Distance Education System & Study skills
Studies across the globe, comparing distance education to traditional classroom instruction, indicate that teaching and learning at a distance are as effective as traditional instruction, when the learning materials, method and technologies used are appropriate to the instructional tasks and when student-to-student interaction and teacher-student feedback are robust. The typical challenges posed by distance education are countered by opportunities to:
- Reach a wider student audience.
- Meet the needs of students who are unable to attend on-campus classes.
- Involve outside speakers who would otherwise be unavailable, and
- Link students from different social, cultural, economic, and experiential backgrounds.
These days with advances in science and technology a wide range of technological options are available to the distance educator. They can be grouped into four major categories namely voice, video, print and web (Internet) options. Voice tools include passive or one-way technologies (tapes, radio, etc.) and the interactive technologies (telephone, audio conferencing, etc.). Video tools include still images such as slides, pre-produced moving images (e.g., film, videotape), and real-time moving images combined with audio-conferencing (one-way or two-way video with two-way audio). Print version in self-learning format is a foundational element of distance education programs and the basis from which all other delivery systems have evolved. Various print formats that could be used for distance learning are: textbooks, study guides, workbooks, course syllabi, and case studies. With the advance and affordability of communication technology, web or Internet based learning have become reality. Technology plays a key role in the delivery of distance education. However, the focus of the program is on the instructional outcomes rather than on the technology of delivery. In other words, the main thrust is on the needs of the learners, the requirements of the content and the constraints faced by the teacher, before selecting a delivery system. Typically, this systematic approach has resulted in a mix of media, each serving a specific purpose as touched upon below:
- Print component provides much of the basic learning content in the form of learning materials (which are in self-learning format), supplemented by suggested readings and other support materials in print.
- Interactive sessions provide real-time/face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) interaction (audio or video conferencing). This has proved to be, among others, a cost-effective way to incorporate guest speakers and content experts.
- Computer conferencing (e.g., Chat session, discussion forum, bulletin board) or electronic mail to send messages, assignment feedback, and other targeted communication to one or more class members is also prevalent. This helps to increase interaction among students and between students and teachers.
- Pre-recorded video tapes/CD/DVD's are used to present class lectures and visually oriented content.
- Fascimile services are used, where affordable and required, to distribute assignments, just-in-time announcements, receive student assignments provide timely feedback, etc.
Using this integrated approach, the task is to carefully select among the technological options depending on students (infrastructural facilities available in their locality), subject requirements (field visit, case studies, etc.) and institutional commitments. The goal is to build a hybrid instructional media, meeting the needs of the learner in a manner that is instructionally effective and economically prudent.
Distance education programs have been initiated with careful planning and a focused understanding of course requirements and student needs. Appropriate technologies have evolved through the efforts of many individuals and organizations, which rely on the consistent and integrated efforts of students, faculty, facilitators, support staff, and administrators. When instruction is delivered at a distance, additional challenges result because students are often separated from others sharing their backgrounds and interests, have few if any opportunities to interact with teachers outside of class, and rely on technical linkages to bridge the gap separating class participants. Hence, the success of distance education effort rests squarely on the shoulders of the faculty and resource persons. In a traditional classroom setting, the instructor's responsibility includes assembling course content and developing an understanding of student needs.
Need for Environmental Engineering Distance learning Courses
Rapid industrialization of developing countries has led to an increasing demand for continuing professional development for environmental engineering personnel at all sectors, including industrial and infrastructure management sectors. Recognizing the need for continuing professional development, the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) provided five high quality environmental engineering texts earlier developed through a UNESCO-COL partnership to the Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc.) They jointly examined the relevance of, and the degree of modification required for, offering at a distance those texts for practicing professionals in environmental engineering. This resulted in a COL-funded project with IISc, taking the responsibility of coordinating and contributing to the design and development of a series of learning materials in Engineering Sciences for open distance learning.
Based on the analysis of target audience, learning goals and objectives, and the desired course content with particular relevance to India, an outline of the content was created, which was reviewed by a committee of content and instructional design experts. The development of five self-learning environmental engineering courses included formative evaluation by project review committee and electronic list discussions. The summative evaluation included validation and pilot testing and brainstorm sessions to ascertain the suitability of materials to meet the project goals and objectives. The materials thus produced were revised on the basis of the feedback and are on offer at a distance initially in India. Nonetheless, these courses when suitably adopted with contextual examples can meet the continuous professional development requirements of the developing countries in the Commonwealth. It is also believed that these courses can be appropriately modularized to contribute to the proposal put forward by the World Federation of Engineering Organizations for the World Engineering Partnership for Sustainable Development.