaction and discussion, building up new infrastructure for widely available network are some of the things encouraged by the VLEs (Wilson 1996). In a broader context, VLEs augment the progress of an individual not only in the corporate sector but also enable him or her to connect and share experiences with a larger learner-learner and instructors group.
It has been observed that e-learning or VLEs had been the central supporting system for the formal countenance of learning by enhancing predefined formats and learning objectives. Although, it has been in the human nature to learn informally on the unconscious level which is essentially not based on traditional exams or curricula, as a part of education to some extent. The learning outcome can largely be depended upon VLEs which support and guide the learning system. E-learning and technology enhanced learning are provided with support and recognition with the growth of Social media with their probabilities to communicate to a larger group, reflect, relate and collaborate.
On a global frame, it has been examined that social media have excessive potential influence on e-learning and technology- enhancing learning, mostly within the framework of contemporary learning methods (Baird and Fisher, 2006). This impact is however partly technologically derived. The whole truth is, with the concept of web 2.0, learning is influenced technically as well as socially. They encircle the strong alliance of informal environments, the desire to engage with the learning groups beyond the classroom environment.
Technologies like instant messaging (chat), wikis and weblogs are considered to be social media which enable users to publish and be a part of online communities as well as manage them in a broader scale (Schaffert, 2006). The publication and exercising of content is cheaper and more flexible unlike traditional media. Precisely, social media aims to connect with a broader mass by forming and supporting user groups and communities.
This dissertation focuses on the usage of social media in teaching and acquiring knowledge in higher education. The promotional culture of social media highlighted the shift of contents from producer generated to user generated content within the Web 2.0 framework. The standard change in the context of technology-enhanced learning symbolized the shift from traditional e-learning, established upon courses and the phenomenal of learning module to an active cooperation of the learners and their support as a community for general interest. So much so, social media is predestined to augment traditional learning and also e-learning environments. In a typical university curriculum, promotion or cultivation of informal learning with formal one is not done but Social media makes this possible. Informal learning has had a parallel shift from pedagogical standards from behaviourism to constructivism. It has been suggested that informal learning was held valuable due to its characteristics of being passively progressive outside the so-called traditional teaching. For example, Workplace - coordinated learning, where the amount of information is sought in a permanent basis. (Tochermann and Granitzer, 2008)
Research Questionnaires and Outcomes
I had taken an online survey which was responded by 30 people from different countries for this thesis which focuses on the articulation, development, application and evaluation of implemented situations for social media in the background of higher education. These implemented situations are designed to answer the most crucial questions listed below for my research questions. Subsequently, the outcomes for each are precisely summarized under the respective questions.
Are you familiar with the applications and technologies under Web 2.0 i.e Social Networking sites, Blogging, Web content Voting, Tagging, and Bookmarking? Can you tell me which of these do you use or used for your education?
This research question drew the fact that most of the students were familiar with the applications of Web 2.0 but had little knowledge about their impact on the society as a whole and how social media trends keep changing in a profound way. Most of them used Social Networking sites, completely unaware of publishing data. Moreover, this was used as the base to confirm their intent to use the internet.
Were you introduced to E-learning during your education? Library Catalogues, E-books, E-journals? Do you communicate with your lecturers via mail?
This question was also conducted for research amongst students to test their attitude towards e-learning. Except Wikipedia most of them had little or no interest in other user contents for education.
How do you think the concepts of E-learning 2.0 be applied to your education, if you are a software development or software engineering student?
While from the above answer it is apparent that most of them used Wikipedia as their learning source, weblogs also counted as the second application crucial to the implementation of e-learning 2.0. Weblogs had been newly introduced in the software development education as learning logs dated back in the 1990s when it was used as blogs only. HTML and FTP was used to publish web content.
How do you think 'Peer Review' or Self Reflection helps you when you get feedback online about your assessment or work?
