Pressures on higher education to incorporate online technologies are likely to continue to grow. Some schools in universities may not be competitive in a few years time unless they have embraced online technologies, whether as an integral part of the curriculum or simply as another way to convey. A paradigm shift has occurred in the nature of learning with the advent of the Internet and the hyper-textual links it allows. Not only is the currency of learning material and the opportunities for interaction with this material changing the very nature of what could be termed distance education but also it is changing the industrialization system of development, production and delivery of that material. While these changes are occurring at the macro level in terms of institutional strategic thinking and implementation of technology plans, the impact of these changes raises many questions at all levels.
This paper is a summary of an interview survey to the Hong Kong stakeholders. The purpose is to collect their opinions about their experience and attitude in implementing online learning. A broad spectrum of ideas are discussed and reflected in this report. Based on the result of this research, a tentative model consisting of the essential elements contributing to the successful implementation of online learning technologies is developed.
Rapid advances in communication and information technology are changing the way people around the world work, play and learn. The educational paradigm in the next century is likely be a combination of synchronous, interactive learning. The 21st century will be marked by a decreasing parochialism in both education and business, with a trend toward globalization. Effectively integrating technology and pedagogy for learning in a networked multimedia environment with keen global competition is likely to be a major challenge for educational institutions around the world in the coming years.
It has been widely recognized in the research literature (Fullan, 1993; Bates, 1995) that effective internet-learning programs should include not just training on the use of technology. It must be integrated with pedagogical uses of technology to bring about learning for the development of life-long learning skills and other emerging goals of education to meet the demands of the information age (He, 1998). Whenever Internet computer technology is used in educational settings, it is vital to reflect in how this affects students, teachers, courses and institutions (Barr & Tagg, 1995). With todays Internet technology it is natural to focus on interaction. In fact the Internet should first of all be perceived as an interaction technology. Different school of thoughts and practices are emerging in the hope of reaching a perfect model for introducing Internet technologies to higher education.
Geographically, Hong Kong is very small. There is really no reason in having difficulty to go to school campus because of distance. However, life is fast and hectic. Distance learners increase rapidly in recent years due to demand of learning and the improvement of technology that makes distance learning easier via Internet. Student behavior and expectation have attracted education policy makers, technology supporters and teachers to think seriously of a model that will comprise all the critical success factors for implementing online technologies into current practice. The common problem now in the higher education sector in Hong Kong is to identify a practical way to introduce technology based learning that can fit the teachers and students expectations. The first stage for doing this is to identify the essential elements that contribute to success. This research will focus on the perspectives of education policy makers, technology supporters and teachers.
After a review of the literature on the needs and advantages of Internet learning, this research will try to answer two questions:
Firstly, what do Hong Kong experts see as elements contributing to successful Internet learning in Hong Kong?
Secondly, what do Hong Kong experts see as the elements likely to contribute to constructing a model of developing Internet learning for Hong Kong education stakeholders?
In detail, the following areas will be included in this study:
The research will be done by interviewing a group of Internet education stakeholders in Hong Kong. The process will include collection of relevant experience, ideas, visions and plans.
Since the Open University in England first offered undergraduate degrees via a "virtual classroom" in 1969 (Educom Staff, 1996), many other universities in the world have moved in similar direction. The California Virtual University, which lists 1000 distance education courses, and the Western Governors University, a consortium of 18 western states in the US are both examples of the partnerships being formed to promote distance education as a viable alternative to classroom instruction (Koss-Feder, 1998).
As the use of technology to facilitate and deliver distance courses has increased, new challenges have emerged for the administration, faculty, staff and students of universities developing and implementing distance learning programs (Fulford, 1993; Drazdowski, 1998). Many faculties fear distance learning is just a means of reducing their ranks, or a means to solve budget problems (Novek, 1996). Others fear the dehumanisation and alienation of students as well as loss of social and critical thinking skills (Novek, 1996). On the other hand, Swalec (1993) suggests that rather than feeling threatened, faculty should embrace distance learning as a way for more students to access their courses, resulting in a greater intellectual audience and less chance of a course being cancelled due to low enrolment.
