Open and Distance Learning Programmes
in Technology Skills
Project Number 17 – 1994
Manager of Learning Development Services
Learning Development Services
University of Sunderland
Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, SR1 3SD
Other Individuals And Organizations Associated With The Project
Senior Project Manager
Learning Development Services
University of Sunderland
c/o 36 West Road
Bury St Edmunds
Suffolk IP33 3EJ
Assistant Learning Development Manager
University of Sunderland
Sunderland, Tyne and Wear SR1 3SD
Biographical summary: BSc in Microbiology with Chemistry from University of Reading 22 years experience teaching Microbiology, Genetics and Chemistry at undergraduate, HND?C and OND?C levels at the University of Sunderland, New College, durham and University of Northumbria in Newcastle. Biology and Chemistry taught at GCSE and A Level at New College Durham and in local comprehensive schools. Written open learning materials in Microbiology and Hygien for Pharmacy Dispensing technicians, Podiatrists and Health Studies students. Reviewed and edited open learning materials at foundation level for the Open Learning Foundation’s Nursing Programme and at postrgraduate level for the Postgraduate Diploma in Quality Assurance (for the Pharmaceutical Industry). Special interests include helping students with little or no science background to achieve in scientific disciplines.
Biographical summary: BA in English from University of Durham Certificate in Teaching Adults Currently working towards Certificate in Counselling at Cambridge University Taught communications and liberal studies in further education college, set up courses in women literature and women’s studies (four years) Worked with unemployed people to provide communications and job-seeking skills (2 years) Journalist for local newspaper (one year) Project manager at the National Extension College, developing open and distance learning materials. (2 Years) Editorial Director of Cambridge Learning Systems, responsible for development of open and distance learning training materials for both educational and corporate clients (3 years) Currently self-employed (freelance) consultant in open learning, developing programmes and materials as well as training others in open learning. Also employed as Senior Project Manager, University of Sunderland Learning Development Services developing and evaluating the Microcomputing Skills Programme which is the subject of this proposal. (1 year) Particular interests in learning and communication skills.
Biographical summary: BA (Joint Honours) English LIterature with American and Commonwealth Arts. Currently Studying for Post-Graduate Certificate in Online Education and Training with the Institute of Education, University of London. Worked for six years and National Database Manager, Speical Projects Manager and International Co-ordinator for an educational electronic communicatons network, Campus 2000. Worked in the UK, Australia and with Japan. Co-ordinated research study in gender issues and computing in primary schools for the Queensland Justice Department, Australia. Current work involves developing learning strategies and flexible learning materials for use at the University of Sunderland and beyond.
In 1993 the University of Sunderland won one of BT’s first Higher Education Development awards. The award has provided opportunities for non-traditional learners to link into the University by using modern communications technologies.
The Gateway to Learning Project began in October 1993 and led to the development of The Microcomputing Skills Programme, an open learning programme, which has now been successfully distributed to and piloted by 86 learners. These learners have come from a variety of backgrounds, namely:
- 25 women returners
- 24 students (both mature students and school leavers)
- 10 unemployed people
- 16 employees of small business
- 11 prisoners
The text materials cover basic computing skills as well as more specific skills in both DOS and Windows programmes in the three main computer applications: wordprocessing, databases and spreadsheets. The materials are interactive and encourage learners to try out new knowledge and skills through both paper-based and computer-based activities. Each learner has been allocated a tutor who has been specially trained in open learning delivery methods. Apart from receiving the necessary hardware and software, participants in the project have been supported in the following ways:
Learners have been linked to the University and in some cases to each other using BT’s portable video conferencing machines (VC 7000).
Desk Top Conferencing (DTC)
Learners have used DTC technology to carry out collaborative projects, send messages at work and have communicated via the computer screen using a DTC card.
A series of short radio programmes was produced (by local community radio using students and volunteers) and broadcast initially over community radio – the programmes are also available on cassette.
