The movement to flexible delivery in the higher education sector is inexorable because of a range of forces shaping university policy, including the development of new information technologies, funding reductions and the transition to a commercialised, globalised university ethos (Symes, 1996; Coaldrake & Stedman, 1998; Scott, 1994). QUT continues to develop its flexible delivery policy and devotes considerable funding to its implementation across the university. The challenge for university teachers is to translate this push for flexible delivery into a workable range of learning opportunities for students that are introduced not merely because the technology is available or because it is cost or time effective, but because it will enhance students' learning. This paper presents a case study of my recent attempt to apply this flexible delivery policy to a first year core unit or subject in Education in a critical way that constantly foregrounds students' learning needs.
An investigation of the learning requirements of Education in Context students also reinforces the need for flexible development in this unit. The majority of students in this unit are either school leavers or within the 20 to 24 age range (Pivot tables, Department of Planning and Resources, 1998). Electronic access to key unit information, to lecture notes and to email and other forms of electronic communication generally suit these groups because the majority of them are likely to be working part-time or even full-time to support themselves during their full-time studies. With the introduction of Graduate Entry students into Education in Context, the number of students over the 25 age range has increased. It is reasonable to assume that flexible delivery would assist them in combining full-time work and/or major family commitments with study. These students fall into the category labelled the 'new majority learners' in some of the literature (Zuniga & Johnstone, 1997, p. 2). There are also a number of officially part-time Education in Context students for whom flexible delivery would also ensure that study could be incorporated more easily into their work/family lives. Recent university-wide surveys indicate that there is a huge variation in the technological literacy skills of students. As the survey indicated, while 85% of the students surveyed declared that they could use word processing software reasonably easily, only 51% of students could email friends, 50% could carry out a world wide web search, 32% could download files from the Internet, and 29% could email lecturers (Rossiter, 1998). These figures and my experience in attempting to incorporate the use of discussion forums and website activities in Education in Context suggest that providing technological training is a crucial aspect of implementing flexible development in this unit.
The third module, 'Education in a postmodern society', has been chosen as the section for flexible development because it is late in semester, allowing students time to familiarise themselves with the unit and with online technologies, and because its content is particularly applicable to the use of these technologies. The first topic, Globalisation, especially lends itself to the use of web-based, interactive learning because the Internet is a feature of globalisation. The abstract notion of globalisation becomes tangible through the use of critical investigations of multinational corporations websites (an aspect of economic globalisation) and of an expose of the subtle impact of US cultural imperialism (a cultural aspect of globalisation) on the Internet and on Internet search engines. The use of the Australian search engine, Waltzing Matilda [http://www.aaa.com.au/], as a learning activity, and of non-US websites challenges the production on the Internet of a new global, consumer cultural identity that is based on US cultural and political assumptions - see website [http://www.tals.dis.qut.edu.au/TaLSSS/TALDU/staff/flexmodule.html]. Critical information literacy skills are also enhanced through these web-based activities. So too, technological awareness and skills are key components of the second topic of this module, the New Post-Fordist Work Order and there are a number of useful websites on postmodernism which students can explore, for example [http://www.edu-ss10.educ.queensu.ca/~qbell/update/tint/postmodernism/post.html] and [http://broquard.tilted.com/postmodernism/]. Similarly, the lecture on marketisation and education can also be enhanced by visiting several interesting websites that examine the topic (see [http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/bbing/stories/s11343.htm] and [http://www.wsws.org/news/1998/sep1998/educ-s18.shtml]) and students can also be directed to school websites that display the slick semiotics of marketing, for example [http://www.mbc.qld.edu.au/index.html] and [http://www.bgs.qld.edu.au/]. These other online lectures would also incorporate video material and web-based activities, which would enhance students understanding of the issues and involve them in the deep learning and conceptual change that form part of a cognitivist approach to learning.
