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CHALLENGES FACED BY STAFF AND STUDENTS AT TERTIARY LEVEL IN FLEXIBLE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT AN INSTITUTIONAL STUDY BY SEYED AROOS SEYED SHERIFFDEEN A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Computing, Unitec NZ, 2007 Thesis supervised by Professor Donald Joyce Dr Logan Muller Ranjana Shukla 1 ABSTRACT This research is concerned with identifying the challenges / problems of flexible learning environments in the tertiary education sector. Flexible learning environments usually allow students to choose from a mix of learning opportunities/resources, including face-to-face learning, distance learning and e- learning. The term blended learning is used when students are expected to participate in both face-to-face learning and e-learning. Research was conducted using mixed qualitative and quantitative method, and the data were collected through interviews and online survey. Ten staff members were interviewed and 145 students participated in the survey. Both sets of data have been summarized and analysed by the researcher to draw meaningful conclusions. This thesis identifies the challenges and problems faced by students and staff in flexible learning environment, especially the challenges of online learning which is considered as the latest version of the flexible learning environment. Key findings provided to answers the following questions: What are the challenges faced by students, teachers and support staff which can reduce the effectiveness of the learning and teaching process? What are the learning/technical difficulties encountered by the students from various ethnic communities of New Zealand? How can flexible learning be made more effective if the identified challenges and difficulties are resolved? DEDICATED TO MY BELOVED PARENTS AND MY BROTHER ii 2 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I like to thank my God Almighty for enabling me to complete this thesis, without whose mercy this would not have been possible. I owe a huge debt of thanks to my beloved late father, elder brother, my mother and uncle, whose constant dream was to see me as a professional. I appreciate your hard work and worries about my future, I always pray for you and your happiness. My sincere thanks are to my Primary supervisor Professor Donald Joyce. Your smiley face and friendly advice were a great source of inspiration to me. I did learn lots of things from you. You taught me research method, reference style, analytical skills, reporting method, summarizing data etc. Not only that, you also taught me how to write good English. I consider my self lucky to have had you as a supervisor. I like to extend my thanks also to my second supervisors Dr. Logan Muller and Ranjana Shukla who checked my work very carefully and gave me valuable advice. I thank the UNITEC staff who gave their valuable time for interviews and the students for contributing online survey. I won t forget my friend Jeffrey and hasan uncle who devoted his time to correct the grammatical mistakes Finally, my special thanks go to my wife Fazmiya and my little son Ashtar who helped me complete this thesis; you encouraged me and helped me in data collection and interview transcriptions even though the subject of the thesis was new to you. iii 3 DECLARATION Name of candidate: SEYED AROOS SEYED SHERIFFDEEN... This Thesis/Dissertation/Research Project is submitted in partial fulfillment for the requirements for the Unitec degree of MASTER OF COMPUTING (MCOMP)... CANDIDATE S DECLARATION I confirm that: This Thesis/Dissertation/Research Project represents my own work; The contribution of supervisors and others to this work was consistent with the Unitec Regulations and Policies. Research for this work has been conducted in accordance with the Unitec Research Ethics Committee Policy and Procedures, and has fulfilled any requirements set for this project by the Unitec Research Ethics Committee. Research Ethics Committee Approval Number: Candidate Signature:..Date: Student number: iv 4 TABLE OF CONTENT 1 ABSTRACT...I 2 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS...III 3 DECLARATION...IV 4 TABLE OF CONTENT... V 5 LIST OF CHARTS...VIII 6 LIST OF TABLES...IX 7 LIST OF FIGURES... X 1 INTRODUCTION OVERVIEW OF FLEXIBLE LEARNING E - LEARNING M-LEARNING THEORY OF LEARNING - SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM DEVELOPMENT OF E LEARNING AT UNITEC FLEXIBLE LEARNING DEVELOPMENT IN NEW ZEALAND PURPOSE OF THIS RESEARCH PROJECT CONCLUSION LITERATURE REVIEW INTRODUCTION BACKGROUND OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES IMPACTS ON INSTITUTIONS IMPACTS ON TEACHERS IMPACTS ON STUDENTS QUALITY ISSUES CONCLUSION RESEARCH METHODOLOGY AN OVERVIEW BACKGROUND OF THE THESIS JUSTIFICATION OF THE METHODOLOGIES CHOSEN ETHICS CONSIDERATION QUANTITATIVE RESEARCH METHOD STUDENT SURVEYS SURVEY PARTICIPANTS SURVEY DATA ANALYSIS QUALITATIVE RESEARCH METHOD INTERVIEW PARTICIPANTS INTERVIEW DATA ANALYSIS DATA VALIDITY ASSURANCE CONCLUSION STUDENTS PERSPECTIVES SURVEY DATA SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS DO YOU FIND E LEARNING HELPFUL? v 4.3 FACE-TO-FACE INTERACTION AVAILABILITY OF COURSE DOCUMENTS ON WEBSITE ADVANTAGES OF E-LEARNING TOTAL ONLINE LEARNING WORK AND STUDY IN SAME TIME DELIVERING COURSE MATERIALS VIA INTERNET STUDENT S WORKING HOURS ASKING QUESTIONS FACE-TO-FACE ASKING QUESTIONS VIA E MAIL INTERNET TYPE SPEED OF THE INTERNET HOURS SPENT ON THE INTERNET USING ANTI VIRUS SOFTWARE ACCESS TO THE COMPUTER REACTION ABOUT THE INTERNET SPEED CONCLUSION STAFF PERSPECTIVES INTERVIEW DATA SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS TEACHING STAFF SUPPORT STAFF COMPARISONS BETWEEN TEACHING AND SUPPORT STAFF Expectations and Goals Encouragements and motivations How Blackboard is used Challenges and risks Future learning systems Feedback and the future CONCLUSION DISCUSSIONS AN OVERVIEW THE FLEXIBLE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT OPPORTUNITIES CHALLENGES IMPACT OF ONLINE LEARNING ON TEACHERS COMPARISON BETWEEN DATA COLLECTED IN 2003, 2005 AND SUMMARY OF THE FINDINGS CHALLENGES OPPORTUNITIES CONCLUSION CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS AN OVERVIEW CHALLENGES OPPORTUNITIES CONCLUSION RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH REFERENCE APPENDIX SURVEY QUESTIONS INTERVIEW QUESIONNAIRE TEACHING STAFF vi 9.2.2 SUPPORTING STAFF INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT TEACHING STAFF SUPPORTING STAFF vii 5 LIST OF CHARTS Chart 1: Adopting E learning Chart 2 : Adopting E learning EAL VS EFL Chart 3: Adopting E learning Domestic VS international students Chart 4: Availability of course resources Chart 5: Availability of course resources Domestic Vs International Chart 6: Availability of course resources EAL Vs EFL Chart 7: Advantages of E learning Chart 8: Advantages of E learning EFL Vs EAL Chart 9: Advantages of E learning Domestic Vs International Chart 10: Advantages of E learning by age groups Chart 11: Work and study in same time Chart 12: Work and study in same time Domestic Vs International Chart 13: Work and study in same time EAL Vs EFL Chart 14: Work and study in same time by age groups Chart 15: Interaction important Chart 16: Interaction important EFL Vs EAL Chart 17: Interaction important Domestic Vs International Chart 18 : Interaction important by age groups Chart 19 : Total online learning Chart 20 : Total online learning EFL Vs EAL Chart 21: Total online learning domestic Vs international Chart 22 : Total online learning by age groups viii 6 LIST OF TABLES Table 1: CITATION TABLE Table 2 : FACE-TO-FACE vs. ONLINE Table 3 : INTERVIEW PARTICIPANTS Table 4: E LEARNING HELPFUL Table 5 :FACE-TO-FACE INTERACTION Table 6: AVAILABILITY OF COURSE DOCUMENTS Table 7: ADVANTAGES OF E LEARNING Table 8 : TOTAL ONLINE LEARNING Table 9 : WORK AND STUDY IN SAME TIME Table 10 : DELIVERING COURSE DOCUMENT VIA INTERNET Table 11: STUDENTS WORKING HOURS Table 12: ASKING QUESTIONS FACE-TO-FACE Table 13 : ASKING QUESTION VIA E MAIL Table 14: INTERNET TYPE Table 15: SPEED OF THE INTERNET Table 16 : HOURS SPENT ON THE INTERNET Table 17 : USING ANTIVIRUS SOFTWARE Table 18 : ACCESS TO THE COMPUTER Table 19 : REACTION ABOUT THE INTERNET SPEED ix 7 LIST OF FIGURES Figure 1: Development of flexible learning... 4 Figure 2: Contrast of mobile learning... 7 Figure 3: Structure of Flexible learning x 1 INTRODUCTION 1.1 OVERVIEW OF FLEXIBLE LEARNING According to Wikipedia (2007) flexible learning is a learning mode which provides the learners the choices of where, when and how learning occurs. Flexible learning allows the students to access the course materials and follow the course at the pace, place and time convenient to them. Flexible learning options vary, depending on the educational institutions. Some institutions design the course allowing full flexibility and there is no face-to-face interaction. Other institutions design a blended approach with course materials that can be accessed at a distance and a face-to-face component as well. Flexible learning concept is not a new approach; according to Clark (1999), the history of flexible learning in England dates back to the early 1840s. The mode of course delivery basically was printed materials travelling through ordinary post. Correspondence education started in United States around 1880s and in New Zealand around Even today some flexible learning courses use the postal mode of delivery (about us: correspondence school, 2003). In the last sixty years, information and communication technology (ICT) has progressed greatly, and has influenced the everyday life of people so many have become technologically dependant. Many flexible learning education providers have adopted information and communication technologies for their programmes. So this adoption has led to new modes of education called E learning, online learning, M learning and Network learning (Georgiev, Georgieva, & Smrikarov, 2006) Because of the new opportunities created by new technology, students are able to follow their course, while meeting their other commitments. Previously students may have