Web-based Virtual Learning Environments - Semantic Scholar

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cooperative work takes place in the grouprooms, and we have billboards and ... Every room and billboard have it's different functions and support different ...
Web-based Virtual Learning Environments: Experiences and Futures

Morten Wagner, Jørgen Bøegh and Allan Meng Krebs, DELTA Danish Electronics, Lights & Acoustics – {mw,jb,amk}@delta.dk

The web provides a number of advantages for distance learning. This short paper describes and discusses the evolution and current design of the learning environment developed by DELTA Danish, Electronics, Lights & Acoustics and also identifies trends and futures of web-based learning environments in general. A more detailed description can be found in [1]. Different web-based learning environments The web gives educators the possibility to integrate proven as well as new methods of teaching. From mail-based doit-yourself courses to interactive audio- and video conferencing – the web has the potential to integrate all. In webbased learning environments, the classroom needs not be further away than the nearest Internet-connected PC. Many different designs and implementations of web-based learning environments have already appeared. Amongst those technologies we have seen in use are; • Usenet-like, asynchronous discussion groups • eMail communication • publication of material on the web • shared pools of documents • video- and audio conferencing • moo’s and muds These different technologies are combined in different forms to represent more or less explicit learning environments; sets of tools, that in combination define the students’ opportunites and modes for learning. We have had our focus on designing and implementing a coherent and user-friendly environment, in which the user does not consciously have to recognize the different modes of teaching and learning, but can utilize already present learning-skills. Our design has evolved a lot since the start; trials and questionnaires have formed a based for constant improvement and changes. Traditional computer-based training v. web-based learning In traditional computer-based training (CBT), instructional programs are most often being designed specifically towards some area. When a CBT-course has been implemented and distributed, it cannot be changed or updated, no social contact is integrated (and often not necessary) to complete the course. With web-based learning, both ordinary CBT can be deployed as well as centralized control and interactivity with fellow students. Synchronous and Asynchronous modes of learning in the design of web-based learning environments As part of our goal to satisfy different modes of teaching and learning, we have seamlessly integrated both asynchronous and synchronous modes in our environment. The integrated asynchronous modes include using interactive self-learning material, participation in usenet-like conferences, and sharing of documents. The synchronous modes supported includes on-line teaching and presentation, group-work facilities, etc. A challenge in designing an integrated environment for learning, is the natural combination of these different modes of learning and teaching. Most often, many different tools and skills are needed to exploit different modes, but we have emphasized a more natural integration, integrating all interaction with tools in a web-browser. As part of the web’s nature, continuing experimentation and evolvement of the interface are easy and straightforward – leaving the interpretation of result in field-trials as one of the big challenges. From the field: Experiences with different modes of learning Our virtual learning environment is built up around the metaphore of a virtual campus. From the campus hallway, the students can enter different rooms with different functions. Online presentations take place in the classroom, online cooperative work takes place in the grouprooms, and we have billboards and posters with discussions and information. Every room and billboard have it’s different functions and support different modes of teaching and learning. Below, some important points from our latest trial are summarized;

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The classroom: In the classroom, online lectures and presentations are given with audio- and video conferencing. The lecturer can show prepared slides on a shared, virtual “slide-projector”. Experiences: Students are generally positive about this form of teaching. There are, nevertheless, some differences in the students’ preparedness for asking questions. Some types of students never ask questions in this environment, others are heavily engaged in discussion, trying out the boundaries of the new media. The “communication distance” between student and teacher is perceived as smaller than in the auditorium but still greater than in the classroom. Another result is that distance teaching and presentation demand quite a few new skills from the teacher; students must be coached into using the media, the presentation material must be more engaging, etc. The grouprooms: The grouprooms are a collection of tools that allow students to cooperate on solving a specific exercise. This can include educational material, needed for the solution. Experiences: Generally, our students have some difficulties in initiating and performing efficient groupwork. Some students seem somewhat alienated towards the environment, and make no actual attempts to engage in groupwork. Posters and billboards: The billboards act as asynchronous means of discussion and information exchange. Experiences: These tools are effective and easy to use and accept. It is necessary, though, initially to engage the students, for example by giving them assignments that include using the billboards and posters. The Tearoom: The tearoom is a place for social (and chance-) meetings. This has not been sufficiently tested yet. The study: Here teaching material, other related material and the students own papers are stored. All selfstudy material is made highly interactive, with self-tests, indexes etc. Experiences: Though it is expensive to construct good selfstudy material, the learning effect is good and the students are satisfied.

Generally, online groupwork, teaching and presentations are motivating and good tools in web-based education. Surprisingly, it is very diffucult for people initially to engage in groupwork; it is seen that even computer-literate users have difficulties in mustering initiative and collaboration skills. Students often feel alone in this environment, and thus video representations of fellow students are important. In some cases, though, video can be a distraction; especially in some types of lectures and presentations. In online groupwork and communication everybody is more equal; it is only possible to dominate a group by verbal behaviour – not by other means. The self-paced, asynchronous parts of the web-based environment are much easier for users to exploit effectively. Using the interactive, synchronous parts of the environment is an area for further study and experimentation. Indications are also that the CSCW tools are not quite good enough, yet. We believe that more initial coaching and ”safe” environments will ease the transition from real to virtual classrooms. Trends and directions for web-based learning Now, more and more online conference tools are emerging. These meta-tools are including more and more tools like shared whiteboards and shared applications. In our case, we have developed our own shared whiteboards and editors, our own presentation tool etc. This allows us to control the integration with the web-based, asynchronous material, and to create a homogenous environment. As the ”big companies” continue their development effort in this area, it will probably be possible more precisely to define interface and integration with the web and thereby have more specialized (and easier) environments for the students to use. In general, the web allows us not only to generate web-based learning material, group-work, etc., but can provide the students with actual environments, with informal chats, ”chance meetings” and both controlled and uncontrolled exchange of knowledge. Discussions can be carried on in online and offline forums and the learning is not confined to one or two specific modes. Acknowledgement The work described in this paper was done as part of the ACTS project Prospect. Prospect is partly funded by the European Commission. References [1] Tele-Educational Services in a Future Open Service Market, Mark Riordan & Vincent Wade, Trinity College, Dublin, Allan Meng Krebs, Jørgen Bøegh & Morten Wagner, DELTA Danish Electronics, Lights & Acoustics. Proceedings of ED-MEDIA, ED-TELECOM 1997