For the other modules, the traditional one hour face-to-face lecture per week will be maintained in conjunction with the audio-taping of lectures (which particularly assists visually impaired students) and the provision of power point outlines on the unit's website. Students will be advised that these power point slides only form the bare bones of the lectures, which usually incorporate video, sound, websites and material from discussion forums. Lectures will not be videotaped as the costs have become prohibitive and print-based packages will not be incorporated because of the cost and because the lectures incorporate video, audio, and web-based material. Table One presents the exploration of these options.
|1. Web-based lectures||* flexible in terms of time and place
* allows for greater interaction than often possible in large lectures
* allows lecture exercises to act as tutorial preparation
|* access issues - equity, technological failures, etc|
* not suitable for visually impaired students
* students still require a lot of support and skill development
* hotlinks need constant checking and updating
|2. CD-ROMs||* flexible in terms of time
* allows a problem solving, interactive way of exploring issues like globalisation, etc
|* expensive to produce|
* not flexible in terms of place - need to access from library unless students buy it
|3. Video taped lectures [not for online module]||* flexible in terms of time and place||* too expensive|
|4. Audio taped lectures [not for online module]||* flexible in terms of time and place
|* not as accessible as print|
* not all students have walkmans, etc
|5. Printed lectures||* flexible in terms of time and place if sent out as a package
* can be interactive in terms of completing exercises like the online lectures
|* doesn't develop technological skills|
|6. Face-to-face||* still preferred option for many students
* caters for needs of equity groups
* can be supported by using technology - eg. PowerPoint outlines via web, etc
* can use a range of technologies in face-to-face lectures, including sound, video, websites, quotes from discussion forums, etc
|* not flexible in terms of time and place|
* doesn't develop technological skills
Flexible modes of communication will also be incorporated into the unit in a carefully structured way. Discussion forums, email and FAQ pages will be used in Education in Context, while chat rooms will not because they are not flexible in terms of time and because they do not allow time for students to make considered, reflective comments to other students or staff. As Lander (1999, p. 3) suggests, discussion forums not only 'provide social interaction ... [but they are also] powerful tools for critique and for comparing understandings and points of view'. As I discovered last semester, however, discussion forums will only be used effectively when contributions form part of the assessment and when they are supported by computer skills training. Furthermore, discussion forums must be carefully structured to guide students into taking part in debates and discussions. I will, therefore, post one controversial debate topic to the forum each week, requesting students' responses and ongoing participation. This will be rewarded at the end of a semester with a 20% discussion forum participation mark: 1% per weekly contribution for 13 weeks of semester, leaving 7% to be awarded for the quality of their critical analysis. I will also encourage students to use email to introduce themselves to each other and to me at the beginning of semester. Throughout the semester, email will also be used to report the findings of students' study group work. A recent study in the School of Electrical and Electronic Systems Engineering at QUT indicates the benefits of using email for group work (Boles, 1999). A frequently asked questions (FAQ) section will be incorporated in the unit's website as well. Table Two presents the exploration of these options.
|1. Discussion forums||* flexible in terms of time and place
* allows students to make considered reflections on issues
* useful for debates and discussions of controversial issues
* students can refer back to old debates, etc
* must be structured by lecturer
* training needed to develop skills
|2. Email||* flexible in terms of time and place
* allows effective time-management for lecturers by being able to send an email to the whole class in one go
* allows quieter students to establish a rapport with lecturer before face-to-face contact
* effective communication tool for student-to-student interaction
* training needed to develop skills
|3. FAQ pages||* flexible in terms of time and place
* saves lecturer's time by providing one response to similar inquiries
|4. Chat rooms||* flexible in terms of place
* useful for student-to-student communication
|* not flexible in terms of time|
* doesn't allow for considered reflection
The weekly two-hour face-to-face tutorials will be retained because they are vital to students' learning. First year students, even if they are mature-aged or graduate entry students, require a great deal of assistance in developing independent learning skills and thrive on the human interaction with the lecturer and their peers that small group tutorials provide. Students from equity groups, such as second language and Indigenous students and students with disabilities, often depend on the intensive scaffolding of learning that takes place in effective tutorials. So too, for these groups and students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who often find middle class universities an alien environment, access to computers can still be problematic and steps need to be taken to ensure their disadvantage is not compounded by the introduction of flexible modes of delivery and communication.
For the incorporation of these flexible modes to be effective, intensive computer skills and critical information literacy skills training must be included as part of the course. As some QUT surveys have indicated (see Rossiter, 1998), the vast majority of Education students have not had access to extensive technological training. One unit cannot solve this problem, but it can offer some support to students. Therefore, for the first three weeks of tutorials, the second hour will be conducted in computer labs with the lecturers present to deal with any technological problems and to model posting contributions to discussion forums and using email and the Internet. Students will then complete exercises in website locating and critiquing, using the checklist developed by The University of North Carolina [http://www.unc.edu/cit/guides/irg-49.html - see Appendix Three], posting contributions to the discussion forum, and using email. In Week 9 (the first week of online lectures), the second hour of the tutorial will again be conducted in the computer labs to ensure that no further technological problems have occurred and to provide extra support to students as they complete the web-based, interactive exercises in the first online lecture.
