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Sue Morn-Garca, Institute of Educational Technology, UK Open University
Themes: Learning and teaching methods & use of C&IT
One of the reasons given for UK Higher Education's large scale investment in Web and Internet-based technology and in particular Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) such as WebCT and Blackboard is that they will enhance teaching and learning (Jenkins, Browne, & Armitage, 2001). Enhancement or improvement seems to mean the adoption of student-centred approaches to teaching and learning. Research has shown a correlation between higher quality learning outcomes and deep approaches to learning (Marton & Saljo, 1997) and between a deep approach to learning and a student focused approach to teaching (Trigwell, Prosser, & Waterhouse, 1999). The aim of this research is to find out whether VLEs actually encourage lecturers to adopt a student-centred approach to teaching. This involves examining the effect a lecturer's pedagogic model has on VLE use (research has shown that a lecturer's conceptions of teaching will affect their educational practice, Kember, 1997) and the role played by other factors such as the functionality of the system and the context of use. Pilot study interviews with twelve lecturers from three subject areas (computer science, education and humanities / social science) across four universities lead to a decision to concentrate on the use of VLEs by lecturers in the humanities and social science subject areas. It had been easier to find purposeful pedagogic use in these areas. Furthermore, it was thought that the more discursive nature of these subjects might lead to the innovative application of tools such as discussion forums, the use of which many lecturers in the pilot study found problematic. The Approaches to Teaching Inventory (ATI, Prosser & Trigwell, 1999) was used as an independent measure of a lecturer's approach to teaching. It had been difficult, in the pilot study, to identify a lecturer's teaching approach by asking about their teaching methods. Lecturers tended to talk in terms of lectures, seminars, workshops and tutorials each of which meant something slightly different in particular contexts. The ATI was developed to investigate the relationship between a lecturer's approach to teaching and the approaches to learning of their students. For this reason the ATI is usually used in conjunction with an inventory exploring the approaches to studying of the students and as such has shown a correlation between a lecturer's approach to teaching and a student's approach to learning. In this case the ATI was used in conjunction with individual interviews during which thirty-one lecturers across ten higher education institutions were asked to describe a specific instance of VLE use (the same specific context for which they completed the ATI). Their motivation for use was explored and any inhibitors were identified. Preliminary findings seem to indicate that the approach to teaching of the lecturer has more effect on the use of the technology than does the perceived functionality of the system. There are a number of factors that inhibit use such as perceptions of the ability of students to cope in the new environments, the attitude of colleagues and the level of support offered to lecturers.
Jenkins, M., Browne, T., & Armitage, S. (2001, December, 2001). Management and implementation of Virtual Learning Environments: A UCISA funded survey [Report]. UCISA. Retrieved 30th July, 2002, 2002, from the World Wide Web: http://www.ucisa.ac.uk/TLIG/vle Kember, D. (1997). A Reconceptualisation of the Research into University Academics' Conceptions of Teaching. Learning and Instruction, 7(3), 255-275. Marton, F., & Saljo, R. (1997). Approaches to Learning. In F. Marton & D. Hounsell & N. Entwistle (Eds.), The Experience of Learning (pp. 39-58). Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press. Prosser, M., & Trigwell, K. (1999). Understanding Learning and Teaching: The Experience in Higher Education. Buckingham: SRHE and Open University Press. Trigwell, K., Prosser, M., & Waterhouse, F. (1999). Relations between teachers' approaches to teaching and students' approaches to learning. Higher Education, 37, 57-70.