How the Web has changed lecturing: going the full circle

Stephen Rowe [HREF1], Lecturer, School of Commerce and Management [HREF2] , Southern Cross University, PO Box 157, Lismore [HREF3], NSW, 2480. stephen.rowe@scu.edu.au

Allan Ellis[HREF4], Associate Professor, School of Commerce and Management [HREF2] , Southern Cross University, PO Box 157, Lismore [HREF3], NSW, 2480. allan.ellis@scu.edu.au

Abstract

New educational technologies often appear with a fanfare of publicity that soon dies away once the next new technology appears. Seldom is the impact of an individual technology tracked and assessed over time. The World Wide Web was originally conceived as an aid to help physicists share knowledge via electronic copies of papers and reports. Its capabilities were soon recognized by the wider educational community and some of the most exciting and widely accessed early Web sites were built by educational institutions.

Over the last two decades Web technologies have undergone substantial technical evolution while at the same time educators have continued to recognize and exploit what the Web has to offer as an evolving educational technology.

Changes in university lecturing over the last two decades are compared and contrasted with developments in Web technologies and a case history, based upon a small regional university, is presented. It is proposed through personal reflection that while it might appear that educators have gone the “full circle” and simply arrived back at where they started it is suggested that the use of the Web in lecturing has had a deeper impact and has in fact transformed the role in a variety of ways.

"Time Circle"

This is a tale of going full circle to a point that appears the same but operates quite differently to two decades ago. The tale is a personal reflection based in the evolution of a small regional university. In the mid-1980s a typical lecturer at a small regional university would deliver a class to one group of students on one campus. Subsequent evolution of multi-campus models and adoption of distance delivery (on and off-shore) saw radical changes to that traditional delivery mode and the Web has been a key educational technology in this process.

Two decades on it is once again possible to deliver to a single group of students … the operation, however, is “quite different” because current Web-based technology nullifies the impact of their dispersion. They may no longer be on one campus, but they are one group! The delivery and assessment is also quite different. This paper describes the gradual availability and adoption of Web-based tools that has enabled this circle to (almost) close.

Figure 1: The “Time Circle” showing some of the changes in Web, computer and other teaching technologies over the last two decades.

The nature of what is done as well as how it is done has changed. The “time circle” depicted in Figure 1 shows the change in nature of the classroom and changes in the tools available over a two decade period at a regional university. The focus of the description in this paper is on the end points of the “time circle”, and reflections about the reasons why it has not really closed. The large circle depicts the potential that technology now offers for assessment and delivery to single groups of students that far exceeds what was possible in the mid-1980s (small circle).

Institutional Influences

Entwistle (2003) identified institutional and the academic/validating bodies as two key influences on teaching and pedagogical ways of thinking and practising in a subject. Two elements within these influences included:

1. how a teaching-learning environment is designed and implemented, and

2. how course material is selected, organized, presented and assessed.

This section addresses both of these elements from the institutional influence perspective over the last two decades at a small regional university. The design of the teaching-learning environment will be addressed by outlining the way the delivery modes of the programs have changed and the teaching tools and resources that have evolved over that period. The design and assessment of course material will be addressed by examining how delivery and assessment for an undergraduate auditing course has evolved to a point not dissimilar to two decades ago (the “time circle”).

While it is acknowledged that there are numerous models or taxonomies to draw on in relation to alternative learning environments to energise teaching and share the value of the techniques (for example, Cunningham (1999), Hanno (1999), Palmer (1993), Shulman (1987; 2002) and Wilson (1999), for consistency the discussion in this paper draws on the same work from which the institutional influences were identified. The discussion will demonstrate how the evolution of the tools, design and assessment to take advantage of the Web-based technology illustrate De Corte's (2000) (cited in Entwistle 2003, p.10) four common features of powerful learning environments:

  1. include group discussions of both the content and the process of learning and studying;
  2. provide authentic tasks and realistic problems that have personal meaning and future use;
  3. initiate and support active and constructive learning processes (conceptual understanding);
  4. enhance students' awareness of their own cognitive processes and their ability to control their motives and feelings (cognitive and volitional self-regulation).