In order to address the conflicts that inevitably emerge because the changes presented by distance learning technology, The University of New York Buffalo in 1999 carried out a process review to review the distance learning initiatives with three emphases:
Introducing new innovation concepts and implementing change process is always a complex process due to the range of constituents and factors in the process. Michael Fullan (1993) suggests eight guidelines for change in dynamic environment. The guidelines are summarized as follows:
You cant mandate what matters
The administrations efforts to mandate distance learning policies and technology, is likely to fail without the support of staff, faculty and students.
Change is a journey, not a blueprint
No one person knows what the future offers and no one blueprint is likely to succeed. Accepting this uncertainty, working with others moving forward is critical to success.
Problems are our friends
Education stakeholders should not hide from problems but to address them and learn in process.
Visions and strategic planning come later
Shared vision is the result of interaction between constituent groups but vision cannot be mandated.
Individualism and collectivism must have equal power
Group think is safer than bright leader for potentially new and invigorating ideas.
Neither centralization nor decentralization works
There needs to be a balance between control and over-control to prevent the achievement and acculturation of important change goals.
Connection with the wider environment is critical
In some ways, the distance learning technology itself forces this issue.
Every person is a change agent
This is evident in Internet learning environment.
Donald Kirkpatrick (1985) has suggested three key steps for successful change to new innovations in traditional environment. We may be able to adopt it as a reference in implementing Internet learning technology for distance education as follows:
There is a need to understand to what extent change will be resented or rejected; accepted or welcomed. (Now, most distance-learning providers have the assumption "that if we build the distance learning environment, they will come and use it.")
More than just listening; it means creating understanding between the different stakeholders.
Secure the involvement of those concerned and effected by the change. Effectively, few of those who will be affected by the change have been involved in the change process. More faculty, staff, students and administrators need to participate in the process.
According to (Schuemer, 1993) there are three important elements in any successful distance education program are content, technology and support:
Traditional instruction methods do not always transfer over to distance learning methods. New instructional designs need to be created and implemented to reap the benefits of the new technologies.
The proper type and usage of technology can make or break a successful instructional program. Knowing the educational outcomes before acquiring the technology will help save time and money as well as streamline the instructional delivery.
Receiving help from a number of different sources can encourage new users (both teachers and students) to develop and expand upon effective ways of creating distance learning methods.
From the literature reviewed, it is clear that there are three major areas to look at: content, technology and support in implementing Internet learning in distance education. Yet, there are a lot of questions not yet clearly answered in previous researches in using Internet for distance education in Hong Kong. Kirkpatricks approach looks like a very good and relevant strategy for studying this issue. It concentrates on the three aspects of empathy, communication and participation. Fullans eight guidelines give a methodological approach to explore the contributing elements in a successful Internet learning model.
RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHOD
Whenever a new technology becomes practical for educational applications, educators and decision-makers question the effectiveness of that technology as compared to the status quo. This was the case with film studies of the 40s and 50s, television studies of the 60s, computer studies of the 70s, multimedia studies of the 80s, and teleconferencing studies of then90s. Historically, the first stage in the adoption of a new educational technology has included a spate of research studies that compare the benefits of the new technology to those of the old. While most of these studies compare different delivery systems based on variables such as persistence, learning and attitudes (Whittington 1987; Moore and Thompson 1997).
These comparative studies have been criticized not only for problems related to statistical analysis, such as those addressed by Suen and Stevens (1993), but more significantly, for the theoretical and practical value of such studies (Moore and Kearsley 1995; Coldeway 1988). Although studies comparing delivery systems provide evidence that learning can occur regardless of the delivery system (Whittington 1987, Moore and Thompson 1997), they do little to advance our understanding of how to design distance-learning experiences to maximize learning benefit. As the learning problems increase in significance, it is critical that we marshal the full potential of our technologies in the solution of these problems.
