Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Experimental Evaluation of an Instructional Supporting Tool in Distance Learning

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Experimental Evaluation of an Instructional Supporting Tool in Distance Learning

Article excerpt

Introduction

Theoretical framework of the study

The constructivist model of learning assumes that knowledge is not transferred but is created by the learner, with the instructor as facilitator (Belanger & Jordan, 2000). Most recent approaches adopt the student-centered approach, which is clear and understandable (Lowman, 1981), is responsive to the ways in which students learn and communicate (Kolb, 1984), acknowledges students' interests and motivations (Forsyth & McMillan, 1991), and focuses on the explicit needs of learners for meaningful and timely feedback (van Houten, 1980).

All paradigms in this area suggest that ad-hoc prepared instructional material, either in open and distance learning (ODL) or in traditional approaches, has to follow specific guidelines in order to be characterized as sound (Georgiadou & Economides, 2000). Aims and targets, keywords, short chapters and paragraphs, simple language, explanation of difficult points, and exercises and activities are only some of the guidelinees. In addition to these, new educational approaches and methodologies have evolved to integrate this material more smoothly into the instructional procedure. Furthermore, various learning aids have been proposed, such as study frameworks, time scheduling, or summaries, because learning issues are, after all, complex and highly case sensitive (Squires & Preece, 1996). So, there is a broad consensus that instructional tools aim to support the student in his/her work, to confront eventual learning difficulties, and to facilitate the students in personalizing the offered information.

Existing research and motivation of this study

In the described context, a new instructional tool, simply called the lesson sheet, has been proposed and thoroughly described in Karoulis, Demitriades, and Pombortsis (2004a). The investigation of the potency of this tool underwent three phases. The first one concerned a qualitative survey, which was applied in traditional classes and was published in the aforementioned study. The second evaluation was a controlled experiment concerning the application of the tool in both a traditional and a hybrid class, and is thoroughly described in Karoulis, Stamelos, Angelis, and Pombortsis (2004b). The work presented here concerns the third phase of the study, namely, to modify the proposed tool to make it suitable for ODL, to apply it in the framework of a pure distance-learning course, and to evaluate its potency and effectiveness in this context. So, a new controlled experiment has been organized and performed in order to elucidate this question.

In short, undergraduate students of the department of informatics studied, through distance learning, two lessons on usability engineering within the framework of a course on software engineering. The students were divided into two groups: a control group, consisting of students who didn't use the modified lesson sheet, and an experimental group, consisting of students who did use the modified lesson sheet. At the end of the predefined period, an in-person examination took place, with identical questions for both groups. The collected data was analyzed statistically. The results showed a statistically significant difference in the performance of the group of students who used the tool. As the main focus of this paper is to describe the pedagogical findings and to raise discussion based on these findings, this result points towards the application of a simple but valuable tool for supporting, guiding, and scaffolding the distant student during his work at home.

We emphasize at this point that prior pedagogical findings of the application of the tool in traditional and hybrid (blended learning) settings have already been published in Karoulis, Demetriades, & Pombortsis (2004) and Karoulis, Stamelos, Angelis, & Pombortsis (2004) so present work aims to add the findings of its application in ODL settings, as subsequently described. …

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