Lecturing series: Use of E-Learning Portals

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In the next in the series of articles on university lecturing, we will look at how to develop your use of e-learning portals.

What is e-learning?

All lecturers are now expected to engage with the idea of e-learning. It stands for ‘electronic learning’ and refers to the use of electronic resources during teaching. Many universities now have an integrated system for delivering their e-learning, such as WebCT or Moodle. You will probably be asked about this in job interviews, so make sure you know what system that institution uses.

How can it benefit students?

You can use an e-learning portal to provide materials to support their classroom learning or provide a whole new aspect to it.

So, you could post lecture notes and slides electronically, so that students can revise from them or those who couldn’t attend can catch up. This also benefits students with learning difficulties such as dyslexia who may find it difficult to take notes during a hastily delivered lecture, but can absorb the information easily when reviewing a text version on the web.

Other materials, such as set readings scanned in and digitised, can be provided easily. This has the advantage of allowing students access from their computer terminal without having to go elsewhere to find a resource. Many university libraries and laboratories no longer have the resources to provide a copy of materials for every student, so by providing electronic versions it means that students can all have access.

Web portals can also be used to communicate a message to a cohort of students and make announcements about, for example, assessments or changes of plan. Students can use it to contact their lecturer rather than spending a looking for their lecturer in person.

Being innovative?

Some lecturers take their use of e-learning a step further and rather than just supporting their current practice, use it to develop new ideas.

Instead of lecturing to students in a room, lectures can be delivered via podcast. Learning activities can also take place virtually with students sharing ideas such as discussions on a wiki or forum.  Quizzes and tests can be completed online. This is an especially good method for a multiple choice-type test.

Practical problems:

The use of e-learning  portals is not without difficulties. Sometimes there can be teething problems, especially with large numbers of students being involved at the very start of the year. This can mean that access if very slow or that the system does not behave as it should.

Technical difficulties can consume your time and make life harder for students and you. What starts out as an innovation or a labour-saving device can develop into a source of stress, especially if the technical support provided by your institution or the creators of the web portal is not prompt or efficient.

There is also the important issue of copyright. You must ensure that you have permissions to display any materials you put on the portal. Most universities have copyright agreements for a limited amount of material for teaching purposes but check with your librarian if you are unsure.

Pedagogical Issues:

It is also important to consider the pedagogical merit of using e-learning. In some cases, such as online degree courses, it has replaced face to face teaching altogether. In most institutions, though, it will be used along side traditional teaching. You need to make sure that in using this technology, your students’ learning experience is enhanced rather than merely changed.

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