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Marco Koene

E-learning.

77 posts in this topic

Over the last couple of years e-learning has been a hot topic. If you did not have some sort of e-learning environment in your school you were thought to be old-style. However when the publishers of textbooks discovered the internet they began by translating their textbook in a digital form. This has no added value what so ever and stopped many teachers interest and use of ict. Luckily by now environments exist that are not carbon copies of textbooks.

What I would like for this topic is a discussion on the use of the various environments (which one is good and why) and to esthablish some form of defenition of e-learning. Of course any other thought on the topic are more than welcome. :)

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The “e” stands for “electronic”, but it tends to be understood as “electronic” in the narrower sense of ICT rather than including, for example, television, VCRs, DVD-Video players, etc. The DfES in the UK defines e-learning thus: “If someone is learning in a way that uses information and communication technologies (ICTs), they are doing e-learning.” Unfortunately, the “e” has been too closely associated with distance learning rather than using ICT in general. So in some people’s minds e-learning means using the Web in distance learning mode – which is just one of its manifestations.

Marco is quite right in saying that many publishers have just translated their textbooks into digital format. This is not what e-learning is all about. As a teacher of modern foreign languages I – like most of my colleagues – have never relied entirely on textbooks. In my earliest days as a language learner in the 1950s I was aware of the importance of audio media: I had access only to a radio, a record player and a reel-to-reel tape recorder at the time, but they were extremely useful. By the time I became a teacher in the 1960s we had TV, VCRs and audio-active-comparative (AAC) tape recorders that were capable of presenting a native speaker model for the learner to respond to, i.e. recording his/her own voice and playing it back without erasing the original audio track. In other words, as a learner and teacher of modern languages I have been a user of multimedia for around 50 years.

When affordable microcomputers appeared in the late 1970s they were silent – a frustration for language teachers – and we had to wait around 10 years for proper multimedia computers to appear. Wonderful! All the media that we had used in separate formats were now rolled into one, including AAC facilities (so-called “virtual language labs”). Then in the 1990s the Web appeared – more frustration, as it could not deliver high-quality sound and video. The sound was fuzzy, and the video clips were of postage-stamp size and continually hiccuped. Video on CD-ROM was not much better than video on the Web, but the sound quality on CD-ROM was superb. The big breakthrough in video came with the advent of new formats such as MPEG, and now DVD-Videos and DVD-ROMs offer excellent quality video.

Video quality on the Web is still a problem. Language teachers have got used to using high-quality video, drawing on foreign language broadcasts via satellite TV, and now we have DVD-Videos and DVD-ROMs that offer high-quality video with varying possibilities of interaction, including useful facilities such as switching subtitles on and off – an excellent aid for language teachers – and slotting one’s own voice into role-plays. But look at most of the websites that offer video broadcasts, e.g. the BBC, TV5 and Deutsche Welle, and the quality is, frankly, poor. I access BBCi on broadband, and it’s still not up to the standard that I need for teaching. It hiccups at peak times and the screen is too small. Now that I am used to crystal-clear digital TV at home – with an increasing degree of interaction – I expect much better than this. And I still find the Web frustrating insofar as I have not yet seen a website that offers AAC exercises, which are a feature of many CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs.

For examples of what can be done in a Web environment see LeLoup J. & Ponterio R. (2003) "Interactive and multimedia techniques in online language lessons: a sampler", Language Learning and Technology 7, 3: http://llt.msu.edu/vol7num3/net/default.html. It's an interesting collection of materials, but almost everything illustrated here could be implemented better and with more spontaneous interaction in an offline environment, e.g. on CD-ROM or DVD-ROM.

To summarise the main point of this little historical excursion, it appears that every technological leap forward has been accompanied by a technological leap backwards. If you embrace the new technology 100% and reject the old you end up making pedagogical compromises. As a teacher, I refuse to make pedagogical compromises. I use those aspects of new technologies that offer something genuinely new and useful and continue to use older technologies until the new technologies catch up. E-learning still has a lot of catching up to do, and the Web is not the panacea.

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Thank you for this historical excursion. being an historian myself i can always appreciate those :)

I agree that we should have a mixture between old and new pedagogical styles. Why use something new when the old is working good? However there is a need for e-learning in the broadest sense . For me I never realised that vcr's etc were also part of e-learning. So I am one of those people who tend to look at the narrower view ;)

Do you know of one environment that works satisfactory? eg perhaps Blackboard?

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Do you know of one environment that works satisfactory? eg perhaps Blackboard?

I am familar with Blackboard and with WebCT. Frankly, I don't like either environment. I find both environments too cumbersome for the average learner at school. They may be OK in a business environment or a university, however, where the trainees/students have access to good technical support. I favour something much simpler: a bank of resources that can be downloaded and used by teachers in the classroom. These may include worksheets that that can printed off or interactive multimedia materials that can be used either in online or offline mode. The powers-that-be are making e-learning too complicated.

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Again i agree with you. My colleagues in the economics department have designed their own website with resources and worksheets and that works very well! Simple and easy to use. For them eg there is absolutely no need for complicated environments as eg blackboard. i feel that at the moment many teachers are on the way of developing their own 'environments'. Perhaps that is the way to go?

