For the last decade, the internet has changed the way information is shared. There are many applications to this data sharing platform in a diversity of fields. Education has taken advantage of this wave and is struggling to keep up with the new technologies, adapting old methods to new online learning models of accessing and evaluating online classes. Relatively new online learning models are shaping the way students and teachers interact.
The development of online learning models, or distance education, has generated new processes for the functionality and organization of traditional educational management. These changes present new challenges that must be promptly identified along with the necessity to create new strategies to take advantage of new models of distance education.
The use of new technologies for online learning models has modified the classroom. The traditional roles of “student” and “teacher” have evolved, becoming a more indefinite entity. This modality implies a reduction in the typical role of leader and follower, while stimulating the student to participate more in researching and finding his/her own timing for completing the goals set by the educational system. However, there is evidence that these roles will not completely disappear, for the students will always require personalized assistance and guidance.
New media like the internet offer a great advantage for the student. There is a whole sea of information ready to access which makes it necessary for the tutor to modify the function from being a “knowledge giver” to become a guide and helper.
Online learning models have created new paradigms. Instead of giving a set of prepared materials to the student, it obliges him/her to search for the necessary information. Thus the teacher’s role is to show the way and to evaluate this information gathered by the student.
The biggest challenge for the teachers is to be able to narrow all the knowledge available to the student, focusing on those topics which are relevant to the course being taught. The student, on the other hand, must learn to identify the real sources of information and to discern what is useful. They also face the new challenge to optimize the use of their time.
To learn in this way implies a greater flexibility in the time and space dedicated to learn but it also tends to forget the personal bonds usually forged during the relationship between teacher and student. This interaction is the main foundation for a constructive concept of education, learning and educative culture. The traditional model based in interactivity focus more in the design of strategies and specialized materials, intended to be delivered to the students.
When educative institutions decide to develop online learning models, it is clear that they have to change their strategies on how students are evaluated and implement new techniques for evaluating online classes. It is no longer valid to make those evaluations based on the traditional way, where students receive a predefined set of information to be evaluated upon. Instead, the institution and the teacher must face the challenge of being able to objectively evaluate the knowledge acquired, which is often not the case in the traditional system, where students are more encouraged to memorize instead of learning and researching.
A virtual environment integrates tools for the students to participate individually or collectively in the educational process. It goes beyond the concept of getting together and exchanging ideas in a controlled way, for example, the classroom. Instead, it allows a much greater degree of freedom. It also preserves much of the individuality among them, encouraging the use of private research for information. These are some of the issues that arise when evaluating online learning models.
The tools available for online and distance classes include:
- virtual classrooms, where the teacher explains certain topic through live video conferencing, answering questions posed by students in remote locations.
- offline video conferencing, which is similar to the previous one, but the conferences are recorded and broadcast in an offline way.
- electronic mail and instant messaging, allow an effective instant communication between student and teacher, where questions can be posed and answered almost immediately.
- live chat rooms help to form a community among the students and to encourage mutual help and convenience information pools, which contain specialized material for the student.
With the aid of these tools, students have many options to achieve the desired level of learning expected for a course. It is easier to implement online learning models in higher levels of education, where the interest is greater and allows for more independent effort.
It is also important to evaluate the technical knowledge of the students, since for those lacking the necessary technical knowledge to work with these tools can have a big disadvantage and completely miss the intention and contents of the course, making it very hard to evaluate online classes.