Teaching and Learning Environment

A typical academic load two decades ago was 12-16 contact hours per week. The hours typically comprised 12-14 hours of lecturing/tutoring and 2 hours of student consultation, varying with the number of subjects and students. All students attended a single campus and face-to-face was the only delivery mode. A typical course configuration might have been a 2 hour lecture delivered face to face on the sole campus of the university. In addition, the students attended one two (2) hour tutorial. The hours of the academic will have varied depending on the teaching support available and the number of repeat lectures/tutorials that were scheduled. Numbers per tutorial may have varied between 15-25. In addition a couple of hours would have been set aside to be available for student consultation in their office. The point to emphasise here is that the typical course was delivered once each week to a face-to-face cohort of students on a single campus.

Changing delivery modes

Figure 2 provides a snapshot of how student numbers and the delivery locations have changed from 1986 to 2007 in typical undergraduate and postgraduate courses that will be used as a case study in this paper. These changes reflect the courses responses to the institutional evolution over that time. The figure also shows the postgraduate auditing course to highlight the growing complexity across teaching periods and locations. Later discussion will focus only on the undergraduate course. The intention is to highlight how the courses have evolved from a single semester, single location offering to a “peak” of 8 cohorts of students across 2 semesters and 3 trimesters during 2004 and 2005. Some changes needed to be made to make this more manageable for lecturers. The paper will describe the initiation of one such attempt beginning in 2007 that (almost) closes the full circle.

 

Total

Postgraduate

Undergraduate

 

 Year

Students

Tri A

Tri B

Tri C

Sem 1

Sem 2

SS

 Special Events

1986

26

 

 

 

26

 

 

 

1987

43

 

 

 

43

 

 

 

1988

80

 

 

 

80

 

 

 

1989

43

 

 

 

43

 

 

Study/LSL 90/91

1992

72

 

 

 

72

 

 

 

1993

23

14

 

9

 

 

 

External begins

1994

11

 

 

11

 

 

 

 

1995

60

 

 

16

44

 

 

Coffs starts

1996

67

 

 

23

44

 

 

 

1997

69

 

 

16

53

 

 

 

1998

64

3

 

1

60

 

 

 

1999

87

12

 

 

75

 

 

 

2000

90

5

 

1

84

 

 

 

2001

96

 

6

 

39

45

6

 

2002

82

 

6

 

 

76

 

Tweed starts

2003

143

3

15

26

 

99

 

HK starts

2004

129

13

8

6

15

87

 

 

2005

161

34

14

31

16

66

 

 

2006

174

 

48

 

101

 

25

 

2007

110

 

 

 

110

 

 

 SCBIT starts

Figure 2: Changes in student numbers, delivery formats (semester versus trimester) and delivery locations in typical example of an undergraduate and a postgraduate course.

By the late 1980s, the typical delivery model described above had begun to change to cater for evening classes to part-time students. By the early 1990s an external graduate conversion program had been introduced. This resulted in the overlap of trimester and semester teaching periods. That is, an expansion from the traditional two teaching periods to a potential five teaching periods. As noted above, this potential turned to reality by early in the new millennium.

By the mid-1990s the undergraduate program had been externalised and the evening sessions for part-time students phased out by the late 1990s as the external mode was fully implemented.

This period also saw the commencement of face-to-face classes on the Coffs Harbour campus, requiring additional on-location staff resources due to the six hour round trip from Lismore being unsustainable for existing staff. So by the end of the 1990s, teaching was spread across one trimester and two semesters (this includes other undergraduate units not shown in Table 1). The snapshot also shows that courses were offered face-to-face at Lismore and Coffs Harbour campuses as well as externally. This remained the pattern until 2003, with the exception that an undergraduate summer school introduced in 2001 effectively creating a trimester model for under and post graduate programs. Institutionally, this is called “flexibility”!

