Charting A New Online Course:
Technology Enabled Learning - Alternative Learning Environments

Yannis Karaliotas
PGCertODE(Open), MA in ODE Student, OU/UK
May 1999

This paper is an attempt to analyse and specify the design and development attributes of an online course. The basic framework of the analysis undertaken follows the guidelines set by Rowntree (1999) and Lockwood (1998) in anticipation of the issues involved in the development of ODL courses.

Short Description of the Course

The course Technology Enabled Learning - Alternative Learning Environments (TEL-ALE) is intended to introduce learners to Online Interactive Learning Environments and assist them in recognising the Accessibility issues related to Online Teaching and Learning. The course consists of three simulation modules, a online course guide and course support material which is delivered in print, braille and/or audio one month prior to course starting date. It is for people who want the opportunity to:

[adapted from H804 Course Guide, Introduction ]

Table of Contents

Who is the course meant for Table of Contents Go to Table of Contents

The course will be part of the Online Distance Learning Programme to be provided by the Hellenic Centre for Technology Enabled Learning . It is planned to act as an introductory - preparatory course for those who think of using the Centre's environment or any other online learning setting.

The Centre will be catering for disadvantaged learners from all educational levels, as well as parents, volunteers, teachers, trainers and supporting personnel. Consequently, this introductory course will attempt to accommodate and meet the needs of this diverse - in terms of physical ability, age, sex, educational, professional and social background - group of learners.

Online Distance Education is a new concept in Hellas - probably as much as it is for the rest of the world. However, it is expected to start flourishing in the near future, not so much because of great distances or global coverage pretensions within the Hellenic setting, but mainly because of its enabling communicative learning potential for disadvantaged and excluded minorities

Disabled learners are regarded by the programme NOT as people who need special - different - treatment, but as a group of people who have, so far, been denied the opportunity to show their true learning potential and their true ability to construct knowledge. Apart from social and psychological stereotypes, a very pragmatic reason is that they have never had the medium which would provide them with the necessary channels that will enable equal opportunities and bring them in par with their mainstream peers.

Network technology with its integration of hypermedia has broken many barriers concerning special needs including, for instance, the lack of command of the written world that blind people suffered since the beginning of time. Networked learning is now disabled people's chance for inclusion and equality. (Msg. #235, 16)

What kind of course will it be Table of Contents

The teaching / learning and administrative approaches in this course utilise social constructivism as an underlying philosophy or way of seeing the world in the direction of substantive human values: aesthetic creativity, social solidarity and democratic discourse.

In order to make the administration of the system tractable, to enhance student motivation through group activity and to express a commitment to a collectivist philosophy, the course teaching/learning model (figure 1) is based on the system environment suggested by Paulsen (1998), where:

There are three basic components inherent in the establishment of [a relationship for learning between an educational agent and a learner]: organising people for learning, helping the participants to learn, and selecting from the multitude of devices available ... to facilitate the operation of the first two. These three components are identified as methods, techniques, and devices. (Verner 1964, 35)

The students are central in this model. At their disposal are the interactive environment (asynchronous / synchronous), learning resources, the course content, and the teacher. To facilitate learning, the teachers have at their disposal teaching methods, teaching techniques, and teaching devices.

figure 1

Figure 1. Model of course teaching / learning system (adapted from Paulsen, 1998)

This is intended to "keep the human role in teaching by linking 'real' people with students through telecommunications, and giving them the tools to access, reconstruct and create knowledge". (Bates, 1998)

Hellenic will be the language used throughout the course.

There are two main considerations about the length of the course: Participants will need to contemplate three out of six simulations; each thematic will need at least three weeks to elaborate. There is a simultaneous need to maintain motivation and satisfy learners eagerness to move on to other learning modules related to individual interests. Proposed course length : 3 months.