A video programme was also produced to be accessible to all members of European community states. To this end, the video was scripted without words, produced by a local small business using students from a Media Training Centre for the Deaf who communicate through gesture and sign. The programme can be broadcast to learners by satellite or cable TV.
Learners have been enthusiastic about the possibilities opened up to them through their studies and growing familiarity with computers and communications networks. The pilot project will run until July 1994 when a comprehensive report and evaluation will be available.
- The project has been established and managed by people drawn from several disciplines with responsibilities and experience in the following areas: management, funding, academic liaison, computing, educational technology, instructional design, editorial, education.
- One of the aims of the project has been to incorporate networking with more traditional methods of learning. The use of open learning materials, which broadens access especially to people at a distance from the main learning centre, has led to the establishment of new communications methods. Links via telephone, computer, video and desktop conferencing are essential components of basic skills in microcomputing. Team members have also made good use of the new technology by studying via computer-mediated conferencing, conversing in real time, as well as conducting research via the Internet.
- The student has always been at the centre of the project. The materials are all interactive, with support available in text and other forms to help learners plan their own routes, establish learning contracts, review work and continue to plan for the future. New courses based on the programme will be available to both internal and external students who can now register as Associate Students of the University. The course is based on the premise that active learning is the only valid kind, and that learners must take responsibility for their own learning. Clearly the motivation required is considerable, but for those who have made the commitment, the rewards have more than repaid the efforts.
- Project-based elements of The Microcomputing Skills Programme require learners to consider their own needs for basic computing skills. Learners, both at the University and at community-based centres, must obtain and document data relevant to themselves.This data can be retrieved in a number of ways: from their own or public collections in print, on CD-ROM or from a network.
- Students studying computing skills follow the programme in its entirety as a core part of their degree. Students following other courses of study, such as those in the Schools of Health Sciences and the Environment will follow parts of the Microcomputing Skills Programme as appropriate. The Programme has been validated by the University and upon completion, students gain 1/2 CATs module (ten credits).The project has been used as a pilot to evaluate and promote the flexible use of specially prepared materials and networking by learners in the local community. The pilot is being extended to more sites and more modules. Students are offered a modular menu from which they can select a small part. Courses will be offered, in addition to the Microcomputing Skills Programme, in effective learning skills (20 credits), social geography (10 credits), regional issues (10 credits) and research methods (10 credits). It is intended that more modules will be offered each year.
- Regular workshops are provided to encourage University staff to develop new skills in teaching and learning.Changing student needs and roles in learning make possible new roles for staff as students cover much of the content via methods other than lectures. There are new possibilities for all staff to follow a path which involves tutoring, mentoring and supporting more than lecturing and conducting, supplying and instructing. It is hoped that there will be an increasing shift away from teaching and toward that of facilitating learning, motivating students and fostering independent self-study.
The development of learning centres within the community, linked to a hub institution, has facilitated entrance to higher education from those not previously represented. These centres provide:
- the recruitment of learners onto programmes
- access to equipment on which to learn new skills and to communicate synchronously and asynchronously with a tutor, mentor and other learners
- books and journals.
The University itself is shifting to a learner-centred approach, devolving much of the curriculum-specific resources as well as computing and networking provision, to the academic centres. This leads to new roles for library staff, administrative staff and technical staff. Academic staff are also becoming involved in the development of materials in a mix of media and spcific staff are being appointed with the new role of developing flexible learning materials especially in the area of multimedia.
- In the UK, the new universities are focusing on the changing needs of students as they become more diverse and dispersed (on teaching and learning) whilst also developing their research profiles. External funding such as from the European Union and companies such as BT enable pilot projects such as the one described her to take place.
School of Computing and Information Science – 600 students Associate students – 55 (this academic year) This is a new student status created for learners on the Microcomputing Skills Programme who are not students of the university. This group includes women returners, enemployed people and prisoners. They receive tutorial support from the university, have their assignments marked by university staff and receive university accreditation for their work.