The emerging contribution of online resources and tools to classroom learning and teaching

Trends in higher education

(Texte français)

Executive Summary


Report submitted to SchoolNet / Rescol

by TeleLearning Network Inc.

Jean Benoit, Université Laval
M'hammed Abdous, Université Laval
Thérèse Laferrière, Université Laval


Trend 1

The emergence of a new mixed mode of learning: face-to-face and on-line learning activities.

For many years, various types of learning have co-existed and been combined, semester after semester, in university teaching practices. Practices are characterized by changing learning methods that borrow their formats from the perpetuation of traditional teaching, more often than not by lectures based on a professor’s knowledge, from distance education techniques that reach a disparate clientele located off campus, and from the emergence of an educational telepresence in and ex situ created by the development and use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Lectures, videos, multimedia and telecommunications, sometimes hybrid, sometimes integrated, support the various learning processes.

In Quebec, hybrid learning methods have begun to appear, but in terms of online instructional innovations, few if any Quebec universities have really succeeded in competing with the dynamic research and applications being conducted in the United States and Great Britain. We have to admit that, in this area, the field is still fallow in some of our institutions. In any case, although few instructional experiments have been scientifically reported and discussed here, it is still possible to see the onset of questioning based on online teaching practice intended for university clientele.

For the 1997 winter session, two professors at the École nationale d’administration publique (ENAP), Maltais and Rondeau (1997), undertook to provide part of their instructional material on the Web, specifically the syllabus and specialized articles used in their course entitled "Formulation de problèmes et prises de décisions", which had previously been offered by a traditional teaching method with lectures and face-to-face meetings. The two course instructors also decided to provide part of the teaching, facilitating and coaching through email and FirstClass software, which enabled them to establish individualized communication and electronic conferences reserved for participants alone.

The changes to the traditional format led to a complete reformulation of the course. From 12 weekly three-hour face-to-face meetings, the professors shifted to three monthly six-hour meetings, and instead of 12 themes, they reorganized the material to be taught into three integrator modules. Thirteen graduate students registered for the course, most living in Montreal and three in Quebec City, Chicoutimi and Radisson, Que. Ten students had regular employment, and three others were full-time students. Apart from the technical difficulties inherent in effective use of the electronic support, the professors and students generally accepted the new format for dissemination and communication of knowledge well. Centred on active learning by the student, the format created many exchanges and direct interactions that facilitated more continuous and individualized coaching and distributed sharing of knowledge among participants. Collaborative and co-operative formats appeared that showed instructional support equivalent if not superior to the traditional face-to-face learning method.

However, this Quebec experiment is only the tip of the iceberg, a shrub in the forest. For nearly twelve years, Starr Roxanne Hiltz (1992), with the Department of Computer and Information Science (CSI) at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, has been conducting various research on similar mixed learning practices. In this regard, Professor Hiltz (1997) reports on a learning environment developed by the Institute, the Virtual Classroom, which supports a type of co-operative learning in asynchronous time.

The Virtual Classroom is made up of virtual spaces that promote interaction between participants through online tools that provide electronic mail, transmission and reception of educational projects and communication of formative and summative evaluations. The Virtual Classroom is currently being used in various ways. It can be paired with a face-to-face communication format, constitute the sole main source of transmission of information, or be combined with other types of media: videos, audio and graphic material, CD-ROMs, software tools.

The Virtual Classroom serves students on the university campus or students taking distance courses from the Institute program. According to Hiltz, no matter what instructional format mix is selected, co-operative learning offers obvious advantages for knowledge construction. Participation and interaction between students and teachers contribute socially to the emergence of an interactive dynamic that facilitates certain processes of knowledge and skill assimilation and acquisition, processes often identified with peer exchange and discussion (self-explanation, internalization and appropriation).

At the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the Virtual Classroom has been used in numerous courses in the regular program. Between fall 1993 and fall 1995, 26 courses were converted to a specific instructional format using the Virtual Classroom with another type of knowledge diffusion: the video. Hiltz’s experiment and the subsequent comparative evaluation of classes using the Virtual Classroom distance education method paired with videos and classes operating in face-to-face meetings with videos accessible by computer network have been the subject of a statistical study based on questionnaires distributed at the end of the courses.

Three initial hypotheses were developed: a) mastery of course material in the VC will be equal or superior to that in the TC [traditional classroom]; b) VC students will report higher subjective satisfaction with the VC than the TC on a number of dimensions, including improved overall quality, whereby the student assesses the experience as being 'better' thant the TC in some way, involving learning more on the whole; c) those students who experience 'group learning' in the VC [will] most likely to judge the outcomes of online courses to be superior to the outcomes of traditional courses.

After explaining the methodology for statistical data collection and its limitations, Hiltz explains the various problems experienced by the students using the mixed electronic teaching method: problems of access to work stations and/or Internet or Intranet lines, varying degrees of success in individual management of studies and greater difficulty establishing and consolidating lasting connections among themselves. The students located off campus, however, found online teaching more stimulating than their classmates located on campus. The off-campus students were more engaged in knowledge construction by exchanging with their peers and instructors. All the students involved in the mixed modes considered they benefited from better access to their professors and preferred this kind of teaching to more traditional teaching. These students were also more motivated to perform better while recognizing the instructional usefulness of being able to access the work of their classmates. Most felt that they learned better with the mixed mode and that it substantially improved the quality of teaching. From the teachers’ point of view, the experience showed the necessity of reviewing the size of instructional groups based on the make-up of the classes. A maximum number of 25 students per class was considered a desirable and acceptable standard to guarantee the quality of academic management.

Other instructional experiments show a recurrence of these gains. Kapur and Stillman (1997), professors of computing and mathematics at James Cook University in Australia, initiated two undergraduate university courses in computing for students: in first-year biology, in fall 1994, and in humanities and social sciences, in winter 1995 (Introduction to Computing for Biologists and Introduction to Computing for Arts and Social Sciences). In the winter session 1995, they used the Web as the main tool for transmission of knowledge and skills. The students had access to a Web site that had course notes in various media, assessment and self-assessment tests, a course plan and corresponding agenda, electronic bulletin board, various formative feedback forms and individualized Web pages that were to be created by the students registered.

Kapur and Stillman reported on the second instructional experiment, for students in humanities and social sciences, and assessed it compared to the first group of biology students, who had not benefited from access to the Web. The target group for the study was made up of 60 to 100 learners, the majority of whom had limited knowledge of computer environments. Weekly, two 50-minute courses were scheduled along with three hours of practical work over a 13-week semester. After explaining in detail how the instructional activities were conducted, Kapur and Stillman focussed on the results. They noted an increase in the performance of students involved in the winter 1995 initiative. All the students in that semester satisfactorily completed the course requirements, 49% of them even completed the course with higher than average marks (Distinction and High Distinction), while the authors recorded a failure rate of 10% for students in the fall 1994 initiative, and only 26 % of them earned Distinction and High Distinction. The authors also pointed out an increase in performance in subjects other than the subjects covered in the computing course. For the fall 1994 group, the increase was 51%, and for the winter 1995 group, it was 78%. In conclusion, the authors stated that using the Web as the main source of knowledge communication proved very motivating for the students in introductory computing. They also emphasized the instructional gains achieved: better understanding and better organization of the learning environment for educational purposes, greater re-investment of knowledge through personal exploration and individualized Web page construction; knowledge sharing through the electronic bulletin board; better assimilation and comprehension of concepts and knowledge based on multiple links in the database.

Similarly, Charles K. Crook (1997), a professor in the Department of Human Sciences of Loughborough University in Leicester, Great Britain, reports the impact of ICTs on experimental practice. After a brief presentation of technology-based education supports, Crook reveals the accessibility and user-friendliness of the Web and hypertext documents on it. Stating the hypothesis that some university professors could be tempted to transfer their instructional material to electronic media, Crook wanted to understand how students would use the material and what instructional benefits dialogue between the teacher and students would have.

For the experiment, Crook selected 108 students registered in first-year university and 75 other students in second year. The instructional material for a first-year course (Introduction to Child Development) and a second-year course (Social Development) in the Psychology Department of a university, at Durham, was transferred to an electronic medium accessible on the Web from an Intranet. The Web site contained, for each course, all the reference material required for learning. The reference material, subdivided in various interactive files, included a series of self-assessment questions and invited students to send their comments on particular points to the professor by e-mail. Students were also encouraged to participate anonymously in an electronic bulletin board. Having explained the evaluation methodology for the instructional experiments, Crook presented the results.

The second-year students (86%) liked the course very much, and 58% of them thought it did not require more work than any other course of the same kind with face-to-face meetings. The instructional material was assessed by 64% as superior to other courses with face-to-face meetings. According to the students, the course was comparable to others in terms of hours of study. Crook also noted extensive use of the instructional material, which was considered significant. The instructional material was perceived positively by 73%, and 98% agreed that all courses should include this kind of material. The experiment, however, showed little use of the electronic bulletin board and e-mail.

In conclusion, Crook emphasized the level of student satisfaction and motivation. He also stressed the extensive use of the online instructional material. The online reference material adequately prepared the students for the professor’s presentations, so that the learners considered the lectures clearer and more understandable. Frequent recourse to printed copies of the instructional content, however, considerably limited opportunities for exploration and discovery. This aspect was under-used. Another disappointing point was the very low frequency of participation by the students in communication and exchange tools, such as the bulletin board and e-mail.

In another location, another course recorded similar gains with the use of ICTs. Terry Anderson (1997), a computing professor at the School of Computing and Mathematics of the University of Ulster in Jordanstown, Northern Ireland, has taught a course on interactions between computers and humans for several years. All the instructional material, digitized slides, multimedia videos, references and Internet links, text documents (course notes and exercises), utility, educational support and practical-work support software, solutions to the problems assigned, with commentary, and annotated reference documentation, has since been accessible from a distance by Internet. Anderson selected this strategy to resolve various administrative and instructional problems: an increase in the student-professor ratio, decreased budget, maintenance of the quality of theoretical and practical education that should offer students relevant training and allow them to deepen and master knowledge and skills in a specific field.

Development of critical thinking, in-depth comprehension of knowledge, individual and independent thinking, the objectives sought by any university course based on teaching that espouses the same quality criteria as teaching governed by traditional knowledge communication methods, obliged the author to use innovative methods to communicate the knowledge components indispensable to an in-depth and clear understanding of the topics studied. Anderson had to suggest a new instructional approach, turning to a teaching model that explores the interactive cycle of learning (Conceptualization, Action and Dialogue) studied by J. P. Mayes. Anderson therefore structured his instructional practice by subdividing a class that usually had approximately 45 students registered in their last year of a bachelor’s degree in computing science and mathematics into small groups of 10 to 12 students for weekly coaching and feedback.

