Furthermore, society — including student groups who want to combine studies with other activities and employers who need to provide further education programs for their employees — seems to make higher demands regarding the possibility of participating in higher education regardless of time and place. The Swedish government has also defined its demands on universities for providing educational programs for new types of students, e. This may in turn pose a pedagogical challenge to the traditional academic environment Regerings, prop. Flexible educational programs must be placed in a larger context than that of distance programs alone.
The distinction that has been made between distance education and more conventional education, often referred to as on-campus education, is on its way to being weakened.
The fast development of computers and computer networks has created new conditions for planning and implementing higher education Dahlin, The idea and aim of the pedagogical intervention The overall aim of the FL-project was to contribute to bridging the gap between distance education and oncampus education and at the same time promote flexible learning in both of these educational environments.
Flexible learning is no self-evident concept in either of these cultures — distance courses are sometimes more rigid than flexible while on-campus courses may be flexible in many ways — and, therefore, the concept of flexible learning needed to be developed further. Work on pedagogical competence development focusing on flexible learning does not only entail the development and implementation of formal courses.
It is a matter of a cultural change involving many people in the organization and therefore our realization that the character of planned pedagogical intervention had to be process-oriented. The FL-project was to contribute to increasing awareness, curiosity, stimulation, motivation, understanding and skills related to flexible learning. It is a question of identifying, analyzing and facing advantages as well as disadvantages, success factors and stumbling-blocks.
Online Distance Education and Transition to Parenthood Among Female University Students in Sweden
Method A central element in the FL-project was the competence development activities that constituted the pedagogical intervention described in this article. This intervention took the form of an academic course that is described below. Action research may be described as a spiral of steps where every step involves planning, action, observation and reflection Figure 1. From the very start of the FL-project to its conclusion a continuous documentation of this process was made. Figure 1: Action research, a continuous process. Source: Karlsudd, The action research approach has been far from unambiguously formulated, different researchers emphasizing different aspects.
Different terms have been used in an attempt to better define the approach. Argyris uses the term action science for the part of action research which is more theoretically oriented and action research for the practically oriented part. Regardless of the emphasis, the obvious common denominator of action research is researching through action. The FLproject required the participants to work with pedagogical development from a clear perspective of change, where need and target-group analyses were given elements.
There is a clear difference between the roles of course participants and researcher in the action research process. Tiller developed this circumstance and describes the role of the former as action learning, whereas action research puts the emphasis on what the latter does. The model allows for passing on and testing the experiences of other departments. The strategy of learning from good examples is quite relevant in action research Johansson Lindfors, Similarly, the resource persons involved in the work documented their views on progression and results.
A large part of this process was published on the public homepage of the course. The observations, positive as well as negative, made by the resource persons were then discussed within the project group. After the conclusion of the course a questionnaire with open questions was directed both to participants and to resource persons. In addition, interviews were conducted with the department management and the IT pedagogues employed by the department. The questions were formulated on the basis of the aim of the course and were all of an open character.
One way of checking the reliability of a study is by using methodological triangulation. This type of validation may have an intra- or inter-method application.
The intra-method application entails the use of several strategies belonging to a specific method, such as asking several questions in a qualitative interview, applying several points of view for elucidating the same phenomena. This was done in the group interviews conducted, which probably reinforced the intra-method validity. The inter-method application involves combining various methods for measuring the same phenomenon Svensson The study comprised questionnaires, interviews and observations, which may be regarded as examples of the type of combination described as inter-method triangulation.
The result of the procedure described above shows that in a comparison of the various data gathered the consensus of opinion was rather high. The participants have rated their own efforts somewhat more positively than the rating done by the course and department managements. The pedagogical intervention carried out within the FL-project focused on flexible learning and it involved teams of teachers from all the university departments. These teams were formally admitted to an academic pedagogical course of 7.
The principles of flexible learning were applied to this intervention. However, a number of compulsory ingredients were included such as the participants actively advising and assisting in a systematic manner the other teams from other departments that participated in the intervention. The process, documentation and analysis of needs preceding the development work carried out by the teacher teams formed the basis for the examination that was required for teachers to be qualified at the end of the intervention.
The development work carried out by the teams of teachers received support from pedagogical supervisors and from a technical resource group.
The intervention combined, in fact, three objectives. First, it aimed to raise the competence of the colleagues taking part in the development activities. Second, it aimed to try out and apply the support functions that had been established as part of the FL-project, e. The third objective — which was the most strategic one — was to help bridge the gap between distance learning and on-campus educational environments. Through dialogue with the pedagogical supervisors and the resource personnel, each team created — or re-created — a course, focusing on the principles of flexible learning.
In addition, resource personnel with expertise and experience in the field of flexible and distance education was engaged, including people employed by the university or elsewhere. Each team of teachers engaged in a different pedagogical development work that was divided into four steps, preceded by preparatory and planning phases that were led by the project coordinator for the entire FL-project together with a contact person at the given department. The planning phase included a financial assessment of the costs of all the four steps of the development work. This description evolved into the guiding star and target image of the pedagogical development work.
However, this did not mean that the new course had to be concluded within the time frames of the FL-project. During all the stages of the development work the teams received support in the form of project coordination, pedagogical supervision as well as technology, production and user support. Every department chose a course hereafter referred to as target-course where there was an identified need for innovation, change or improvement with focus on flexible learning.
Technical and to some extent administrative support was provided centrally from the FL-project. Revisions were continuously made at the implementation stage.
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The third step comprised the evaluation of Steps 1 and 2. The evaluation of Step 1 was performed jointly by the FL-project coordinator and the department.
The implementation of the target-course was evaluated in a traditional way. In addition, an evaluation was done in order to find out whether quality control could be improved.
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The contributions made by the central support functions were also evaluated. The fourth step of the pedagogical development work included dissemination of information. This was intended to take place internally within the department, mainly via internal communication between teacher teams as well as externally, via a web gate dedicated to flexible learning that was developed within the FL-project. During the duration of the FL-project 14 teams of teachers initiated some type of pedagogical development work with focus on flexible learning.
Three of these interrupted their work at an early stage due to time constraints. Previous knowledge varied among the teams and during the process the teachers encountered both problems and opportunities. At the beginning of the intervention many participants were confronted with distrust from their colleagues, but this gradually changed into a positive attitude.
In several of the pedagogical development projects, comprehensive course material was produced, including texts, video films, simulations, pictures, sound recordings, etc. Those were then made available to all colleagues at the university.
Some projects encountered technical problems, but these were solved with the support of the production team, which has enabled the groups to concentrate on methodological and pedagogical issues. Given the fact that multi-professional expertise was available at no cost for the departments, many teams took the opportunity to produce media of various kinds for their courses. One of the projects that dealt with management and accounting issues had an underlying hypothesis that young people today are mostly used to visual ways of communication and therefore they need further assistance in developing their skills to engage in abstract thinking.