The concept of Peer Review has been augmented to provide better assessment of software development students for themselves as well as their peers. In this way, a new adaptation meant better work as they now became familiar to faster feedbacks and more collaborative online components.
How do you think the concept of Social media can be used to refer to a larger audience globally? Can we think of distance learning without social media? If no then why? Use examples to support your answer.
These questions aim to externalize knowledge and were used as an online mind mapping tool. Probing how they use visualization of information to their maximum abilities. This is the traditional way of new features in the social media education arena which enhances students to determine the possible outcomes of e-learning. Possible use of situations for education have been improvised and evaluated.
What do you think about mobile learning in higher education? Does scrolling down a map while you're outside help you? You can explain what you think about location based services.
Mapping materials provided possible mashups for location based services as it has been seen as the renaissance in the previous years. To support successful expedition in higher education, a collaborative system essentially location based and lightweight had been developed.
Structure and Methodology
The methodology applied to the analysis presented in this thesis is constructed on the notions of situations and services denoted to itemize the crucial topic of social media to clarify concrete problems and enable learning in definite situations.
Situations or Plots
"Situations or schemes are the devices for improving our perception". A problem becomes insightfully manageable and can be better mastered by putting a composite set of events and relationships into a story. (Van der Heijden, 1997)
A plot is an 'idealized but detailed description' of a specific scenario (Young and Barnard, 1987). Furthermore, a plot is an informal approach widely used in provisional engineering (Alspaugh and Anton, 2008). One of the critical advantages is the comfort of the designer to predict outcomes before trying to specify them, making necessities more proactive in the advancement. (Carroll et al., 1998)
These situations can be used to define and identify details of individual research investigation. Furthermore, developing evaluation situations for individual investigative goals can be used efficiently after research. In the scenario of education, the OECD puts forth the definition of situations for the research of expected education in order to administer a basis for stakeholders from different fields to establish long-term strategies. (OECD Publishing, 2006)
In technology- enhanced learning, situations or schemes are used in the parameter of an activity-based instructive theory. In this instructive model, learning situations are described as a series of activities, a list of associated user roles, system tools which are applied, and the tutorial content (Helic, 2005). These schemes provide the fundamental assembly of the learning process within this methodology.
In the background of this research, situations were used firstly to define the individual issue domains for specific aspects of social media to be adapted to education and thus, by providing concrete scenarios, simplify the possible influence on the learning process. Secondly, these situations describe a test of cases with the help of which the suggested solution can be evaluated to examine the validity of the access.
The remainder of this dissertation is organized into two main parts. The first focuses on the research context and the general function of social media to technology-enhanced learning. It begins with an introduction into the realm of social media in general and two important examples, weblogs and wikis, in particular. Furthermore, an outcome of e-learning and technology -enhanced learning and the alteration from 'traditional' e-learning to e-learning 2.0 is provided. Part 1 approaches with a detailed dissection of the status quo of social media in higher education at the start of the research covered in this thesis. Subsequently, the last or second part of this thesis describes four different situations for the application of the abstract concepts discussed in Part 1. All of the discussed application situations are set in the dominion of technology- enhanced learning in higher education.
Situation 1: Acquiring knowledge by Self- Reflection
In the following chapters, the different scenarios of a social media practice will be presented as a solution to all the questions formulated above. There had been the introduction of learning logs which has been used in education for a long time (Baker, 2003). They follow the primary notion of providing an inducement for self-reflection and rooted engagement with a topic. Weblogs (blogs earlier), with their primary intention of arranging an easy to use possibility of publishing a 'diary' on the net, support the Web 2.0 application bewitchingly suited for the support of the learning log idea in an online background.
The social condition of weblogs has become obvious by the communication of the writers of individual blogs, either through comments on the entries or via references and so-called pingbacks or trackbacks. This type of communication between individual learners and tutors suggests an additional profit as contradicted to offline learning logs.
