Virtual University Of Pakistan Education Essay

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In this chapter we start by introducing our research object i.e. Virtual University of Pakistan and then different possibilities and implications of ICT in education will be presented to develop a general understanding about the role of ICT in education. Then different approaches of technology use in education and the hybrid/blended approach from literature review will be discussed in detail. The purpose and the tools provided by learning management system with regard to literature review will also be explained. At the end, on the basis of this literature review we will make a research framework that will guide and help us to complete this research.

2.1 Virtual Education

The precise aim of distance education is the attainment of knowledge, competency, and skill. The distance education is facing a paradigm shift from guided to interactive education. In the new paradigm the distance education is relying on the use of ICT (Kirschner et al., 1999 in Hussain, 2007). Hussain (2007) gives this new paradigm a name of "Virtual Education". He states it as teaching and learning process that is grounded on the active pedagogical principles but have the features of distance education. He states that virtual education is dependent on ICT and is a possible replacement of the conventional systems as it is capable of handling large number of students and provides flexibility and experience with the modern technologies. So this paradigm has become a form of distance education which can deliver education to the lengths and breadth of a country with the help of ICT. In many institutes, delivery of education by using ICT has become popular method in order to deliver education (Siritongthaworn & Krairit, 2006). Many higher education institutes are delivering ICT based education and argued that it is a flexible approach in enhancing learning effectiveness (Bose, 2003). The same paradigm shift is visible in Pakistan as well and Virtual University of Pakistan is delivering completely ICT based distance education.

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The Government of Pakistan established Virtual University of Pakistan in 2002 to deliver ICT based distance education throughout the country (Hussain, 2007). The Virtual University of Pakistan adopted Hybrid/Blended approach of education delivery to provide distance education from internet and broadcasting media. This university has an aim to combine the teaching resources on a sole platform and then make these resources available across the whole country with the help of ICT. Learning Management System (LMS) is used as a platform for delivering this education over internet (Masood, 2006 in Siddiqui, undated). In the coming section we will explain the role of ICT in the field of education with the help of literature review.

2.2 ICT and Education

Tinio (2009, p.4) describes ICT as a "diverse set of technological tools and resources used to communicate, and to create, disseminate, store, and manage information. These technologies include computers, the Internet, broadcasting technologies, and telephony." ICT encompass all forms of technologies used to handle information and assist its communication in a digital format. ICT is not only enhancing efficiency, effectiveness, and accuracy when it comes to task performance, but also eliminate barriers of communication between students and teachers. ICT facilitate to submit assignments, receive and respond to feedbacks, be notified of due dates by emails, attend virtual meetings and lectures, as well as participate in interactive discussions, to name a few advantages as the ICT benefits are countless in this regard.

ICT supported education is illustrated by Robertson (2003, pp. 284-85) as: "Information technology promises to deliver more learning for every student accomplished in less time; to ensure 'individualization' no matter how large and diverse the class; to wipe out the differences and disadvantages associated with race, gender, and class; to vary and yet standardize the curriculum; to remove subjectivity from student evaluation; to make reporting and record keeping a snap; to keep discipline problems to a minimum; to enhance professional learning and discourse; and to transform the discredited teacher-centred classroom into that paean of pedagogy: the constructivist, student-centred classroom". ICT resources, tools and applications provide flexible learning, focusing interaction among teachers, students, online environment and collaborative learning. E-Learning involves the use of computers, intranet, extranet, Internet, software and other media of telecommunications (I. Jung, 2000). Kim (2009, Ngoma, 2010) describes that the role of ICT in the field of education is multifaceted. He identifies the following roles of ICT in the field of education:

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Subject: he thinks ICT can be taught as subject in computer sciences.

Tool for teaching and learning process: ICT is a tool that introduces new practices for the teaching and learning process like, multimedia, digital content, etcetera.

Administrative tool: ICT is used an administrative tool in the field of education (e.g. education management information systems, LMS )

Expansion of learning opportunity: It really expands the opportunities of education in the form of distance education and e-learning. This expansion includes the anytime and anywhere access to the remote learning resources.