Through to mid-2000s as Tweed Heads and Hong Kong campuses started and both the undergraduate and postgraduate programs were revised, all five teaching periods across all locations were being delivered into. Now that the program revisions are bedded down only 2 semesters and two trimesters are involved, but 2007 has seen the start of another campus in Sydney .

So compared to the initial 1986 single campus face-to-face offering to 26 students, the current Semester 1 undergraduate auditing course is offered across five campuses (Lismore, Coffs Harbour , Tweed Heads, Sydney , Hong Kong ) and externally to approximately five times as many students, but still only 22 in Lismore! As described later, a trial commenced in 2007 to deliver and record the course using Web-based technologies once only across the Lismore, Tweed and Coffs campuses and to externals (the Sydney and Hong Kong agreements require local staff to deliver the course at those locations).

Teaching tools and resources

An extract from the manual gradebook is shown in Figure 3 and provides an insight into the technology of record-keeping in the mid 1980s. The gradebook comprised 50 columns to an opening and the extract shows the 15 columns form the right hand side of the opening. The last three columns with figures show the examination mark, the total assessment mark and the final Grade for 9 of the 26 students in the 1986 undergraduate auditing course. Contrast this technology with the use of a tablet PC (pen on computer screen) to prepare Figure 1 in 2007.

Figure 3: Extract from 1986 auditing gradebook showing typical manual pen and paper based record-keeping at that time.

Up until this point (late 1980s/early 1990s) the resources available were largely pen and paper, though the use of personal computers for word processing was emerging. Students primarily submitted hand-written assignments. The use of spreadsheets was emerging as a useful teaching tool, but was largely limited to demonstrations in computer laboratories rather than in-class. Classroom resources comprised blackboards (and chalk) supplemented by overhead projectors with hand-written slides. Data projectors were not available.

The very late 1980s and early 1990s saw government driven changes to the structure of higher education opening up the provision of external delivery to a wider range of institutions. This opportunity was taken up in the early 1990s and specifically by the Faculty of Business in the early 1990s. With the introduction of external courses and the opening of the Coffs Harbour campus, the mid 1990s saw the nature of contact (delivery) and assessment begin to change. The use of computers was far more widespread and much of our material development was drafted on an individuals own computer prior to desktop publishing. Email, was becoming a common form of daily communication. The classroom facilities had changed very little, though it was far less common to find a blackboard – now it was whiteboards with overhead projectors and more likely slides prepared and printed using either a word processor or Powerpoint (but still very rare to have the ability to actually use a data projector for your slides or to demonstrate particular programs – still reliant on the use of computer labs for demonstrations). Regular use of data projectors in classrooms did not emerge until the very late 1990s.

An additional challenge was to support another staff member running the same unit at Coffs and also to placate the students who were not enrolled as externals and therefore did not receive a printed study guide. This remote support is quite different from having tutors to assist with large enrolments, and for several years, the numbers on the new campus were quite low – another cost issue not addressed in this paper. Email (now increasing Web-mail) and attachments had emerged as the key (Web-based) tool for this co-ordination. The study guide contained the content, activities and solutions to activities, deigned for self-paced external study. This was problematical because the divide was quite blurred and it was not uncommon for “local” externals to come along to some face-to-face classes if they were allowed time release by their employer. This was part of a difficult transition on the Lismore campus from abandoning evening classes and asking students to enroll as externals. As there was still no learning management system at this point, these inequities festered for some years. The important point to get across is that the material right up until 2000/2001 was print-based and all that had changed in the classroom was the ability to take along a “portable” data projector (actually like a big suitcase) to make better use of Powerpoint features and actively demonstrate spreadsheets is you were lucky enough to have a laptop computer. Very occasionally you would be brave enough to rely on an Internet connection (if available) to try to show something more dynamically in the classroom.

