Academic journal article Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning

Quantitative Aspects about the Interactions of Professors in the Learning Management System during a Final Undergraduate Project Distance Discipline

Academic journal article Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning

Quantitative Aspects about the Interactions of Professors in the Learning Management System during a Final Undergraduate Project Distance Discipline

Article excerpt

Introduction

Online Distance Education (ODE) in Brazil had its expansion fostered by the introduction of the Open University of Brazil (UAB) (SEED/MEC, n.d.) in 2006. During these 8 years of the program, ODE has been consolidating itself as one feasible alternative for the expansion of undergraduate education in several regions of the country, with approximately 268,028 students (in 171,084 different undergraduate courses) spread throughout more than 636 cities.

In Brazil, students from ODE have been achieving good results in the National Exam of Students Performance (ENADE), sometimes better results than the students coming from traditional courses (AcheSeuCurso, 2013; Silva, Oliveira, & Mourao, 2012). Studies from other authors also corroborate that ODE tends to be as effective or more effective than traditional methods of course delivery (Swan, 2003). ODE is being adopted by the Brazil Federal Government as a strategy for the democratization and interiorization of higher education in the country. There is even an initial proposal from the Ministry of Education (MEC) for the creation of a Federal Open University of Brazil (Foreque, 2013) that would bring together the existing UAB initiatives in a single University, as already happens in other countries such as: Spain (Universidad Nacional de Educacion a Distancia--www.uned.es), United Kingdom (The Open University--www.open.ac.uk) and Netherlands (Open Universiteit Nederland www.ou.nl).

The different universities that participate in UAB have been adopting distinct strategies in the execution of their pedagogical and administrative policies. In this myriad of organizational possibilities in a field still in formation, each institution needs to establish their own parameters of quality in this format, and to develop an understanding of all the aspects involving the execution of their activities. The funding provided by the Brazilian government (the UAB program is managed by CAPES--Brazilian Federal Agency for the Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education) to implement and manage the distance courses through UAB, is budgeted based on the number of students and the different academic activities that must be executed throughout the courses, such as development of digital materials, supervision and administration of students internships, academic support, supervision of students' final projects and management of virtual rooms. Even though universities are aware of the government parameters (e.g., number of grants/financial aid per student), such parameters still need to be pedagogically validated in order to develop a solid ground for ODE in Brazil. A clear example of this situation is the financial aid granted by UAB for the implementation of the Final Undergraduate Project (FUP) discipline in distance courses. In order to implement FUP discipline in distance courses, UAB pays to each professor a two month grant for the guidance of 5 (five) students. Considering that one month grant requires a total working time of 80 hours (20 hours per week), each professor needs to dedicate a total of 32 work-hours per student to the FUP guidance process (80 hours per month times 2 months divided by 5 students equals to 32 hours per student). The number of hours per week per student will vary, depending on how each course structures its disciplines, but for a discipline that is implemented in 16 weeks (a regular semester of four months), each professor should dedicate at least 2 work-hours per week per student during the entire semester (here the work-hour is not exclusively related to the communication between the professor and his student, but to all the work related to the guidance process, such as the manuscript readings). Although the calculations to use such parameters are straightforward, there is no empirical evidence to support the parameters themselves, and much work still needs to be done in order to check whether these numbers correspond to the real needs of the disciplines or not. …

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