believed that they had no chance of studying after they started their full time jobs or took on family responsibilities but ICT affords students the possibility of lifelong learning. Adoption of electronic tools in association with flexible learning activities creates a lot of opportunities and is convenient for students. Students are able to follow the course from outside normal geographical boundaries and flexible/ distance learning becomes real time learning where students can obtain the course materials and the instructions of the teacher straight away without any delay. Students need not feel lonely because the seamless communication facilities (chat room, discussion board and e mail etc) make them feel like they are learning with a group of people. (Matthews, 1999) On the other hand, electronic tools may be a challenge for some students and staff because of their lack of familiarity with the technology. As New Zealand is a developed society, problems with technology are less acute than in developing countries. Normally schools and work places are providing basic training to handle the electronic tools, and professional development (PD) programmes for staff can build a good grounding to handle electronic tools without any hesitation. But in developing countries it can be a big challenge for students and staff (Butterfield et al., 2002). So we are able to summarize the situation of flexible learning environment in developed countries (including New Zealand) as follows:- 1) Flexible learning has become more technology-based and the postal delivery method is seen as an old-fashioned delivery mode 2) Some education providers are using a mixture of electronic and postal delivery, some of them are solely online and a few use postal delivery only 2 3) Most education providers (including UNITEC) are using the blended mode, combining online and face-to-face delivery 4) E learning, online learning, M learning and network learning are being widely used. According to Wikipedia (2007), there are a host of names used in discussion of flexible learning including:- Blended delivery Distance learning E education E learning E-enabled learning and web-facilitated learning Electronic distance education M learning Network learning Online learning Remote learning Resource-based learning Technology-mediated distance learning Web based instruction The ideology and the philosophy of these learning modes are similar even though a lot of different names are used to identify the mode. There are differences in the use of technology; some of the courses run completely online so students do not need to attend classes and some courses require students to attend class plus online. Regalbuto (2000) suggests that the term teaching at an Internet distance can be used to cover all variations. 3 In summary, flexible learning environments may help students follow courses without disrupting their daily commitments. In the past correspondence delivery was used for this purpose, nowadays ICT has enabled real time interactions. Correspondence course delivery Internet Technologies Introduced 1970s s Learning management system (LMS) Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) Web technologies Introduced 1990s E learning/ online learning/ M learning 1.2 E - LEARNING Figure 1: Development of flexible learning E learning was introduced in the late 1990s with the adoption of web technologies. Richard (2005) categorized flexible learning modes as follows:- 1) No online presentation, where electronic tools are not used for teaching and learning activities 2) Web-supplemented, where students find useful links about the course and the course outline etc. 4 3) Web-dependent, where students are required to use the internet for course activity such as online quizzes and online assessments, but there is no reduction in classroom sessions. 4) Mixed mode, where students are required to engage in online activities, but they need to attend face-to-face sessions. Online activities can only replace part of the face-to-face sessions. 5) Fully online, where there are no face-to-face activities. (p.11) The term e learning is usually used to indicate delivery of education through electronic means. Websites play a big part in e learning because all the course materials, activities and the assessments can be uploaded on the websites and the students can access those resources using their username and password; in other words, much of the actual learning takes place through the web. There are many products available in the market which suit e learning delivery and allow a range of activities like chat room, discussion forum, digital drop box and online resource storage. Many NZ tertiary institutions use a product called Blackboard which offers all these activities but has a relatively expensive licence fee. Open source software is also available these days for minimal cost and has the advantage that the institutions can customize it depending on their needs. Adopting e learning systems in the tertiary educational institutions can save money and the time of staff in the long run but that is not the only reason why they are using the e learning mode. Another purpose is to set up a better environment for students. Institutional license (cost around 50 thousand a year) plus the administration and the servers will cost a lot. It can save money on photocopying (very little) and some of the other cost but saving money is not the key driver. 