Agriculture & Resource Management, The University of Melbourne
Agriculture and Forestry in Victoria, Knowledge Integration Skills with CAL
BackgroundThis was the second year of a three-year project funded jointly by CAUT and the Faculty of Agriculture, Forestry and Horticulture at The University of Melbourne running from 1994 to 1996. It arose from a desire to increase opportunities for Agricultural and Forest Science students to become more active learners and to integrate across discipline areas. For instance, Agricultural Science courses typically include chemistry, biochemistry, mathematics, statistics, economics, business management, genetics, information technology, sociology, communication, geology, soil science, land management and agroforestry, to name a few areas. Students have tended to leave knowledge and understanding from each area in the respective "boxes". Computer-Aided Learning, using interactive educational multimedia, was seen as an enabling technology to achieve this knowledge integration and to help our students become more active learners.
ObjectivesDuring the 3-year project, we aimed to transform up to 30% of the subjects in the two courses by introducing a shift in pedagogical strategy from lectures and passive learning to more active, self-paced learning using CAL resources developed in the project. In this process, learning materials would induce knowledge integration across disciplines. In each case we aimed to have a feedback system that would enable continual improvement to the resources and process.
OutcomesEleven different subjects1 underwent transition using 13 different CAL resources developed during the project. Some of the associated CAL resources may be viewed on the web2,3,4,5. The Faculty's broader Flexible Learning developments and achievements are documented on the Web6 and are being disseminated through The New Learning workshop series7. In each case the new learning strategy and CAL resource were integrated into a subject and learning outcomes were evaluated over the three years to make improvements.
Aside from the immediate outcomes, there were other important results. The first is that many staff involved and others who observed the project have voluntarily undergone professional development in the area of teaching and educational multimedia development. This includes development of online resources with the Web. In addition to these subjects, there are others in which the Convenors, made aware of the benefits of this project, have acquired learning resources, some developed in other CAUT projects (e.g. Soil Science8) and have improved the pedagogical strategy they use. Now that we have passed the critical mass of 30%, this process is snow-balling and the majority of the course will have undergone a positive transition by the end of 1998.
LessonsThree important lessons were learnt during this project. The first was the importance of a team-based approach involving the subject convenor as a content specialist, an educational design and evaluation specialist, a graphic designer and a specialist educational multimedia developer. Also important were the students who tested the software and external reference members who could provide candid comments on the different projects.
The second lesson was the importance of evaluation in making sure that we achieved genuine improvement in learning outcomes. Triangulation with a variety of different measurement strategies was helpful. Automated evaluation techniques are important for continual improvement of the process and resources.
The final lesson was the importance of dealing with copyright. Unfortunately, in some of the subprojects, the nature of copyright resources used is restricting the dissemination of CAL resources. Funds do need to be set aside to deal with copyright from the outset where other organisation's or individual's materials are used.
RecommendationsBased on experience in this project there are three recommendations that can be made to others contemplating such an exercise. The first is that where combinations of engines and content are planned, such as those in Pasture Plants of Victoria, wider benefit could be drawn from the formation of a development consortium who share development cost, broaden the testing base and increase the volume of content. For example, a Pasture Plants of Australia, or Pasture Plants of the World project would yield wider benefits.
Many of the resources developed in this project were CD-ROM-based (in a manner of speaking) or were not optimal for online delivery. I would recommend planning online resources from the outset to maximise flexibility for learners and to maximise the number of students who can benefit.
Delivery platforms can be a problem. Early CAL resources in this project were developed on Apple computers for delivery on Apple computers. Some of them have been transformed for wider delivery. In combination with being available online, resources should be delivered independent of platform.
UniServe Science News Volume 7 July 1997
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