What are the intended learning objectives Table of Contents

The aim of the course is to enable learners in the use of CMC and facilitate their familiarisation with fundamental aspects of Interactive Learning Environments through hands on collaborative techniques and processes. Of primary concern is the creation of a community of learners , i.e. students and teachers working together as a team to develop a sense of purpose and ability for learning.

In particular, learners will be encouraged to:

In other words, to successfully participate in the process of giving, sending, or exchanging thoughts, feelings, opinions, and information.

What will be the content and structure of the course Table of Contents

Having had experience of projects accomplished on very low budgets, I would like to plan the course platform with minimum requirements in mind. Due to lack of a school server, a virtual server or, better, a machine hosted on the local educational (University?) hub is thought to be sufficient for storing course material, resources and supportive software and for hosting the course front interface.

The course interface will be providing initial instructions and course navigation through links leading to the rest of the online course components, i.e. Simulation Environment, Resource Centre, Email Listserv, HelpDesk.

Participants will be required to be computer literate, have access to a multimedia computer and the Internet and, for those with special needs, to be accustomed to the enabling devices and techniques they may need to use for accessing the online environment.

A questionnaire ( Appendix 1 ) will be sent and interviews will be conducted - where necessary - in order to gather information on personal experience and skills, special requirements and ODL expectations, so that access and individualised guidance can be provided and choice of relevant material for pre-course preparation can be made.

A course guide including fast reference sheets related to the operation of special equipment and software will be sent to participants two weeks before the course starts. Hypertext (on diskette), print, audio tapes and/or Braille will be used for this purpose and will be distributed according to individual preferences.

Central to the course structure stands the utilisation of the SIMULAB simulation environment ( http://oyt.oulu.fi/tsimulab/hlpst01.html ) as the main component.

"The interface [is] certainly simple and uploading an HTML [is] as easy as ABC. For the highly motivated independent learner this would work very well and the chatroom, is a feature which is missing in our eBBS [(H804 bbs component)]." ( Online Ref. 1 )

The Simulab/TELSI Environment Table of Contents


Environment / Interface

A well structured and concise 3-frame page ( Online Ref. 2 ), easy to access even by screen reader-blind users.

The environment is a secured one (password protected) and supports multimedia presentations. Participants can read all documents but, for collaborative discussion, can only create new documents within their group folder. Comments to group collaborative work can still be made by anyone in the mail folder (plenary) and, thus, group decision making can be influenced by all. ( Online Ref. 3 )

Additional Useful Features

There is a IT system feature ( Appendix 2 ) called Electric Shepherd enabling a message to be sent via email to each of the participants whenever there are new messages posted on the system board - good for prompt but neutral, gentle reminding.

The supervisor of a TELSI environment has the option of utilising the electric shepherd which checks daily if there are new messages for the users and sends them a note through the Internet e-mail. The messages sent by the electric shepherd are meant to remind the user that he/she has unread mail in TELSI. The electric shepherd will send notes only to those users who have given their Internet e-mail addresses in the user's personal identity card. If the electric shepherd awakes bad consciousness and raises your blood pressure, there is always the choice to remove your e-mail address from your identity card. ( Online Ref. 4 )

The e-Chat Java Applet , as seen in figure 2, offers an extremely useful channel for synchronous communication with features matched only by Educational MOO environments.

Figure 2

Figure 2. The e-Chat interface in the TELSI - SIMULAB environment

Useful features:

Course Utilisation

The utilisation of this environment aims at introducing learners to constructivist practice through collaborative problem solving techniques and processes. It will be used to present thematics related to the curricula of particular educational levels in the form of simulation scripts / scenarios. Since the aforesaid environment offers an integrated interface combining synchronous and asynchronous communication tools, it is anticipated that it will:

There will be a number of scripts for learners to choose from, but the first one dealing with accessibility will need to be attended by all groups.

What teaching media will be used Table of Contents

Print, braille and audio cassettes will constitute the media through which supportive course material will be delivered to course participants. This will integrate into the Computer Mediated Communications environment which is the main medium utilised throughout the course.