The question arises of how to integrate what is learned from experience and research into coherent, clearly stated guidelines for planning and action. I will adopt a model of "management of innovation". It is suggested that such a view best illuminate what is actually taking place, especially concerning the implementation of initiatives in which the institutions and stakeholders involved are relative newcomers to both the use of technology and to distance education. The suggestion that the implementation of distance education be viewed as the management of innovation will not be a new idea to those familiar with distance education literature or technological innovation.
Innovation analysis defines those aspects of implementation that comprises the interface between the innovation itself and the user or client. Ibsen and Lewis (1993) propose an assessment of four dimensions including:
Survey Questionnaire Design
From the perspective of "management of innovation", this research will adopt Kirkpatrick and Fullans approach to design interview survey questions. The rationale lies on Fullans concept of "changing for Internet learning is a continuous process and there is no blueprint for its future ". Its success will wholly rely on the contribution of all the stakeholders. Also, Kirkpatricks approach of managing the technology changes through an interactive way by empathy, communication and participation. Base on this scope, the proposed different contributing elements are further classified into "pull" and "push" categories from the "strategy" point of view. The success of Internet learning can be achieved by maximizing the effects of these two strategies. The two strategies are elaborated as follows:
Information categorization technique is introduced in the information recording process and subsequent analysis. Feedback from the interviewee will be grouped into the following category for interpretation:
Internet usage history, role in Internet learning and capacity in using Internet learning
Vision, mission, benefits, concerns, issues, future growth strategy and positioning strategy
Content, technology, support, practicality and effectiveness
Personal view -
Confidence, attitude, satisfaction and suggestions
The interview template is provided in appendix A.
The target respondents (interviewees) are those who are now working in local universities and involved in using Internet learning (including those in experimental or studying stage). The first step was to contact local higher education institutions and approach departments to understand their present and future activities in using Internet learning. The top executive staff list was obtained and direct appointments made with the identified persons via telephone, e-mail, referral and letters.
The selected interviewees included: academic professionals, education technology supporters, study course supervisors, teachers, course material designers, researchers, government education policy makers and internet learning facilitators (telecom infrastructure and internet learning software developer).
Exclusions were (a) people who had no involvement in Internet learning and (b) current students. The former exclusion was due to their lack of knowledge or experience to provide meaningful comment. The latter one (students) will be handled in a separate survey. Target sample size is around 30 experts.
Interviews were conducted in a face-to-face mode. They focused on the questions listed in the interview template. Informal conversational interview lasted for about 30 minutes. Notes made during the interviews were used later for closer examination. The opinions were captured in plain English but a clear note of the respondents views on the question asked were also expressed in a 5-point scale between "like and dislike" (similarly for "accept" and "do not accept") immediately in the interview notes. The interview was conducted in a one-on-one session to avoid peer pressure, dominating effect and confidentiality concerns. No audio and video aids were used to record the interview process. The interview could choose to remain anonymous.
The interview result was confined to a short interview report. The results were consolidated qualitatively according to pre-determined information categories. Finally, a quantitative analysis was carried out on this organized data.
Since there was a great variety of opinions and comments during the interviews, these expressions were grouped in the following categories for analysis.
Support (Operation, policy and administration)
Although most of the target respondents could be easily identified and contacted, not all of them were available for interview. The interviews were done in a one-to-one situation due to the fact that most respondents preferred a situation in which they could express themselves freely. Therefore, no interactions between the target respondents were obtained. This may have lost some essential information obtained through cross interaction and discussion.
FINDINGS AND ANALYSIS
The 34 interviewees came from 6 tertiary institutions in Hong Kong and 2 commercial providers. The interviews were done in February-May 2000. The following sections provide a summary of the quantitative analysis of this survey.
Experience in Internet usage
Over 70% of the respondents had 1-3 years of experience in using Internet and almost 90% strong were at a familiar to excellent level of competency. This group of respondents was seen as very familiar with the usage of Internet technology and able to understand its strength and weakness.
Vision and mission
53% believed that Internet learning is worthy of a place in the higher education while 29% preferred to "wait and see". An overwhelming 82% of respondents agreed that Internet learning would become an important education model in the future. Only 15% respondent hesitated to say this is now a world trend of moving towards using Internet in learning. About 60% respondents had already set up a formal plan to monitor and plan for the migration to Internet learning. Only 12% thought that this was an essential target that should be sought at full speed, while the remaining 88% suggested a gradual and partial change.
