This article discusses two concepts, namely «computer-based educational environment» and «computer-based learning environment» of the University. Tasks, objectives and principles of creating computer-based educational environment (CEE) of the University. Issues of organisational support and some activities related to the creation of CALE in the Novosibirsk State Technical University (NSTU) are considered. The NSTU distributed educational computer network portal and the role of large universities in creating the regional computer-based educational environment are discussed.
Over recent years the creation of a computer-based educational environment has become one of the major trends in the development of modern education. At the time of a wide distribution of information technologies the concept of a computer-based learning environment is more relevant than the concept of a learning environment that emerged earlier. The process of modern education management and support is also increasingly implemented based on information and telecommunications technologies, which has led to a wide distribution of the term «computer-based educational environment (CBEE)». Since 2002, the Federal target-oriented programme «The development of a common computer-based educational environment (2001-2005)» has been implemented in Russia. Projects aimed at creating a federal CBEE and its regional components are being carried out within this programme. It is quite clear that these projects and the programme as a whole will be successful if their implementation is based on the creation of CBEE in separate educational institutions and first of all in large universities.
A university computer-based learning environment is treated as a complex of up-to-date computer-based educational resources provided with the necessary methodological, technological and technical, telecommunication one included, support designed for education and training. It is obvious that a computer-based learning environment can be viewed as a fragment of a computer-based educational environment. This educational environment performs the functions of both training and management of the education process and its quality, which starts with the enrolment of students and learners and marketing research on educational services and ends with the design and implementation of educational programmes. In our opinion the widespread definition of CBEE as «a software-telecommunication environment providing educational technologies for the training process, its information support and documentation in the Internet environment…» is not complete because it focuses on the technological component and ignores content-specific and methodological elements of education, which is education and training resources proper in the information environment.
The major objective of the University’s computer-based environment is to provide remote interactive access (in an authorised mode oriented to different groups of users) to all educational resources of the University. Remote access implies the availability of information to teaching and research staff as well as to students and learners both at and outside the University at any time in on- and off-line modes. By educational resources we understand learning, methodological, reference, normative, organisational and other information neccessary to organise and implement the wholle training process efficiently and to ensure a high qualitу of training.
The creation of a university’s computer-based educational environment is based on the following principles:
CBEE of a university is created step by step. In any large Russian university information technologies have been the necessary element of the training process to a greater or lesser extent for a number of years now. Hence, the creation of CBEE as it is currently treated means performing quite a number of tasks, the major of which are the following:
The present paper describes the experience gained by the Novosibirsk State Technical University in tackling some of the tasks listed above in compliance with the objectives and prospective development of NSTU CBEE.
The Co-ordinating Board on distance learning co-ordinates work on creating CBEE in NSTU. The vice-rector for academic activity chairs the Board.
The Board consists of the heads of NSTU subdivisions that are most actively involved in tackling the above tasks, namely, heads of the Institute of Distance Learning (IDL), the Scientific and Methodological Centre (SMC), the Faculty of Advanced Training for Teachers (FATT), the Information Technologies Centre, the Centre of Language Teaching Information Resources, the library, and the NSTU publishing house.
Members of the Board are also representatives of «developers», that is faculties and departments whose teaching staffs and students’ qualification and competence allows them to contribute to the development of computer-based educational resources. We can mention here the faculty of automation and computer engineering, the faculty of applied mathematics and information science, the department of economic information science at the faculty of business administration, and the department of optical information technologies at the radio engineering faculty.
This structure of the Board makes it possible not only to initiate activities on creating CBEE but also to follow the progress of work and to co-ordinate efforts of the University’s subdivisions in conformity with the stated objectives and principles.
Over recent years the Board has organised and held 3 contests of the University grants to design authoring tools from the University fund of 300,000 roubles. The requirements specifications are agreed before the contest and the work done is evaluated and accepted at various stages of the project. Three contests of web sites (and their fragments) developed at the educational subdivisions have been held. They were financed from the University fund of 150,000 roubles, which greatly stimulated the development of the intra-university web-site network.
