THE VIRTUAL CAMPUS AS A TEACHING TOOL

 

Albert Gras-Martí, Marisa Cano-Villalba

 

Dept. Física Aplicada, Universitat d’Alacant, E-03080 Alacant, Spain

agm@ua.es, mcv@ua.es, http://www.dfa.ua.es/~agm

 

ABSTRACT

 

The use of the New Technologies of Information and Communication in Physics Teaching is an increasing reality. A new tool called Virtual Campus, that makes extensive use of these technologies, has been developed at our University, and is being tested. We have undertaken a research project that aims at providing information about the pros and cons of these new technologies in the teaching-learning environment.

Results will be presented of the full application of the Virtual Campus in the teaching of three subjects in undergraduate Physics. Various tools have been used: board information, subject-matter discussion sessions, tutorials and frequently-asked-questions converted into data bases, specific download areas, etc. This approach will be compared with conventional teaching practice.

 

THE VIRTUAL CAMPUS

 

The new techonologies of information and communication force teachers (and students) to rethink their role and the sets of activities leading to the desired learning objectives.

The Virtual Campus (VC) developed at the University of Alacant is an Internet-based service that complements teaching and administration. It aims at influencing the quality of teaching by enriching the relations among teachers and students, and overcoming time/space limitations.

This tool is addressed to teachers and students within the University: the use of the VC is limited by a password.

First we shall describe the VC project, and then how it has been used in the teaching of a few subjects in the Faculty of Science.

 

STUDENTS’ AND TEACHERS’ OPTIONS

 

Teachers and students have differents options within the VC, both in administration and in teaching tasks.

With regards to administration, a teacher may obtain class enrolling lists, may access his or her student’s data, may put up notices for the class, may update his/her tutorial time-schedule, etc.

With regards to the teaching of curricular courses, teachers may publish in the VC the syllabus and links of interest, may answer tutorial questions, may set up and moderate discussion lists, may create a list of frequently asked questions (FAQ) by the students in a given class, may post the results of examinations, and may publish curricular materials for the students to download.

A teacher only has access to options related to the subjects he is teaching that current year, like students lists, statistics of exam results, etc., and has no access to FAQ or debates, for instance, that other teachers have created within the VC.

In its turn, students may also perform corresponding administrative and teaching-related tasks, but only within the subjects that each of them is attending during that specific academic year.

 

USE OF THE VC AS A TEACHING TOOL

 

We shall describe here some preliminary results of a research project aimed at evaluating the possible benefits of the use of the VC in the teaching of ordinary university undergraduate courses. We have used the VC during the academic years 1998-99 and 99-00, with first and second year students of Physics.

We should note, in passing, that apart from the specific objectives of each subject, we made an effort to introduce the students to the resources available within the VC as well as to the use of other computer tools and laboratory hardware (the so-called CAL –Calculator Assisted Laboratory-, which is reported in another communication in these proceedings by Soler-Selva et al).

One important component of the project is the use of WebLabs (virtual laboratories available in the Web).

The lectures of one of the subjects (Applied Physics) were mostly delivered in the PC room. This allowed more interaction between couples of students who shared a PC to perform some tasks, and little distractions (due to the large number of activities that were proposed for each session); all the work done during the session was instantly recorded in the VC.

 

THE STUDENTS

 

In order to set the stage with regards to familiarity with PCs, we show here some results of a questionnaire passed to the 62 students of a class. One can see that ownership of a PC is increasing, but extensive us of Internet is still something for the future.

 

Student use of PC

Own a PC

63 %

Have navigated by Internet and use e-mail

A lot 10 %, little 42 %, not-at-all 50 %

 

FAQ (OR FREQUENT DOUBTS) AND TUTORIALS

 

Two of the more interesting options of the VC as a teaching/learning tool are the so-called Tutorials and Frequent Doubts, which we shall briefly describe here.

Students may ask questions about the subject matter directly and individually to the teacher within the so-called “tutorial” option. The rest of fellow-students do not have access to these questions (in contrast to the Debate section, which is obviously public). The teacher’s reply goes directly to the specific student’s mailbox (within the VC).

So far, the tutorial section resembles an ordinary e-mail exchange. But since it is implemented within the VC, it has two advantages: one, student’s questions do not flood the teacher’s (e-)mailbox; two (and this is the main didactical profit) the teacher may very easily transfer the (maybe edited) question-and-answer to another section in the VC, the so-called Frequent Doubts. In there, the questions are organized in topics, for a better localization. In this manner it is very easy to generate, during a semester, a good number of answered questions which are of great profit for the student’s learning (and examination) process.

Furthermore, the tutorial option has two advantages as compared to ordinary tutorials performed at the office (and usually only a few days before the exam): questions can be posted at any time, day and night. Also, it is a well known fact that in Spanish Universities students do not participate much during the classes; therefore, the questions posed by means of the VC are almost the only ones that the teacher faces.

 

STUDENT’S OPINIONS

We have passed a test asking the students for their opinion about the use of the VC as a teaching complement. We also asked them to include in the evaluation all the collateral activities that accompanied the use of the VC (Internet navigation, computer simulations –both simulation packages and JAVA applets-, etc.). Each question was marked between 0 and 10 points (10 = a lot). Some results of the test are given below.

Project evaluation by students                                  (mark between 0 and 10)

Average

Interest of the activities

8.9

Do you think that the VC helps in the teaching/learning process?

7.0

Should we increase the amount of time dedicated to the introduction of new technologies or, else, to the standard topics in the curriculum?

6.4

 

Therefore, the student response to the project was rather positive: they can be easily motivated by the new technologies of communication and information, they adapt readily to the new rhythm of the classes, and they feel that time is well spent and profitable. Some specific comments are like these: “The pros are many because I prefer to use the computer while I am learning ...”, “One point in favor is that attention must be kept at all times ...”.

CONCLUSIONS

 

This project has been positively evaluated (both by teachers and by students). As a consequence if the new VC tool, the need has emerged to reorganize the lecturing material in the immediate future. It would be convenient to redesign the course globally and rethink the contents, the time-table, and the computer activities (both basic PC tools and course-specific tools), etc., in a way that they integrate more efficiently the resources brought about by the new technologies.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 

We are grateful to the Secretariat i Vicerectorat de Noves Tecnologies of the University of Alacant, for sponsoring the project.