Another significant development at the beginning of the new millennium was the adoption of the Web-based Blackboard [HREF5] Learning Management System (LMS) which offered the potential for minimising inequities between internal and external cohorts of students. The first steps in this regard were offered by the use of Web-based discussion boards for asynchronous communication across the course. This was useful for fostering class discussion on course information and a variety of assessment tasks. In addition, the assignment lodgement tools allowed a move to Web-based electronic submission of assessment tasks and the collaboration tools in the LMS fostered the revitalisation of group tasks within the course.

Since 2005, additional asynchronous Web-based tools (for example, blogs and wikis) enabled the addition of a wider range of innovations in the way the assessment tasks can be managed irrespective of the particular cohort of student (internal, external, campus location). The availability of synchronous tools such as Web-based video-conferencing and audiographics (for example, Elluminate Live! [HREF6]) have enabled the presentation or oral aspects of earlier assessment tasks to be re-introduced. In short, a very rich range Web-based of tools is currently available for use with laptops or in-situ classroom computers, in both delivery and assessment to supplement the whiteboard and overhead projector so long relied on.

The final point about the evolution of delivery relates to the 2007 delivery of the course. The delivery is once again based on “once-only” delivery model. This means that the three hour class time is delivered once face-to-face each week … in other words, there is a single timetable for the course, irrespective of the various locations (noted earlier) at which it is being offered. As well as face-to-face delivery, the class is presented using Elluminate Live! This allows students to join in and participate synchronously irrespective of their location, providing they have Internet access. In effect, the class is delivered to a face-to-face and via the Web to an on-line audience simultaneously. The recording feature adds an asynchronous dimension to this – participants attending the live session can review, or those unable to attend can view the session for the first tinme at a time that is convenient to them. Not only are voice interactions captured, but the activity on the whiteboard and slides shown and text messages with questions/comments are visible for review. The text message tool provides a window to the “silent majority” who can add their views rather than simply “nodding their heads”.

What is exciting about this development is the potential! In a single session the total cohort of students can be reached synchronously or asynchronously. The Web-based technology means they can contribute by actions, voice, writing or a number of other polling/feedback features; they can be distributed into small groups for activities to apply the knowledge being delivered; they can do presentations or tour websites and share documents in real-time or during the recording; a range of techniques are available literally at our fingertips. Accordingly, the potential can be extended to our assessment types.

Design and Assessment of Course Material

In order to provide some fine grained detail about the sorts of change that have occurred in design and assessment of course materials this part of the paper will discuss the undergraduate auditing course only. This is because the delivery of the postgraduate version has predominantly been (and remains) external print-based. Accordingly, the undergraduate version has always had a wider range of delivery modes and therefore assessment.

Typical assessment in auditing throughout the 1980s when the course was only delivered on a single campus face-to-face, comprised a 50% final examination; a 15-20% essay; some kind of individual task worth 10-15%; and an allocation for attendance and random collection of assigned tutorial exercises worth up to 20%. The essay typically involved a choice among topics or shorter pieces that had to be peer-reviewed and critiqued. The individual task typically involved an interview with the lecturer role-playing a manager for a new client or completion of a case study; the tutorial questions collected at random were based on content from the course that were discussed in weekly tutorials. Despite increase in class sizes, the fundamental lecture/tutorial model allowed an emphasis on regular checking of assigned tutorial questions and use of presentation/oral style tasks. The fact that the students were physically present meant the ability to ask questions and require in class presentation of their (hopefully) prepared answers was relatively straightforward.

These tasks illustrate De Corte's common features 2,3 and 4 of powerful learning environments noted earlier. Each requires the students to take active and constructive learning approaches to authentic and realistic tasks they will encounter as they begin their professional careers. They needed to select their own tasks, be prepared in advance for random collection of material, make and keep mutually convenient appointments and control their motives and feelings by being critical and constructive while interviewing and critiquing the work of others.