This instructional format, combined with a weekly lecture and distance access to all the instructional material, had a positive impact on the ways knowledge was communicated: reduced time for lectures without harming the quality of teaching (from four hours to three hours); easy revision and relevant adjustment of instructional material as a result of client suggestions and comments; more effective and efficient communication of knowledge; better integration of academic management specific to coaching and supervising learning tasks; increased access to instructional material to improve comprehension of concepts and applications while allowing revision and some self-study formats. Learning results also observable were the following: better identification of problems and errors in interpretation; more in-depth understanding of concepts and applications; better social integration of students; increased motivation and interest in the knowledge taught due to participation and the exchange of points of view. In the last year, this whole set of innovative teaching methods resulted in an increase of 5% in marks over previous groups who chose this course, distributed in three learning models over 12 weeks, previously offered by a face-to-face teaching method.

The study by Light, Colbourn and Light (1997) also shows how ICTs (electronic mail, discussion list and Web site) can be used as a complement to face-to-face meetings and to improve the quality and flexibility of practical work done by students registered in a psychology course (first-, second- and third-year). For the first-year students, results show an improvement in interaction with teachers, neutralization of the gender effect observed in face-to-face interactions and an increase in the visibility of students’ work. For students in second- and third-year, the skywriting activity was perceived more as a means of information exchange and sharing in a community of learners, even by students more accustomed to forming small groups (Light, Colbourn and Light, 1997, p. 233). However, the professors maintain that it is risky to generalize the results obtained, keeping in mind that the use of ICTs depends on several factors, such as the cognitive abilities and the attitudes of learners toward technology. This caution is reinforced by the conclusion reached by Crook (see above) when studying the impact of the inclusion of hypertext documents in a traditional class: "The findings reported here stress the need to recognize that teaching interventions with educational technology are always located within cultures of existing educational and social co-ordination" (Crook, 1997, p. 244).

The scientific literature also shows several other cases of experimentation reporting convincing dividends: Althaus (1997), Chizmar and Williams (1997) and Usip and Bee (1998). A new field of practice and research thus seems to be emerging, which is the result of a mix of practices using the face-to-face method and the telepresence method with computer networks. It is also influencing teacher education. In this area, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (1997) in the United States has established an advisory board, made up of approximately twenty university faculty members who specialize in teacher education, to explore the strategic relevance of integrating ICTs in the training of future teachers in that country. While validating all the instructional benefits already presented, the report points out the importance of adopting new approaches and new attitudes toward the new knowledge transmission and communication methods and practices required with the arrival of the third millennium. We have to know how to adapt to contemporary society and not fear taking risks: "Breaking away from traditional approaches to instruction means taking risks and venturing into the unknown. But this is precisely what is needed at the present time" (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 1997, p.5).

Commenting on the numerous deficiencies of many teacher education programs, the advisory board proposed a complete transformation of the organizational culture of departments, which make fuller use of the social characteristics and features arising from the integration and use of ICTs in their curricula. Some fifteen examples of departmental reorganization are presented as an appendix to the report. Most cite real experience with networking among future teachers in training, teachers on the job, students and university researchers who question and interact with each other through the virtual power of ICTs (San Diego State University, Curry School of Education of the University of Virginia, Boise State University), the emergence of networks of university teachers sharing common and joint experiences (Houston Consortium) and the introduction and use of ICTs in new curricula (University of Hartford, Valley City State University [North Dakota], University of Northern Iowa, Peabody College of the Vanderbilt University, Indiana University, College Park of the University of Maryland, Western Illinois University, Arizona State University).

As you can see, the operation and use of ICTs are varied and may take many forms in instructional application in the field of teacher education. All the examples cited combine mixed learning methods that are virtually changeable. In this area, Bob Moon (1997) relates the experience of the Open University in Great Britain, which innovatively offers future British and European teachers an 18-month distance program of study via the Internet. Using Codiless and its sophisticated system of electronic conferences that provide both theoretical training and sustained coaching at the required stages, the teaching offered is flexible, open, based on exchange, collaboration and accessible 24 hours a day. Time, space and face-to-face meetings are no longer impediments to learning and communicating knowledge and expertise. This is already a third-millennium program, an electronic learning and practice community program (see, among others, the site [] and the Web site set up by the European Community: Web for Schools []).

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Trend 2

Information access is more direct, interactive and flexible.

University students benefit from access to databases, online references, CD-ROMs, Internet sites. In this area, the best-known example is the Gutenberg project at the Carnegie-Mellon University of Pittsburgh which aims, with the help of volunteers, to digitize 10,000 texts between now and the year 2001 ( Oblinger and Maruyama (1996) also cite the experience of the Florida Center for Library Automation, a consortium of ten public universities in this American state, which provides access to a digitized catalogue with approximately 17 million entries. Wanting to modernize its services to university clientele, the Florida Center for Library Automation undertook the project of transferring 100,000 scientific articles to digital format during its first year of operation and subsequently maintaining a pace of digital transfer of 5,000 new documents per month (see Oblinger and Maruyama also refer to the involvement of the same firm, IBM, in digitizing the collections of the Vatican Library in Rome and the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil ( Using highly sophisticated digital procedures, the project is part of a vast program for digitizing our universal heritage to allow Internet access and its preservation ( The proliferation of online documents has a positive educational impact. Some scientific studies have, in fact, shown the veracity of the following postulate: better access to online information increases motivation, both among teachers and learners, and generates satisfaction for both while showing better academic results.

Gilliver, Randall and Pok (1998) assess the contribution of ICTs on educational variables, taking into consideration the following factors: a) opportunities for feedback and individual involvement offered by electronic mail and discussion forums; b) teachers’ attitudes to motivation; c) involvement of learners in the choice of instructional material; d) collaboration between learners; e) awakening curiosity and a spirit of discovery among learners. Comparing the results of the target group with the control group, Gilliver, Randall and Pok observed an improvement of 11% in results obtained on examinations and also pointed out that access to course notes on the Internet facilitated more in-depth understanding of course concepts: "The results suggest that the stronger and weaker students are finding course material on the Internet more appropriate for their respective levels of understanding and are therefore more interested and motivated to understand and absorb that content" (Gilliver, Randall and Pok, 1998, p. 220). Gilliver, Randall and Pok also reveal a gain in productivity of 16% among teachers, after the first semester, particularly in material preparation of course notes (typing lecture notes/materials), managing the Web site and individual meetings with students. The interactive features and flexible accessibility of online information coupled with a collaborative process among participants allow better channelling of the ultimate purpose of teaching and learning activities. There again, another British instructional experiment shows its soundness.

Barker, Banerji, Richards, and Check Meng Tan (1995) were interested in communication problems created by lectures and courses presented in auditoriums and classrooms at the University of Teesside, in Great Britain. Studying both students’ problems (note-taking, motivation for listening, and understanding of lecture content) and professors' problems (use of various communication media: projectors, slides, video tapes, clarity and fluidity of presentations, use of other technical aids), the professors proposed to transfer all the material and reference components to electronic media to which students and professors would have access 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on an Intranet.

Needs analysis, using a questionnaire distributed at that university’s School of Computing and Mathematics (SCM), showed student interest: 80% of students who responded to the questionnaire said they were motivated to use online tools, 75% indicated they considered online tools an adequate supplement to their needs for additional information, and 85% said that 24-hour access was an excellent initiative. All the SCM professors also perceived the electronic transfer positively. Online access to all instructional material substantially improved teaching quality.

The University of Teesside and the SCM then proceeded to build a prototype educational platform, the Open Access Student Information Service (OASIS) and offered it to a target group of final-year students registered in a course on interactions between computers and humans. The students could access the virtual content on an Intranet or copy all the files to their personal computer. A summative evaluation of the use of the prototype corroborated some of the expectations expressed by the students and professors in the needs analysis.

The evaluation showed that the students highly valued online access to course notes (1.83/2 [very useful]), while the professors preferred the comments about reference works (1.90/2 [very useful]). All made suggestions for improving the prototype: integration of new tools and user-friendly interfaces. Increased integration and access to solutions with comments based on problems presented and corrected versions of examinations (Professors: 1.60/2 [very useful]; Students 1.83/2 [very useful]) and better facilities for printing documents, mainly course notes (Professors: 1.50/2 [very useful]; Students 1.58/2 [very useful]), were perceived as the main improvements to be made to the prototype. After presenting the results of experimentation with the prototype in three tables, Barker, Banerji, Richards and Check Meng Tan concluded that the support transfer was sound and relevant, and there was an improvement in teaching quality.

In 1997, Richards, Barker Check Meng Tan, Hudson and Beachan (1997) provided an update on the progress reported in the development of the OASIS educational platform. OASIS had seen unprecedented development: explanatory and supplementary documents, corrected examinations, annotated solutions to problems presented, case studies, practical exercises and videos had been added; various SCM courses had been integrated in the platform and expertise exported to other departments of the University.

An encompassing, open learning environment was created to meet various student needs, through the University Intranet, as they arose, whether during participation in academic activities (on-the-job learning/training situation) or as a result of requests made outside learning activities (just-in-time). In addition, OASIS tried to offer a set of electronic tools to provide students with a comprehensive framework for their academic progress. This educational strategy, modelled on an interactive design developed by P. Race, is oriented toward the following educational results: Wanting, Doing, Feedback, and Digesting. It should contribute, according to Richards, Barker, Check Meng Tan, Hudson and Beachan, to an increase in motivation, and to easier information assimilation and knowledge transfer while allowing students to structure their thinking and identify limitations in their comprehension. Armed with what they had learned, the professors extrapolated the impact of the process of appropriation, transfer, sharing, revision and reinvestment of knowledge based on a generic conceptual model for professors’ and students’ construction, transformation and reuse of acquired and experimental knowledge. The whole should organically and perennially ensure expanded and increasing dissemination of knowledge within and outside the university institution.

In another article, Barker, and Check Meng Tan (1997) questioned the real and potential contribution of online courses offered at this university and their propensity for allowing the implementation of self-study formats in an open and distant learning context. After a brief presentation of the various points of view and perspectives that universities of the future, virtual universities, could potentially evolve toward, Barker and Check Meng Tan sketch a concise portrait of experiments conducted at their alma mater and their benefits: engagement by the university community, improved quality of teaching, access to better understanding, facility of revision and self-study, more efficient and effective organization of knowledge, more in-depth knowledge of a given field, increased motivation, regular attendance at work and interest in the material taught. Barker and Check Meng Tan also emphasize the opportunity for easy revision of content, and the strong potential for dissemination and sharing in and outside the university community by Intranet, Internet and CD-ROM production.