Using the CMC-classification derived from Rapaport (1991), there are four major CMC-devices: information retrieval systems, electronic mail systems, bulletin board systems, and computer conferencing systems. These four CMC-devices correspond primary to the four methods: one-online, one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many. ( Paulsen, 1998 )

Table 1 shows the distribution of the learning / teaching methods, techniques, and devices utilised within the administration of the Technology Enabled Learning - Alternative Learning Environments course.

L/T Methods
L/T Techniques
L/T Devices
  • Online Course Guide
  • Online Course Material and Resources
  • Internal, Information Retrieval System
  • Bulletin Board System
  • Private, assistive communication (peer-peer)
  • Individualised Tutoring (facilitator-learner)

Internet E -mail System
  • Ask the Experts
  • Personal, Internal Communication
  • Personal Portfolio
  • Conferencing System (Plenary Forum , e-Chat)
  • Internal E-mail System
  • Personal Folders System
  • Personal Web Pages

  • Discussions
  • Collaborative Assignments
  • Forums
  • Projects
  • Group Folders System
  • Plenary Forum
  • E-Chat

Table 1 - Course learning / teaching methods, techniques, and devices (adapted from Paulsen , 1998)

What learning activities will teachers and students engage in Table of Contents

Participants will engage in scenario resolving activities related to simulation scripts which will involve, among other learning products described in the Content and Structure section, the making of HTML documents. A sample, hybrid simulation script may serve to elaborate on this.

Sample Scenario ( Online Ref. 6)

You are taking part in a three-week online debate on whether physically disabled individuals should be allowed to participate in a online Journalism & Mass Media course.

The course has been running for the last two years and its part of a three-year programme leading to the Ministry of Education approved National Certificate in Journalism.

The programme providers are willing to examine the possibilities of making the course accessible and they have formed a committee for that purpose.

You are members of this committee. Your collective written recommendations are expected to reach the course team by the end of the third week.

Recommended Steps:

Step 1

Introduce yourself, get to know the people you are going to work with and become familiar with the environment of the online debate.

Step 2

1.Find out more about the particular course, accessibility issues and similar accessibility cases

2.Write your initial thoughts as a document under your own folder

Online resources :

Course outline including sample course material, description of activities and assessment criteria;

Information on enabling technology; description of devices, software and techniques; case studies

Links to accessibility policies and their implementations

Ask the experts (Chat or mailing list sessions)

Step 3


The course team needs the committee's recommendations by the end of this week. Please use the mailing lists called "GR1 discussion", "GR2 discussion" and GR3 discussion" to negotiate with each other within your groups and arrive at a collectively decided and constructed document which should be posted in your Group's folder.

You are encouraged to read the discussions in other groups, but you cannot write messages in any other discussion but your own - you can always communicate with other group members in the Plenary Conference.

Step 4

Debriefing - Future plans

What is the impression of the learning value of this concept?

What do you think of the technical interface?

What are the thematics you are further interested in? (A list of Thematics to choose from)

I'm still playing with the idea of group formation - mixed age/professional, or separate 'student' 'teacher' groups. This can even be applied to having separate 'teacher' and 'student' simulation courses.

What learning materials / resources will be needed Table of Contents

People: There are many interested, mostly retired, individual experts - but very few with access to computers and the Internet - who may constitute a tremendous resource for the course participants. Those individual experts can be consulted and interviewed via e-mail or e-chat

Information: An easy solution is to provide links to external web services or access to national databases. Hellenic, domain/subject related as well as accessibility and enabling technology relevant Web resources have already been found and accumulated, but more must be identified and processed. ALTERNATIVE VISION TECHNOLOGY * Educator's Multimedia Kit ( Online Ref. 7) can be seen as a representative of the kind of resources required.

The bulletin board will be used to redistribute online journals as well as other local information.

Most course material will have to be written from scratch, or adapted and/or translated from existing material and resources either printed or on the web.