Facilitator: It facilitates advanced thinking skill. As it supports the learner-centred approach and self-directed learning i.e. students have access to the educational resources at anytime from anywhere and hence they can learn and educate themselves according to their convinience.

ICT overcome inequalities between urban and rural communities by providing teaching tools which are accessible by learners through electronic media (Unwin, 2009: p.214). It increase computing resources like web technologies, encouraging auxiliary instructional activities; access of educational resources online, administrative services provided through networked resources, ICT effects organisational and social changes in policies and approaches for example growth in demand of lifelong learning, and enhance the quality of teaching and learning process (Roumen Nikolov, 2008). In the next section we will present the different approaches to the technology use of distance education.

2.3 ICT based distance education

The availability of computer and the internet have given more concentration to the discussion of distance education. According to Calder (2000, in Waddoups & Howell, 2002) distance education is described as the use of media and technology to permit time and geographical separation of the processes of teaching and learning. These technologies have enabled a high quality interaction between the teachers and students. It will be good for this research to have an understanding about the different approaches to distance education.

The first focus point for distance education is the communication relationship between teachers and students. This communication relationship supported by technology is mainly of following two types (Waddoups & Howell, 2002):

Synchronous

The relationship between a teacher and students in this approach is spatial and temporal. This approach points out different ways to use technologies to overcome this distance. But this type of education requires teacher and student to be together at the same time facilitated by technology. Interactive video conferencing, online chat, whiteboard features are example of this approach. This approach is useful to increase the contact between teacher and student but at the same time it can be a reason for the decrease of the efficiency and flexibility of distance education as the teacher become the centre of instructional interaction same like the traditional classroom setting (Waddoups & Howell, 2002).

Asynchronous

This approach allows the students to be separated by both time and space from the teachers. It potentially decreases the contact but the level of flexibility is increased. The internet and communication technologies have improved the interaction level within the perspective of asynchronous distance education. Discussion boards and email are good examples of it (Waddoups & Howell, 2002).

According to Waddoups & Howell (2002, p.3) "focusing on the communicative relationship between teacher and students does not fully account for important issues such as the pedagogical methods and instructional design of the learning environment". So identification of pedagogical methods and instructional design models is an important approach to the discussion of distance education. There are two broad approaches that include the focus on the "transmission of information" and "interactivity and connectivity". Some details about them with respect to our research are following:

Transmissive Approach

According to Bourne (1998, in Waddoups & Howell, 2002, p.3 ) "the focus of this approach is on the delivery of information whether in a synchronous or asynchronous mode". Technology is used to improve the effectiveness of this form which includes television and internet.

Asynchronous transmissive approach

"This approach focuses on the delivery of information to students through the postal service, the Internet, videocassettes, or educational television and radio programs" (Waddoups & Howell (2002), p.3).

Synchronous transmissive approach

"This approach duplicates the traditional classroom lecture primarily through the use of two-way video technology" (Waddoups & Howell (2002), p.4). The focus of both these approaches is on the delivery of education but not on the connectivity and interactivity.

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Interactive approach

The focus of this approach is on connection, interaction and exploration, rather than only on the transmission. The main centre of attention of this model is to create rich learning environment. Rich learning environment means offering students flexible range of resources that may include audio, video and text in both modes i.e. synchronous and asynchronous. The interactive model combines the best about distance education and campus-based education through the use asynchronous and synchronous technologies (Waddoups & Howell, 2002). This convergence is known as hybridization. It means the hybridization is removing traditional and institutional boundaries to meet the modern age educational needs. The interactive approach becomes the base for the hybrid / blended/ mixed learning systems. These learning systems are of great importance for our research. In the next section we will have a detailed discussion about the hybrid or blended mode of learning.