5 The challenging issue in adopting e learning mode is to train the teaching staff because some staff has no prior experience in technology and they are not comfortable handling E learning tools. So the expenses to train them as PD will increase the overheads of the institution. Using freeware is also a challenging task because of the ongoing cost, it is free to download but the institution needs to customize it for their requirements using staff who have programming knowledge and the actual challenge is what will happen if the software breaks down. No one is going to guarantee to maintain the software so it will cost more than the institution expects, and that can be one of the reasons why the institutions stick to the software even if it costs them a huge amount of money. The way the tertiary institutions handle e learning varies; some of them teach totally online so students do not need to attend classes and they can do all the activities such as exams, quizzes and the assignments online and some other institutions use blended delivery both face-to-face and online where students need to attend classes plus they can do a few activities via the internet, the rest of the institutions use it as a parking space for resources. So they do normal face-to-face teaching in the classroom and students can refer to resources online as an additional backup. 1.3 M-LEARNING Mobile learning is one of the latest versions of the flexible learning where learning takes place through mobile devices. According to Wikipedia (2007) the term M learning is used for delivery of training by means of mobile devices like PDAs, mobile phones, digital audio players, pen scanners, voice recorders and digital cameras. The latest technology can connect all of these devices to the institution s server through wireless technologies such as WAP, GPRS, UMTS, Bluetooth, WI-Fi, etc. 6 Figure 2: Contrast of mobile learning (Georgiev et al, 2006), So M learning is part of flexible learning and part of E learning, in other words e learning is the latest version of the flexible learning and the M learning is the latest version of E learning. M learning can help or be more beneficial to students who cannot access normal learning venue (classroom) or computer. Both E learning and M learning have the same philosophy and ideas but the technology which connects the server and students is different because E learning uses the online connection and the computer, M learning uses wireless connection and the portable devices. 7 We can mention that M learning is one of the next generation learning modes because the young generation who have been brought up using the wireless technologies such as wireless games and remote devices, will welcome the mobile mode delivery. On the other hand there are lots of challenges involved in M learning because the connection is very expensive and mobile devices can get disconnected quite often which will interrupt learning, also most portable devices have relatively small screen and memory such as mobile phones but some devices allow memory extension. 1.4 THEORY OF LEARNING - SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM Social constructivism is an educational theory developed by psychologist Lev Vygotsky. The whole idea behind this theory is that learning happens when people interact in groups. According to social constructivism, knowledge cannot be absorbed and should be constructed and he argues that students are not empty vessels to fill information in but they need to build knowledge through interaction with their lecturers and colleagues, reading materials and learning activities (Vygotsky, 1978). Social constructivism developed in the early 20 th century. At that time there were few tools to implement his theory but nowadays most of the e learning tools are based on this theory. Not only e learning but also class room face-to-face environment is setting social constructivism in a new direction. Group discussion, class presentation and group projects are considered as part of social constructivism theory. Lev Vygotsky explains that each and every function of the child s cultural development happens in two ways, one is at a social level involving interaction between people (inter 8 psychological) and the second level is individual level which takes place inside the child (intra psychological) 1.5 DEVELOPMENT OF E LEARNING AT UNITEC UNITEC is one of New Zealand s polytechnics and seeks to attain university status. This institution, once called Carrington polytechnic, has now become UNITEC. At this point an effort is being made to make it UNITEC University of Technology. In 1992 the Centre for Educational Technology and Op
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