A Unified e-Learning Information Management System

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5 Δεκ 2013 (πριν από 3 χρόνια και 4 μήνες)

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A Unified e
-
Learning Information
Management System


D.N. Kleftouris


Dept of Information Technology
,
Alexander Technological Educational
Institute of Thessaloniki,
P.O. Box 141, Thessaloniki 57400, Greece
,
Tel: +30
2310791250, Fax: +30 2310791425, Email
: klefturi
@it.teithe.gr


In this work we report on the experience accumulated in planning and
developing the building blocks of a flexible technological framework that
facilitates a unified e
-
Learning Information Man
agement System in order to
incorporate technology enabled learning and thus achieve a continuous
improvement of the learning process in our department. With the aid of a well
known commercially available Virtual Learning Environment (Blackboard™)[6]
instal
led in one of the department servers, the educational/training course
content, in digital form, is managed dynamically, shared by the students freely
and forms the basis for personalized e
-
Learning, mainly to support the
success of enrolled students, so th
at they complete their current program of
studies with satisfaction and are encouraged to return for further learning.


1. Introduction


It is known that the Web constitutes a huge library and an unprecedented
forum of communication. Everyone can enrich
the library with any kind of
digital content and use it to exchange and access these contents that are
mainly made up of text, graphics, pictures, audio and video. Along with it
came the possibility to generate, disseminate and exchange information,
to com
municate, to cooperate and to access a vast range of services and
multimedia contents without any constraints of time or place. The
increasing penetration of Internet and the availability of software tools for
creation of multimedia applications enabled th
e use of Information and
Communication Technologies in education as well as the emergence of
new trends in the so called “Learning Technologies”.


In recent years the demographics in higher education have changed
dramatically. The number of students enroll
ing in higher education
institutions has doubled and thus created increasing demands on the
faculty members, availability of classrooms, facilities and equipment.
Internet based alternatives to classroom learning and collaboration
become necessary to assis
t traditional teaching with courses and
programs offered at flexible times and in formats that maximize learner
efficiency.


The Dept of Information Technology of the Alexander TEI of Thessaloniki,
in September 2003, undertook a project to modify
-
reform t
he Curriculum of
Undergraduate Studies. The project is funded by the 2
nd

European
Community Support Framework ( EPEAEK, Continuing Training, Action
Against Exclusion for the Job Market). The aim of the project is to
continuously improve the quality of the

learning process in the department
by incorporating technology
-
enabled learning. With the aid of a well known
commercially available Virtual Learning Environment (Blackboard™)[6]
installed in one of the department servers, the educational/training course
content, in digital form, is managed dynamically, shared by the students
freely and forms the basis for personalized e
-
Learning. Students who
cannot physically attend classes, utilizing the possibilities of synchronous
and asynchronous learning can pursue
studies from a distance, taking
advantage of the Internet and the Web. Furthermore, new elective
courses can be offered and managed by the VLE and thus certain groups
of associated courses can form directions and specializations within the
curriculum. In
general, e
-
Learning managed by a VLE platform will enable
course creators to intelligently store, reuse, reassemble and share learning
objects (assessments, lessons, lectures, tutorials, activities, simulations,
and other intellectual assets).


To achieve
the goals of the project efficiently and effectively nine (9) Work
Packages were established:

WP1 :

Project Management

WP2 :

Evaluation and Reform of the New Curriculum ( Formation of
Directions/Specialisations, Development of a Quality Assurance System
,
New Curriculum Proposal).

WP3
: Development of the New e
-
Learning Model ( Selection, Purchase,
Installation, Training of the New VLE Platform, Development of a Portal,
Usability Studies).

WP4
: Development of CoursePacks to Load on the VLE.

WP5

: Develo
pment of Digital Educational Tools ( eBooks, Vrlabs
available on the VLE).

WP6

: Synchronous and Asynchronous Internetworking Learning,
Teleconference.

WP7

: Improvement of the Educational Content ( Help Desk, On line
Counseling, Management of Distant Lab
s, Courses in Enterprise
Management and in Advanced English ).

