October 16th 1997

STUDYING TO COMMUNICATE VIA COMMUNICATION NETWORKS

Introduction

In Fall 1996 the Open University of the University of Helsinki arranged a course called "Introduction to Communication Skills". The course consisted of 5 weeks studies an its contents were an introduction to communication skills ("Johdatus viestintään" in Finnish).

The teacher Mr. Mikko Koistinen had about fifty students in his group and less than half of them were studying in distance via Internet. The original idea was that the students could access the learning material from their home computers or from working places. That idea was not fulfilled, because only less than five students had their own network connection. Most of the students were studying at three different folkhighschools and they could use computers there, which was lucky for this course.

The course material consisted partly of Internet pages and partly of textbooks. The students could use a closed discussion group (newsgroup) for communication between themselves and with the teacher, as well as e-mail. They sent their exercises to the teacher by e-mail. The degree of new technology was very carefully planned because of the quality of lines and computers the students used.

Follow-up study

KAMU-projects Pentti Vertanen was observing the course and he has made a study of it. In this study the students explained how they experienced computer based learning in network.

Most of the students answers were positive or neutral. The material was generally well accepted even though it was modest and conventional. Interaction between students and the teacher was felt functioning well, but interaction between the students was not felt satisfactory. The students felt teachers prompt replies very positive. Compared with traditional distance learning, when response times could be several days, maybe weeks, the replies now came in a few hours or days.

Most of the students already knew how to use e-mail, so it was functioning well from the very beginning. We wanted to test a new tool, a closed discussion group with this course, and the course time, about 3 months, may have been too short for some students to adopt the new technique and to understand its benefits.

The students, who had a computer available and an access to the Internet, answered that independence of time and place was fulfilled. The course as a whole was felt to have been successful.