eLearning progress in higher education: The voice of experience. Interview with Tony Bates
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Dr. Tony Bates is a keynote speaker, much in demand, who has worked in more than 40 countries specialising in the strategic use of elearning in higher education. Silvia–Adriana Tomescu interviewed him to find out about his opinions on how to improve the present implementation of elearning in higher education institutions.
New technologies involve new methods of teaching, learning and training. However, the universities lack well-defined structures to accomplish it. Who should teach/train e-teachers?
Good question. The normal practice is to establish a Teaching and Learning or Professional Development centre with experts on pedagogy and educational technology. However attendance at workshops organized by these centers is usually voluntary, and often the professors who need it most don't come. Some faculties/academic departments delegate a 'respected' academic within the department to be responsible for professional development of their colleagues, particularly newly appointed young professors. These are both what I would call weak approaches, although better than nothing.
What is really needed (and won't happen) is for professors to be formally accredited following training in teaching. This would best be done by radically reforming the post-graduate training to include training in teaching as well as research as part of the Ph.D. process.
Is the scientific research now a hybrid process (in terms of using the informational resources)?
I believe that in knowledge-based societies, all teaching and research needs to include the use of information technology, because this is how knowledge is now being created, stored and organized.
What is the role of learning paradigms and how have they been modified by elearning environment?
I believe that instructional design (I prefer the term: design of learning environments) is an absolute requirement for quality teaching with technology. Technology raises the skill level for teaching, because to use technology well, you need to know its strengths and weaknesses with respect to face-to-face teaching, and this requires an understanding of how people learn as well as the potential of technology for teaching. Unfortunately in most applications of e-learning, there is no change to the learning paradigm. The technology is added on to the existing classroom paradigm. 'True' blended learning requires a re-design, to ensure that the unique benefits of the classroom/campus are combined with the unique benefits of asynchronous learning. Students can spend much more time ‘on task’ with well-designed digital learning materials, thus freeing up professors’ time for direct or online interaction with students.
What is the role of didactic discourse in e learning environment?
Again, this is important in most subjects, although it does reflect a particular view on education – that learning is socially constructed – that not all professors share. Again, in an online environment, to ensure that discussion is focused and academic, rather than incoherent and shallow, the instructor/teacher has an important role to play, ensuring that the discussion stays on topic, that content/learning materials are drawn on to support the discussion, and the discussion operates at an academic level. There are several good books on this (e.g. Paloff and Pratt, Salmon, Harasim, etc.)
All the education systems raised around libraries from oldest times to the present. The library had the mission to form to inform and now we can say that it is a real provider of electronic resources for users on and off campus. They have to up to date with the new learning curricula and provide information resources according to it. What is in your opinion the role of the university library for e learning?
University libraries are critical for successful e learning, but their roles and ways of working are changing. I believe that all courses should have a librarian as part of the course team, both to help with identifying and organizing online resources, and for providing student help in locating information digitally. Education in information literacy and especially on evaluating the quality of source material, as well as how to find, analyze, organize and apply digital information linked to subject area needs should be a joint activity of teacher and librarian.
Does the course presence and virtual teaching change the type of education (distance or e learning)?
Every teacher now has to make a choice: where on the continuum of e learning should this course or program be? Just supplementing my classroom teaching; true blended learning; or fully online? The answer to the question depends on two factors: what kinds of student am I trying to reach? What is the nature of the subject material? Full-time students coming out of high school probably need more face-to-face teaching than full-time, mature working graduates who want updating or post-graduate courses. Some things are quicker and easier to do face-to-face; others are better done online, depending on the subject matter. However, it should be possible to design a course that meets all these needs.
We can not study medicine or arts in e-learning environment;one need practice and skills and the other talent. Is this a forbidden territory for elearning or elearning “fits” better to training for this fields?
No. In fact, medicine is one of the areas where e learning is used most in my university (UBC). A lot of medicine is digitally based and it is essential then that this is built into the curriculum and integrated within an e-learning environment. E learning is a critical component especially of the clinical placement of students in their third year, as they and their proctors (local doctors) are linked back to the university through the Internet.
What are in your opinion the great barriers in elearning set up?
In order of importance:
- Fear and loathing on the part of more senior professors due to their lack of understanding of technology and pedagogy.
- Senior management of universities who do not understand the changing requirements of knowledge-based societies and the importance of ICTs within all professions, and when they do recognize this, their failure to set and implement strategies to support the integration of ICTs within teaching throughout the university, which usually requires finding new or reallocating existing resources to make this happen. Too often it is left to individual professors to innovate without organizational help and support.
- In some countries lack of access to and/or high cost of technology.
Should the specialists analyze deeper the importance of independent learning?
There should be a progression from dependent to independent to inter-dependent or collaborative learning. This should be built into the design of whole programs, so that students progress through these stages in a supported manner
Is media literacy teaching and learning a serious condition of the elearning pedagogy?
Depends what you mean by media literacy. Most youngsters have enough media literacy when they come to university (the professors often don't). Students’ ability to use technology needs to be built on and modified to meet academic requirements.
What is the e-teacher status comparing to the “old/traditional” one?
Still poor, I guess, because without re-design, they have to spend more time teaching and hence less time on research (or family). Also there are no rewards (appointment, promotion, etc.) for doing elearning.