Direct, interactive and flexible online information opens many doors, as numerous scientific articles point out. The references, each in their own way, present different educational and learning perspectives in various university fields: medicine, nursing, psychology, computer engineering, electrical engineering, guidance and counselling. The articles describe online experimentation with hypermedia designed to simulate physical phenomena (The Java Gas Turbine Simulator: Reed and Afjeh, 1998), professional activities (Parker, Wallis, Halama, Brown, Cradduck, Graham, Wu, Wagenaar, Mammone, Greene and Holman, 1996; The Interactive Patient: Hayes and Lehmann, 1996; GoFigure Inc.: Yaverbaum and Liebowitz, 1998) and complex learning activities (The Nero Project: Novick and Fickas, 1995; Graphica: Shabo, Guzdial and Stasko, 1997), or various telepresence formats (Cotlar and Shimabukuro, 1995; Bonk, Appleman and Hay, 1996) or diversified access to online information (Varnhagen, Drake and Finley, 1997; Sloane, 1997; Svanum, Chen and Bublitz, 1997; Wythe, Rozum and Gore, 1997; Bachman and Panzarine, 1998; Burden and Davies, 1998).

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Trend 3

Social interaction recovers its importance in the learning process.

On one hand, the work done at Open University, Teluq, Athabasca University and other universities of the same kind, particularly in Australia and Scandinavia, show that online social interaction can be relatively sustained when the participants in a distance course use computer networks. On the other hand, on university campuses, evaluations by continuing education units show similar results. In addition, publications on Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) by professors, most often at universities with distance students, are becoming increasingly numerous. However, the margin between unqualified success and mitigated success is minimal, depending on the context in which the learning occurs. Although perceptible and improving, social interaction can be relegated to second place by poorly defined learning objectives. Recent British experimentation reveals this eloquently.

In a recent article, McAteer, in the Teaching and Learning Service of the University of Glasgow, Tolmie, with the Department of Psychology at the University of Strathclyde, and Duffy and Corbett, respectively in the Department of Music and the Department of English Literature at the University of Glasgow, wondered about the contribution of online courses. They were interested in two basic questions: How are these tools used and what are the educational dividends? McAteer, Tolmie, Duffy and Corbett (1997) relate two experiments at the University of Glasgow as a basis for their comments. One was a mitigated success, and the other showed definitely more convincing conclusions.

An initial instructional experiment took place in the Department of Scottish Literature during the 1995-96 academic year and involved 30 students in a third-year text analysis course. The specialized seminar used a technology-based environment to support and supplement traditional teaching. The professor regularly sent suggestions by e-mail for researching text excerpts, allowing students to develop questioning and methodology that could be discussed weekly at online workshops. The strategy adopted was intended, in principle, to facilitate knowledge construction and sharing among students. Encouraged, but not required, to use an electronic communication tool anonymously, a limited number of students experimented with it. Considered beneficial by those who used it in exchange between peers, this experimentation was nevertheless perceived as disappointing by the professor, who would have liked greater use of the online resource, greater participation and more intellectual independence on the part of the students.

The second experiment related also took place at the University of Glasgow, in the Department of Music this time, in a specialized course on twentieth century music. Forty second-, third- and fourth-year students participated in this online seminar. Each week, the group, subdivided into small teams, examined and assessed schools of a particular style. Required to use an electronic communication tool, the students participated more in the exercise because they each had to present and submit to their peers and their professors an online project that was discussed and assessed by the group. The contributions were considered longer and better handled intellectually than the projects that had not been the subject of any exchange at previous seminars that relied on face-to-face meetings. In the seminar, some students valued the experience; others were more negative and not very open to this type of instructional format. In the end, this reticence was overcome, although a small proportion of students maintained negative concerns. The professors, however, were disappointed to observe the inconsistent use of the resource. All individuals did not participate in the same way; all were not similarly engaged.

Learning context and social interaction through one or more electronic tools thus go together, as is shown by another scientific publication. Wilson and Whitelock (1997), at the Centre for Educational Software and the Institute of Educational Technology of the Open University, reported on a pilot project online distance course that ran from February to October 1995, which brought together 110 students and nine professors in the United Kingdom and Europe. Associated with the STILE project (Students’ and Teachers’ Integrated Learning Environment), the pilot project included three other university institutions: De Montfort University, University of Leicester and University of Loughborough. The computing course (M205) provided an online environment that allowed discussion and exchange of information under the following three dimensions: a knowledge dimension (including domain and meta-knowledge), a social dimension, a motivational dimension. In addition to this function, the environment was also to stimulate motivation and social interaction. A teleconference system provided liaison between participants.

Wilson and Whitelock wanted to measure three particular items in their study: a) How did the students use the conferencing environment to help them with their study? b) What were the student levels of participation in terms of the knowledge dimension, the social dimension and the motivational dimension? c) How did the tutors perceive their students used the environment? Having compiled the data, Wilson and Whitelock observed that the technology-based environment was mainly used to ask for help solving a problem, to keep up-to-date on the various social interactions, to communicate with the professor and to access additional reference documentation. To a lesser degree, students used the environment to search for various information relating to their education, access course notes of other professors, participate in conferences initiated by other teachers, surf the Web, participate in informal discussion groups among students and conduct reviews. Wilson and Whitelock thus concluded that the knowledge dimension monopolized the initial activities, motivational aspects then appeared, and aspects related to the social dimension came last. The professors’ perception focussed mainly on the profitable use of teaching and learning activities, communication-related activities, discussion and sharing of knowledge, skills and attitudes.

Other instructional experiments are equally promising. David Jaffee (1997), a professor in the Department of Sociology at the State University of New York at New Paltz, was responsible for a distance learning course on economic and social development in the United States. After presenting and comparing the platform used (Lotus Notes) with others and its advantages and disadvantages compared to products of the same kind (HyperNews and FirstClass), Jaffee described the six databases that support the instructional process: the first is a course syllabus; the second explains the various learning tasks (nature of work and discussions); the third contains references and bibliographical annotations as well as short specialized articles (one to five pages); the fourth was designed as a depository for supplementary references on a specialized discussion and exchange site, sorted by the professor and submitted to students; the fifth is limited to an informal discussion forum among students from which the professor is excluded; and the sixth is a mailbox for sending and receiving electronic messages.

Jaffee then emphasizes strategies and instructional practices, at the same time, validating them with published scientific research. He was interested in the instructional features of interactivity, mediation, active learning and collaborative learning, demonstrating how he adapted and transformed a traditional instructional approach into an innovative process based on analytical, critical, synthesizing and interpretive knowledge construction and collaboration, participation and engagement among participants, creating a favourable context for better comprehension and more in-depth understanding of the study topics. In conclusion, Jaffee states that interpretive fields, such as sociology, adequately fit this teaching format, which offers clear advantages for increasing participation and engagement by learners in their knowledge construction compared to traditional classes.

Positive cognitive dimensions generated by collaboration depend on the engagement of the parties in sharing their knowledge, skills and attitudes in a particular learning context, as demonstrated in the study by Light, Colbourn and Light (1997), professors at Bournemouth University and Southampton Institute in Poole and Southampton, in Great Britain. After a brief explanation of the reduced budget context in universities, which has obliged institutions to change their student teaching policies by increasing the size of groups, they suggested a remedy for the problem by initiating an instructional format for transmitting and communicating knowledge by e-mail that archives messages (Hypermail). Related to the skywriting concept, this format has the following advantages: better knowledge assimilation and feedback through interaction and engagement among participants. During the 1995 and 1996 academic year, skywriting was used in parallel with a face-to-face teaching method in several psychology courses at the University of Southampton. The relationship between these instructional experiments was followed for one hundred students registered in a first-year course and a second-year course; the study also included six third-year students registered in a research seminar.

A questionnaire was distributed, and individual and group interviews were conducted to evaluate the instructional experience. The 80 students in the first-year course co-operated, more or less, with this type of teaching. Midway through the course, one third of the students involved had not sent any messages, the same proportion had sent only one message, and approximately 40% of the students had sent more than one message. Most of the messages sent were estimated at 100 words in length and were addressed to the professor. All the messages contained questions and only half expressed an opinion. The reasons cited by the students who did not participate in the exercise concerned the requirement to identify themselves. The method proved effective, however, for students who experienced difficulty communicating face to face with the class and professor. Asynchronous communication facilitated more thoughtful and better substantiated opinions and responses to arguments raised in class. The impression of being judged and criticized by peers and the professor was negatively perceived by some students. Mainly for this reason, no doubt, the students paid particular attention to the quality of their written communication and the relevance of arguments advanced in their messages. The opportunity to search for questions asked by other participants was also beneficial. Students were able to see similar questions asked by other participants and benefit at the same time from the same feedback. Despite the problems described, the experience was considered positive on both sides.

The second-year course was less successful, mainly due to the professor’s mitigated participation. Male students participated most, while female students were perceived as passive, not very participative or open to the use of a technology described as dehumanizing. Students in the third-year seminar were very engaged. An average of 11 messages was recorded per individual. The great majority of messages expressed opinions and were 500 words in length. There were few direct exchanges between peers, although they collectively shared the benefits of their respective readings by sending their comments to all participants. As a result of this study, Light, Colbourn and Light concluded that, for the first-year students, the skywriting format was a new and useful coaching format that did not affect the quality of the relationship between professor and students. The students also perceived the acquisition of new knowledge as more marked. The second-year students derived little from the experience. Those who participated, however, were able to see the full potential of the tool in terms of interaction and sharing. The seminar students valued the instructional format both in terms of knowledge sharing and as a valid information source. The reduced size of the group also facilitated greater participation. As a final point, Light, Colbourn and Light emphasized the importance of the size of the group and the cultural values that contribute to increasing or decreasing motivation, engagement and participation.

The social interaction supported by online tools models the type of relationships that emerge. Participation, engagement and motivation are features of increased collaboration based on a more open and flexible electronic learning environment. ICTs channel the ebb and flow of interaction between learners and teacher and between peers, whichever side of the educational fence they are on. As Joseph B. Walther (1995) has shown, electronic meetings function as well as, and are even superior in some psychological dimensions to, face-to-face meetings. Communicating by written message, particularly in asynchronous time, does not in any way impair the ability to dialogue and communicate effectively. Concepts of intimacy, trust, receptiveness, formalism, control, influence and strategic encouragement are reciprocally assumed by learners using an electronic method of communication. The psychological variables of communication do not hamper the ultimate purpose of learning, and the process of using an electronic communication tool is not inferior to face-to-face meetings. From this perspective, the moreaccess to new technology allows the emergence of a learning context that facilitates and stimulates a collaborative process, obliging individuals to engage and participate, the more the negative results harmful to the emergence of dialogue-based relationships tend to be overcome. On this aspect, Barry G. Silverman (1995) conducted a relevant study.