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Reading bulletin boards is so much like being the office worker at the Nurses' social gatherings. There are so many subject specific words and language as to exclude yet encourage a foreigner. Although I recognise that this is a British education initiative, as a non-Brit I want to learn.

I always enjoy Graham's comments (having been a sleeper on a MFL list for some time.) But I actually still have access to a "blackboard" with chalk and think it has merit. One thing I miss with the electronic age is the immediacy of blackboarding interesting ideas (spelling even) and asking students to add comments. As yet I haven't found an electronic way to do this.

As for DVDs I am frustrated by their inablilty to fast forward to the exact section I want, to play back more than once and to allow me to do the things I could do with my VCR.

Are British schools so well resourced that all students can access a computer every lesson? The site I work at at the moment is encouraging web based lessons, but we have 5 computers for each secondary class of 25 plus. Even word processing is an adventure.

One last question, "What is ofsted?" please?

Also I completed a university unit using Web Ct and can not speak strongly enough if its inadequacies. It was sterile, unfriendly, hard to navigate and BORING. Sorry. I am now challenged to find a better solution. I have been using an intranet system with my students with an email response. I write a message and all respond.

As a teacher librarian, as well I have an email system where students ask for help with research topics by email. I reply and really use it to make face to face contact. But at least I am forwarned as to what the student is trying to find.

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Of course the old style blackboard has merit, i use a whiteboard and do not think i can teach without!!!

My biggest 'frustration'with dvd is the fact that you cannot stop them at a certain point and then resum watching some days later, as one can with videocassettes. Not good for the cassette but very good for the user ;)

Can you perhaps elaborate some more on the system you use with your students (in tranet/email)? Do you eg also use a website?

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My biggest 'frustration'with dvd is the fact that you cannot stop them at a certain point and then resum watching some days later, as one can with videocassettes. Not good for the cassette but very good for the user

My DVD player - a Philips bought around two years ago - remembers where I left off. I can select Resume from the menu or select a specific scene to jump to.

Can you perhaps elaborate some more on the system you use with your students (intranet/email)? Do you eg also use a website?

I have retired from teaching. I got fed up with increasing bureaucracy and management interference. My last job was a university language centre director. I accepted an early retirement package in 1993 - a golden handshake and an inflation-related pension for life. Now I just do free-lance ICT training and occasional consultancy work. I manage two websites:

http://www.ict4lt.org - ICT training materials for language teachers

http://www.camsoftpartners.co.uk - my business partnership

My CV at at: http://www.camsoftpartners.co.uk/cvgd.htm

I'll be taking a two-week skiing holiday in St Johann in Tirol, Austria, from the end of this week. That's one of the joys of early retirement!

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One thing I miss with the electronic age is the immediacy of blackboarding interesting ideas (spelling even) and asking students to add comments. As yet I haven't found an electronic way to do this.

How about the electronic whiteboard? See:

http://www.thereviewproject.org

http://www.g2fl.greenwich.gov.uk/temp/whiteboards

As for DVDs I am frustrated by their inablilty to fast forward to the exact section I want, to play back more than once and to allow me to do the things I could do with my VCR.

My DVD player - a Philips bought around two years ago - can do all of this and more. I can pinpoint a precise section, slow it down, freeze it, play it backwards, etc, and jump to any scene anywhere on the disk instantly. I can also switch subtitles (translations or closed captions) on and off.

Are British schools so well resourced that all students can access a computer every lesson? The site I work at at the moment is encouraging web based lessons, but we have 5 computers for each secondary class of 25 plus.

I think the current ratio in secondary schools is around 1 computer to 6 children. It may be better than this by now - I haven't checked the figures for a while. No, children don't use a computer every lesson, and who would want to anyway? Most computer suites that I have seen in schools are under-used or they are hogged by the ICT and Maths departments, leaving other subject areas out in the cold.
What is OFSTED?

It the Office for Standards in Education, a government-appointed inspectorate that acts as a watchdog on education: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk

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Well i also own a philips, bought one year ago and that one has non of the possibilities you mentioned! Perhaps I bought a wrong one? ;)

Enjoy your holiday!!!

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Well i also own a philips, bought one year ago and that one has non of the possibilities you mentioned! Perhaps I bought a wrong one?

I just bought the cheapest one offered by the the local discount store - bearing a brand name that I recognised. It took me a lot of searching through the manual to find out how to do all the different things, however - there's too much choice. The main problem I find with DVD players is that you have one set of controls that relate to every DVD - i.e. the player controls such as being able to jump to a title/chapter, playing fast forward, freezing frames, etc - and then you have a different set of controls that are related to each individual disc. You thus have a different navigation system for each disc, and this can be very eccentric! I bought the first part of Lord of the Rings at Christmas 2002, and I am still trying to work out its navigation system!

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Sorry to disturb the discussion on the merits of various DVD players but the pressure at the moment seem to be for schools to purchase a VLE. Having had a year with Digital Brain - I can make some observations but these can wait until tomorrow. It is getting late and to quote the mp3 I have just listened to - tonight the bottle let me down. Not really relevant but a nice tune

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Sorry to disturb the discussion on the merits of various DVD players but the pressure at the moment seem to be for schools to purchase a VLE.

Yes. sad isn't it? Who needs a VLE? Looking at what's going on in some of the schools that I have visited, I think they need a VLE like a hole in the head.

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