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Using Video Conferencing to Support Distance Learning
A Staff Development Course
The deployment of communications and information technologies (C&IT) has become a major instrument for widening the reach of education institutions. The Higher Education community is under immense pressure to ensure that both staff and students are trained and in a position to embrace this technology. As identified by JISC, 1997 " ... the opportunities presented by IT are outstripping the ability of the sector to assimilate and exploit them". What is required is the provision of timely training for staff and students involved in the support and delivery of distance education. This has to be supported with the provision of an organisational infrastructure to assist staff using the technology to maintain and update their skills and knowledge.
In addressing the need to provide wider access to higher education and offer a more flexible form of third level education, The Queen's University of Belfast (QUB) established its Campus Outreach Initiative in 1995. The Institute of Computer Based Learning (ICBL) was one of the first to offer a course under this initiative and since its introduction, has been running an MSc in Computer Based Learning to an increasing number of sites, making extensive use of computer mediated communications (CMC) technologies. The ICBL has also played a major role in advising University policy on the management and strategic direction of this initiative and are seen as the pilot project within the University.
In partnership with the Audio Visual Services (AVS) at QUB, the ICBL has provided orientation for staff using the facilities provided by the Campus Outreach Initiative. These have tended to be informal and delivered on an on-demand basis. Summative evaluation of these early sessions indicate that staff require more than a simple overview and demonstration of the facilities in order to feel prepared and confident in using the technology (Lee, Greenwood, 1997).
Research into existing staff training would suggest that current training materials and provision do not appear to meet the needs of academic staff. With regard to video conferencing training provision, previous SIMA reports indicate that there is an inadequate appreciation of and information on the pedagogical aspects of video conferencing training. Characteristically, training provision tends to be:
informal; comprising a demonstration of the facilities and equipment lasting approximately 10 minutes, facilitated by a service provider (Carter et al, 1996);
paper based; single sheet of instructions on video conferencing etiquette (Carter et al, 1996);and
technology driven; focus of training on how to operate the equipment (Schurr et al, 1995).
With the lack of training that considers the use of technology in teaching; and the potential to increase the number of courses and staff involved in the University's Campus Outreach Initiative, it was timely for the development of a course which addresses the specific needs of teaching staff.
Aims and Objectives
The aim of this case study was to meet the need for a comprehensive staff development course that specifically addresses the pedagogical requirements of staff involved in the support and delivery of teaching using video conferencing in the University's Campus OutReach Initiative. Technical staff were included in the training as it was felt that they could best support their teaching colleagues if they had an appreciation of their pedagogical needs. The objectives were to:
The Project Team
A number of the key service providers in the University were involved in the design, development and delivery of the course. The project team comprised staff from the ICBL, Teaching Support Group of Computing Services (CS), AVS and Staff Training and Development Unit (STDU) together with the School of Nursing and Midwifery (the targeted department). Each of the service providers, based on their expertise and experience, provided useful input to the analysis, design, development and delivery of the training. The project was managed jointly by CS and ICBL.
The ICBL is in a very strong position to offer training and support for staff preparing for distance education. It has been involved in a number of national initiatives aimed at promoting the use and integration of technology into teaching, learning and assessment. The ICBL encourages and supports the innovative use of video and data conferencing in education. Further, it has over three years experience in delivering an MSc in Computer Based Learning (CBL) that provides students with an opportunity to learn about the concepts, methods and associated disciplines of CBL. The course is delivered to three sites: Belfast (main campus), Armagh (University Outreach Centre) and Omagh (Omagh College of Further Education) and makes extensive use of CMC technologies - video conferencing, data conferencing, the World Wide Web and electronic mail. The ICBL has a very close working relationship with CS.
The AVS comprises Visual Aids, Photographic, Graphic Design and Audio Resource Units. It has a major role to play in supporting the University's Campus Outreach Initiative. In collaboration with the ICBL, it has provided orientation sessions to staff wishing to use the facilities and assists staff in the setup and operation of the equipment.
The STDU offer a wide range of courses for all categories of staff at QUB in the areas of teaching and learning, University policy and systems, management and personal development. One key role of the STDU is to help academic staff develop new approaches to teaching and learning, particularly in the context of the Teaching Quality Assessment (TQA). The Unit also works closely with ICBL in providing support on the use of technology in teaching and learning.
A group of approximately 20 staff were identified from the School of Nursing and Midwifery. This group was chosen by the School as having immediate video conferencing training requirements and it was also envisaged that they would act as the 'champions' for video conferencing and further support their colleagues in the effective use of video conferencing.
The School of Nursing and Midwifery has recently been integrated into Queen's resulting in a number of previously discrete units being brought together under one management structure. The School provides both pre-registration nursing education and a wide range of innovatory courses at post registration, undergraduate and post graduate level. The post graduate level courses prepare nurses, midwives and health visitors for leadership roles in clinical care, teaching, management and research. Opportunities are provided for interdisciplinary studies with students from other areas of the University.
As part of the School's expansion, the University has established another outreach campus in Altnagelvin (approximately 80 miles from the main site). It is envisaged that the School will deliver its teaching to this campus, and in time will also deliver to Armagh and Omagh. Although the primary use of the facilities will be for the delivery of distance learning, the School has also recognised the role which video conferencing can play in administration and planning activities and in generally improving communication between sites. They intend to be fully operational within a matter of months and so have a real need to get staff trained and prepared for distance learning.
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