The Next Generation of E-Learning - Strategies for Media Rich On-line Teaching and Engaged Learning: Part One
The following article is the first in a series of three from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. This first one outlines the steps taken by NTU to introduce e-Learning as an institutional strategy and, in June, NTU’s developments in media rich on-line teaching will be explored. Finally, in August, the results of a university wide survey will be discussed which provides valuable insight into the learners’ experience of a full-scale e-Learning adoption and the pointers this gives for future development.
Nanyang Technological University (NTU) was established in 1970. It is one of two publicly funded universities in Singapore. Courses offered include Engineering, Biological Sciences, Business, Education, Accountancy and Communication Studies. In NTU, the service unit Centre for Educational Development (CED) is responsible for spearheading and facilitating e-Learning
In a short span of three years, NTU has witnessed significant growth in the adoption of e-Learning. With the use of professor-friendly e-Learning applications, it has been able to achieve critical mass buy-in by the academic staff when the e-Learning take-up rate achieved 85% of the existing NTU course curriculum. NTU is today regarded as an exemplar and recognized for its leadership in e-Learning in the region.
As NTU moves on to celebrate the third year of e-Learning, measures were taken with the careful design considerations that aimed to “humanise” e-Learning, i.e. make e-Learning interactive and engaging with active collaborations and student learning involvement. This includes the proliferation in the use of the video talking head format synchronized with the lecture presentation, live audio-video delivery, text chat and document annotations of a lecture presentation and delivery. This series of articles will consider the processes NTU adopted in adding the human touch to traditional e-Learning projects and serves as a good case study for other institutions with a similar aim to achieve interactive and engaged on-line learning. This first article will outline the implementation strategy at NTU which centred round the creation of a central e-Learning support service for staff and students (edveNTUre).
Implementation Strategy : edveNTURE
Launched at an estimated cost of S$1.1 million, edveNTUre enables 23,000 NTU students and 1,300 academic staff to access online resources through innovative means of content creation and knowledge discovery. The e-Learning platform allows dynamic content to be delivered digitally over the campus wired and wireless network to any student, anytime, anywhere and on various devices. edveNTUre complements the traditional lectures through several e-Learning tools including discussion forums for collaborative knowledge sharing, personalised learning, dynamic content delivery, and other automated e-teaching tools. This on-line learning environment exposes students to new learning approaches as they acquire skills for life-long learning, a critical asset in today's knowledge economy. edveNTUre has enabled and facilitated new paradigms of teaching and learning not possible before in traditional classroom settings.
The innovative brand name edveNTUre was created for the e-Learning initiative in 2000: "e" represents everything electronic for the knowledge economy, and "ed" stands for education - the purpose of the platform for life-long learning. "Adventure" in a modified form depicts the concept of learning as an experience and journey to explore new frontiers of knowledge, much like a team collaborating synergistically together in new learning environments to discover new frontiers.
With the university’s name “NTU” embedded, "edveNTUre" symbolises the e-Learning initiative and aspiration for the University. Professors and students feel a sense of identity and affiliation as stakeholders in an environment where they share experiences, knowledge and experimentations in a new learning paradigm and environment. The current home page is shown in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1:edveNTUre home page
EdveNTURE Business and Educational Goals:
(a) to create an eco-system of life-long learning in our students and graduates towards the pursuit and establishment of a national digital knowledge economy;
(b) to facilitate, equip and enable the academic staff (who represent the beginning of the e-Learning food chain in this local context) to create and enhance content, develop competence and capability to deliver effective learner-centric and pedagogical approaches and methods for the training and development of our students and graduates;
(c) to “humanize” e-Learning and develop quality interactive and engaging content that will facilitate and enable self-paced learning for students anywhere, anytime on any device
(d) to enhance face-to-face tutorial sessions and enable collaborative learning in such environments through the provision of effective audio-visual tools;
(e) to provide robust and reliable e-Learning services to a progressive community in content delivery, knowledge management utilizing synchronous and asynchronous modes of teaching and
learning. This includes an infra-structure that facilitates fault tolerance systems, disaster recovery-high availability-business continuity systems, content creation and editing tools, online assessment tools, student tracking and progress tools, etc.
