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Distance learning in Lviv Polytechnic National University: the student can choose the time, place and speed

The first vice-rector of Lviv Polytechnic National University Volodymyr Pavlysh tells about the distance learning specifics, peculiarities of its functioning and its implementation in the university.

Technologies change the world

— Why is distance learning development important for the university?

— The process of industrial society transition to information society requires some essential technologic improvement of educational services provision and search of new approaches to learning. The distance learning (further DL) is one of such technologies which gained ground in the beginning of 70s. It was the outcome of open universities (distance learning universities) establishment. Nowadays there are a few educational institutions in each European country implementing distance learning programs. DL methodology is developed enough.

Distance learning includes the complex of educational services which can be provided for the persons by distance sharing of learning information with the help of the special information space based on informational and telecommunicational applications and services integration. Namely, this is a new way of educational process organization based on self-education principle. Usually the time zone and (or) location of the students and the lecturer differs, but they have the possibility to communicate with the lecturer via telecommunicational tools.

— Which pros and cons does the distance learning have?

— DL has a lot of advantages. Our students will be able to choose the place, time and learning speed. This is also an opportunity to use different learning tools and methods, the newest infocommunicational technologies; effective use of educational territory, technical tools and vehicle. DL gives person the opportunity for getting knowledge and their lifelong improvement, opens equal educational possibilities to everybody regardless health condition, home location (no territorial restrictions at all), material status (learning costs are lower than correspondence courses costs).

Among disadvantages there are some difficulties with students’ identification and effective monitoring of their learning and its good quality insurance. Some nuances are linked to international context: this is the language problem while teaching foreigners; recognition of distance learning courses and levels equality; mutual diplomas, certificates and curricula recognition.

In the world and in Ukraine

— What is an international experience on DL implementation?

— In the last decade DL becomes more and more popular among the youngsters. Crucial changes in the information space took place in the last 5-6 years: a few hardware and software platforms and decisions appeared and the role of compact mobile devices appeared, the technologies of remote data store develop actively. New informational resources appear constantly. As a result, the resources become cheaper, we have instant and widespread access to information, and we don’t need massive PC anymore. Communication, collaboration and informational spread become much easier than it was before.

Such countries as Great Britain, the USA and Canada invest much money in distance learning development. In 2011 some huge educational project Open online courses, considered to be a real revolution in the educational area. Thanks to the project everybody can access different courses held by the best lecturers from world-known universities. There are complete courses and assessments. The courses are practically free. Anybody can become a student. When the student completes the courses, he/she receives the certificate by post. Nowadays there are a few online-courses platforms with the university level. The biggest ones are Coursera, Udacity and edX in the USA. There were over 1 million of enrolled students for the Coursera courses in 2012 (this is 10 times more than in 2011), there are over 13 000 Ukrainians among them.

— What does the distance learning development concept provide in Ukraine?

— The concept approved by MES of Ukraine in December, 20, 2000 and provides the establishment of educational system, which will make the number of educational services customers bigger, realize the principle “lifelong education” and individualize the learning within mass education. The concept explains the motto and principles of Ukrainian distance learning system creation and functioning. The first stage (in 2001) was all about creating some organizational structure, legal framework, material-technical background of regional and local distance learning centres etc., and the second (2002-2003) – about wide spread of distance learning, implementation of licensing system, attestation and accreditation of the institutions, integration of Ukrainian distance learning system into the world system and so on. In 2003 the Government of Ukraine approved the Program for distance learning system in 2004-2006. In 2004 MES approved the first regulation on DL, and the second in 2013. The other resolutions of the Government and the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine supported Ukrainian distance learning development.

Today Ukrainian distance learning system organizational structure includes the Council for distance learning monitoring at the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, coordinating MES Council on distance learning, Ukrainian distance learning center on the basis of Kyiv Polytechnic, regional centres in Kharkiv, Lviv, Odesa, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, Khmelnytsk. DL centres are established in a lot of universities, particularly in Lviv Institute of Management.

