The emergence of a curriculum model for online learning in a context of late investment in distance education
AbstractECER 2015 "Education and Transition - Contributions from Educational Research", Corvinus University of Budapest from 7 to 11 September 2015.
This paper reports the development of MAPE - a curriculum model for virtual learning at the University of the Azores (UA). After being used for teaching Curriculum Theory and Development to graduate students and to second-year undergraduate students, the model was, in the academic year 2014/15, used, for the first time, in the first semester of an undergraduate program. The paper is focused on the lessons learned in this new context.
E-learning is clearly expanding worldwide, as many studies have shown. In the USA, for example, roughly a third of higher education students took at least one online course in 2011 (Means, 2014). In Brazil, in 2013, over 15% of the graduate programs were offered via distance education (INEP, 2013). In Europe, findings from a recent study, which involved 249 institutions from 38 countries, reveal that almost all of them somehow practice e-learning, although in half of the cases e-learning is not clearly integrated into an institutional strategy (Gaebel, Kupriyanova, Morais & Colucci, 2014). Portugal follows this tendency for growth, but, according to a recent study (Dias et al., 2014), such growth still occurs at a low level of normalization and integration into institutional policies.
In the specific case of UA, e-learning is at a very early stage of development. The full virtualization of a program, or even a course, is still a rare phenomenon at this institution. The development of MAPE - which is supported by Moodle platform - is, so far, the most enduring e-learning experience carried out at UA. An institutional strategy for distance education can hardly be found at UA, although it has been suggested in official documents that such strategy should be developed, preferably a strategy that might consider the remoteness of the Azorean territory and the fact that it is an archipelago with nine islands, three of which have UA campuses.
Considering that e-learning is just emerging in this context, its development should include the study of how the first experiences progress, in order to generate knowledge that can contribute to a sustainable strategy of growth. Accordingly, the project reported in this paper addresses the following research question: what are the characteristics of a curriculum model for distance learning that meets the specific needs of of UA?
MAPE model is Modular - because it supports the organization of instruction in modules -; Asynchronous - because it explores possibilities "beyond replication of the face-to-face classroom experience" (Maddrell & Morrison, 2013, p. 271) -; Participatory - because it is based on socioconstructivist theories and, therefore, values knowledge construction "through the joint discussion of conceptions and meaning-making" (Hmelo-Silver, Jordan & Sinha, 2013, p. 457) -; and Emergent - because it is still at an early stage of development and uses "phronetic (local, contextually constrained) knowledge" (Willis, 2009, p. 17), which means that expectations about the adoption of the design principles that it might generate have been, so far, limited to the local scale.
Student satisfaction with MAPE was excellent between 2011 (the year when it was implemented for the first time) and 2014. In the academic year 2014/2015 the model was implemented, for the first time, with first-year undergraduate students, who have not been so enthusiastic about its participatory nature. Other research projects, including a recent large-scale study conducted with thousands of Spanish students (Fernandéz, Blanco, Corbella & Aretio, 2014), suggest that first-year undergraduate students indeed tend to resist participation because they are not yet familiar with the dynamics of academic debate. Accordingly, the next version of MAPE will be based on the assumption that some circumstances require a gradual rather than immediate enhancement of student participation.
Sousa, F. (2015). "The emergence of a curriculum model for online learning in a context of late investment in distance education". Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, Budapest.