Figure 4: Postings in CZM and CMCP (Computer Mediated Communications and Pedagogy) asynchronous discussion forums.
Learning media and method
The inability to achieve learner-interface interaction successfully can be a significant problem to those comfortable with technology yet unfamiliar with the specific communication protocols required to interact with the tools to accomplish a desired task.
The combined capabilities of multimedia and the access that they bring, provide designers with powerful new tools that they can use to construct their design which would engage students in interactions within these technological environments in favour of learning. Understanding the ways in which students use the unique processing capabilities of the computer during the online CZM module is essential to understanding the influence the computer may have on learning and to building media theory. From an interactionist perspective, learning with media can be thought of as a complementary process within which representations are constructed and procedures performed, sometimes by the learner and sometimes by the medium. As opposed to Clark (1994) who argued that selection of method was more important than the medium used, Kozma (1994) insisted that medium and method should have a more integral relationship as both are part of the instructional design where the medium’s capabilities enable methods and the methods that are used take advantage of these capabilities. Students benefited from e /m learning because the capability of the medium of the CZM online module was used to present problems and scenarios using the COSMO software that allowed students to connect their knowledge in understanding and simulating coastal zone conflicts. Constructivist environments facilitate learning through collaboration, context, and construction of knowledge. However Jonassen et al. (1994) argues that there should be more emphasis on the attributes of the human learner involved in learning and shift the debate and the practice of instructional design from instruction- and media- centred to a learner- centered conception of learning. By selecting specific learning inputs, knowledge can be constructed efficiently as students become responsible for recognizing and judging patterns of information and then organizing it, while the computer system should perform calculations, store and retrieve information
From e- to m-learning
An evaluation criteria was devised based on three aspects of online forum participation - reading messages, replying (confirming or rejecting peer views) and adding value to the messages that obviously had higher weighting. This obviously resulted as a filter and students consequently made more effort to raise the level of quality of the messages they posted. Learning during of the CZM module occurred through the interaction of three core components: cognitive presence, teaching presence, and social presence. The development of cognitive presence was defined as the extent to which the participants in any particular configuration of a community of inquiry were able to construct meaning through sustained communication. Teaching presence included designing and managing learning sequences, providing subject matter expertise, and facilitating active learning. Social presence in the CZM module was defined as the ability of learners to project themselves socially and emotionally in a community of inquiry and supports cognitive objectives through its ability to instigate, sustain, and support critical thinking in a community of learners.
As part of the quality assurance for the online courses, students were requested to complete an evaluation questionnaire of the online course and 85% students found that the online forums were a good learning experience and that they benefited from it. There were however some students who found the tool difficult to use. This is mainly a problem of computer proficiency. Many students pointed out the flexibility in the course as being a real advantage for them taking into account their normal semester load of work in class. Concerning access to the online module, 80 % of the students said they accessed the module frequently on campus while 60 % accessed the module frequently at home.
Concerning course content 35% of the CZM students found it good while 22% answered that some software was not accessible and 43% found that there was a lack of visual information. Students also said that they did not have any expectations for this module (78%) while 22% said that through this module they would like to be more proficient in using the internet and become more familiar to the online mode of learning. They expected to have lot of interaction between students and tutor to discuss an area of interest. The majority of postings were new questions with no replies and it was not surprising to see so many postings were new questions and first-type and fewer postings of higher type postings as shown in Figure 4. Students also found that time management was the most difficult aspect of online learning. Distinguishing the postings that are first-degree replies from those that build on the other students’ messages helped to assess what proportion of the postings were built on another students’ message. A first-type contribution replied directly to the question posted in the discussion forums while a second-type contribution was a message that responded to another students reply (or first-type contribution) to the question posted online. A third-type contribution was a message that responded to students’ second-type contribution and so on. We however did not actually compare results of students who followed the online module with those who followed the traditional classroom based lectures
STUDENTS’ PERCEIVED IMPORTANCE OF MOBILE TECHNOLOGY IN THE LEARNING PROCESS FOR CZM
In case the student does not perform as per expectations, that is achieves a score below the pass rate, or successively achieves a borderline score, then the system initiates the remediation phase where the student is given academic support and tutorials that are related to the content of the tests.
The fact that students following online courses do not prefer to read pages of text online can be explained by two possibilities. The first possibility is that with the growing familiarity of students with the Internet and mobile devices, there could have been a paradigm shift and perceptions have evolved. The second possibility is that students are much more at ease with such devices (mobile phones and PDAs) that these tasks seem so basic and appealing (fashionable) to them (Santally et al., 2006). It is also clear that, for the student, the teacher/lecturer still has a very vital role in supporting the learning process in CZM. Most students have designated SMS/email messages as very important for approaching deadlines of assignments, class scheduling and whenever the lecturer posts something online. The student community is also widely accustomed to these SMS messages. It is obvious that they would welcome such initiative. There is also the argument that the evolution of mobile devices and 3G networks can bring about a revolution in the learning environment in that students can attend 'live’ lectures even when they are on the move. This argument is not a new one as similar claims were made for video-conferencing on the Internet. Videoconferencing is still highly inaccessible because of the cost of telecommunications involved in the process, while with the limited Internet bandwidth available in mainly developing countries and with reference to Mauritius, videoconferencing is still not a widely used feature. The implied costs for 3G services are still too high for the wide adoption of this technology among the student population and ultimately the educational system in Mauritius. The problem that exists with the emergent technologies nowadays is that it seems imperative that there is a feeling that it is compelling to integrate every new technology in the teaching and learning process. It is not because a chat facility exists in a learning platform that it should be included in every activity or pedagogical scenario and that a face-to-face session should be excluded solely because the new technology of chat or 3G helps bypassing a classic conversation.
It is therefore obvious that emphasizing on the flexibility brought about by the new technology can become a means to redynamize the CZM teaching and learning process through the provision of a permanent communication and coordination link for the student with his/her learning environment. This aspect can be seen as an enhancement to the learning support process. A constraint that has been highlighted by some of the respondents relates to the relatively small screens of such devices that take the problem in another dimension. The size of the screen definitely affects the usability aspect, the range of features that can be supported, the organization of the navigational structure and the pedagogical approaches that can be adopted. Although from the study, it seems learners are not against downloading and reading documents on their mobile devices. From a pedagogical perspective, this implies a complete re-engineering of courseware in CZM to meet the constraints imposed by an m-learning environment. In any virtual learning environment the concepts of usability, pedagogy and technology form a balanced triad. Alteration of any of the component in the detriment of another would cause an ecological imbalance in the system. For instance, focusing too much on a complicated pedagogical approach may decrease the usability of the system, as the m-learning environment will possibly contain highly unlinear navigation structure.
We acknowledge data analysis carried out by S Ah Fock, CZM students for their input in the forums and technical assistance from the VCILT.
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