What role will be played by assessment Table of Contents

Assessment ( Online Ref. 8) is intended to be integrated into the learning process and assess overall performance and outcomes in such a way that would not constitute a conflicting practice within the constructivist environment.

Learners will be assessed on a pass/fail basis. Normal pass requirement: full participation in all simulations as well as in the course evaluation phase ( minimum pass requirement: participation in two simulations if special circumstances occur).

In addition, course participants will be required to compose a final document which be part of the assessment procedure and will be reporting on their course experiences, using any and all electronic publishing media (hypertext, Graphics, Audio etc). This will be part of their individual portfolio to be developed and maintained during their participation in the Centre's Programme and it will be placed in the learner's web page on the Centre's public site.

How will the development of the course be organised Table of Contents

The course will initially run with one facilitator and one technical assistant / HelpDesk operator, will cater for 15 students at a time and will lead to a Certificate of Competence in CMC and Distance Learning.

The design and development of the course material would be contemplated by the instructor/facilitator in collaboration with subject teacher/trainers. Simulation script writing, which will be covering different domains and learning subjects (maths, language, literature, science etc.), will be part of the course material preparation.

Criteria for such collaboration would be awareness of constructivist principles and experience in their implementation, or willingness to learn about both. In particular, prospective collaborators will need to be aware of and have implemented:

Technology as the application of knowledge to develop tools, materials, techniques, and systems to help people meet and fulfil their needs.

Self-instructional material: writing material which will be used by individual learners in a self-propelled learning setting.

Constructivist Pedagogy: instructional methods and strategies.

Learner-centred curriculum: a curriculum that takes into account what learners already know to build and refine their understanding of new concepts.

Orchestration: arranging, coordinating, or manipulating parts and elements to achieve an objective or goal.

Reflective learning and reflective teaching: looking back at or reflecting on teaching/learning practices for the purpose of analysing, evaluating, and strengthening the quality of learning experiences; reflecting on teaching/learning practices with a spirit of inquiry, continually seeking to understand which plans, decisions, and actions are effective in the learning process and which are not.

Performance assessment: assessment which is based on direct observation of learners' performances or products and which involves using performance criteria to make judgements about the performance or product created by learners. Assessment activities are used that require learners to construct a response, create a product, or apply their knowledge and capabilities. (Most performance assessments do not have a single correct answer and learners can use more than one approach to complete the task. Good performance assessments consist of a learning task that learners respond to and a set of criteria that guide scoring and feed forward).

Reporting: a process for communicating about student learning; preparing and presenting detailed accounts or statements about student learning. Grades are often used in reporting, but more recent trends in assessment have expanded reporting to include portfolio conferences, student self-assessment, exhibitions of mastery, narrative descriptions of learning, and developmental continua that show where learners current performance is in relation to common expectations.

The present course design, which includes the making of an online course syllabus, provides for a modular framework which allows flexibility for modification and/or recycling of the material. The instructor would be provided with a way to change course material easily, and the student with a complete and up-to-date picture of the course requirements. The format of the online course syllabus need not (and probably should not) duplicate the off-line version. Hypertext links to sample relevant web sites may be helpful in giving learners (and prospective learners) a sense of the disciplinary context for the course.

Pre-testing of material may be done by course development collaborators, usually in f2f settings. Regular course evaluation will officially be taking place during the last week of each running course, but a relevant folder in the Plenary will provide course participants with the chance to post observations and comments from day one.

Summary Table of Contents

The programme offered by the Hellenic Centre for Technology Enabled Learning which will include the course under scrutiny is intended to primarily accommodate distance learning needs of the disabled community. The Centre is being build with this perspective in mind, based on the system design guidelines suggested by Stenerson in his paper Systems analysis and design for a Successful Distance Education Program Implementation. However, it is my prognosis that the programme may also appeal to other groups of learners for its value in addressing needs related to online learning environments.