The situations are set in the parameter of university software development education. A professor provides his students with the chance to write their own blogs to log their attempts in the practical examples, post problems or questions and thereby discuss optimum notions connected with the topic of the module. These blogs (weblogs) can be approached by all students taking part in the lecture and also the lecturer and those who are responsible for the surveillance of individual groups of learners.
In the upcoming chapter 5, it will be presented that the realization of this situation in a 1st year programming lecture and an assessment of the advantage of this approach. This assessment contains a research of the correlation of blogs with the learning accomplishment, as well as a research of the probable use of quantitative measures as mediums for the lecture achievement in general.
Situation 2: Assessment of 'Peer Review' (Software Development)
The next situation addresses the 3rd research question of probable transfer of technology- enhanced learning ideas into the dominion of the Social Web. Peer review has been seen as a technique in the field of education to amplify the feedback given to the individual learners. As contradicted to feedback from one source (the tutor), the learners are provided with additional feedback by their fellow mates. Furthermore, for the exclusive reviewers, the peer review offers a potentiality to enhance their own ability to give comments and to accumulate insights on a topic by seeing other approaches. Subsequently, with the help of the element of scaling peer's work, peer review can be articulated into the grading as peer evaluation.
Peer review in its own is based on the connection of reviewer and original writer, albeit confined to a single direction. In order to encourage this approach this connection can be improved to be two-directional and hence allow the original writer to comment on the review. Furthermore, a possibility can be given for the peers to work together on the review and thus improve its quality.
This situation is again set in the parameter of university software development lecture. Due to a maximum number of students who participate, the individual learners are usually assigned to a group. Thus, the students receive little feedback for their individual proportion of the exercise and are mainly backed up regarding their group work. Peer review can be used to propose additional comments on small, individual examples. Final peer rating can even into the grading of the class as peer assessment, if care is taken on the quality of this rating.
Next in chapter 6 it will be presented that the implementation of an internet based peer review application to back up this situation. It clarifies the 'professional' feedback of teachers and also the students through peer review and proposes a device to judge an optional rating of the programming instances for suitability to be integrated in the module grading. An assessment explores the learner's reaction to this new formula and the quality of their scaling and reviews.
Situation 3: Collective thinking in Technology-enhanced Learning
This situation presents one more technique transferred to the parameter of the Social Web. Mind mapping is an approach of capturing and channelize knowledge into two-directional, synthesized visualization. In teaching and learning, these maps can be crucial due to the fact that intellectual processes can be improved, if they are exemplified and envisaged (Jonassen, 1992).
Mind-mapping can be transmitted into the framework of Social Web by adding collective features to a mind-mapping tool online. This cooperation can be beneficial in a simultaneous as well as an opposite scenario and should support the probability to mix individual work into one collective mind map.
This situation is set once again in an university for software development where a lecturer wanted to offer learners a tool to collectively think and model the needs of the programming instances in order to enhance their understanding of the 'user wish' in the context of the developed software. These reflections should be made prior to the actual design process and in a way, a mind-map can be noticed as a more proper method than UML illustrations, which are to be completed later on.
Situation 4: Collective Learning in Location- based services
Lastly, this situation presented here directs the support for those curriculum in higher education which are dealt with location-based information and training. Most common examples are civil engineering, archaeology, architecture and geo-sciences. A part of education in these fields is acquiring knowledge practically on-site through excursions or field trips.
Mobile learning makes this kind of field trips profitable based on the real locations visited. So much so, the accession of location information to digital appliances i.e geo-tagging is an important issue in this approach. In addition, m-learning can further be enhanced by adding collective work in order to answer and support the informal individuality of learning on-site.
This situation is set in the background of learning on-site, and applied for all fields of study which involves field trips. A professor wants to provide a tool that enhances all three phases of a field-trip: the development, the excursion, and the review. Typically in the field, a mobile and lightweight resolution must be available. The learners should be inspired to learn collectively in all of the situations and most of the knowledge involved is location-based.