Holding these contests and performing work stipulated in the grant requirements specification was accompanied by drawing up the necessary normative and methodological documentation: contest rules, the requirements specification statement, a model contract with the developer, etc (they can be found at http://ido.nstu.ru). The results of the work done are discussed in the net and at seminars. The Board has initiated and supported work on the creation of the University’s mediatheque that the publishing house, the library and the IDL are involved in. The mediatheque is created based on the information educational resources of NSTU including e-versions of all teaching materials published at NSTU over recent years as well as resources purchased outside the University. The mediatheque activity is stipulated in the appropriate refulation.
The seminar «Computer-Based Educational Technologies» is held by the Board on a regular basis. The developments designed by NSTU staff members and students as well as general trends in the field are discussed at the seminar. Besides, the Board of Experts competent in information educational technologies has been set up and functions in NSTU. Experts are widely engaged in running seminars, in expert evaluation of candidates while holding contests and accepting the developments proposed, and also in carry projects financed by the Ministry and international organisations.
The Board co-ordinates worc on creating an educational portal in NSTU. At the moment an interfaculty student design office is being organised whose primary task is to develop authoring teaching materials and web-sites for NSTU subdivisions.
The experience gained shows that under conditions of a lack of funds for creating CBEE, teaching staff members are little motivated to make great effort to master new technologies. But it is an open secret that public opinion about a teacher formed in the University’s teaching community is a powerful stimulus for them. So, the more widespread and used in this community new technologies are, the higher motivation to master them is. Therefore, some organisational measures are necessary to not only familiarise the University’s community with the developments available but also to give staff members an opportunity to continually improve their qualification. Besides, we should engage leading experts in this work. In NSTU these tasks are being solved through:
Under the guidance of Prof. G. B. Skok an educational programme for professional development of specialists in the field of open education developed.
Further development in this direction can be achieved based on communication of staff members via the University’s educational portal.
The creation University’s computer-based educational enwironment is to a certain extent ensured by the design and support of the net educational resources presented on web sites of its facultics, departments, research and instructional laboratories.
The development and support of educational sites, their structure, functions and underlying technologies have been implemented as a rule by enthusiastic individuals and at the moment do not fully meet the present day needs.
As mentioned above, for a number of years contests of web-sites of NSTU subdivisions have been arranged to promote this work and engage qualified teachers and students in this activity (see http://ido.nstu.ru).
The analysis and evaluation of NSTU educational web sites have shown that it is necessary to switch from separate developments to a systems approach in solving this task, i.e. creating a university’s educational portal.
In compliance with the general concept of the portal its main function is the consolidation of several resources within one web site. It is impossible to present and support on-line all educational resources of a university within one site as the experience of large Russian and foreign universities shows. Therefore, there is a task of creating a network of educational sites that are supported by various individual educational units but meet common requirements and, if necessary, use the same technological decisions.
In this case we have the University’s distributed portal that is represented by a set of the University’s web-sites that:
At the same time developers of these sites have much freedom in solving software, technological and design problems, in packing these sites with information and methodological content. All this makes it possible not only to ensure a continuing development of the portal but also its competitive position.
An educational portal includes:
An essential element of a distributed portal is an «authoring» web-site that is a set of services permitting an author not competent in programming to design an educational site of a desired configuration based on one of the offered designs.
One of the challenges faced in creating portals is their user-oriented nature. The desire to provide relevant information and appropriate services to different groups of users- students and learners, teachers and university executives- necessitates the creation and support of various desktops.
The existing software systems for learning and training process management such as WebCT, Catalyst, Blackboard and others that provide creating these desktops can hardly be used in Russia.
Consequently, there is a need to create a software system that will make it possible not only to design educational sites for the University’s subdivisions using some ready-made programme fragments but also adapt these desktops to the needs of various end-user groups in conformity with a desired configuration. This task is currently being solved at NSTU.
The trends in the modern education development evidence that large universities being the basis of higher and advanced professional education have acquired the following new functions:
It is impossible to perform all these numerous functions outside a computer-based educational environment. A Regional Resource Centre to support distance learning has been set up in NSTU through the agency of the TACIS DELPHI 1 project. A project of creating a Novosibirsk branch of the Regional Resource Centre of the Siberian Federal Okrug on the NSTU basis has been developed within the Federal target-oriented programme «The development of a common computer-based educational environment (2001-2005)». A centre of linguistic didactic and information resources has been set up as a constituent part of this Regional Resource Centre. It is planned to create a Testing Technologies Centre, which in its turn will further stimulate the development of the University’s CBEE and increase the competitive ability of NSTU on the market of educational services.