Pilot project helps distant students collaborate in learning

Published 22 May 2008

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The University  of New England is introducing new online learning systems that enable distance-education students to interact with each other and their lecturers more consistently and creatively than ever before.

A pilot project using one of these systems, the Sakai Collaboration and Learning Environment, is now enabling distance-education students in UNE’s School  of Education to learn through collaborative projects, and allowing teachers and students to explore the use of interactive learning materials and functions such as blogs, wikis, and quiz tools.

The School  of Education is redesigning UNE’s Bachelor of Teaching (Primary) degree program to enhance distance education through effective online learning; eleven units in the program went online at the beginning of Semester 1 this year. The aim of the project, which is using the Sakai system, is to have the whole degree program – as well as the Master of Education (e-learning) degree program – online in 2009.

“The project has provided the opportunity for unit coordinators and teachers to reconsider the online learning environment and to design learning experiences for distance-education students,” said Rachael Adlington, the project coordinator. “Unit coordinators have worked with an educational designer, Cherry Stewart, to determine effective practices for supporting online learning and technology use. They have also been generously supported by UNE’s Teaching and Learning Centre, our partner in the project.”

Ms Adlington said students were enthusiastic about the educational benefits of the new learning environment. She said a UNE review of the University’s distance education practice in 2005 had indicated that remote students often felt a sense of isolation – a problem that could be addressed by new communication technologies. “And we’re addressing it,” she said. “Students are now able – and required – to talk to each other.”

“The School  of Education’s ICT teaching team has celebrated the culmination of two years’ planning and groundwork, as well as a semester’s hard work by our unit coordinators, in producing 11 newly redesigned units that are founded on strong online, distance-education pedagogy,” Ms Adlington said.

The project has been funded by UNE’s Distance Education Project Advisory Committee, the Teaching and Learning Centre, and the Faculty of The Professions.

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here expands to show (from left) Rachael Adlington, Cherry Stewart and Dr Mike Littledyke (all from the School of Education) and Mitchell Parkes (from the Teaching and Learning Centre) during work on the Sakai project.