In the Polytechnic

— To which extend is the Polytechnic ready for DL implementation?

— The virtual learning environment (VLE) is based on the MOODLE (Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment) platform. This is the classic client-server application mainly oriented for interaction between a lecturer and a student organization and distance courses management. Among the main MOODLE advantages are that it is free of charge also it has wide functional possibilities and forums and chats organizing option: different students can mutually work with the documents, and the lecturers can use integrated tools for courses development. The system responds to the international DL standards, particularly to the most spread one called SCORM. According to the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies survey the MOODLE got 11th position in TOP-100 educational tools and the first in the best DL courses management system category.

Now there are 640 certified educational-methodological complexes (AMC) in Polytechnic VLE, about 1500 AMCs are almost completed. However, they are not adapted to DL. There are some technical problems with providing student-lecturer interaction in real time. There is no regulatory support of DL in the university (overall in Ukraine it needs significant improvement), at present there is also lack of lecturers with needed skills.

— When discussing distance learning during the planned meeting of the Academic Board held in December the emphasis was put on VLE. What needs to be done in order to DL technology start to function completely?

— It is very important for administration and scientific-pedagogical staff to realize DL implementation necessity. The explanatory work is needed. The resolution of the University Academic Board in December, 24, 2013 about the expediency of distance learning implementation in the university was the background for this. ICSIT as being the most developed educational-scientific institute was considered to be the basic one for DL technology implementation. Also there is a need to develop system of phased DL implementation measures, ensure its quality, adapt developed AMCs to this technology, provide advance of qualification level of the lecturers and work out some regulatory framework instantly. Completion of basic information systems and services and additional, newest tools purchase are topical. Informational technologies develop rapidly – we cannot ignore that. There is the quote in «Alice in Wonderland»: «here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that». It refers to us as well, because we just started to develop DL.

— Will anything change in the Institute of Distance learning?

— This name never responded to the real activity of the institute: this is the only one educational structural unit which only accompanies students and is not responsible for the quality of their learning! How can such unit have any future?..

— It is difficult not to agree with the Commission on Education that some technical subjects cannot be learnt remotely. Maybe, more appropriate way is to mix remote and traditional approaches?

— You are right. Exactly this option is appropriate for some technical disciplines, since the students should work with the real equipment and make some experiments and researches in order to get practical skills. Computer modeling cannot be an alternative to everything. Although, nowadays there are some remote systems of laboratory practice, computer simulators based on the mathematical models of researched objects and processes, computer-aided systems of professional and scientific activities, which can be used by the students for solving some practical problems while designing for course-papers or diplomas.

Competent lecturer, independent student

— What is lecturer’s role in the university?

— DL implies the principles of the educational process change: this is a student-oriented approach. And learning implies independent creative work with individual curriculum which student coordinates with the lecturer. It can be either synchronic, when the student and the lecturer communicate in the real time in some virtual auditoriums or asynchronic when the student regulates pace of learning and communicates with the lecturer depending on finishing planned tasks.

The lecturer’s role is quite important. They have to develop and present educational-methodological complexes of their disciplines in the virtual learning environment and also determine the main learning methods, develop forms of control and assessment criteria etc. The lecturer must become mentor-tutor, student’s supervisor. Evidently, some qualification is needed as well as ability to work with the students individually. And, of course, appropriate informational competences: ability to use internet resources, master new communicational techniques, use multimedia tools, and take part in different forms of interaction, e.g. videoconferences.

— Big responsibility falls on the student…

— Correlation between class and individual work in average is about 1:3,5. Individual students’ work is crucial. This implies working with curriculum, test systems and informational databases. In addition to electronic course books VLE includes some multimedia tools, self-control and self-correction tools for learning activity etc. Also the student interacts with the lecturer and other students and this prompts the student to prepare for the discussions properly. Flexibility is one of the DL features. Everyone can work as much as he/she needs to. According to SPI International for the Department of Education research, DL can even become much more effective than the other traditional approaches.