Blended E-Learning in Higher Education: Research on Students' Perspective

Article excerpt

Introduction

As education is becoming a ubiquitous service delivered anywhere and anytime over the global network, the higher education institutions, although campus oriented and without distance learners, try to implement elements of e-learning in traditional course delivery, in order to prepare their students, as well as the institution, for the future participation in education (Bonk, 2009; McCradie, 2003). In this process, there is also a hope that such changes will also induce some changes in traditional organization, planning and management of educational process.

University of Rijeka is one of the seven universities in Croatia, middle-sized with respect to number of students ([approximately equal to] 17 500) and academics ([approximately equal to] 1 100). As dynamic and change- oriented institution, in its policy documents in 2007 the University defined the strategic goals, particularly related to teaching and learning (T&L) process and improvement of its overall quality. Thus the specific strategic objectives were set up: to increase the efficiency of studying, to modernize curricula and syllabi in the context of the Bologna declaration, to ensure the compatibility with international educational systems, to improve quality of teaching and learning through implementation of learning-outcomes oriented curricula, More over the goal was to increase the inter-university and international cooperation and to enhance the student and teacher mobility and to improve student services. Additionally motivated by the poor use of ICT in teaching and learning process, together with changes in curricula mandated by the Bologna process, the University management decided to enable the activities for e-learning implementation (Zuvic-Butorac & Nebic, 2009). As University of Rijeka is campus based, the e-learning implementation was seen in the form of transforming pre-existing traditional classroom content delivery to combination of classroom and online delivery (blended learning), through setting up of e-courses which will support the classroom activities.

The process of implementing e-learning tools as a support for traditional classroom teaching started at the University of Rijeka at the beginning of 2008, following the strategic principles (Bates, 1999; Duderstadt, 2003; Ellis, 2007; Hanna, 2003) adapted to local environment (Zuvic-Butorac, 2009). Since the time of the beginning of e-learning use and implementation of blended learning, the process has been constantly supported (through development of support services and education of teaching staff) and assessed for quality, but only from the institutional, teacher's and support services' perspective. Assuming that quality of the teaching and learning process is not something that is delivered to a student by e-learning provider, but rather constitutes a process of co-production between the learner and learning environment, we considered equally important to asses both the learner's perspective as well as learning environment aspects. In broader sense, the learning environment nowadays and particularly with the e-learning employed, is very complex and consists of many elements which contribute to its quality. It starts from the characteristics of the e-learning platform, technological and educational user's support, course design and T&L methods and tutoring employed, all the way up to institutional support and management policies towards all participants in the educational process. Assessing the quality is therefore as much as important for the students, as for the university management, support services and the academics, as teachers, authors and tutors. Understanding that student's perception regarding e-learning is one of the most important steps in developing and implementing a successful e-learning environment (Keller & Cernerud, 2002; Wagner & Flannery, 2004), we conducted the study of student's perception and e-learning acceptance, presented here. …