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Implementing learning technology in the undergraduate teaching of Cultural Studies

Sin Bayne (EDU) and David Finkelstein (PMPC), Napier University

Key points

FirstClass conferencing software and the world wide web were used to support large numbers of undergraduates studying a module entitled An Introduction to Cultural Studies.

Students discussed topics and worked together on group assignments in small online tutorial groups. Online class participation and group work contributed 40% of students' final mark.

Relevant web browsing was a compulsory part of the module, as was contribution to the content of the module site.

Evaluations show that the implementation was a success the project has contributed significantly to the development of online learning approaches at Napier University.

The programme supported is a first year undergraduate module entitled An Introduction to Cultural Studies. The course team, based in the Department of Print Media, Publishing and Communication, wished to introduce added flexibility to the programme by exploiting the potential of the new learning technologies for supporting and delivering to a large number of on-campus students. It was hoped that, by using the web and online communication, module participants would become confident in the use of the new technologies early on in their learning career, and that the technological medium itself, as a cultural phenomenon, would provoke interest and discussion relevant to the aims of the module.

Approach

In partnership with the Educational Development Unit (supported by LTDI), the course team developed an online learning environment using FirstClass conferencing software, accompanied by a module web site which functioned as a resource library and general information base. There were also weekly one hour face-to-face lectures.

During their first week of study, students participated in workshops which introduced them to FirstClass. They were then allocated to online groups of around eight or nine; discussion focused on weekly topics, with each group being asked to submit four group assignments for assessment during the course of the module. In addition, each student's own online contribution counted towards their final mark.

The course team took full advantage of the flexibility of the web, by using the module web site to provide regularly updated lists of resources and reading references. Students were encouraged to take an active part in expanding the horizons of the module, with student recommended web resources and contributions also being posted up on the site. Students were asked to evaluate their experience of the module through an online questionnaire this also enabled direct student input into subsequent shaping, direction and content provision of the module.

Success factors

Evaluation showed that, despite some students' reservations about the nature of computer mediated communication (as opposed to face-to-face discussion), the implementation was generally a success; the module has now run for a second time with 200 participants and will run again in February 1999. Success factors include the fact that online discussion and group work, and the structure of the web site, were tied clearly to module content and programme aims and objectives. In addition, students were required to contribute to the online learning experience through the module assessment mechanism, and full training in the use of the technology was given. Alongside this, the amount of time and energy the course team dedicated to facilitating the online conferences and to maintaining the module's web presence was significant.

Dissemination of the experience of the implementation is taking place through the delivery of internal staff development sessions, and through involvement in external seminars and events. The introductory guidelines to using FirstClass produced for the module are available for use throughout the university, and the module web site is regularly used at staff development events as an example of good practice.

The Napier cultural studies website can be found at the URL http://www.edu.napier.ac.uk/flexlern/cult/index.htm


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