Collaboration and Learning and The Internet
Both teaching and learning are increasingly becoming technology-orientated processes. Students learn better and retain more if they engage in learning activities that require them to think and process information rather than passively listening to lectures. There is a distinct paradigm shift from low usage of technology in teaching (overheads, powerpoint presentations) to high intensity technology learning (multi-media packages, Internet tutorials ) and to accommodate this in a South African setting we need to acknowledge the diversity of the backgrounds of our students. (It should be kept in mind that many of our students have their first contact with computers at university and are second language English speakers which create problems with the understanding and interpretation of content.)The Internet, one of the most popular media of communication, provides fast access to vast amounts of information and thus expands the boundaries of the traditional classroom. However, if e-learning is shown to be the most effective teaching methodology, will universities be able to keep up with the tremendous cost of the ever changing technology? Or would a high technology approach be so intimidating for our diverse student population that it inhibits the learning process?Could collaborative learning alleviate the isolation of technology learning by creating a peer-learning environment? Must this collaboration be "technology free" - thus personal contact - or would remote collaboration improve the learning environment? How should these teams/groups be constituted?This project has three major thrusts: learning, collaboration and the Internet. Some of the questions that may be posed are:
- Will e-learning environments affect traditional teacher-centered instructionand promote more student-centered learning?
- How can e-learning environments be used effectively to enhance traditional face-to-face classroom teaching?
- Will the cost of e-learning be transferred to students?
- What is the cost implication for students as well as the institution?
- Is the return on investment positive?
- If so, how will we ensure that our students from disadvantaged backgrounds have sufficient access to the new e-learning environments?
- Does the interaction of students in the virtual team enhance the understanding of subject material?
- What enabling technologies improve this virtual interaction?
- At the same time does it broaden the students learning environment to include the Internet as a resource of information?
- Are the users alienated by the use of technology? and finally
- Is there a change of perception (less computer fobia) over time? [Gandel,2000]