Only a minority of 18% respondents challenged the advantage of Internet learning and its contribution to the learning and teaching quality. However, only 29% respondents could accept that it has cost savings advantages for teaching and learning. On the other hand, 70% respondents agreed that using Internet learning has the effect of raising the institutions status and reputation. 29% respondents further believed that it would attract more students.
Over 50% of respondents advocated a continuous support policy in terms of financial and technology investment to ensure results in the long process of change. More than the operational considerations, over 70% respondents insist actions in building social acceptance.
Only 23% low respondents believed that they had no technical hurdles in using Internet for learning. However, this observation does not preclude general acceptance, as 50% of respondents clearly expressed a liking for Internet learning regardless of the technical hurdles they had once felt difficult. The major issues that have been identified are (a) lack of supporting policy and (b) lack of incentives. Both issues are raised by almost 80% respondents.
Future growth and positioning strategy
It is surprising that only 6% respondents knew whether their organization had a clear plan for introducing Internet technology in teaching and learning. Further investigation revealed that only 20% respondents could give a solid growth schedule. A minority of 12% was able to explain some of the transformation strategies that had been discussed in their organizations. This observation shows that the institutions being studied did not have real action plans, although they all knew this is a way that they have to go. Moreover, only 18% respondents had considered how the importance of being a leader in Internet learning would attract more students to use it. Over 60% respondents suggested a practical and supportive approach in providing assistance to the learners with appropriate on-line material is far more important than just a high-class technology environment.
Content development and selection received a variety of opinions. There were big differences in opinion on how and what to convert to on-line material. 44% respondents indicated a full conversion is needed while another 44% of the respondents disagreed with this approach. There were 73% respondents who shared the common view that once a subject is selected to provide Internet learning material, the technology features must be fully utilized, otherwise an adverse effect will be created. 53% respondents further mentioned that these material conversion processes should only be done on a needed basis to achieve cost-effective results. The most important observation found was that 94% respondents strongly preferred to give teachers and students a choice for a mixed mode of classroom and Internet learning. They believed the entire transformation should be introduced gradually.
Technology and support (present level)
Regarding present technology in their environment, 82% of the respondents commented positively on accessibility. 59% respondents confirmed that their personal requirements are met. There were less positive comments about the present environments flexibility, maintainability and infrastructure reliability. All of these three aspects got less than 30% supportive answers.
General comments on supporting services were at a surprisingly low level of satisfaction. Services such as staffing, finance, administrative policy, skill training and incentives schemes were unable to get a high satisfaction rating from more than 20% of the respondents. Among these, adequate staffing support was the biggest concern. 73% respondents reflected a low satisfaction rate and urgency for improvement. The second greatest concern was the lack of incentive. Only 12% respondents believed that they could follow the technology upgrade requirements at their own cost and time. The remaining 88% of the respondents saw that lack of incentive may discourage them from following the rapid changes effectively and efficiently.
Practicality and effectiveness
41% of the respondents felt that they needed additional teaching material preparation time. This really created problems for them and had generated some resistance to going further. There was strong resistance in the teaching staff and 50% of them felt that not all curriculums are suitable for changing to Internet learning in any style or content. Only 24% low of the respondents claimed that they are ready for complete conversion to Internet learning. All these observations indicate that the additional workload in preparing and converting teaching material into Internet learning style had discouraged teaching staff. Although it was practical from the technology aspect, the willingness of the teachers was uncertain. About 18% of the respondents claimed that performance indicator cannot reflect their hard work and around 80% of the respondents expressed strong demand for improvements.
Confidence and attitude
The respondents expressed their confidence in different aspects including the service of technology provider, the teachers capability to command Internet technology in teaching, students ability in picking up knowledge through Internet and the capabilities of the administrative staff. Less than 20% of the respondents had concerns in the technology. In general, around 30% of the respondents did not have sufficient confidence in teachers, students and the administrative staff. An average of 70% of the respondents felt the present capability; environment and process are fine and are going to be better.
