What does interactive mean to a distance learner?

Within the DUCKLING project, we collaborate with three distance learning Master’s courses in two disciplines: Psychology and Education at Leicester. Both course teams are faced with a similar challenge in curriculum delivery: how to make the course delivery more interactive.

I recently interviewed a student who near completion of her MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL course by distance at School of Education, Leicester. Interestingly, she brought up the same issue in her interview. “I would have benefitted from the more interactive delivery of the course”, she said. When I asked her about what she meant by ‘more interactive delivery’, she explained interactive delivery at three levels:

• Interactive within the course material
• Interactive with the tutor
• Interactive with other students on the same course

The student thought the material was a bit ‘dry’ and reading it a bit boring. She wanted more interactive activities. Duckling has already incorporated podcasting into a module entitled Language, Discourse and Society for the new student cohort. The podcasts are developed base on interviews with people whose first language aren’t English and talked about their experience on how English was taught in schools at their home countries. Structured e-tivities are also under consideration to make the course material more interactive.

The student enjoyed her interaction with her personal tutor. However, at the beginning of the course, she felt the tutor was ‘in such a high regard’ and she didn’t want to disturb her tutor by sending her a lot of questions via email. The student also felt that in emails, sometimes the meaning is lost. It takes a bit of time to understand how tutors work or what they mean. Well, the course team has already planned to use podcasting as part of the feedback provision process. Will students appreciate that? Will podcasting offer a way of getting to know tutors a bit more, and for students to feel more comfortable to ask questions of their tutors?

The next level is interaction with other students on the same course, which is the most significant one if we really want to make a difference to the learning experience of distance learner’s. The team has already taken some steps on this. For example we have starting a discussion forum on Blackboard, moderated by an e-moderator. Other ideas are under consideration and planning. For example, student-created podcasts to capture students’ experience and talk about study skills and time management and so on, and Second Life for role-playing activity for both students and tutors to participate in. Will these be solutions to improve learner to learner interaction? I’m sure that we will have some answers to these questions through Duckling research.

Ming 23 April 2009

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  1. What does interactive mean to a distance learner?

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