2.4 Hybrid/Blended Approach

According to Bonk & Graham (2006) blended or hybrid approach can be described as a combination of instruction from two models of teaching and learning. These two models are traditional face to face learning systems and distributed learning systems (see figure 2.1). According to him computer-based technologies play a vital role in hybrid learning. Anastasiades & Retalis (2001) also argue that the electronic technologies assist different kinds of learning i.e. completely online, mixed or hybrid, or web supported, but apart from the method of delivery, the efficient use of these technologies transform not only the teaching roles but also the learning procedures.

Figure 2.1: Defining the blend (Georgouli, et al., 2008, p.228)

The overall acceptance and availability of digital learning technologies has really increased the levels of integration of computer-mediated instructional elements into the blended learning systems (Bonk & Graham, 2006). The figure 2.2 shows the speedy growth of distributed learning and its merger with the face to face learning. The overlap of these two represent the emergence of blended/hybrid learning systems. Allen and Seaman (2003) also think that hybrid model was given very less attention than the other modes in the past but now its growth rate is higher than the others. They also argue that hybrid/blended learning signifies the future of learning in the digital age and it will force a paradigm shift especially in the higher education

Graham et al. (2005, in Bonk & Graham, 2006) have identified three main reasons for designing and using hybrid/blended learning systems which are following:

Improved pedagogy

Development of effective pedagogical practices is considered as the main reason for blending. It is evident that many current teaching and learning practices are still focusing on transmissive rather than interactive strategies. So the blending learning approaches raise the level of learning strategies by blending or mixing of different approaches.

Figure 2.2: Progressive convergence of traditional F2F and distributed environments allowing development of blended learning systems (Bonk & Graham, 2006).

Increased access/flexibility

According to Bonk et al. (2002, in Bonk & Graham, 2006) one of the key aspects that persuade the expansion of distributed learning environments is the access to learning. Learner flexibility and their convenience is also very important factor as some learners with other commitments like job or family also need additional education. So hybrid/blended learning system assisted with the modern information and a communication technology is the best possible solution. Especially for those students who need the handiness offered by distributed environment, and concurrently, are not ready to give up their social relations that they are accustomed to in a face to face classroom.

Increased cost effectiveness

According to Bonk & Graham (2006) cost effectiveness is a third main ambition for hybrid/blended learning systems. So these systems are capable of reaching large, worldwide scattered learners in short span of time with consistent content delivery.

The benefits of hybrid/blended learning systems have made it successful and now its growth rate is equal to, or sometimes even higher than its counterparts i.e. totally online or face-to-face modes (Dziuban & Moskal, 2001). Inspired by its benefits Virtual University of Pakistan adopted Hybrid Model of Learning for the delivery ICT based distance education all over the country (Siddiqui, undated).

2.3.1 Components of Hybrid/Blended learning model

According to Masood (2006, in Siddiqui, undated) the Hybrid/Blended model of learning basically consists of following three components.

Physical campuses and computer laboratories

Lecture delivery through television broadcasts or video recordings

Student interactions with faculty members and learning resources via the Internet

These components are connected with each other and with the integration of information and communication technologies have become a popular model of instruction. This type of environment enhances the quality of the instruction and learning process. As mentioned before the physical campus are of great importance for those students who need the handiness offered by distributed environment, and concurrently, are not ready to give up their social relations that they are accustomed to in a face to face classroom and they can have the facility of computer laboratories in those campuses. Incorporation of the broadcasting technology like television and the electronic mail system in the education field can smooth the progress resulting in better communication between students and teacher (Wallace, 1991). Research shows that television catches the attention of the learners and increases their interest in learning process (Sherry, 1996). As Lecture delivery through television broadcasts or video recordings is asynchronous so students have the flexibility and permit time and geographical separation of the students and teachers. All these three components are important but the most interested component for our research is the third component i.e. interaction via internet. This interaction is enabled through a learning management system or electronic mail. In the next section we will have a detailed discussion about the learning management system.

