Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Technology Enhanced Learning: Utilizing a Virtual Learning Environment to Facilitate Blended Learning

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Technology Enhanced Learning: Utilizing a Virtual Learning Environment to Facilitate Blended Learning

Article excerpt

Introduction

At the Manchester Metropolitan University Business School (MMUBS) all first year undergraduate students are required to demonstrate competence in a range of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) skills including word processing, databases and spreadsheets. We are finding that UK students entering HE are generally competent in using features of a word processor, such as spellchecking and text formatting, but are less competent in using features such as automatically generating a table of contents. In contrast, some students come to us with a high level of ICT competence. Hence, it is important to develop a system of learning and teaching that addresses these widely differing levels of ability.

In the United Kingdom, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) have concluded that:

"Until recently, the terms basic skills or 'skills for life' were widely assumed to cover the skills of adult literacy and adult numeracy. In today's society however, information and communication technology (ICT) can be just as important, particularly in the workplace." (QCA, 2006,).

This statement suggests that acquisition and development of appropriate ICT skills will underpin our student's ability to prosper in an academic environment and beyond into their working life.

The Blended Learning Approach to Education

In the academic year 2007/8, around 1350 undergraduate students were recruited onto first year degree programs. Dealing with such a large cohort brought about some significant challenges. The problem facing our academic staff was how to deliver a high quality learning experience whilst at the same time making effective and efficient use of finite resources.

Until 2006 learning, teaching and assessment of ICT skills were tutor-led sessions in computer laboratories. Students would spend one hour per week in a lab over a 10-week term. Each student was provided with a printed copy of a workbook. Students were expected to progress through the workbook and complete 15 practical tasks. At appropriate points, the workbook instructed the students to ask their laboratory tutor to assess their capability in each task. Because of the large amount of students, some undertook the unit in the autumn term and others in the spring term. Hence, if the second group of students had deficiencies in any areas of ICT skills it was at the end of the spring term before the teaching staff became aware of them.

The summative assessment was by means of a project that required students to bring together all 15 tasks to solve a substantial business problem. They were then required to demonstrate their project to a tutor. This in itself was a significant burden on the lab tutors. Each student had to demonstrate their knowledge of their project in a face-to-face situation. Twelve tutors were involved in the delivery of the unit many of whom worked on a part-time basis. This was a very time consuming process and the student's learning experience was being compromised because the tutors were spending significantly more time in signing off tasks than they were in helping students to understand key concepts. The labs that were held towards the end of each term were becoming frantic affairs. Almost every student was demanding 10-15 minutes of a tutor's time either to sign off tasks or to ask questions. Clearly, this was not in the student's best interest. It was felt that adopting a blended learning approach would offer a way of dealing with these challenges. MMUBS had already experienced a successful implementation of one form of blended learning through the delivery of the Info Skills unit (Donnelly, Jones, & Matthews, 2006).

There are many definitions of blended learning. For example Kovaleski states that blended learning "combines traditional classroom sessions with e-learning and self-study" (2004 , p. 17), whilst Bershin offers "blended learning programs use many different forms of e-learning, perhaps complemented with instructor-led training and other live formats" (1994, p. …

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