Students-Participated Approach to the Setup of Teaching Platforms Suitable for Global Virtual Learning

Optional Abstract: 

The project refers to the construction of an extended platform suitable for direct teaching and distance learning applications for higher education. Students are enrolled in the preparation of teaching material, contributing to a permanent development and subsequent validation of traditional lecture notes, multimedia files, interactive tools, and any other learning instrument. In this way the platform is interactively developed on the basis of students needs and can be dynamically updated to the state-of-the-art. Contents are managed through an open-source Wiki platform: the best solution to guarantee sustainable costs, easy and fast accessibility on a global scale, powerful scalability. Currently, the method is applied to a Course offered simultaneously to students of Politecnico di Torino, Qatar University and University of Comoros (where a similar course is not available). The first two actively contribute to the construction of the platform; the third ones test the usability of the teaching model from remote.

Introduction

Nowadays teaching methods in Universities and Higher Education Institutes are becoming more and more complex, but also extremely fascinating, thanks to the availability of new facilities: traditional lecture notes can be combined with multimedia and interactive documents, accessible through advanced integrated publishing environments. The usability of these instruments through the Internet allows a stronger, continuous, and more dynamic interaction between students and professors, but it also favors the creation of distance learning platforms, as well as remote accessibility to the teaching repository. The transformation of a traditional teaching Course into a new multimedia, interactive, networked, possibly remote environment, has incredible perspectives, but it also exhibits some major risks, the most important one being the possible saturation of studying time, together with the possible confusion originated by an excessive (sometimes redundant) amount of information. Last, but not least, the interaction between the student and his professor cannot be kept in its traditional form (lectures in class-room, consultancy in office), as the study itself is not exclusively developed on a simple lecture note or a book: it should be structured over the permanent background of the new teaching content.

The participated approach

To address the listed challenges, preserving and emphasizing the innovative contribution offered by this new dynamic environment, we developed a participated project, conceived at a teaching level, but improved and validated at a studying level. The teaching model is entirely based on open source platforms, where the construction of the content is selected, assembled and validated thanks to a permanent collaboration between the instructor and the students. Main Web Page of the Project

Interaction with students is organized on multiple access levels. During the lecture hours, the Professor gives regular live lessons, he distributes his lecture notes and literature references to the students and assigns homeworks and exercises. A first subset of students, selected through an attitudinal, motivational and technical screening, is in charge to integrate the provided material, with their personal notes and comments. Once they complete the operation, the work is submitted to the Professor, who validates the content and allows its publication and consequent accessibility by the rest of the group. After, the rest of the students can access the repository, read the produced information, submit comments, suggest integrations, or start open discussions, all moderated (but not limited) by the Professor.

The same procedure is applied to the management of homework solutions. A secondary set of students (all those attending live lectures) is eligible to share their manuscripts with the class community, posting procedures, comparing results and discussing the applicability of workarounds and tricks to ease the solution of the assigned tasks.

The publication and distribution of contents is managed through an open-source Wiki platform (Web Access to Wiki Repository) that eases the realization of this participated approach and represents the best solution to guarantee sustainable costs, easy and fast accessibility, fast scalability. Students participate also to the choice of the web layout, in order to identify the most suitable and confortable one for their study.

Remote access to the platform and extension to students overseas

The use of the Wiki platform allows accessibility to anyone from anywhere. Anybody can access the documentation, publicly available under an OpenAccess License. The remote attendant (not necessarily a student) can view all comments, suggestions and discussions posted by direct contributors and live students, among which he will find most of the answers to his personal questions. In this way he gets a real time, simulated, virtual, (in)direct interaction with the Professor, like he was a student at the University.

Current implementation of the project

In the current version, the platform is applied to the Course “Radioplanning”, (iXemWiki Page of the Course) offered by the Faculty of Information Technology of Politecnico di Torino and the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Qatar. Other students may use the Repository by registering and obtaining access credentials. These are available for free, but enforced because tracking users allows visibility to platform activity, as they are requested to document their satisfaction and to provide suggestions, by compiling online questionnaires. The repository is already accessible for students of the University of Comoros Islands, in Africa, who are eligible to attend the lectures and use the teaching tools by accessing the course online. These students have not the possibility to attend a similar Course in their University.

Project impact

The impact of the initiative has been evaluated by measuring the interest of students and their opinion about the teaching methodology. The first datum is represented by student’s interest in participation. For the current implementation, 10 primary contributors have been selected within a set of 64 volunteers, out of 99 attendants (the 65% of the eligible ones). Most of them presented excellent CVs. Even if the work as a contributor requires time, this datum is a first demonstration of the strong interest in the participated approach. Among the students overseas, all of them declared clear interest to make use of the platform. Some of them are going to participate to a one week extended Workshop, together with Italian and Qatari students, to design a radio network which will be proposed for the delivery of telemedicine services in their own Country.

Moreover, feedbacks and evaluations are taken by proposing questionnaires and auto-evaluation forms that are permanently published on the Wiki platform. From the first completed ones, the following results have emerged: about 50% of students finds the “traditional” teaching instruments adequate, but they are strongly interested to adopt tools that may improve learning quality. Almost 85% agrees about the usefulness of a participatory approach to the development of new teaching instruments, even if almost half of them looks at the work as a challenging one (mainly due to lack of experience in cooperative learning). Almost 90% of them makes use of Wiki platforms, more than 80% in a responsible way, and for this reason they demand the contribution of the Professor as a supervisor of the created Wiki repository.

The listed percentages definitively demonstrates the usefulness of the proposed method and its scalability on larger dimensions.

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