2.5 Learning Management System

ICTs are not only capable of delivering high quality data i.e. voice and video all over the world but also these technologies offer a platform for using different learning tools and hence have become valuable for distance learning. E-Learning system that provides these learning tools is known as Learning Management Systems (LMS). Learning Management System makes it possible for institutions to allow the students to have electronic access to course materials, upload or submit assignments; view assessments made, and also facilitate an online interaction between faculty and students (OECD, 2005).

"LMSs offer a number of administrative tools to facilitate the management of courses and student accounts, grade books, usage statistics, content authoring, timed release of materials, calendars, personal information and integration with other administrative systems. LMSs help to solve the problem of delivering quality teaching and learning programs to large numbers of students in on-campus and distance education modes of teaching" (Petrovic & Kennedy, 2005, p.535). According to many researchers (Petrovic & Kennedy, 2005; Georgouli et al., 2008; Coates et al., 2005) Learning Management Systems are used in academic environment mainly for four purposes: resource/content provision, communication, assessment and administration.

2.5.1 Resource/Content provision

"The starting point for e-learning is providing information. Once that point has been established, it becomes possible to explore new innovative approaches, relying on technology, to go deeper and transform information into knowledge" (Georgouli et al., 2008, p.228). According to Harris et al. (undated, p.4) "LMS support students to have independent study by having access to downloadable resources, reading lists, and/or other information sources. These sources include lists of required readings, links to specific library resources, downloadable materials such as lecture notes and audio recordings, additional readings and other audio/video materials". Petrovic & Kennedy (2005) thinks the course materials on LMS may include interactive media elements (like images, movies, shockwave, and flash) and other general resources in the form of useful links.

2.5.2 Communication

According to Georgouli et al. (2008) in ICT based distance learning environments there is great need to create a sense of working as community. This demands a serious attention to make effective ways of communication for collaborative working and also for distribution and gathering of information. So he thinks that the students must be facilitated and be sure that their instructors and fellows are paying attention to their recommendations and expectations by giving feedback. The LMS provide tools like forums, groups, chat, announcements, news and wiki to provide novel ways of communication. Petrovic & Kennedy (2005) is of view that LMS supports communication through the use of email, messaging system and announcement features. He thinks by using these features the faculty staffs inform large number of students about various courses related, social, and technical and assessment related issues. Coates et al. (2005) says LMS supports both synchronous and asynchronous by using the tools like e-mail, chat, announcement areas, instant messaging and discussion forums. The different tools used for interactive communication and collaboration by learning management systems are explained below:

Chat

It is synchronous tool for online communication based on the exchange of text. The text is visible to all of the participants of the chat. The text of each of the sessions can be recorded and accessed during several days in other form of communication (Harris et al., undated; Bucko et al., 2005).

Announcements

It is a handy form of communication. It can include text, images, media content, and links to other websites and other files. The announcements can also be conveyed by email (Harris et al., undated).

Audio conference

It is also synchronous tool for online communication using computer network as a telephone. This tool is appropriate for complex and emotional discussions.

(Bucko et al., 2005)

Video conference

"It is a synchronous tool for distant interactive communication between two or more distant participants in real time. This tool enables detailed discussions with higher touch interactions. But it has high requirements for hardware and network speed for transferring video. It is always important to assure the speed rate through the whole video conferencing session (Bucko et al., 2005).

White boards

White board is an alternate to the conventional blackboards. This is the representation of shared area of monitor for drawing. It works as a paint utility and the drawings made are available to all the participants. This is useful synchronous tool for co-development of ideas. (Bucko et al., 2005)

Electronic mail

This tool is most well-known Internet service. Initially it was mainly intended to send text messages but today different types of files can be sent as an email. This asynchronous tool allows selective communication with several combinations of student and staff users. (Bucko et al., 2005)

Blogs

This tool provides an interface for thoughtful writing and comments for a specific topic. Blogs are available for selected group of users. This asynchronous tool is useful of sharing ideas and commenting on them. But sometime it takes longer to come to a conclusion. (Harris et al., undated)

Discussion forums

It is an asynchronous communication tool that allows messages to be posted and read and any time. It is organized into threads i.e. discussion within a topic. This tool in LMS also permits online communication with other participants (Harris et al., undated). Bucko et al. (2005) identifies the following advantages of discussion forums:

Time and place independent

Any time discussion

Every student has chance to speak

It can also be a part of assessment

It makes students active and they can help each other in doing common tasks.

