eACTIVE –THE DEVELOPMENT OF A PLATFORM AND APPLICATION SOFTWARE FOR AN EGUIDE PROJECT AT A HIGHER EDUCATION INSTITUTION
Abstract: The changing demands of a higher education society, as well as the migration towards e- and online learning have introduced a new paradigm to the educational scene, where the effective creation and application of knowledge are becoming increasingly important aspects. University strategic goals mirror this in mission element statements such as “the investigation and development of new and innovative approaches to teaching and learning technology”, as well as “to initiate pilot projects for the development of blended learning programmes”. Resulting from these strategic goals, a strong need for practical guidelines and recommendations to facilitate the development and delivery of a pedagogically effective e-learning environment on the university campus is evident. The creation of pedagogically effective e-learning material for online learning or as supplement to face-to-face contact sessions in a blended learning environment requires the application of sound instructional design principles, but also custom made application software to ensure the delivery of a high quality end product. This round table discussion will focus the work in progress at a traditional Higher Education Institution building up an e-learning teaching and learning environment that effectively incorporates a rapidly changing ICT environment. Ally (2004) emphasizes the importance of instructional design strategies which encourage students to establish connections with new information to old, acquire meaningful knowledge and employ metacognitive thinking skills as key elements of technology-based environments. The design of e-learning resources also requires understandings in education, multimedia content, resource publication, and electronic technologies. In an ideal world, educators, instructional designers, eLearning media developers and graphic designers all work together to create pedagogically effective learning environments that are grounded in sound learning theories. In developing study material in the form of interactive study guides to be used by the entire university student population we recognized a need to move from creating and delivering printed study guides to producing database-driven learning objects that can be created , reused, searched, and modified independent of their delivery media. Authoring tools that are adequate for single user authoring and small-scale development, do not have integrated project management or instructional design capability. These capabilities are essential as the scale and sophistication of learning content development and deployment increases. Academic staff members at the University, supported by instructional designers from the Academic Development and Support Unit on campus are in agreement that educational materials that have been designed effectively will facilitate the achievement of desired learning outcomes . In academic environments- as in the case of this project - content experts often have to cope with very limited resources for developing e-learning products, which demands an efficient development process. For the purpose of this paper we are concerned with the design phase of the e-learning material and the project of developing application software for the creation of study material. As Brown and Voltz (2005) point out, good educational content design relies on appropriate authoring tools and delivery to reach its full potential. The situation in which the e-learning content and resources are to be created has a significant influence on the end product and should provide a stable environment for the creators of the learning material – in the case of this university – the lecturers. During the initial stages of the eGuide project the Academic and eLearning Advisor developed and designed templates for the creation of interactive study guides. These templates were created using WORD as well as PDF format, using the Adobe Pro XI program software to insert interactive material, content links and rich media sources, to facilitate the development and delivery of pedagogically effective blended e-learning student material. For the trial run of the project the final interactive guide was issued to students on flash disks as a PDF document. When the lecturer wanted to add “in-time” material (such as video material/concept videos, articles or newspaper articles) to the guide during the semester, the process had to be repeated and the document had to be formatted again to ensure the professional layout of the guide. This first attempt in the eguide project was a time-consuming process, as the lecturer had to be aware of formatting and lay-out throughout the creation process. Any material which was added potentially had an impact on the design and layout of the final guide. Over and above the fact that lecturers needed to be trained in the use of the Adobe Pro XI program software, they are not trained developers, programmers, or designers. The development of interactive study material has to deal with the integration of didactic, content specific and technical aspects, which lead to a very complex project, as soon as it moved beyond the initial 14 lecturers who were specifically interested in technology in teaching and who all demonstrated advanced computer skills. It became evident that there was a need for the development of customised application software to shorten the initial creation life cycle of the interactive study guide as well as to take the burden of formatting form the lecturers by providing a one-button-click-to publication application. The eGuide creation methodology as referred to was not regarded as and ineffective solution, but rather as the foundation upon which application software could be developed for the ongoing creation of interactive learning guides to make teaching and learning in a blended environment even more effective. During the developmental phase of the eActive application software which will reach maturity early in 2014, the current eGuide creation process continues. The development of eActive application software focuses on two main areas; namely, the development and adoption of an e-learning platform; and the actualisation of a teaching and learning environment for interactive guides. The objectives of this development was to design application software to simplify the eGuide creation and publication process and to ensure a more user-friendly process, resulting in a more uniform (lay-out, design) and “polished” end product. The solution was to embed instructional design tasks into a data store for the capture of information about module content including rich media content links, assessment and activities, assessment results and system statistics such as student activity with content within the guide. The development of this application software enables the learning content developers who are typically lecturers and who are not trained in instructional design principles to adopt and follow a good instruction design methodology in producing learning materials. Supplemented by a variety of templates and designs and most importantly a One-Button–click- to-publish function, this approach allows lecturers to adequately plan and execute the development of their e-learning study material without having the concerns of an unstable development creation platform, but rather a user friendly application ensuring a professionally finished interactive guide, with the focus on a pedagogically effective learning environment and student experience. The in-house development of the eActive creation platform aligned with the university specific needs affords the opportunity for educational designers to amplify the strengths and weaknesses in both the creation as well as delivery stages of the project. The success of the design platform lies in the user-friendly integrated development environment which also allows for the integration of just-in-time updates during the semester and the assistance in reducing the pressure associated with such a complex task as that of creating an interactive study guide for undergraduate as well as post-graduate studies in a blended learning environment at a higher education institution. References Ally, M. 2004. Foundations of educational theory for online learning. (In Anderson, T. & Elloumi, F. (Eds.). Theory and Practice of online learning. Athabasca, Canada: Creative Commons: Athabasca University. Brown, A.R. & Voltz, B.D. 2005. Elements of Effective e-learning Design. The International Review of Research In Open and Distance Learning. March.