There are also a number of key constraints that must be considered. For the staff involved in the project, the key difficulties include time and funding, as mentioned above, and also access to the appropriate technology, which could entail the rapid development of new technological skills. More importantly, there are still a number of constraints for students in moving to flexible delivery modes. Access to the latest, most efficient technology is still problematic for many students and could compound the disadvantages already experienced by equity groups, such as resident second language and Indigenous students and students with disabilities or those from low socio-economic backgrounds. Although students have access to computer labs on campus, this is not always a viable option for students with family responsibilities. Visually impaired students will be particularly disadvantaged by the move to online lectures and communication modes, although the use of brail-based computer keyboards will at least enable them to contribute to discussion forums and email. Special assistance would need to be provided to these students to overcome these challenges. Student's technological skills, which vary greatly, will also impact on the effectiveness of these flexible modes, although this should be mitigated to some extent by the computer and critical information literacy skills training built into the curriculum.
Brisbane Boys Grammar School website. http://www.bgs.qld.edu.au/ [accessed 18 June 1999]
Broquard, P. (1999). What is postmodernism? http://broquard.tilted.com/postmodernism/ [accessed 18 June 1999]
Coaldrake, P. & Stedman, L. (1998). On the brink: Australia's universities confronting their future. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.
Feenberg, A. (1999). Distance learning: Promise or threat? http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/feenberg/TELE3.HTM [accessed 9 June 1999]
Lander, D. (1999). Online learning: Ways to make tasks interactive. http://ultibase.rmit.edu.au/Articles/lander2.htm [accessed 9 June 1999]
Marshall, W. (1998). User pays in Australian schooling. SEP Senate candidate for Victoria. http://www.wsws.org/news/1998/sep1998/educ-s18.shtml [accessed 18 June99]
Moreton Bay College website. http://www.mbc.qld.edu.au/index.html [accessed 18 June 1999]
QUT (1999). Education in Context Unit Outline, Semester 1, 1999. Queensland University of Technology.
QUT, Faculty of Arts (1999). Dean's News Update, Volume 3, May 1999. Queensland University of Technology.
QUT, Faculty of Education (1999). Teaching and Learning Committee's Strategic Plan 1999-2003. Queensland University of Technology.
QUT, Department of Planning and Resources (1998). Pivot Tables. http://www.qut.edu.au/chan/pr/data/pivot/
QUT (1998). Policy on Flexible Delivery. Queensland University of Technology.
Radio National. Schools of the third millennium: background briefing. http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/bbing/stories/s11343.htm [accessed 18 June 1999]
Rossiter, D. (1998). Techlit student survey summary semester 1, 1998. Unpublished.
Scott, P. (1994). Wider or deeper? International dimensions of mass higher education. Journal of Tertiary Education Administration, 16(2), 179-194.
Symes, C. (1996). Selling futures: A new image for Australian universities. Studies in Higher Education, 21(2), 133-147.
Teachers guide to postmodernism. [accessed 18 June 1999] http://edu-ss10.educ.queensu.ca/~qbell/update/tint/postmodernism/post.html
The University of North Carolina (1997). Evaluating websites for educational uses: Bibliography and checklist. http://www.unc.edu/cit/guides/irg-49.html [accessed 15 Jun 1999]
Vining, L. (1999). Developing a strategic marketing plan. http://www.edoz.com.au/market/vining37.html [accessed 18 Jun 1999]
Walker, R. (1997). Good reasons for staying off-line. http://ultibase.eu.mit.edu.au/Articles/walker1.html [accessed 9 Jun 1999]
Waltzing Matilda search engine. http://www.aaa.com.au/ [accessed 9 June 1999]
Zuniga, R & Johnstone, S. (1997). New pathways to a degree: An assessment of the use of instructional technologies at seven institutions. ICDE Conference, Pennsylvania State University, June.
|Author: Dr Catherine Manathunga, Lecturer in Higher Education, Teaching and Learning Development Unit, Queensland University of Technology. Tel: (07) 3864 5268 Fax: (07) 3864 1805. email@example.com
Please cite as: Manathunga, C. (2000). A blueprint for change: Introducing flexible delivery into teacher education. In Flexible Learning for a Flexible Society, Proceedings of ASET-HERDSA 2000 Conference. Toowoomba, Qld, 2-5 July. ASET and HERDSA. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/aset-herdsa2000/procs/manathunga.html