News groups

This tool is also known as network news or a server of messages. These groups accept messages of distinct topic and then send this message to every participant of the group. Their benefit is the fact that answers are matched straight away after the message. (Bucko et al., 2005)

2.5.3 Assessment

LMS provides educational institutes the ability of electronic marking, and generate student's reports and transcripts along with notifications (Mahdizadeh et al., 2008). According to Coates et al. (2005) the LMS supports formative and summative assessment. He says LMS can have tools for assignment submissions, multiple choice testing and feedback.

Harris et al. (undated) is of the view that LMS allow online assignment submission which facilitates assessment administration for students and teachers. It has tools like quizzes and online interactive tutorials that provide opening for students to self-assess and test their knowledge and ideas through these tools. He also says that the LMS have tool of grade book that present students with information about their individual progress. These different assessment tools also support the timely and explanatory feedback from the faculty to the students.

2.5.4 Administration

A LMS is an E-Learning infrastructure which support e-learning by managing learner data, and generating reports to maximize the effectiveness of the entire learning organization (Ellis, 2009). Class and user management is done through LMS which involves registration, enrolment, displaying timetables, managing student activities and electronic office hours. According to Harris et al. (undated) LMS endow students with complete description of the subject administrative processes. This information may include:

Contact details of the faculty staff

Academic calendar

List of assessment tasks and deadlines

Information about the use of LMS

2.6 Framework for our study

We started this chapter with a description of ICT and Education in order to develop understanding about the use of ICT in education. Then we focused on different approaches of communication and interaction and the use of technology in these approaches in distance education. To understand the role of ICT in the success of Virtual University of Pakistan, it is necessary to understand its working i.e. how this university is availing benefits of ICT to deliver education. Virtual University of Pakistan have decided to avail all the possible benefits of the modern technologies in the form of Hybrid model as mentioned in Section 2.3 to achieve their goal of delivering quality education. By keeping this in view we have decided to make this Hybrid model as a base for our research framework. Because we think it will make things clear for us to make a research and understand the working of this hybrid mode of learning to avail maximum benefits of the ICTs.

Considering Hybrid Model as a base our theoretical framework for this research has three major components: lecture delivery through television broadcasts or video recordings, physical campuses and computer laboratories and student interactions with faculty members and learning resources via the Internet through LMS and mail system (see figure 2.3). The role and support provided by ICTs for each component will be explored in this research. We have developed this framework because we think the components of this model represent the communication and interaction approaches.

For the first component i.e. lecture delivery through television broadcasts or video recordings we will make a research about how Virtual University of Pakistan is developing content of world recognized curriculum by keeping in view the shortage of highly qualified faculty and how they are using television to deliver this content. Also the process of the lecture recording and to make these recorded lectures interactive by using ICTs will be explored in this research. So this component is representing the transmission approach is used as channel for delivery of contents. The second component is physical campuses and computer laboratories. In this research we will try to find the reasoning behind this idea to have physical campuses in E-Learning environment. And how these campuses are connected with the head office by using the modern technologies will also be investigated. This component represents the communication as well as interaction as it is a support hub for students.

Figure 2.3: Framework for our study

The third component student interactions with faculty members and learning resources via the internet through LMS and mail system is the most important component of our research framework. As from the literature in the previous section we have developed an understanding that learning management system is key element of an e-learning environment which is responsible for an interaction between the learning processes and also enables a collaborative learning. In this research we will try to explore the features of the Virtual University's LMS and how these features are working and enabling the students to perform the required activities. In this way we will try to have a detailed understanding about the working of Virtual University's LMS. Also the functioning of their mail system will also be investigated. Hence the complete understanding of this component will be useful for us to have the required objectives of this research.

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