Only 24% of the respondents expressed a negative attitude and low satisfaction for their present support.
Detailed statistics are provided in appendix B.
The survey results indicated that the present Hong Kong education stakeholders are quite familiar with using Internet technology. The skill competency level, technology infrastructure and social acceptance are quite mature. These have already laid a good foundation for the growth of Internet learning.
The significant elements to successful use of the internet for distance learning include: incentives to teachers, good supporting service from administrative and technology staff, a clear growth and conversion plan for the traditional teaching material to on-line learning material, provision for a mixed mode of classroom and on-line learning.
Adverse effects to using Internet learning include heavy workload in preparing on-line learning material, irrelevant course curriculum, rapid and compulsory policy for implementation. The most unanimous feedback is a positive view for the future of Internet learning and its widespread acceptance with the advance of technology features. Most respondents are not really concerned about technology as they all see this is going to improve not as a demand from the educational sector but from the commercial and public demand. However, the educational sector will benefit from this improvement indirectly. One more important observation is that most of the respondents deny that there is a direct relation between using Internet learning and learning performance. The present usage is more in image building. Using Internet for learning will create an impression of state-of-art technology and innovative learning style. This will have some positive effect in raising the universitys status but no observable relation to the students learning performance or to recruiting new students. Universities will adopt Internet learning only if it fits their traditional culture as well as meeting a cost-effective standard.
The following recommendations for using Internet in distance are best taken as guidelines for thought rather than recipes for success. They are as follows:
Although "no significance difference" findings characterize research that compares one delivery system to another, we feel that it is premature to conclude that delivery system does not impact on learning. All media and associated delivery system have unique arrays of characteristics that can support cognitive and social processing in different ways. As technology choices become increasingly more complex, it is imperative that we begin exploring theory that will help us prescribe solutions to the problems of learning at a distance.
A comment by Bates (1995) encapsulates the educational common sense of such as an approach: "Technology is not the issue. The issue is: how and what do [we] want students to learn concentrates on designing the learning experience and not on testing the technology." I suggest that the findings presented in the previous discussion moves towards this larger view of distance education program.
Barr, R.B., & Tagg, J., (1995) From teaching to learning: A new paradigm for undergraduate education, Change: The magazine of higher learning, Nov./Dec., pp 13-24.
Bates, A, W. (1981) The planning and management of audio-visual media in distance learning institutions. Paris, France: Final report of the IIEP workshop, ERIC Document Reproduction Services ED 213 119.
Bates, A. W. (1995) Technology, open learning and distance education. London, UK: Routledge
Boud, D., Keogh, R. & Walker, D. (Ed.) (1985). What is reflection in learning? London: Kogan Page.
Drazdowski, T.A., Holodick, N.A. & Scappaticci, F.T. (1998). Infusing technology ubti a teacher education program: three different perspectives. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 6(2/3), 141-149.
Education and Manpower Bureau, H. 91998). Information Technology for Learning in a new era. Hong Kong.
Educom Staff (1996). Should distance learning be rationed? Point counterpoint with Larry gold and James Mingle. Educom Review, 31(2), 48-50, 52.
Emmert, M.A. (1997). Distance learning tests Americas higher education dominance. Connection: New Englands Journal of Higher Education and Economic Development, 17(2), 20-22.
Fulford, C., and S. Zhang (1993) Predicting student satisfaction from perceptions of interaction in distance learning. The Teleteaching, ed. G. Davies and B. Samways, 259-268. North Holland: Elsevier Science Publishers.
Fullan, M. (1993). Change forces: Probing the depths of educational reform. New York: The Falmer Press
He Kekang, (1998); Modern education technologies and education innovation.
Hermann Maurer (1998); A critical look at current web based training efforts; Proceedings of ICCE 98 Global Education on the Net, Vol. 1, 1998, Beijing.
Honey, M. M. B. (1990), Teachers belief and technology integration: Different values, different understandings. New York: Center for technology in education.
