Virtual mobility in tertiary education : the impact of ICT based communication on learning
Idowu, Hamed Ademayowa
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Background and rationale for the research As the world becomes more of a global village, people are faced with different challenges. Some of these challenges include the globalisation of business and of the workforce. This has in effect resulted in increased workload for the people. However, in order to cope with these constantly changing challenges, there is the need for people to upgrade their knowledge on regular bases either by enrolling for further studies or by attending formal training. In some cases, this training has to be attended abroad - thus leaving the worker with the choice of leaving the work for the training or abandon the training for the work. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) introduced the possibility to access information and services, and to communicate with people who are spatially remote. Telephones, video conferences, and computers are technological tools that can be used to achieve this possibility. Consequently, the technology has the potential to substitute some of the travel that is presently associated with these activities. This substitution of travel through ICT based communication has been termed virtual mobility. A traditional university provides a location for students and lecturers to meet but at the same time limits the mobility of both. Learning and studying has become more global. More and more people spend time abroad at universities all over the globe. With this increasing need of studying and working abroad, ever more mobility is required. This mobility creates another special challenge: the possibility to attend courses over long distances. This overall mobility is highly desirable as it offers people the possibility of gaining new insights. Virtual mobility, can overcome this bottleneck, when applied to learning (especially in tertiary education), but places a burden on lecturers and institution owners to provide material and infrastructure for remote students. This dissertation focuses on studying the possibility of converting traditional classrooms into virtual classrooms, as well as putting virtual mobility in a strong didactical context. Research Questions The following questions are the subjects of this research work; 1. Can a virtual classroom replace the traditional classroom? 2. How can we convert a traditional classroom into a virtual classroom? 3. What are the technological barriers involved in the implementation? 4. What are the future developments in the virtual leaning environment? In trying to answer these questions, a number of tertiary institutions' instructors and support staff were interviewed. Tertiary institutions' students were approached with questionnaires to seek their opinions. In addition, some ICT technocrats were also interviewed. A total of 60 lecturers and support staff were targeted with 47 of them returning the questionnaires. Similarly, about 200 questionnaires were distributed to the students with 152 returned. Also, 25 ICT experts, technocrats and academicians were interviewed. The questionnaire distribution and the interviews were conducted in both South Africa and Nigeria as these two countries are the target countries for the implementation of the test prototype. Research question, finding and conclusion The investigation produced satisfactory results. These results will now be discussed with the corresponding conclusion derived from the investigation. 1. Can a virtual classroom replace the traditional classroom? There have been several efforts aimed at breaking the barrier created by distance within the academic community. Such emerging effort includes distance and online education etc. These are testimonies to the fact that there is the need for virtual teaching and learning. The acts of teaching and learning often take place in the classroom. Therefore, if virtual teaching and learning is possible then, a traditional classroom can be replaced by a virtual classroom. 2. How can we convert the traditional classroom to virtual classroom? This transformation will be an imitation of the traditional way of learning but in electronic form. The face-to-face interaction between the students and the lecturer will be replaced by interaction via online meeting, video conference or audio conference. The chalkboard will be replaced with a data projector and the lecturer chalk will be a slide presentation or presentation via media player. CD/DVD ROM will replace the class note and textbooks while an online library will substitute for the physical library. In addition, a simulation process will replace practical classes for the science students. 3. What are the technological barriers involved in the implementation? Creation of software systems for supporting virtual education is still problematic. The same functionality must be available for all popular user platforms .Aside from these, bandwidth limitation of the present internet is still a problem. The fact that there is no standard yet for software written for ICT applications in learning is a problem. Various vendors' equipment is not interoperable and this poses problems between remote users and an institution's equipment. This, in effect, will force both the institution and users to use interoperable equipment. 4. What are the future developments in the virtual learning environment? As technology keeps improving, there will be new development in the name of equipment, software and protocols. These emerging technologies cannot be overlooked in the design of a virtual environment. An obsolete equipment or infrastructure will cause a setback for the objective for which it was setup. Hence, I propose that institution owners look out for the following emerging technological tools during their implementation of virtual technology: IP Version 6 (IPv6) - This the next level of Internet protocol with 128 bit addressing which will replace the 32 bit addressing currently in use. This will accommodate billions of end users and equipment, unlike the IPv4 (the current Protocol) which will soon be exhausted. The New Network - The new network comprises of US 'lnternet2' and the European's 'Geant'. These are multi-gigabyte Inter-network, which provides for 1000 Gigybyte of data movement over the internet. These possibilities will enhance the use of audio and video equipment over the internet. Wireless and PDAs - Wireless LAN provides seamless mobility and roaming for users, thus beating the barrier caused by traditional wired LAN. With the power of wireless connectivity, laptop and PDA users will have the freedom to choose where to be during learning. Haptic interface - Haptic is the science of applying tactile sensation to human interaction with computers. A haptic device is one that involves physical contact between the computer and the user, usually through an input/output device, such as a joystick or data-gloves, which senses the body's movements. By using Haptic devices, the user can feed information to the computer and at the same time, receive information from the computer in the form of a felt sensation on some part of the body. A complete chapter (Chapter 5) was used to demonstrate a prototype virtual classroom. A virtual classroom was designed with particular reference to the Centre for Research and Continued Engineering Development (CRCED Vaal) of the Faculty of Engineering, Northwest University, South Africa. The design adopted the use of integrated local area network (LAN), wireless local area network (WLAN) and virtual private network (VPN) as the access media for the virtual classroom. The students and the instructor situated in a dedicated virtual classroom will access the classroom LAN via Ethernet switch, those not in the class but within the university's wireless coverage area, can access the classroom via the WLAN access points (AP) and those outside the wireless coverage area (e.g. those living outside the University) will access the classroom by means of VPN via the Internet. A collaboration tool was used for the implementation of this design, since it is an application that has the facilities for audio and video communications. It also has facility for chatting, exchanging files, documents and the ability to jointly work on an application. Of most importance to this work is the whiteboard, which could be used to do a slide presentation by the instructor during teaching. Students who are remote to each other can also use the whiteboard for tutorials and group discussions. Out of many applications with these features, Microsoft's Net meeting was used for the implementation of this design. Conclusion Virtual mobility can be applied to learning because a large number of people are willing to enroll for further studies. These people could not attend a traditional classroom, due to job and/or family responsibilities. The investigation also revealed that a large number of people are enthusiastic in using technology for their day-to-day activities but called for support services, which will make their experiences more worthwhile. In a similar manner to demand and supply, increase in demand causes a corresponding increase in supply and vice versa. Hence, the more the number of virtual school we have, the more the number of enrollment that will be expected because technology has really transformed the behavior of the people. Finally, because of the fact that human natural environment for socialisation is the physical (or geographical) space, our psych has been accustomed to this environment and we believe so much in it. Virtual space (or cyberspace) which brought another environment for socialisation has really proved to be very successful but the lack of physical face-to-face contact still makes it impossible for people to fully embrace it. Hence, virtual learning may not totally replace traditional learning but can supplement or complement it, Secondly, we can only replace the traditional classroom with a virtual classroom for some selected courses. Thirdly, the technological barriers can be overcome by training and making support services available for the end users. Fourthly, any mobility project should take into consideration future developments in their VM implementation to prevent their project from being obsolete before its completion.
- Engineering