Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

PROVIDE: A Pedagogical Reference Oracle for Virtual IntegrateD E-Ducation

Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

PROVIDE: A Pedagogical Reference Oracle for Virtual IntegrateD E-Ducation

Article excerpt


The advent of the Internet has opened up several new opportunities in distance learning. Several major educational institutions and private sector participants are infusing educational innovation for the 21st century and expanding their mission to include activities through on-line education. The Internet and related technologies are now providing a means to have timely data available to anyone who needs them, which has in turn diminished traditional institutional boundaries for access to expert knowledge. For example, students can liaise with experts, enter libraries and engage in chat room discussions with knowledgeable individuals on almost any topic. These new opportunities provide the impetus to rethink how knowledge is discovered and develop new designs of systems for on-line education. According to the U.S. Congress for Technology Assessment (US Congress, 2004), distance education refers to 'linking of a teacher and students in several geographic locations via technology that allows for interaction'. Harasim, Hiltz, Teles, & Turoff (1995) state that the use of computer conferencing indeed provides a useful adjunct to large multimedia courses. Course tutors held discussion groups in closed conferences with relatively small numbers of students. Interestingly, the computer conferencing forum that was open to all students and tutors purely for socializing purposes generated the most traffic and became the most productive workspace. This unanticipated outcome opened up significant new avenues for practitioners of on-line education (Maehl, 2000). Interestingly, distance education institutions have not necessarily embraced on-line learning, but when they did, the transition to a communication-based technology has often gone more smoothly because of the overlap of values and skills required to succeed in the virtual setting. Indeed the growth and development of distance education is closely associated with the growth and development of Information Technology (Rowan, Barllell, & Evans, 1998).

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Several researchers have raised the fundamental question of "who is a virtual student?" It has been assumed that it is predominantly learners who take on-line courses because on-line learning allows them to continue the delivery of any time, anywhere education. According to Gilbert (2001), a "typical" on-line student is generally described as 'being over twenty-five years of age, employed, with some higher education already attained, and equally likely to be either male or female. On-line students may be non-traditional undergraduate, graduate, or continuing education students. Studies by Carr (2000) have shown that the very elements that draw students to on-line classes--convenience in a busy work schedule, ability to continue to attend to family demands are the elements that interfere with their ability to remain enrolled. The virtual student is not hindered by the absence of auditory or visual cues in the communication process. In fact, he or she may be freed up by the lack of visual barriers that can hinder face-to-face communication. In addition, virtual students feel comfortable expressing themselves and contributing to a discussion through largely text-based means. This does not mean that the virtual student must possess exceptional writing skills to begin on-line study. Peterson (2001) reports that some instructors have found the writing skills of students improved with ongoing participation in on-line courses.

Palloff and Pratt (2001) note that instructors need to pay closer attention to the following indicators so that they do not miss them in an on-line class:

* Changes in level of participation

* Difficulty even getting started with the course

* Flaming other students or the instructor, meaning the inappropriate expression of emotions, particularly anger and frustration

* Dominating the discussion in inappropriate ways

When we add on-line teaching and learning to a mix of students--knowing that different types of students take on-line courses--the following four activities seem to facilitate learning:

* One-Alone Activities: Doing Internet research, including using on-line databases and journals, participating in listeners related to course material, receiving information via email from on-line groups producing information related to course material, and applying prior knowledge or learning are a few such activities. …

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