Silverman, with the Engineering Management Department of George Washington University in Washington, presents, in turn, two models of collaboration: the "Jigsaw" and the "Co-op-Co-op". In the first model, the class is subdivided into four specialized groups, each assigned to examine a particular aspect of a problem with two bi-dimensional academic bases. The members of each team must collectively negotiate the required consensus for a common analysis. Once the exercise is completed, the learners meet a second time, and the class is subdivided into four new teams, each with a member from another group. Participants each present the various aspects of the problem studied to their peers. Consensus is again sought to share knowledge. Each new group then presents its conclusions to the other groups in their respective presentations. The whole learning process, however, is determined by the teacher, who organized the material taught in advance. The teacher adopts the role of coach and facilitator. The second model also subdivides the class into small work teams, in this case, more informally. Unlike the first model, teacher and learners participate jointly in the gradual construction of both individual and group knowledge. The teacher works with students, supporting knowledge construction by giving learners total freedom to choose what they must learn and the mechanisms by which they can succeed in assimilating knowledge.

In this study of collaborative models, Silverman wanted to understand the differences that might exist between a face-to-face learning method and a method that uses an electronic communication tool. In summer 1993, the Jigsaw model was applied to a management course with 30 graduate students. The instructional material used included a reference to a text document combined with videos shown in class. Most of the students valued the experience (3.63/4) but perceived the professor as inactive. Used to attending lectures, the students were not able to consciously assess the professor’s role as coach and facilitator. The final marks (10 As and 19 Bs) also show a better understanding of the materials in a course without lectures.

Wanting to improve instructional methods in a way that minimizes linearity and increases students’ responsibility for their own learning, Silverman adopted the second co-operative model, Co-op-Co-op, by transferring to electronic support all the instructional material for another specialized graduate course (EMGT-287: Decision Support Systems and Models) previously organized based on the jigsaw model. With or without the support of ICTs, the course was to allow the students to each create their own support system for administrative decisions. In the first experimental trials without technology, the first part of the session was mainly devoted to building knowledge with short demonstrations, group laboratories and exploration and discovery of systems already produced by students who had taken the course previously. The Co-op-Co-op model took form during the second part of the session, when each of the participants, including the professor, was to experimentally construct their systems. On an informal basis, the class was subdivided into small working teams made up of appropriate different specialties to ensure the feasibility of the project. In this context, the professor had to invest many hours of coaching outside the course’s scheduled class period.

In 1993, the use of technology-based tools substantially modified the conduct and operation of this seminar. Since then, all the material has been accessible online, presented in non-linear format and coupled with "intelligent" simulation tools for instant feedback. Students also benefit from online access to a virtual library with similar projects done by students who had taken the course previously.

The time devoted to learning the skills required was considerably reduced with an electronic format, shifting from five laboratories to three. The students were not only satisfied (3.5/4); they spent more time experimenting and creating complex support systems for administrative decisions. They took more time to think and dialogue among peers. They constructed new cases more easily and allotted more time for experimentation. They also consulted the professor more specifically about their learning needs. They were more critical and more demanding in terms of feedback. All the instructional activities therefore demonstrated equivalent, if not superior, performance to the face-to-face method.

ICTs also facilitate sophisticated forms of partnership and networking in the framework of focussed graduate training in public administration. The Alavi, Yoo and Vogel (1997) article reports on collaboration between two professors of administrative sciences, one located in Maryland and the other in Arizona, teaching a joint distance seminar in synchronous time, with the coaching provided in asynchronous time. The course, for a Master’s degree in Public Administration, entitled "Information Technology and Corporate Transformation", was offered to 21 students in Maryland and 25 students in Arizona, as part of academic activities taking place at the same time. Each group, through telepresence, attended on the same schedule the same lecture given by one or other of the professors, based on their fields of specialization, and sometimes by guest specialists who joined the seminar electronically. Meeting in an "electronic classroom", a physical space set up to enable them to communicate weekly, the course instructors addressed both a physically present clientele and a group of distance students. All the students could participate in the approximately two-and-a-half-hour sessions by means of videoconference or from their computer workstations. The course also encouraged active participation by students through brainstorming activities and discussions of the points raised. Negotiated consensus was also to be established among the participants, teacher and learners included. Students were also to collaborate, in asynchronous time, to develop and present a joint project, a case study requiring the creation of extra-regional working teams.

By means of a questionnaire distributed to participants in the fourth, ninth and thirteenth weeks, Alavi, Yoo and Vogel recorded any negative reaction from students participating in this instructional format. The results of the mid-term examination, which had a common section with two questions from each professor, indicated good mastery of the concepts presented in the weekly teleconferences. Students also assessed the online classes very favourably (4.41/5). The online collaborative project to complete the joint exercise was viewed less favourably (3.12/5), although this result differs little from results obtained for face-to-face meetings. In view of the flexibility of the electronic tool, Alavi, Yoo and Vogel believe that the virtual workspace contributes to an increase in satisfaction and participation by students because this format requires less timing and space co-ordination than face-to-face activities. In addition, the two professors greatly valued the collaboration. They learned from each other, both becoming more familiar with the references and analytical methodologies in their respective fields of specialization. They also adapted well to the two types of audience and were able to establish the visual contact necessary for effective transmission of information.

The benefits of social interaction, through electronic communication tools, are also observable in teacher education. John A. Ross (1996) relates an experiment with 15 teachers, graduate and post-graduate students registered in a cooperative learning course at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). To assess whether poor computer skills among students would have an impact on their participation, motivation and knowledge construction, Ross presented an instructional format that required all the students to work from a distance, in small teams, for seven full weeks in which his presence was discreet if not non-existent. Subdividing the course into several themes representing the various approaches currently in use in cooperative learning, Ross gave each team the assignment to present the why and how of a specific educational process to be questioned and discussed as a group.

By analyzing electronic messages and prior identification of students with poor computer skills, Ross showed how the transfer and downloading of multiform files and connection to and use of the Internet could represent major obstacles to proper academic functioning for these students. Students were able to find support among their peers who were technically more knowledgeable, although the students mainly affected experienced numerous difficulties becoming involved in the activities of the working group to which they were assigned. They felt uncomfortable and somewhat embarrassed. Apart from this handicap, Ross did not observe any noteworthy difference in their participation, motivation and new knowledge construction. Some students with poor computer skills were even more active in organizing and planning the final project and the most engaged in constructing arguments; in this area they were very productive. From that, Ross concluded that technical deficiencies had only a small impact on individual participation in online collaboration. The social interaction generated by the online activity largely compensated for these handicaps.

Another study published by Phyllis B. Oakes (1997) demonstrates the extent of the flexibility provided by new technology-based communication tools. The instructor for a distance graduate course in elementary education offered at Morehead State University, Oakes reached a clientele of elementary teachers spread throughout eastern Kentucky. Combining both face-to-face and virtual meetings, Oakes supervised all the coaching and sent the required academic work for the course by electronic messaging. Since he was teaching a course focussed on active learning, Oakes encouraged the students to use both specialized discussion groups and the Internet. Peer exchange and exchange with the tutor contributed to creating a community of practice fuelled by social interaction through the performance of various learning tasks. Experiencing the potential of ICTs for the first time, students discovered the new virtual workspaces and collaboration with satisfaction.

Social interaction with ICTs also engenders the emergence of individualized dialogue relationships that allow support and mutual help among practitioners. The case reported by Russell and Cohen (1997) is eloquent on this topic. Recounting the electronic correspondence between two education science professors living on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean, the article describes all the social virtues of coaching and mentoring. The reflective colleague relationship contributed to ensuring constructive and thoughtful exchange on the actions taken and strategies used in the framework of positive and critical feedback on the teaching offered. The electronic correspondence gave meaning to shared and reflective action from which each partner derived real benefits in examining how to be a teacher.

Social interaction with ICTs also contributes to bringing together diametrically opposed ethnic groups in the virtual construction of free and civilized zones for discussion. Experimentation by Roger Austin (1997), a professor of education sciences at the University of Ulster, with three teleconferences over a period of 36 weeks on the theme of national consciousness, bringing together trainee history teachers from Protestant and Catholic Irish communities and their respective students during their internships, revealed the flexibility of online tools in stimulating dialogue on extremely controversial issues. Bringing together graduate students well-informed about their national history from political, social, economic and ideological points of view, the teleconferences allowed each participant to substantiate their concepts of national identity while they dealt with how to present and teach the troubled periods in their common past to their students. 73.4% of participants clarified this instructional dimension; only 8% were not able to build the modus vivendi required for the task. Nearly 58% of participants found the instructional exercise useful, informative and interesting. Working at times in groups of two on comments, Catholics and Protestants presented a common front to their peers with joint position statements. Without succeeding in solving the thorny issue of the past, present and future identity of Northern Ireland, the teleconferences offered a rich tool for dialogue, particularly because, in one teleconference, participants were electronically linked with German peers commenting on their national history in the 1930s. In conclusion, more than 50% of participants preferred the electronic method of expression and communication to traditional face-to-face meetings. Social interaction in asynchronous time clearly contributed to creating critical thinking commentaries.

There are numerous other publications full of similar experiences. In some cases, they involve the results of research conducted in studies of social interaction among many users involved in higher education in some way (Walther, 1994; Henri and Ricciardi Rigault, 1996). Articles sometimes report experiments in engineering (Ruberg, Moore and Taylor, 1996; Rada, 1998, Warren and Rada, 1998), arts (Steeples, Unsworth, Bryson, Goodyear, Riding, Fowell, Levy and Duffy, 1996), communication (McMurdo and Meadows, 1996), literature (Hartman, Neuwirth, Kiesler, Sproul, Cochran, Palmquist and Zubrow, 1995; Friedman, Haefele, Keating, Mullen, Patrick, Plotkin and Strenski, 1995; Kempa, 1997; Alexander, Crowley, Lundin, Murdy, Palmer and Rabkin, 1997), political science (Hammer, 1997), archaeology (Bowen, 1997), administrative sciences (Alavi, 1994) and continuing education (Abdul-Gader, 1996).