Planning for edveNTUre commenced in November 1999. The concept of edveNTUre was that it should be a dynamic e-Learning environment that will evolve and facilitate change. The initial target was that by end
2000, there would be 100 courses online. The hardware system and software were delivered in May 2000. Within two months in July 2000 when the Academic Year 2000/1 began, two hundred course sites were online, exceeding the original target by two times. By December 2000, over 800 courses were online. The number of page view (more accurate measurement of utilization than page hits) was 1M/month in January 2001, and 1M/week in July 2002, and recently 2.1M/week in July 2003
Within three years of its implementation, nearly 90% of courses in the University have an active online presence (96% adoption rate for under-graduate and 75% for post-graduate courses). The hit rate in the Academic Year 2003/4 (from July 2003) was over 2.1 million page views per week from a student population of 23,000 and over 1,300 instructors (professors).
Figure 3 shows a typical usage pattern at the course level. It indicates the edveNTUre e-Learning service being used by students throughout the day, with peaks in the morning and late evening. The lull period was in the early morning hours between 3am and 6am.
The general implementation strategy for e-Learning involved the following processes:
- Careful use and selection of professor-friendly tools. We operated on the axiom that professors are the beginning of the e-Learning food chain. If professors do not create an online course, e-Learning do not exist.
- Creation of the edUtorium initiative, a staff development program – till date, over 1000 training places have been taken per year since its launch in April 2001.
- Information sharing sessions to bring awareness to the academic community – professors learn more openly and willingly through such sessions. Champion professors were requested to conduct and lead in such sessions.
- Workshop sessions conducted by fellow professors and other educational experts to provide training and enablement
- Demostration show-and-tell sessions given by schools, Junior Colleges (JCs) and polytechnics to the university campus community– these sessions served to provide to the academic community an awareness of developments of IT in education at the earlier portion of the education “supply chain” of students. Professors were impacted by the message that “if this is the experience of their students today [in the schools, junior colleges and polytechnic], these future students would expect more when they become our students within a few years”.
- Clinical sessions in which professors can walk-in and speak to technical staff regarding their need for assistance and guidance
- Establishment of School-based e-Learning Support Team to provide effective first line help.
(Schools refer to the Schools of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, Civil and Environment
Engineering, Nanyang Business School, etc.)
- Training sessions were done for students, but they were found to be unnecessary – edveNTUre is also student-friendly!
A faculty development initiative – edUtorium – was established in April 2001 to provide training and support to the teaching staff as they were inducted into e-Learning environments. Information sharing sessions, workshops and one-to-one clinical sessions on how to use the learning management system, edveNTUre, were regularly conducted. In addition, a computer-based teaching system on CD-ROM was developed for professors to learn anytime the edveNTUre system. A newsletter – aCEDamia – is also published monthly to share on news, development and best practices of teaching and e-Learning for the academic staff.
For students, a manned Help Desk has been made available to support them. An RFI was called in 2002Q4 for Help Desk-Call Centre application to give better support and service to the student-learner community. Training sessions were initially organised for students, but such sessions were found to be unnecessary, as edveNTUre was browser-based. Except suffice for a short 20-minute talk to freshies - edveNTUre has been designed to be user-friendly - short reference guide on edveNTUre is printed and distributed to all freshie students annually.
At a higher administrative level, the e-Learning initiative is fully supported and guided by an executive committee called IT-SEED (Steering Executive on Electronic Education) which provides directives and vision for new educational initiatives in NTU. The IT-SEED committee members comprise senior appointment holders and stake-holders, and have the capability to expedite influential action plans efficiently at a campus level. These senior executives also lead an e-Learning support team at the departmental or school level. Members of the departmental/school support team are trained technicians
who provide first-line and proximity assistance to academic and administrative staff. Problems beyond their first line supportive role are escalated to CED. An online line help-desk application from Parature ensures efficiencies (quick response and resolution) and effectiveness (tracking of help requests and technical assistance, case management and closure).
Chye Seng LEE, Daniel Tiong Hok TAN, Wee Sen GOH
Centre for Educational Development
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore