Academic journal article Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

Supporting First Year E-Learners in Courses for the Information Professions

Academic journal article Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

Supporting First Year E-Learners in Courses for the Information Professions

Article excerpt

A considerable amount of research has been done into students' first year experiences at university: their transition from school to university and their social needs and experiences. The work described in the literature has concentrated on students who attend on campus. If on-campus students are experiencing problems with feeling isolated, a lack of identity and feeling part of a community, then how do online students deal with these same issues? A research project conducted at Edith Cowan University in 2004-2005 sought to discover the issues affecting first year students and the problems they experienced when beginning studies in online professional education programs for librarians, library technicians, teacher librarians, archivists and records managers. An anonymous web survey and feedback from students were used to find out how the online environment differs from the on-campus experience, to examine students' emotional response to studying online and to facilitate a more supportive experience at university. This paper reports the results of online students' first year experiences and the use of discussion forums to create an online learning community.

Introduction

Technology has become an integral part of the everyday information landscape. It is global in nature and increasingly user-friendly and cost efficient. It allows users to be mobile, connected and accessible. Users also have access to a wide range of information resources at any time and from any location. In such an information environment new technologies are changing the way we express ourselves, collaborate and learn.1 For universities steeped in traditional delivery modes, this new information landscape has led to changes in infrastructure and course delivery and questions about traditional pedagogy. Many younger students working in multi-format learning environments in secondary schools expect similar opportunities to use technology in their learning at university. However, since universities cater for diverse populations, the needs of older students returning to study must also be considered. Catering for these diverse student groups and introducing change (often rapid change) to delivery modes, pedagogy and support infrastructure present a challenge for universities and academics to "ensure that the canonical activities of universities - research, teaching, and engagement - remain rich, relevant, and accessible."2

In many cases universities have embraced technology at an administrative level, while teaching methodologies remain largely the same: the traditional lecture, with perhaps a PowerPoint slide show instead of a series overheads, text handouts or notes on the white board. In many universities the technology employed for learning consists of learning management systems (LMS) such as WebCT, BlackBoard or the Edith Cowan University (ECU), School of Computer and Information Science's (SCIS) home-grown system, eCourse. These systems are used to deliver course materials to students many of whom now study wholly online. Five years ago it was predicted that developments in technology would "revolutionize learning, empower students and faculty, democratize knowledge production, and transform society."3 However, a recent report from the US tertiary sector, Thwarted Innovation: What happened to elearning and why?* which examines elearning initiatives across sixteen universities, found that students do not view or use technology and electronic resources as learning tools. While students want to be connected to each other, they view elearning as a convenience at best and a distraction at its worst. Their primary use for the Internet is for communication and entertainment. While the universities in the study were using learning management systems, these were being used for administrative purposes and as a delivery platform, rather than a facility to integrate technology and different teaching-learning experiences into courses. As for the assumption that technology would force a change in the way academics teach, the authors concluded: "not by a long shot. …

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