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Trend 4

The learning community, supported by networked technologies, is a new collaborative learning arrangement being tested in a great number of ways.

The learning community is a joint process of creating and pooling resources to share knowledge, skills and attitudes. Whatever methods are used, a learning community is built based on the goals to be achieved and modelled on the ultimate learning goals. A learning community is socially set in a specific cultural context from which participants draw meaning and motives for their learning activities and actions using negotiated values. Cooperation, exchange, dialogue, mutual help, and negotiation are the main features of the collaborative process. To varying degrees, ICTs allow productive dialogue among participants that promotes the physical and virtual emergence of this type of social and cultural group. However, because the learning community often develops in a frame of reference in which the real goals it has set for itself are not explicit, it sometimes, in the end, shows mitigated success, which is correlated with the learning context in which the community developed. Issroff and Eisenstadt (1977), professors at the University College of London and Open University, report instructional experimentation which shows all the problems associated with the emergence and operation of virtual learning communities.

Created in 1960, the Open University offers distance education to a student clientele registered part-time. A variety of media are used to transmit and communicate knowledge. Instructional coaching is provided by telephone, and few face-to-face meetings are used for this purpose. Learning assignments are required throughout the year. A one-week summer session is provided in many courses to supplement the training provided and to offer students an opportunity to meet their peers and professor.

One of the specialized courses at Open University, on cognitive psychology, allows membership in the British Psychological Society. Each year, this distance training is taken by approximately 1,000 students. Six specific learning tasks are assigned, and students can take advantage of a summer session to complete their knowledge in this particular field. At the session, students must begin two projects, one of which relates to their learning tasks (memory, language and problem-solving) and the other, to artificial intelligence. The first project generally involves the development, conduct and assessment of a conventional psychology experiment; the second, the presentation and experimental analysis of a stimulus using the programming language PROLOG.

Approximately 10% of clients cannot attend the summer session for various reasons. In 1994, a virtual class was created to alleviate this problem. Its design complies in all respects with the planned and completed instructional activities, with the exception that specific study topics are required (language comprehension and artificial intelligence). Students are also invited to a three-week mini-session to familiarize them with the learning environment. The environment offers students a variety of technology-based tools: computer, modem, cellular telephone, e-mail, discussion forum, videoconference, Internet, various data processing and communication software. It allows students to pursue the training without restriction, in synchronous or asynchronous time, with a communication method defined in advance. At the 1994 summer session, 12 students took the distance training at Virtual Summer School. None of them were really familiar with the computing world, and the introduction was perceived as demanding both in terms of technology-based aspects and the obligation to adapt to functioning as part of a team. By the end of the session, however, all these concerns had disappeared.

A comparative study also shows distance students’ perception compared to their colleagues in the same session on a university campus. In this case, the coaching supplied was favourably perceived by both. However, there is a noticeable difference with respect to the effectiveness of time allotted to the required collaboration to complete projects required. The training provided on campus seems to function better and more effectively in the case of the artificial intelligence model and is proportionately equivalent in the case of the language comprehension module. The professors point to their many simultaneous coaching tasks to explain the difference; several times they were literally overloaded and stretched between explanations provided in person to students taking the training on campus and managing the many distance communications.

In conclusion, Issroff and Eisenstadt point out the importance of more effective distance organization of coaching practices, which would allow better organization of the transmission of information required on technical aspects and better management of instructional and social aspects of interaction. The authors also suggest a review of distance collaboration methods. A more effective strategy should also be introduced to foster the emergence of a sense of belonging to the group.

Another case also allows us to fully grasp the complexity of the issue. Calvani, Sorzio and Varisco (1997) are in the departments of Education Sciences at the universities of Florence and Padua. After a presentation of the theoretical framework associated with collaborative learning and learning communities, the professors introduce their project. Two groups of six students in Education Sciences, one in Florence and the other in Padua, registered at the same time in a course on instructional design and constructivism, were to communicate using the Internet. During the 1995 and 1996 academic year, the students had access to 22 scientific articles placed on the Web. Together they were to do a critical analysis of each article, discuss them among peers and produce a group report in Web-site format.

The students were given very wide intellectual latitude in the organization of information in the reports, structuring of the site interfaces, planning of the working methodology, and so on. Each group was internally responsible for organizing its activities and planning its strategies. After trying to study the articles as a group, the student groups changed strategy. They divided the articles into specific categories and shared them equitably according to preferences and interests. Each group designated a different member to analyze and prepare a report on each article in their possession.

Based on this experiment, Calvani, Sorzio and Varisco wanted to measure the opportunities and constraints provided by the learning environment for motivation and knowledge construction and the impact of technology on communication processes focussed on the construction of new knowledge among local and remote peers. The professors considered, for the purposes of their study, the actual and desires fulfillment of functions by the actors in the accomplisment of the goals, the interpersonal relationships between the actors, the distribution of expertise in the local groups, and between the two groups.

The results were extremely positive in terms of the organization and strategy related to knowledge construction. Calvani, Sorzio and Varisco also observed a general increase in motivation. However, they agreed that the participants were not able to create a real electronic learning community. Students felt more at ease in face-to-face than distance relationships. Several students expressed a great deal of dissatisfaction with their distance peers and the absence of a collective community identity on the Web.

Several meanings were not negotiated, particularly with respect to the main objectives: learning and mastery of content or the construction of an electronic site. Each group therefore interpreted its own ultimate learning goal instead of trying to jointly construct meaning and motives they could share as a group. From this perspective, the technology-based environment was harmful to the achievement of common objectives and ultimate goals, thus demotivating the participants.

In conclusion, Calvani, Sorzio and Varisco stress the real difficulty of creating a distance learning community between two separate groups. They explain the phenomenon by the subjectivity of the written messages sent; written communication should be accompanied by diagrams and images to be better interpreted and, therefore, supported by other technology-based transmission and communication tools. Clearer, better-defined objectives for the tasks to be accomplished should also receive particular attention, as should reducing the workload. More rigorous coaching would also be desirable.

Other experimental projects succeeded better. Murphy, Drabier and Epps (1997), professor and graduate students at Texas A&M University, initiated a distance learning project in fall 1996 as part of a graduate course in the Department of Education Sciences. The course, entitled "Management of Instructional Telecommunications", offered to nine graduate students located all over Texas, proposed the study of the integration of ICTs in educational programs and continuing education. The course covered telecommunication system design, implementation and impact in an educational process. The professor and students were to use the FirstClass platform in synchronous and asynchronous time. Students were to engage both as participants and moderators. Some discussion forums were for groups, others more private. Students were also to work in small teams on a case study.

Eighteen group discussion forums in asynchronous time were open during the session; six of them subsequently generated from two to eight auxiliary forums. On three occasions, professor and students communicated in real time. In order to assess the similarities and differences between electronic and face-to-face meetings in developing collaborative strategies and the impact of ICTs on the quality of exchange and the professor’s role, Karen L. Murphy gathered all the archived records of conversations for study purposes. Four group forums were under the direction of the professor. On those occasions, 22 instruction messages were sent by the professor; 43 messages were responses to these instructions. During the sessions, students expressed their opinions by sending 22 messages and replied to their peers 19 times. Five group forums were directed by students. The professor only intervened once to share an instructional experience with the group. Moderators presented nine questions to the group and sent eight messages to their peers. Fifty-one messages were used to express opinions, and 20 messages were responses sent to other students. Six group forums were considered auxiliary. On those occasions, the professor sent 19 instruction messages and shared discoveries on the Internet 11 times. Students shared their discoveries 21 times and replied 18 times to their peers. Three group forums were considered metacognitive evaluation forums. Students sent 12 messages explaining procedural strategies and replied to the professor eight times.

These observations led the professor to believe the students were adapting well to the new distance communication method. They even tended to discipline themselves. Asynchronous time also enabled them to contribute more thoughtfully and critically to discussions. The collaborative context of the course facilitated social integration and stimulated academic progress. The professor’s role was essential in building learning activities. Discussion forums also ensured better feedback. Of the set of four kinds of group forums, two were considered more professor-focussed (Instructional and Auxiliary Conferences), and an equivalent number were the students’ prerogative (Student Moderated and Metacognitive Evaluation Conferences). The whole set made a favourable impression on balance: "Computer conferencing supports active, self-directed learning using a structure that is easily modified to fit the different needs of learners and the instructor" (Murphy, Drabier and Epps, 1997, p.7).

These results were confirmed by research done by Linda M. Harasim (1997). The professor reports on the Web-based environment of Virtual-U at Simon Fraser University. Introduced in 1994, the electronic learning environment provides professors and students with a flexible platform for instructional experimentation. Virtual-U promotes cooperation and collaboration, knowledge construction, active learning and perspective learning. The platform is currently operated in partnership with 17 institutions, in 1997, offering university courses and workshops in various fields of academic activity based on this online tool. The platform allows both the use of group discussion forums and virtual laboratories where students and professors can initiate projects and discuss and exchange on scientific issues.

Virtual classes are also appearing in the United States. Swigger, Brazile, Lopez and Livingston (1997) report a technology-based environment similar to Virtual-U. Professors in the Computer Science Department of the University of North Texas, Swigger, Brazile, Lopez and Livingston describe the construction of their platform designed to facilitate the emergence of mentoring in learning. The platform also develops collaborative approaches to problem solving and the construction and transformation of knowledge. The whole set of electronic tools proposed includes Internet links, synchronous and asynchronous time telecommunications, access to online references, and so on.

In fall 1996, the professors tested the prototype with a target group of 21 students subdivided into seven working teams. Of the students, 75% were satisfied with the experiment and made suggestions for improving the product. Eighty percent of students said the social interactions were equivalent to face-to-face meetings, and they did not experience any problems communicating in this learning method. Located more than 40 miles from campus, the students valued the flexibility of the tool, which made up, to a large extent, for the absence of face-to-face meetings. It was therefore a conclusive experiment that is currently being exported to other departments in the university and affiliated colleges.

Numerous publications, each in their own way, show various facets of learning communities. For example, articles by Watabe, Hamalainen and Whinston (1995) and Koble (1996) show that ICTs allow participants scattered over many continents to come together and succeed in creating dialogue and exchange to accomplish distance learning tasks. Articles by Colomb and Simutis (1996), Davis (1996), Jorn, Duin and Wahlstrom (1996), Selinger (1998) and Tosey and Gregory (1998) recount various other instructional experiments that point out both the educational gains derived from the emergence of learning communities and the numerous problems that punctuate their development in a virtual environment.

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Trend 5

Computer resources are used to enlarge the notion of performance as regards teaching and learning on university campuses.

In the previous sections, the cases described demonstrated the soundness of the postulate stated in the fifth observation. The emergence of an online learning mode, access to more direct, interactive and flexible online information, the increase in social interaction and the emergence of learning communities directly contribute to an improvement in student performance, no matter where students are taking their university education. All of these factors are inter-related. Developing greater comprehension, more in-depth knowledge, critical thinking, analytical abilities, the ability to synthesize and individual and group attitudes toward work affect learning results. The scientific literature already presented explicitly and strongly supports that point. A few more examples before closing on this point should suffice!

Downing and Rath (1997) are both professors; Downing teaches at the Wallace E. Carroll School of Management of Boston College, and Rath has a similar position at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University. Looking at their own disciplines, Downing and Rath questioned the so-called benefits of certain promising electronic classes that did not succeed in becoming recognized as productive and widely used educational practices. The professors recommended substituting replacing applications that use computers as tutors, which require a great deal of time and effort in design and construction for relatively limited use in terms of accessibility, with the new communication tools that the Internet and Intranets currently in use in the business world have become.

Viewed as high-performance and effective by corporations, not very costly and easily accessible for higher education institutions, these online tools offer numerous educational advantages for both target clientele and education practitioners: unlimited access to multiple and varied sources of information that are constantly updated; unequivocal potential for instructional applications in various classes of any size; an opportunity to have participants interact by means of multidirectional communication supports. Having selected this hypothesis, Downing and Rath were interested in statistically measuring the upstream and downstream effects of the tools on the dynamics of learning and class management from both the professors’ and the students’ points of view.

Two target groups were selected for the purposes of analysis and study: a first class of 143 students in various disciplines in an mid-sized mid-West American university registered, in spring 1994, in a specialized industrial psychology course offered by that institution’s Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences Department, and a second class of 62 students in disciplines more congruent with the subjects taught, in an Eastern American university, in fall 1994, in a specialized course on computer system management offered by that institution’s Business School.

Each class had specific instructional formats. The first was three hours weekly for 10 weeks devoted to the presentation and subsequent study of cases and themes in the field. Advance reading was required to reinforce the academic content of the cases and themes studied. Nine multiple-choice tests were administered during the session, and students were also supposed to work on individual projects. The second class was for 14 weeks, and two weekly scheduled one-and-one-quarter-hour periods were selected for communicating the subject matter. During the first 12 weeks of the session, a multiple-choice test was administered during the second period scheduled. A final examination completed the evaluation of the course.

In the two cases studied, tests were each 15 minutes long. The individual and group results of tests and solutions for the questions asked were compiled in databases, and transferred, for the instructional purposes of the courses, to an electronic bulletin board accessible by the universities’ Intranets. All feedback was communicated via electronic bulletin board; no verbal feedback was used or authorized. Each bulletin board also allowed access to relevant documentation and provided facilities for sending and receiving electronic messages. The instructional method selected and its electronic support had the benefit, according to the authors, of generating new cognitive behaviours and new attitudes toward knowledge acquisition among students, effectively rationalizing the time allotted to test administration and feedback and positively requiring the students to use the universities’ online resources (Intranets) and become familiar with these online communication tools.

After distributing an evaluation questionnaire to students, at the end of each course, Downing and Rath compiled the statistics and presented their conclusions. The use of the Intranets allowed better management of the time allotted to test administration, more time to be devoted to the teaching function and much more effective communication and reception of formative and summative feedback. Its use also encouraged better communication between students and professors just as it was the source of greater commitment by students to participation. More subject matter was covered and, most important, more questions based on more in-depth understanding of the phenomena studied were raised by students.

An article by Ann Deden (1998) reported similar profiles. The use of ICTs produced undeniable dividends: 67% of students registered in the Freshman Vision program at the Royal Center for Learning and Academic Technologies, affiliated with Commonwealth College and Penn State University, showed more interest than previously in course content, 62% understood course content better, 54% were motivated by group work, and 45% spent more time studying. The study also showed an increase in competency: 62% improved their skills and attitudes toward teamwork; 60% increased their problem-solving ability; 54% developed better critical thinking; 38%, oral communication; and 35%, written communication.

In the field of university mathematics education, ICTs generated better notation, a higher rate of intellectual retention, greater persistence, and more motivation to continue education and desire to perform (Academic Systems, 1997). The study by Wells and Anderson (1997) shows that the target group studied, approximately twenty graduate students in education, developed better approaches and better attitudes when they used the Internet.

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Trend 6

The university as an institution is invited to adapt its activity to new higher education needs.

The Monterey Conference ("Higher Education and the NII: From Vision to Reality"), in September 1995, mapped out future action in the field of higher education (Oblinger and Maruyama, 1996). Painting a quick picture of a changing reality, the two authors identified significant trends. The volume of scientific knowledge in circulation today doubles every seven years; in 1995, 10,000 articles were published every day. Technology is omnipresent; 65% of all American workers use it daily in some way. In the year 2000, this ratio will reach 95%. Paid work at home is becoming a recurrent phenomenon, as is the use of online tools that enable such workers to accomplish the assigned tasks and to communicate with their employers. With increasing frequency, such occupational activities are being performed in a context of cooperation and collaboration. The mastery of technology and update of acquired knowledge require almost continuous retraining. For example, in 1995, the American Society for Training and Development has predicted that, in the year 2000, 75% of the active labour force will require training. A major part of this clientele will register in part-time university courses. This clientele will also be very selective in terms of the place and time for training and the content and instructional methods used to transmit knowledge.

Universities will experience pressure from the economic world, which already emphasizes education better adapted to the requirements of the work world. Problem solving more in tune with contemporary reality, teamwork, continuing education, interdisciplinary knowledge, multiple social interactions between students and professors, metacognitive skills, active learning focused on clients’ learning needs and integration of ICTs in educational processes are the new enablers that must substitute for academic training currently oriented toward the transfer of factual data, individual learning, specialized courses in particular aspects of a discipline, assessments based on knowledge retention, residual and/or supplementary use of NICTs in education.

This brief presentation of the challenges to come is the background for the whole problem of flexible teaching. In a recent article, Collis, Vingerhoets and Moonen (1997) looked at the various facets of the introduction of such a practice in relation to continuing education. Flexibility subscribes to particular instructional operating methods: "flexibility is defined as: enabling learners to learn when they want (frequency, timing, duration), how they want (modes of learning), and what they want (that is, learners can define what constitutes learning to them)" (Collis, Vingerhoets and Moonen, 1997, p. 200). This approach focussed on the learner’s interests literally replaces our concept of linear, sequential and controlled teaching and learning. From this perspective, knowledge construction, no matter whether it is related to the acquisition of new knowledge, an update or development, occurs in a multiform environment that ICTs are now capable of generating. The when, how, who, what, and their multiple choices, are now within reach. The learning method itself forecasts interesting educational, social and economic gains: satisfaction and motivation of participants; savings of time, space and training costs without damaging the effectiveness and quality of learning and teaching; substantial reductions in temporal and material constraints; the emergence of continuing and renewable learning and teaching formats in synchronous and/or asynchronous time.

Collis, Vingerhoets and Moonen wanted to assess the contribution of flexible teaching and learning based on the hypothesis that flexibility would generate greater productivity. Three questions were the focus of their study: a) How can [ICTs be] used to make teaching more flexible? b) What problems and issues will confront the learner, the instructor, the course developer, the learning-material developer, the training manager, the employer, the traditional training sector, those providing local support to the learner, those involved with training as a commercial market, and different levels of government related to the increase of flexibility in various aspects of training offer? In the context of these problems and issues, what are the cost implications of increasing flexibility in training?

Collis, Vingerhoets and Moonen examined the study by the TeleScopia Project (Trans-European Learning System for Crossborder Open and Interactive Applications), sponsored by the European Community, to verify their hypothesis and answer their questions. The project included various educational and corporate partners: Deutsche Bundespost Telekom, University of Twente, Technet Finland, France Telecom/SNE, ÉNIC (École Nouvelle d’Ingénieurs en Communication), Berlitz European Projects, I.E.T. Ltd., Consorzio Nettuno, Centre of Technology Assessment, Sept/Arte, UETP Macedonia/Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Institut für Wirtschaftsberatung of Berlin and UETP-EEE. The authors adopted an analytical grid that reflects the various aspects of flexibility: 1) flexibility related to time: time for starting and finishing a course, time for moments of studying with the course, tempo/pace of studying, and moments of assessment; 2) flexibility related to content: topics of the course, sequence of different parts of a course, size and scope of the course, level of the course, and assessment standards; 3) flexibility related to entry requirements: conditions for participation; 4) flexibility related to instructional approach and resources: social organisation of learning, language to be used during the course, learning resources, and instructional organisation of learning; 5) flexibility related to delivery and logistics: time and place where support is available, method of obtaining support, types of support available, place for studying and delivery channels.

A study of the results showed some flexibility in choice of learning time and place with the use of ICTs; however, many participants experienced difficulty accessing the network. Few courses offered flexibility in terms of educational content. No course allowed a choice between individual and group teaching methods. In short, "the courses were generally meant to be experienced by all learners in the same way, with the same resources, and covering the same content. More flexibility was seen in terms of support for the learners, with local tutors and on-line tutors (via e-mail) available for most of the courses and available to the learners in a variety of ways" (Collis, Vingerhoets and Moonen, 1997, p. 210). Online tools did indeed enrich the learning formats, but without really achieving the actual objectives set. A large gap still separates participants in terms of supply and demand for services and resources: "The transition between offering a well-designed and a well-supported course, and offering more a ‘cafeteria’ of options will require conceptual changes not only for course providers but also for the broader society" (Collis, Vingerhoets and Moonen, 1997, p. 210).

Choices must be made downstream as well as upstream in the educational chain that determines the why and how of continuing education and higher education; choices must also be co-ordinated among the issuers and receivers of knowledge and skills so that the new educational frameworks can be administered and considered acceptable, accessible and practical. The new realities open the door wide to innovation, coordination, and collaboration.

Traditional universities are innovating on their own initiative by adopting new organizational structures to deal with change at the end of this century. Oblinger and Maruyama (1996) present the examples of Drexel University, Duke University (, University of Wisconsin, Rochester Institute of Technology, College Park of the University of Maryland (, Bentley College, Penn State University (, Rensselear Polytechnic Institute (, California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo (, University of Minnesota at Crookston, Indiana University ( Donald E. Hanna (1998) also cites several other examples that show that traditional American universities have settled on network technologies as adequate means for meeting new educational demand that is much more complex and all-encompassing. Hanna refers, for example, to California State University, Michigan State University, New York University, University of California at Berkeley, University of Phoenix, Stayer College, Georgetown University, National University of San Diego and Presidio College in San Francisco.

To fully illustrate the last point, we cite the case of Penn State University, which undertook, in recent years, in collaboration with the Sloan Foundation, the creation of an online university course of study called the World Campus. For the officials of this institution, the campus will not be built with bricks but rather "with the creative use of technology led by our faculty to extend selected programs nationally and internationally" (Hanna, 1998, p. 73).

In addition to the integration of ICTs into various learning and teaching processes, practices and institutional operations already begun in numerous universities on the other side of the border, the networking of participants, methods and resources is nevertheless the principal avenue for forging new educational growth in which university institutions will find their full meaning and social significance. Coupled with ICTs, networking takes various forms, operating within university institutions and/or created under regional, extra-regional, national and even continental impetus. The scientific literature shows various manifestations of the organizational transitions that are intrinsically changing the image of what a university should and can aspire to be.

In this respect, the example of the University of British Columbia is highly relevant. M. Ellis (1997), director of Information Technology and Instructional Support, in the Faculty of Arts of the University of British Columbia, was at the heart of many of the structural transformations and technology-based innovations this Canadian university with 36,000 students at the undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate levels has experienced in the last decade. After a brief explanation of the pre-existing conditions for the context in which the university undertook a shift toward integration and production of electronic supports, a strategy that facilitated education that places undergraduate students at the centre of their education, no matter whether they are located on or off the university campus, Ellis points out the increasing dissatisfaction of this clientele with the training offered and the new technological requirements desired by employers and presents the financial program that the provincial government put forward to invest in new education formats.

Initiated in 1994 with funding estimated at $2.7 million, subsequently increased to $7.6 million through additional commitments from the university institution, the shift at the University of British Columbia inspired approximately 120 innovative instructional and technology-based projects. Many new multimedia products using computers as an educational support were created in its first year of existence. In the second year, the university modified its development policy and opted for the production of educational tools more oriented toward interaction among participants. The impact was felt in all the university faculties, most of which participated in this institutional renewal.

The institution’s educational mission was soon questioned, engendering a debate and discussion on the ways and means by which education was being transmitted and communicated to its clientele. Formal and informal discussions on "how to teach", with or without the support of technology, allowed practitioners to question the fluidity and effectiveness of their perceptions of the acts of teaching and learning. It led to the observation that few faculty members had received adequate training in communicating and transmitting their knowledge to students.

Many of them became familiar with the concepts of knowledge construction and the importance of education centred on the varied individual experience of their charges. Many then became involved in the diffusion of online teaching, taking an interest in educational design and the technologies that could support it. Many intra-faculty and intradepartmental collaborative projects were born of this awareness.

Unfortunately, budget reductions slowed this development. However, numerous gains are still evident on both sides of the barrier that formerly existed between professors and students. Traditional roles of transmitter and receiver were transformed into a truly active, participative and innovative community in which both parties share, in their own way, in the benefits of the revolution in practice (online creation of group glossaries, group information searches on the Web and integration of relevant components on a Web site, and shared problem solving). From isolated resources reserved for the dissemination of a single subject, the university and its members shifted to an interdisciplinary collective grouping operating with a project approach based on interdisciplinary expertise in the service of university education and research.

Another experiment, this one in Great Britain, shows that networking may emerge extra-regionally. Davis, Wright, Still and Thornton (1997) are members of the School of Education of the University of Exeter. With funding sponsored by the Joint Information Systems Committee, an agency dedicated to the development of information processing and communication between universities for educational and research purposes, Davis, Wright, Still and Thornton presented several research and education projects using a broad bandwidth (SuperJANET and ISDN2).

These education projects used ISDN videoconferencing, ISDN data-conferencing and Internet (SuperJANET) in parallel with an audio phone line. The projects brought together numerous other institutional partners: University of Exeter, University of Reading, Liverpool Hope University College, University of Central Lancashire, Manchester Metro University, Europturtle Project, British Telecom, and so on. Utilization and network operation protocols were established to facilitate integration of participating members.

Presentations and workshops on the educational world and its technologies, exchange and discussion on the development of virtual tools in education and interactive environments; training sessions on class management using the videodisk "Critical Encounters" and the learning environment "English Chalklands" are subjects covered using this national electronic network. Cooperation, discussion and exchange produced many dividends: access to an impressive bank of expertise and documentation; direct information support to teachers; exchange between peer-practitioners and education experts; submissions and explanations on new educational concepts and teaching techniques; diffusion and sharing of the benefits of theoretical and applied research; creation of networks and education expertise centres.

The example of the Collaboratory Project ( shows that network creation goes beyond the traditional university structure (Northwestern University, 1997). The four-year project, sponsored by Ameritech Foundation, brings together a main co-ordinator, Northwestern University, and other partners in the public, parapublic and private sectors to jointly develop a technology-based environment that allows sharing, innovation and operation of various types of tools, resources and services with the joint social goal of establishing one-stop shopping service for education and research in the greater Chicago area.

The Collaboratory Project thus brings together approximately 30 public and private colleges and universities affiliated with the North Suburban Higher Education Consortium, as well as a large number of elementary and secondary schools involved in a project-based educational approach. Most of the museums, such as the Field Museum of Natural History and the Kohl Children’s Museum, public and private libraries and interpretation centres, such as the Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium, already belong to the enterprise and offer instructional material and resources and services accessible online.

The coordinator of this broad educational program, Northwestern University, on its own initiative, created various educational Web sites (Internet Book Club, MediaSpace, Music Internet Connections, The Science Network, Cybrary, Discussion Forums, Virtual Libraries, Postcard from the Edges) and is the host for sites that arose from this joint partnership (EnergyNet, The Latino Institute, Museums-On-Line). The university also offers, through its Information Technology Resource Centre and Get on the Web program, various training sessions for teachers and students in the greater Chicago area on developing instructional material and/or online educational projects.

The idea of university networks, oriented toward sharing and joint use of tools, resources and services related to education and research, also takes the form of joint action by the public and private sectors to establish a national consortium that brings together the great majority of American colleges and universities (Hanss, 1998). Introduced in 1995, the Internet2 project ( already, in 1998, includes approximately 130 universities, including the most prestigious (UCLA, Columbia, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Yale, etc.), and approximately 15 high-technology businesses working in ICT development (3Com, AT&T, IBM, Nortel, etc.).

The $30-million project offers participating partners a common and user-friendly university platform of online environments serving various educational fields of activity and research: digital libraries and virtual laboratories, telemedicine, telepresence, multimedia databases and telecommunications in synchronous and asynchronous time that support varied interactive formats for distance education and cooperative education (Computer-Mediated Communication). Equipped with a broad bandwidth, Internet2 is currently in the process of constructing a national network of tools, resources and services for better use and sharing of assets accumulated by American university education and research.

We should also try to understand the why and how of this wholesale conversion of American universities to the development of increasingly sophisticated online environments. Stephen C. Ehrmann, director of the Flashlight Project, was able to identify the whys and wherefores of this sometimes erratic rush (Ehrmann, 1995). In the first place, according to Ehrmann, we have to ask the right questions and answer them in such a way that university decision-makers can use effective learning strategies with regards to online tools. Objectives and methods are thus inter-related and, in the second place, we have to equip ourselves with efficient measurement and assessment instruments to make relevant strategic choices, retain, verify, improve and modify teaching practices using ICTs, and assess their accessibility and the cost-benefits of funds invested compared to learning results.

Sponsored since 1995 by Annenberg/CPB Projects, the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) and Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education, which has become the Western Cooperative for Education Telecommunications, and Indiana University - Purdue University at Indianapolis, this three-year project initially involved Indiana University - Purdue University at Indianapolis, the Education Network of Maine, Washington State University, Rochester Institute of Technology and the Maricopa Community Colleges trying jointly to see how their respective online learning environments contributed to improving the quality of higher education offered within their walls (Ehrmann, 1997).

The objective of the project, now directed by the TLT (Teaching Learning and Technology) group affiliated with the American Association of Higher Education, has become to inform university decision-makers about the consequences of using ICTs in teaching and learning. The project proposes measurement and assessment tools for higher education institutions so that they can examine, and support with evidence, the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of their institutional choices to promote and implement such types of teaching strategies in association with technology-based tools used to transmit, diffuse and communicate learning.

The first of these tools, the Current Student Inventory (CSI), an online tool made up of nearly 500 questions indexed and sent to approximately 4,200 students who took courses in the five institutions referred to above, is combined with a voluminous Evaluation Handbook that enables the institutions involved to develop and design their own survey and inquiry models. The beta version should be supplemented during 1998 by two other measurement and assessment tools: the Cost Analysis Strategy and the Faculty Inventory. The Flashlight Project thus generates unique measurement and assessment tools that allow substantial improvements in courses and programs, better evaluation of certain grant-funded projects, revision and/or addition of technology-based services and resources, better co-ordination of the use of technologies among faculties, departments and other university institutions, and better perception of the returns for clients and other users.

Among the results of the Flashlight Project, we can cite the study conducted by Gary Brown (1997) at Washington State University, which reports an analysis of three convincing cases: WSU’s Distance Program, the World Civilizations Program and the Freshman Seminar. Less interesting in terms of the use of ICTs (use of videos and multimedia as a supplement and support to lectures), the first two cases were set aside to focus on the third. Freshman Seminars are introductory courses in research methodologies and construction of valid scientific commentary; they are generally coupled with another general course, such as World Civilizations.

Students generally work in small teams of three or four individuals. In the seminar, which is part of a scheduled period after a general course, teams try to synthesize the lecture they attended previously. They share their course notes, only retaining what seems most appropriate. They explore and cover in-depth the themes and issues presented or raised in class. They construct and transform the acquired knowledge and reinvest it in new multimedia products. The whole learning process is directly supported by ICTs. In fact, Virtual Classrooms offer a learning environment that allows both communication in asynchronous time and sophisticated technology-based opportunities to reinvest acquired knowledge.

Four target groups, which included approximately 80 students with weak academic performance, were the subject of an advance study to assess the use of ICTs in the framework of these seminars. With positive results in the pilot project in spring 1996, the electronic learning method was expanded to 25 new sections, approximately 500 students. Statistics for the spring and fall sessions in 1996 were available (Brown, 1997; Washington State University, 1998).

In the spring, 79.7% of the students showed greater creativity; this ratio dropped to 62.6% in the fall. In the spring, 51.9% succeeded in working on problem solving; the ratio was around 44% in the fall. In the spring, 51% better understood the material taught, while the assimilation rate was nearly 40% in the fall. In the spring, 53.7% forged positive attitudes to academic work; the ratio dropped to 45.7% in the fall.