During the early 1990s the auditing course was delivered by another lecturer in the first author's absence on extended study leave. During that period the assessment regime was similar with the exception of the interviews and tutorial tasks. It largely involved an essay and a student tutorial presentation. The first author's responsibility for the course was resumed in the mid-1990s. At this time the introduction of the Coffs Harbour campus and external delivery led to important changes in assessment. The issue of “equivalence” of tasks needed addressing because of the different modes of delivery. The collection of tutorial questions for face-to-face students became less possible because of the ready accessibility of the solutions in the printed external study guide. So new tasks were developed and invariably did not involve so much “talk” and focused more on written tasks because of the print based model. This was easier to manage with limited resources than trying to deal with claims of inequity where different tasks were set for internal and external students. Recall also that it was not uncommon for externals to attend some classes. These nomadic attendance patterns made scheduling “in-class” tasks less practical.

In an effort to counter this divide, and to foster a sense of community among the students as a whole, some innovations were tried in the way that material was delivered and assessment tasks were structured from 2000 to take advantage of newly available web-based technologies other than email. The goal was to extend further De Corte's common features 2, 3 and 4 of powerful learning environments. The first step was to take the activity/question feedback out of the printed study guide and only make it available on the Web-based LMS. The lack of negative feedback from students encouraged the next step to see if the use of the discussion boards in the Web-based LMS might be used as a means to engage students to participate in asynchronous discussions about auditing. They did! This, in turn, meant that the discussion boards quickly evolved as the fundamental assessment tool in the unit from 2002 onwards.

The evolution of these approaches to assessment, introducing students to fundamentals of time management and professional judgement, have been detailed elsewhere (Rowe, 2002, 2003, 2004b) and Rowe and Vitartas (2003). but the following illustrations are offered in the context of this paper. Choice within an assessment task allows students to select a topic or question of interest to them from a range of topics. This provides students the opportunity to study a topic that has greater interest rather than a topic that is imposed upon them. Choice between assessment tasks is where the student can make decisions about when they can submit their particular piece of assessment. Flexibility as to when an assessment piece is to be submitted allows the student to structure their own study plans and to cater for individual circumstances, such as due dates for assignments in other courses (Dutton, et.al., 2002 & Meyer, 2003). They also cater specifically for De Corte's second common feature of powerful learning environments.

The next example is offered to illustrate how the Web-based LMS discussion boards enabled the adaptation of an earlier assessment task that had been successful in face-to-face only offerings. The change was that they became available to ALL students and not subject to the print-based constraints of externals. Where a short essay was set, a range of topics was presented for students to choose from. In addition, these choices would have progressive submission dates attached so that the choice was not only a topic but also timing to allow greater flexibility and minimise requests for extensions. This was adapted so that the assessment task became an open-ended question provided in each of the 12 Topics covered in the course. Students were offered flexibility in the timing of completing this task by having to respond to the question in any five of the Topics. They also had to constructively comment on the posting of another student for their chosen questions. The only constraint was the number of questions they had to choose from reduced as the weeks passed, for example, if they had not chosen to respond to the questions in Topics 1 to 4, they only had the questions from Topics 5 to 12 to choose their five from. This allowed the task to cater for features 2, 3 & 4 of De Corte's powerful learning environments (not just 2).

An interesting point to note about the change to a “collective” assessment approach is that the assessment is no longer only viewed by the student and lecturer/assessor. This is a fundamental change in the approach to assessment and a significant challenge to both the student and lecturer/assessor. It is out there on the discussion boards for all students in the class to see. Excellent contributions are available and poor contributions are transparent for all to see – the feedback is provided on the Web-based LMS discussion boards and thus shared. The quality and quantity of contributions is transparent for all to see. Explicit confirmation of the required standard, or what is lacking, in early contributions allows the additional information to be included and “raises the bar” for those that follow. Each contribution forms an explicit part of the knowledge generated and available within the course.

Two further examples of the evolution of assessment are offered. First, an optional Web-based LMS discussion board task was organised for students to dialogue with graduates about their careers. The goal was for students to see the opportunities for success first hand from graduates of the same program they were undertaking. An added benefit was to see that the principles and standards they were learning are applied and used every day in professional practice. A more detailed description is provided by Rowe (2004a, 2004c). In 2007, this task has moved from Web-based asynchronous LMS discussion boards over a three week period to a 2 hour Web-based synchronous presentation and discussion using Elluminate Live!

