Blackboard to Monitor, or Empirical Research of E-learning in University Level Teaching (Švaříček, Zounek)

25.9.2009 - Zprávy

The text presents results of a research project oriented on university-level instruction with information and communication technologies (ICT) support. The research took place at the Faculty of Arts, Masaryk University (Brno, Czech Republic) in 2007. The main research question was: In what ways do teachers consider a didactic use of ICT in their courses? Specific questions the researchers asked were the following: How do teachers think about their e-learning instruction? What are the ways in which their ideas are reflected in e-learning courses structure and form? To what degree are teachers’ ideas present in e-learning courses at the whole faculty?

Research in a teacher’s thinking has been fully developing since 1970s. The aim of the research is to describe a teacher’s mental world. Further, it is presumed that it enables understanding why the behavior of a teacher during an observed instruction has certain characteristics. Instruction surely is a complex process and a creation of a realistic picture of instruction would be the last aim of the research in a teacher’s thinking.

Thinking of university teachers and didactic aspect of e-learning have been relatively little dealt with (in the Czech Republic, at least), while technical aspects have been quite well described. An overestimation of the role of technologies may lead to technologically-oriented projects focusing primarily on the infrastructure and disregarding specific school environments and teachers’ needs and demands. It is clear, however, that the research must be oriented to pedagogical questions, because the introduction of e-learning is not taking place for technology testing and development reasons, but as a means of instruction.

The authors have chosen a mixed research design – they have included quantitative and qualitative methodologies. The quantitative part of the research analyzed all accessible e-courses in Moodle. 430 e-courses were analyzed. The analysis focused primarily on the didactic facility of e-courses. The authors further observed what tools of Moodle teachers use and they classified the e-courses into three groups: distance e-courses, blended learning courses, and courses designed as support to classroom instruction.

In the qualitative part, the main method of data collection consisted in a series of in-depth interviews with university teachers, which included observation and think alouds. Semistructured in-depth interviews had a collaborative form where the interviewer and the interviewee worked together on creating of the meaning. There were teachers with many years of practice with e-learning among the interviewees, as well as teachers beginning with this way of teaching.

It follows from the quantitative analysis of e-courses that a majority of teachers create their e-courses as support for the commonplace in-class instruction, which is the predominant form of instruction at the faculty.

In the qualitative research, we focused on a description of the e-environment and its advantages (work monitoring, mediation of materials, and students’ motivation) and disadvantages (temporal demands and loneliness). We identified teachers’ personal theories as the key factor influencing the actual instruction. We divided teachers into three groups regarding their personal didactic theories: constructivists, intuitivists (intuitively discovering some rules of instruction) and technicians (not dealing with the didactic theory). The character of e-system and a teacher’s knowledge lead together to the teacher’s attitude to e-learning. We divided teachers’ attitudes into two groups: e-learning as a Source (e-course as a substitute for a library slot) and e-learning as a Medium (e-course as an environment for the instruction process).