Considering the size of the groups measured, we must admit that ICTs have had a contribution on learning and teaching. In this regard, the statistics for fall 1996 are even more eloquent. Participation, motivation, engagement, feedback, collaboration and co-operation among participants, professors and learners included, all show ratios higher than 50%. From this point of view, the Flashlight Project consolidated well-founded perceptions and facilitated the expansion of the electronic learning and teaching method.

Another experiment, reported by Susan Mary Harrington (1998) in the Department of English at Indiana University - Purdue University at Indianapolis, also demonstrated the soundness of measurement and assessment instruments associated with the Flashlight Project. Wanting to assess the real impact of certain compulsory course sections in written communication offered in a Web-based environment, as compared to a more traditional learning approach, the department, in fall 1995, used a preliminary version of the Current Student Inventory and Cost Analysis Manual. All the sections of three first-year courses were the subject of a comparative study to clearly define the department’s problem: "We began to wonder whether this standardized approach really was standardized: were students in the computer classrooms learning, and being taught, in the same ways? and did students in the computer classes feel that students were helping them learn? Did they share our teacherly assumptions about the value of time spent in those computer classrooms?" (Harrington, 1998, p. 3).

Using a cooperative learning approach and similar learning objectives, such as the same syllabus, both in traditional classes and in classes using a Web-based environment, the Department of English observed little noteworthy difference between the two types of teaching. All the students surveyed agreed that they were engaged in a collaborative practice. However, the survey conducted showed the need to use online tools in different ways in classes. New learning strategies must therefore be developed to increase the literary creativity of students in order for them to perceive it more positively. Too many students pointed out that they wasted time learning to operate the technology, which suggests that professors should pay more attention to managing this specific, and so important, aspect. From this point of view, technology hinders learning. Finally, the role of teachers appears different in traditional classes and electronic classes. In electronic classes, less time is devoted to preparation, teaching and instructional coaching. As a result of these observations, it appears that the full potential of NICTs should be more fully exploited. The Department of English will therefore correct these deficiencies, which would have been impossible to detect and assess without the support of the Flashlight Project measurement and assessment tools.

Other examples of sectoral, regional, extra-regional and national innovation, coordination, collaboration and co-operation are also evident. Norman Fortenberry (1997) presents the activities of the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources (NSF/EHR), which initiates multidisciplinary projects using ICTs in teaching sciences from elementary school to university. Murphy and Williams (1997) reported the activities of the Midwestern Higher Education Commission, and the Western Governors University site presents its vision for higher education and educational objectives. Barbara Horgan (1998) painted a brief portrait of some American initiatives: The Five Colleges, Inc., Mellon Foundation, Lemelson Program, and North Suburban Higher Education Consortium (NSHEC).

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Trend 7

The computer linked to other computers constitutes an important element in the modification of academic administrative procedures at both the micro and macro levels.

ICTs bring many ripple effects of change in their wake. These technologies transform ways of operating. They modify the organizational structure of institutions. Services and resources in the university community are changing to offer a new range of enhanced-performance administrative management and learning support tools more accessible to their clients. Virtual libraries and online administrative and organizational management are being integrated in the new institutional scene.

According to Arnold Hirshon (1998), 80% of North American university institutions have merged their computer and library services since 1993. At the end of this century and the dawn of the third millennium, this trend reveals, among other things, the growing importance of unlimited access to multiform information in university institutions. Librarians are called upon to develop and upgrade the reference resources available on the Internet network and make access to it more democratic (Reid, 1996). The function and role of librarians is changing to make more room for collaboration with faculty on student learning. The cases of the University of Arizona (Eagan and Greenfield, 1995), Cornell University (Kotlay, Trelease and Davis, 1996) and numerous British universities (Davies, 1997) reveal the emergence of these new missions and orientations.

In the early 1990s, the library at the University of Arizona conducted a major restructuring of its services and resources. From a pyramidal and hierarchical organization, the service was transformed into a flexible and responsive organization. The library literally removed all its former structures to retain only a very decentralized form. It abolished specialized departments to adopt an organizational framework built around notions of collaboration, independence and interdependence. The 213 library staff members serving a clientele of 34,000 students are no longer attached to a specialized service; they are on loan for three years to working teams responsible for completing ad hoc projects.

This organizational strategy, among other things, allowed the library to develop a new introductory and training program on the Internet for the benefit of its staff and the university community. Reflecting the new organizational structure, librarians assigned to this task worked with the computer resources service of the university, which had also, due to budget reductions, undertaken managerial restructuring. After jointly developing training sessions, the three computer specialists and four librarians submitted their work to education specialists at the institution’s University Teaching Centre. The education specialists became involved in the project and made many corrections to the course structure. In fall 1994, the library and computer services were able to offer the university community introductory workshops on the Internet. Buoyed by their success, the team was involved, the next year, with structural transformations in some departments and faculties that had undertaken a radical revision of their teaching methods. In collaboration, librarians, computer specialists, education specialists and professors are currently developing training courses on the utilization of ICTs and their uses in the curricula. From a passive position, these professionals have shifted to a more active role in service of the university community, a role more in tune with the institution’s main mission, learning and teaching.

In another organizational context, the Albert R. Mann Library of Cornell University has also adopted new roles developed in partnership with that institution’s Technologies for Learning Center. Librarians and education specialists developed training sessions on the Internet and ICTs which they offered to the whole university community (Introduction to Literature Searching, Surfing the Internet on the World Wide Web, Advanced Web Searching, Design Your Own Web Page, Forms on the Web, Syllabus to Web). The library services have since provided a set of various online and face-to-face courses for a variety of clientele: "each semester, we teach between 60 and 70 classes that break down into 25 to 30 open workshops, 25 to 30 course-related ones, and five to eight faculty workshops. Summer semester decreases to about ten open, ten course-related, and five to eight faculty workshops. The number of participants reaches approximately 1,000 each semester and close to 500 during the summer" (Kotlay, Trelease and Davis, 1996, p. 87). Librarians, in conjunction with education specialists, also participate in instructional renewal in departments and faculties launching into online learning and teaching. There again, the passive function of the librarian has been relegated to obscurity, particularly because library services are responsible for the creation and operation of various Web sites for educational purposes. In addition, since 1995, they have already been digitizing a significant portion of their reference collection. From this point of view, the library has been radically transformed to become a truly active agent in service of the educational mission of this institution.

J. Eric Davies (1997) reports numerous virtual and organizational developments in British university libraries. Partnerships between faculty and librarians are common currency. The increase in online information accessible for educational purposes involves many university institutions: Leeds University, Loughborough University, Open University, Templeton College of Oxford University, University of East London, De Montfort University, Hull University, the School of Media, Critical and Creative Arts of Liverpool John Moores University, University of Surrey, South Bank University, University of the West of England and Stirling University. All are involved in the interactive transmission of various forms of information for teaching and learning needs. Librarians have since become active agents in the service of the university community and online access to knowledge.

In other administrative sectors, ICTs are generating substantial savings in institutional management, both academic and organizational. In this regard, the University of Delaware ( developed a sophisticated system of inter-relationships and electronic communication to satisfy its clientele of 22,000 students, human resources and administrators (Jacobson, 1995). This university institution offers a set of technologies that profiles, through the transmission and reception network, private and individualized information for all its users. Designed for self-service, the system receives, processes and transmits, through a set of virtual kiosks, current information and transactions related to university administrative activities.

Such innovations are also evident in other North American universities. For example, the University of British Columbia (UBC) is also equipped with an electronic administrative management system for student affairs (Lehmann and Fernig, 1996). Designed for flexible use, the technology-based environment manages applications for admission, which are connected with an electronic platform for transmission of applications, the product of a provincial government initiative, the Post-Secondary Application Service of British Columbia, as well as changes of address, mark changes and financial assistance. The system is also designed on the self-service model, accessible night and day throughout the week. It is user-friendly and allows information to be stored readily for searches, reception and transmission of information required in a given situation (a one-stop shopping, self-service, and immediate turnaround service with ubiquitous access).

In another area, ICTs are also transforming other administrative management mechanisms and structures. As a result of budget reductions in the early 1990s, the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) introduced an extremely high-performance system for managing current operations ( to administer its annual budget of $1.8 billion, 20,000 staff, 35,000 students, 300 departments and approximately 150 buildings. The institution completely decentralized its administrative policies and procedures (Harel and Partipilo, 1996).

In 1994, it built an electronic operating system that helps save time and money while maximizing the productivity of staff and managers. Its Application System Authorizing Process combined with its Distributed Access Control Security System have allowed a substantial reduction in the staggering volume of forms that were previously in circulation while unequivocally reducing the number of authorized signatures to allow the execution of administrative actions currently being performed. What previously required four signatures or more, sometimes up to fifteen, and two to six weeks to process is now completed in a few seconds by one or two responsible, accountable individuals.

Harel and Partipilo estimated a gain of five minutes per current transaction, which translates into annual saving of approximately 30,000 hours of work, and thus some $600,000. The university has also realized annual savings of $100,000 by decentralizing and implementing an accounting audit system which enables all the details of various administrative operations to be traced, because they are all recorded in a database accessible online. The elimination of an astronomical quantity of forms also produced annual savings of approximately $300,000 following the elimination of outside form data entry while, at the same time, freeing up space. Finally and most important, UCLA intrinsically modified its organizational culture, abandoning pyramidal features to adopt an effective, high-performance administration network.

The study by Brown and Malaney (1997) also shows the emergence of the use of electronic mail, electronic bulletin boards and discussion lists among student affairs professionals, in particular for communicating with their colleagues and researching and sharing information relevant to their duties. Analyzing the electronic activity of 389 professionals in region one (the New England states and the three Canadian Maritime Provinces) of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), Brown and Malaney saw some interesting statistics. A proportion of 56.6% uses this method of communication. 97.3% of those who communicate with this tool use it to reach colleagues, 58.9% use it to search for information, 37.9% to access electronic bulletin boards, 36.1% to participate in discussion groups, and 13.1% for project purposes. Most also stress the savings and flexibility provided by this technology-based tool.

We have to admit, in conclusion, that the university world is in a state of change. ICTs are radically changing the nature of services offered, just as they are directly influencing ways of operating. At the dawn of the third millennium, changes are occurring that are as major as the social and economic changes produced by the Industrial Revolution. However, we candidly admit that we are witnessing the infancy of the computer revolution and are in the process of experiencing its initial impact.

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