Challenges associated with effective task execution in a Virtual Learning Environment: A case study of Graduate Students of a University
Abstract: Context: In recent years, more and more people have started showing an increasing interest in distance or web-based education. Some of the reasons for this are the improvement in information and communication technology, as well as advancement in computer networking infrastructures. However, although computer technology has played an important role for the development of distance learning management systems, the underlying goal of such systems is the delivery of competitive and qualitative education via the distance learning environment. There have been a number of research studies and investigations in the field of Computer supported collaborative learning. This particular study is focused on the challenges associated with task execution in a distance learning environment as perceived by graduate students at a university. Objectives: The main focus or rationale behind this study is to investigate the importance of computer mediated communication tools in a virtual learning environment, as well as the problems facing the teachers or facilitators in their attempt to help learners (students) in the process of task execution, and towards achieving the learning goals in a web-based learning system. Methods: The author has adopted a qualitative case study approach. Questionnaires were sent out to some of the graduate students of BTH that participated in the online course under investigation, “Work integrated e-learning”, and some of these students were interviewed as well. Interviews were also conducted with two professors of Informatics and active researchers in distributed or e-learning in a University in Sweden that has had many years of experience in providing distance learning education. The empirical material was then analyzed, using cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) as a theoretical framework Results: The results indicate that more communication and collaborative interaction is needed in the context of the studied e-learning management system. The students expected the provision of more video communication through the learning platform. Furthermore, the results show that the learning in the studied web-based environment is centered on the students. Conclusions: The author concludes that in order to diminish the gap that exists between face-to-face learning/teaching and an e-learning environment, there is a need for the designers and facilitators of the e-learning management system to make this platform more interactive. Additionally, the author concludes that the concept of Open start free pace (OSFP) or strict deadlines may need to be introduced into distance learning education in order to solve the challenges facing the teachers and facilitators.
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