WP8

: New Seminar/ Laboratory Courses, Case Studies.

WP9 :
New Trends and Emerging Technologies in E
-
Learning,
Dissemination, Workshop.


In this work we report on the experience accumulated
in planning and
developing the building blocks of a flexible technological framework that
facilitates a unified e
-
Learning Information Management System in order to
incorporate technology enabled learning and thus achieve a continuous
improvement of the le
arning process in our department, a challenge that
all educational institutions face nowadays.


2. Reform Process of the Curriculum


The department provides undergraduate education in the field of
Information Technology, Technology Applications as well
as Analysis and
Development of Information Systems. Its mission is to develop and
enhance individual’s professional competence in the above areas and
related technologies. The study program which features current and
emerging technologies, prepares student
s to contribute to the computing
profession upon graduation, provides a basis for continued study, post
graduate studies and growth in the field.


Upon completion of their studies the department graduates possess the
necessary scientific and technological

knowledge capabilities and skills
that allow them to be professionally active and successful in supporting the
utilization of information and communication technologies in all areas of
economical and social activity.


Factors that influence curricula in
Computer Studies in general are [3]:



Rapid changes taking place in the discipline.



The emergence of new programming paradigms and new design
methodologies.



Need for graduates who have good communication and teamwork
skills, in addition to being technically

competent.



Need for the program to facilitate the gap between what is taught at
academia and what is needed in the business.


Series of changes to satisfy the above demands may cause the curriculum
to become a giant piece of knots. The above concepts lead

to the following
basic characteristics of a modern curriculum, which are: flexibility,
specialty and technological orientation. Flexibility means a modular
structure of the curriculum that provides the capability to modifying parts of
it without causing c
hanges in the whole. Specialty enables that only certain
topics have to be examined in detail, while the others are examined just
through their main concepts. Technological orientation is achieved with the
reduction on the time that the students must spend

in classrooms, leaving
spare time for laboratory work, project work and library studies. Therefore,
a Manageable and Flexible Curriculum should be developed to satisfy the
above set requirements.


A process for curriculum improvement is necessary in orde
r to provide the
best educational results i.e. mainly to recognize the learning achievements
of students through the use of commonly understood measurements.
Assessment is an essential part of this process. Assessment depends on
goals and appropriate measu
res. As changes to curriculum are made the
assessment process is repeated, ensuring a continuous cycle of
improvement. At this time we are in the process of assessing the present
curriculum and next, proceed with the development of an improved one.
Faculty

members are engaged in a major attempt to innovate the
undergraduate program of studies by establishing many new elective
courses that together with core ones, certain groups of associated courses
can form directions and specializations within the curricu
lum and thus
widen the choices available to students. In fact we target three
directions/specialisations, the Networking and Internetworking, the
Software Engineering and the Artificial Intelligence ones. To ensure high
quality of the learning process, tec
hnologically enabled learning must be
incorporated. Based on the use of a VLE Platform, the Blackboard, a
distributed learning environment is developed, that contains in digital form
most of the knowledge and learning material used in our faculty and will
allow its access at any time and from any distance.


3. The Portal Environment


The need of information management and dissemination of the academic
community at the Information Technology department of the ATEI of
Thessaloniki, must be facilitated with
the development of a modern portal
environment since the web is rapidly evolving into a universal information
repository with services that span across nearly all the aspects of a
human’s life, such as work, entertainment, communication e.t.c. Within the
d
epartmental structure, one can identify user roles (e.g. student, teacher,
technical staff, administrator, alumni, etc) and organizational units that
need be supported in the abstraction of a web based community model.


Along the lines of the requirements
specifications set forth, the new portal
environment should [2]:

1.

comprise a single “one stop” point, serving the information
dissemination, exchange and communication needs of the teaching,
student, technical, administrative and alumni user communities.

2.

su
pport an easy to use interface.

3.

implement modularity by organizing its contents (both static and
dynamic) and services in a way that reflects the departmental structure.

4.