The course, as an introductory module within the programme, will have to deal with a new educational area with special needs in mind. It is this which allows me to anticipate that issues will seriously and successfully be dealt with, as special education has always been a testing ground for all innovative theories and methods, and special educators are obliged to transcend rather than supervene, simply because of the challenges they face in their praxis.

References Table of Contents

Bates, A.W. 1998. Strategies for the Future - http://bates.cstudies.ubc.ca/strategies.html (H804 Resources)

Lockwood, F. 1998. - Creating an Environment for Staff Development - Chapter 24 in Staff Development in Open and Flexible Learning ed. Latchem, C. Lockwood, F., Routledge 1998.

Paulsen, M. F. 1998. A session made by Morten Flate Paulsen for the Teaching Over The Web Conference Organised by the University System of Georgia, May 11-15 1998 (H804 Resources) http://home.nettskolen.nki.no/~morten/Georgia/Georgia.html

Rowntree, D. 1999. Preparing for Course Development in ODL. Milton Keynes: H804 Course Guide, Block 2, 1999.

Shale, D. G. 1987. Pacing in distance education. The American Journal of Distance Education 1(2):21-33.

Verner, C. 1964. Definition of terms. In Adult Education: Outlines of an Emerging Field of University Study, eds. G. Jensen, A. Liveright and W. Hallenback, 27-39. Washington, D.C.: Adult Education Association.

Wells, R. 1992. Computer-Mediated Communication for Distance Education: An International Review of Design, Teaching, and Institutional Issues. University Park, Pennsylvania: The American Centre for the Study of Distance Education.

Online References Table of Contents

  1. Msg. #283, 17. April 21 1999 - eBBS Message
  2. The SIMULAB / TELSI System - A Users Manual with Illustrations - http://oyt.oulu.fi/tsimulab/hlpst01.html
  3. Msg. #269, 17. April 18 1999 - eBBS Message
  4. Msg. #292, 17. April 23 1999 - eBBS Message
  5. Msg. #293, 17. April 23 1999 - eBBS Message
  6. Msg. #235, 16. May 3 1999 - eBBS Message
  7. ALTERNATIVE VISION TECHNOLOGY * Educator's Multimedia Kit - by Ioannis Karaliotas, 1998 -
  8. Msg. #264, 17. Alternative Assessment, April 18 1999 - eBBS Message

Appendix Table of Contents

1. Proposed Questionnaire Return

  1. Please state your full name, age, city and country where you live.
  2. If you are disabled, what kind of disability do you have? (This question is only to classify or separate different disabilities)
  3. When did you start to use a computer?
  4. When did you start to use the Internet?
  5. What do you use it for?
  6. Have you had any experience with learning at a distance?
  7. What are the learning subjects you would like to deal with at a distance?
  8. What technical support do you use?
  9. What special devices and techniques do you use for accessing your computer and the Internet?
  10. Who pays for the technical support? You yourself, the government, your school or else?
  11. Is there anything that is possible for you to do now since the Internet is around, that was not available before?
  12. What problems have you faced when starting to use the Internet?
  13. How accessible would you say most sites are for you? Good - bad?
  14. Would you like to share with us a couple of examples of good and bad sites? Any favourites?
  15. Do you have any special suggestion to the web designers to make the sites more accessible to the people with different disabilities?
  • If you have any problems filling in the questionnaire, please call ****** to talk to ******

2. IT Simulab Agent - The Electric Shepherd Return

Subject: You have mail

Date: Fri, 7 May 1999 01:23:57 +0300 (EET DST)

From: TELSI <telsi@oyt.oulu.fi>

To: kar1125@otenet.gr

Hello Yannis,

You have unread messages in TELSI. Please take time to visit TELSI and read your new messages.

Your TELSI area is: no2 (http://oyt.oulu.fi:800/telsipro/no2/bin/user)

Your login name in TELSI is: yannis

The senders, conferences and subjects of new messages:


supervisor GR3discussion Re: Still Australia

tamas GR3discussion Still Australia

Table of Contents

Copyright 1999 Yannis Karaliotas