Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Learning with Technology: Using Discussion Forums to Augment a Traditional-Style Class

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Learning with Technology: Using Discussion Forums to Augment a Traditional-Style Class

Article excerpt

Introduction

In view of the fact that "internet connections are only as useful as the people teaching with them" (Rivero, 2006), today, many educational institutions use web-based learning environments to deliver materials to, and communicate with, their students. These web-based learning environments could be ready-made products such as Blackboard or WebCT or internally developed personalized systems. In AUST's case (Ajman University of Science and Technology), United Arab Emirates, an electronic, ready-made Learning management system was still in a trial period and thus it was on the university's Local Area Network (intranet) rather than the internet. Thus, students could not access it from their dormitories or homes. Consequently, we created a substitute or at least some form of support to the existing Learning Management Systems, which resulted in our internally developed and personalized Web-based discussion forum (figure 1).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Rationale

The use of this technology is not new in highly developed and technically sophisticated countries; however, the use of E-technologies as a means of instruction in education in many developing countries is "still in its infancy". Emphasis in pre-university education was heavily based on rote learning, Memorization based-assessment method resulting in less creativity and individuality among students in a teacher-centred, traditional behaviourist stimulusresponse learning model.

The problem with traditional models is that they can help students achieve only a fraction of the quality education they need in an informational age. On the other hand, the main mission of higher educational institutions in general and AUST in particular, is to educate students for the telecommunications/information technology revolution age. Today, students have to develop the competencies they need to live, learn and work successfully in a rapidly changing society. Therefore, this requires a shift to the constructivist information processing model as a replacement of, or at least as a support to the traditional learning / teaching model. Martin (2003) guaranteed that "as theories of learning have developed, so has the model of the learner, from a model of an empty pot to be filled with knowledge ... through a behaviourist one of the learner as enthusiastic rat to be rewarded for displaying remembered behaviour or knowledge, to a constructivist model of an individual creating and re-creating his/her map of existence and planning/re-planning the way through it". (p. 5)

Research findings revealed that for the constructivist learning "...the teacher, as facilitator, is responsible for process design, creating the climate for learning and making resources available" (Dewald, 2003: 48). Alternatively, in the traditional approach, the roles of authoritarian teacher and passive learners still exist. The stress is on the teacher's role; the teacher must do all the work of analyzing and explaining the tasks through a structured sequence as the leading vehicle for learning (Tam, 2000).

It is believed that technologies that facilitate resources can be used effectively to promote lifelong learning, and support learner-centred approaches by being vastly available. However, in spite of its remarkable contribution to humanities as a whole, specifically to developing countries, technology is also "...creating new gaps within societies as well as between developed and developing countries, particularly through the so-called "digital divide". Now more than ever before, we need to achieve a more equitable sharing of knowledge and a smoother transfer of technology. Universities have a considerable role to play in bridging these gaps but they must do so within a context that is shifting as we speak" (UNESCO, 2001).

So, the institutions have to be committed to ensure that technology is used effectively to enhance learning/ teaching processes. …

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