Second, an introductory group websearch activity using a discussion board in the group tools section of the Web-based LMS has been adapted in 2007 to use the wiki tool within the LMS to simplify the group interaction and production of the individual contributions to the final group report. The Web-based collaboration among the group members has been simplified because of the combination of the synchronous and asynchronous features of the wiki tool.

The ability to use synchronous tools with Web-based audiographic capability offers considerable potential to return to the oral style tasks of the 1980s. For example, role playing the manager of a potential client for a student to interview or have students orally present their recommendations to a client or to a Board of Directors. Students could be required to participate in debates or submit there work papers for review using application sharing features for immediate feedback on matters requiring attention. That Tablet PC enables Web-based synchronous discussion and mark-up of student assignments just as a work-place review of work submitted might take place in a supervisors office face-to-face. Then they would really be experiencing the four common features of powerful learning environments.

Conclusion

Educational technologies usually bring about incremental rather then fundamental change. For example, overhead projectors replaced film strip projectors, whiteboards and marker pens replaced backboard and chalk and CD's replace audio tapes. It is rare that any educational technology has a wide ranging and evolving impact however the Web is an example of one such technology.

In relation to the traditional role of lecturing while the Web has allowed staff to move back to a once only mode of delivery it has added many transformational features to the lecturing environment of two decades ago. No longer do students need to be at the same physical place, indeed they don't even need to present at actual time the original lecturer is presented if all they need to do is passively review the presentation. Using various Web-based systems and tools lecturers can delivery the classic style lecture in front of a group of students but with other students logged in from other local, national or international sites. In additional the actual lecture need not be just “chalk and talk” but can include multimedia presentations involving stored or real-time data. Student can be polled, questioned and asked to address the group, in other words the session can easily move to a tutorial style environment. This creates a powerful learning environment that De Corte (2000:264) believes requires:

“…drastic changes in the role of teacher. Instead of being the main, if not the only source of information … the teacher becomes the “privileged” member of the knowledge-building community, who creates an intellectually stimulating climate, models learning and problem-solving activities, asks provoking questions, provides support to learners through coaching and guidance, and fosters students' agency over and responsibility for their own learning. … it is not just a matter of acquiring a set of new instructional techniques, but it calls for a fundamental and profound change in teachers' beliefs, attitudes and mentality.”

The challenge that educators face is well summed up in the following line of poetry by T.S. Elliot. “ We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”. A teaching and learning environment built around the current generation of Web-based tools demands that educators question and reassess their role.

References

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Entwistle, N. (2003) Concepts and Conceptual Frameworks Underpinning the ETL Project. Occasional Report 3, March ETL Project ( http://www.ed.ac.uk/etl Accessed 13/4/07).

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Rowe, S. (2004a) A case for virtual guest lecturers: the experience of using practitioners in asynchronous discussion forums with an undergraduate auditing class. Proceedings of AusWeb04, ( http://ausweb.scu.edu.au/aw04/papers/refereed/rowe/ Accessed 13/4/07)

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Hypertext References

HREF1
http://www.scu.edu.au/staffdirectory/person_detail.php?person_id=258
HREF2
http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/comm/
HREF3
http://www.scu.edu.au/
HREF4
http://www.scu.edu.au/staffdirectory/person_detail.php?person_id=88
HREF5
http://www.blackboard.com/us/index.Bb
HREF6
http://www.elluminate.com/
 

Copyright

Stephen Rowe and Allan Ellis, © 2007. The authors assign to Southern Cross University and other educational and non-profit institutions a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant a non-exclusive licence to Southern Cross University to publish this document in full on the World Wide Web and on CD-ROM and in printed form with the conference papers and for the document to be published on mirrors on the World Wide Web.