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E-Pedagogy: Challenges for learning and teaching

Sammy Adelman, School of Law, University of Warwick

E-learning pedagogy is of central importance to the University’s overall e-learning strategy and I welcome this opportunity to respond to the “Changing faces of e-Pedagogy?” article as an initiative to stimulate debate. I believe that e-pedagogy is different to conventional pedagogy, primarily because the experience of learner is likely to be different. This is a small initial response to the issues raised.

My primary concern at present is online distance learning, a form of pedagogy in which the learner is not physically present on campus. Such students must therefore receive and process all information without face-to-face tutoring. However, I believe that all forms of e-learning require a different approach from both teacher and student.

I agree that there is a danger that what currently passes for e-pedagogy may too readily come to be regarded as just another administrative task. Whilst more and more syllabi are being placed on the web, and more materials are available over the Internet, these are too often a digitalised form of printed materials.

Teaching in conventional ways, with printed materials and course packs, and lectures and seminars, implies certain pedagogical approaches; since lecturers receive little or no formal training I am not sure that many of us are aware of the pedagogical issues involved in “normal” teaching.

In working through the issues involved in the construction of an online masters degree it has become clear that simply transposing current content and practice into digital form is inadequate. I fully agree that the concept of a “course” as currently understood is likely to be inadequate. Research that we have undertaken suggests, first, that students would prefer a modular approach that permits the widest range of choices. Second, the timescales involved in e-learning (at least distance e-learning) mean that the timeframes within which we work on campus do not necessarily impose the same constraints: a term becomes a potentially meaningless concept in cyberspace. In addition, it might be anticipated that e-students will wish to complete their degrees/diplomas in different timescales to resident students.

I have encouraged the University to develop a coherent e-learning strategy (including a pedagogy) that will provide adequate support for the different needs that will arise. I fully appreciate the undesirability of pushing departments with different needs in one direction; however, there are so many common needs and interests, from the security of the network, the need for a portal, etc. to the provision of common authoring tools that it is only on a university-wide scale that we can sensibly hope to proceed without a potentially vast waste and duplication of resources.

In delivering e-learning to students (both resident and distance) we need to move beyond the rudimentary tools that are generally in use at present, like SiteBuilder, and explore the ways in which, and the pedagogical implications of, different and enhanced tools like Authorware, Macromedia Breeze, etc. We must certainly find ways of delivering content in stimulating, interactive forms that enhance the learning experience. Above all, we must seek to view the process from the perspective of the learner in designing and delivering content.

It is my impression that few people on campus are aware of how great the cultural change is likely to be when e-learning becomes more widespread – and this has important pedagogical implications. The ways in which we teach will change greatly; what we must therefore seek to do is manage these changes in ways that are least threatening for academics and make best use of existing skills – rather like the way in which we now word process many things that not so long ago were undertaken by secretarial staff.  A key is the encouragement of a mindset that generates content in a digital form: we need to think how everything we produce might look and work in digital form.  We need to encourage the use of programs such as PowerPoint, with which many feel comfortable, for the production of content which can be plugged into more sophisticated programs like Authorware or Breeze. We need to explore ways of using technology to examine and test students.

Above all, at present, we need to talk, collaborate and exchange views, to learn from each other and from the inevitable mistakes we will make. There is no easy or perfect way of doing e-learning, as the fate of UKeU demonstrates, and we are still only on the foothills of what is possible; equally I have no doubt that e-learning is here to stay, that it will expand and that in a decade or so we will marvel at how far we have come in comparison to where we are today. To this end, it is crucial that the University provides resources, support and patience, that it be prepared to innovate and have patience with the glitches and problems that will inevitably arise.

Dr Sammy Adelman
School of Law
University of Warwick

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