Ibsen, D. (1990) A model for implementing cooperative information systems in Chinese academic institutions. Ph.D. diss., University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario.
Ibsen, D., and J. Lewis, (1993) A model for implementing a cooperative multimedia information network (CMIN). The Teleteaching, ed. G. Davies and B. Samways, 451-458. North Holland: Elsevier Science Publishers.
Kendall, J., and M.Oaks (1992) Evaluation of preceived teaching effectiveness: Course delivery via interactive video technology versus traditional classroom methods. [Online]. DEOSNEWS 2(5), email@example.com. Message:get DEOSNEWS 91-00011.
Kirkpatrick, D.L. (1985). How to manage change: Approaches, methods and case examples. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Kong Siu-Cheung, (1999); A Case Study on the implementation of information technology education pilot scheme in Hong Kong, International Conference on Computers in Education 1999.
Koss-Feder, L. (1998 July 20). Brushing up. Time, 15-19.
Kotter, J. (1996). Leading change. Boston, MA. Harvard Business School Press.
Moore, M., and G. Kearsley. (1995). Distance education: A systems view. Belmont, CA:Wadsworth.
Moore, M., and M. Thompson (1997). The effects of distance learning: Revised edition. ACSDE Research Monograph Series, no. 15 University Park, PA: The American Center for the Study of Distance Education.
Myhre, O.R. (1998). I think this will keep them busy: computers in a teachers thought and practice. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 6(2/3), 93-103.
Novek, E.M. (1996). Do professors dream of electric sheep? Academic anxiety about the information age (ERIC Clearinghouse on Resources ED399594).
Niki Davis, (1999); The globalization of education through teacher education with new technologies, International Conference on Computers in Education 1999
Scrunshaw, P. (Ed.) (1997). Computers and the teachers role. London: Routledge
Sims, R.R., (1992) Developing the learning climate in public sector training programs, Public personnel management, 21 (3), pp.335-346 (1992).
Squiries, D. abd Preece, J., (1996) A comparison of learner and designer models in the use of direct manipulation educational software in the context of learning. Computer Education, 27, No. 1, 15-22
Swalec, J.J. (1993). Engaging faculty in telecommunications-based instructional delivery systems (ERIC Clearinghouse on Information Resources ED368418).
Suen, H.K., and R.J. Stevens (1993), Analytic considerations in distance education research. The American Journal of Distance Education 7(3): 61-69.
Verduin, J.R., & Clark, T.A. (1991). Distance education: The foundations of effective practice. San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Whittington, N. (1987) Is instructional television educationally effective? A research review. The American Journal of Distance Education 1(1): 47-57.
Willis, B. (1992). Making distance learning effective: Key roles and responsibilities. Educational Technology, 32(6), 35-37.
Yu, P.T. and Shyi C.W.; (1999) Intelligent computer-assisted learning system: a mental-model approach; A project report of National Science of ROC, NSC 85-2511-S-194-005.
DBA Research Interview Record
Towards a model of internet learning for Hong Kong education stakeholders
Part 1 Interviewee Information
Classification (per research definition)
Part 2 Interviewee Template
Part 3 Specific Questions
Experience in internet usage
Competency in using internet
Issues (attitudes towards these issues)
Future Growth Strategy
Technology (present level)
Support (level of support)
Confidence (level of confidence towards the item)
(Individual interviewee coded answers is attached as separate spreadsheet file)
Summary of comments
Issues (attitudes towards these issues)
Future Growth Strategy
Technology (present level)
Support (level of support)
Confidence (level of confidence towards the item)
SUBMISSION FOR PUBLICATION
About the Author
Raymond Szeto is Lecturer at the Open University of Hong Kong and Lecturer at London Guildhall University course in Hong Kong. He is currently working on his Doctor of Business Administration degree at the University of South Australia. He can be reached at: Phone: (852) 9017-9888, Fax: (852) 2735-2467, and E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Raymond Szeto - Phone: (852) 9017-9888, Fax: (852) 2735-2467, and E-mail: email@example.comPlease direct inquiries concerning articles for submission to Drs. Elizabeth and Donald Perrin