Support a granular administration scheme, with one administrator, plus
a variable numb
er of moderator accounts with localized privileges one
per modular unit.

In the respect of these requirements the tasks and the functionality that will
be available to the target user population are identified as follows [2]:



Personalization : The syste
m should implement granularity in user
access, determined by the administrator ie. every body must not have
access to everything.



Customization : The user should be able to configure the way
information is presented ie by controlling the screen layout, as

well as the
content displayed.



Grouping and Team Working: Interest groups should exist in the user
community, enjoying privacy in their group communication. Collaboration
should be encouraged by having system support threaded discussions,
voting and surve
ys, plus calendar sharing.



Simplicity of Use : Reflected in (a) the way the system is accessed on
the internet via a standard web browser, and (b) the 80/20 rule ( deliver
the 20% of the content that users really need to 80% of the people ) in
serving the
information needs of its user communities.



Modular Design : Each one group sub
-
environment need be identical to
the rest, and implement its own private communal services.



Granular Administration : Each one group sub
-
environment need have
its own(local) mod
erator, plus one or more content managers.


The developed model, its inner structure involves six basic facilities:



Announcements Board : Registering announcements of interest to the
user community.



Discussion Fora : A discussion board containing a number

of user
-
initiated discussion fora.



Events Calendar : Registering info on upcoming events.



Web Applications : A variable number of external applications
accessible from within the web site environment.



Web Links : Hyperlinks to web addresses containing in
formation of
interest to the local user community.



Subject Catalogs : A hierarchy of sub
-
directories/folders with
documents that are meant to be accessible only by the user community in
question.


For the development of the portal environment the deploym
ent of an open
source solution/platform was decided. A number of open source web site
development software solutions were considered. After a lot of
experimentation with Content Management Systems such as PHP
Nuke[7], PostNuke CMS Platform[7], phpWebSite[8
] community driven
webware, CMS Drupal 4.7[9] we appreciated a lot the functionality
supported by the latter specifically for the provision of granulated
administration. The developed portal environment includes:



A unified user authentication system that a
lso covers a number of
services via the departmental web site.



A cross platform search engine facility.



System usage log file analysis for the determination of user patterns
and resource usage.


4. The VLE Platform



It used to be quite adequate for ed
ucational institutions to publish on the
Web courses, schedules and syllabi online. However the rules now have
changed. A truly effective e
-
learning solution must be aligned with an
institution’s mission and goals and designed to meet the needs of every
pa
rticipant in the academic community. Successful educational institutions
will deploy emerging learning technologies to meet the requirements [5]:



Continually improve the learning experience



Deploy state
-
of
-
art educational technologies



Maintain lifelong lea
rning relationships with students



Enhance institutional resources as efficiently as possible


In addition to these key requirements, in educational environments
nowadays there are a number of pragmatic issues that must be addressed
[5]:



To provide a suppor
tive forum for practicing activities learnt in a
traditional classroom environment.



To move the teaching task from a class based to a student based
activity.



To facilitate flexible, independent, self
-
paced learning.



To avoid imposing additional correction
tasks on staff, whilst
maintaining an adequate level of feedback for course development.



To provide an environment in which our learners could learn in
collaborative groups without the restriction of geographical proximity.


In view of the above set requir
ements and pragmatic issues e
-
Learning
techniques must be adopted to enhance the process of teaching and
learning. E
-
Learning will enable course creators to efficiently store, reuse,
reassemble and share learning objects such as assessments, lessons,
lectu
res, tutorials, activities, simulations and other intellectual assets.
Students on the other hand, will freely share the educational content and
thus enjoy the possibility of personalized learning. Students who cannot
physically attend classes, utilizing e
ither synchronous or asynchronous
learning can pursue studies from a distance, taking advantage of the
Internet and the Web.


To efficiently manage needs of course creators, courses, groups of
students that are registered in various courses as well as educ
ational
content of any type, some software is needed to provide facilities of
managing users and material on one hand and communication on the
other. These kinds of software tools are called Virtual Learning
Environments and form the heart of an e
-
Learning

Information
Management System. Our

e
-
Learning IMS is based on the
Blackboard™[6] virtual learning environment, which has become available
with funds from the 2
nd

European Community Support Framework
(EPEAEK, Continuing Training, Action against Exclusion for the Job
Market) an ongoing proje
ct at the Information Technology Department,
launched in September 2003. On this VLE platform instructors have
uploaded most of the learning material available in our department,
curriculum courses and course content are offered online [1], eBooks,
course
s in Enterpise Management, Advanced English, Virtual Labs,
Distant Labs, ready made CoursePacks, Questionaires, Solved Problems,
video and audio, are in fact a real wealth of learning material at the
disposal of the students, giving them the flexibility

to learn at their
convenience. Furthermore, students are encouraged to leave “tracks” in
the system, i.e. notes, papers, projects, exercises, reports etc.


In addition, while content management enables an institution to manage
and maximize the value of l
earning content, learning information
management must enable students to provide useful information to the
department about how they learn, how they interact with various course
types, what resources they use most, what they want to learn and what
they wil
l want to learn next. Then from student activity, while protecting
student privacy, information gathered can be used to continuously improve
course offerings, programs and services as to maximize student selection,
retention and success. Successful studen
t interaction with the VLE
platform will enable the institution to attract and retain students in life long
learning courses over their lifetimes, offering them personalized
educational opportunities, from weekend workshops, to just
-
in
-
time
learning module
s and perhaps post graduate programs that meet their
individual needs.


5. Conclusions


Evolving Internet computing technologies as well as Web engineering are
the emerging technologies implemented by institutions in the sector of
higher education as a
means of incorporating technology enabled learning
to support mainly the success of enrolled students, so that they complete
their current programs with satisfaction and are encouraged to return for
further learning.


Funded by the 2
nd

European Community S
upport Framework, in an
attempt to enhance and improve the study program and the quality of the
learning process in our department, we installed in our servers a well
known commercially available Virtual Learning Environment Platform and
started uploading
learning objects and material to it in an attempt to
develop a Unified e
-
Learning Information Management System.


Our preliminary observations suggest that the VLE is easy to use and
effective with learners. The results so far have given us positive indica
tions
as to begin a full
-
scale study involving all undergraduate students. It is
now acceptable among the staff of the department that the development of
this e
-
Learning IMS system and its successful deployment for
undergraduate teaching could be an import
ant indicator for our future
approach to teaching computer science courses.


However, we do not currently intend the use of this e
-
Learning IMS to be
the substitute for the classroom [4], but as an alternative learning forum
mainly to support students’ at
tendance in the department by offering the
entire learning content available in our department in digital form as an
alternative to the traditional way of learning ie. to study a single book and
revise through teaching notes.


REFERENCES


[1] D.A. Der
vos, “VLE Software Utilization for the Needs of DBTECH Pro”,
2nd International
Scientific Conference on Information Technology and Quality
,

Spetses, Greece, June 2006

[2] D.A. Dervos,K. Psarras, “A framework for the Design of an Extensible Modular Academ
ic
WEB Site”,
2nd International Scientific Conference on Information Technology and Quality,

Spetses, Greece, June 2006

[3] A. Manacero Jr et all, “A Flexible Curriulum for Computer Science Undergraduate Major”,
31
st

,ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Con
ference
, Session F3D
-
20, Reno NV, October
2001

[4] L. Hall, A. Gordon, “A Virtual Learning Environment for Entity Relationship Modeling”,
SIGSGE ACM
, Atlanda GA, USA, 1998

[5] “ Leveraging Technology to Transform the Educational Experience”,
A WebCT Whit
e
Paper
,
www.webct.com

[6] “ Blackboard Inc”, available from http://
www.blackboard.com

[7] “ PHP
-
Nuke Content Management System”, available from http:// www.phpnuke.org/

[
8] “phpWebSite community
-
driven webware”, available from http:// phpwebsite.appstate.edu/

[9] “
CMS Drupal 4.7

”, available from
http://drupal.org/
.