COMPUTER SUPPORTED LEARNING

Just as it will be the course organizer’s responsibility, in consultation with colleagues contributing to the course, to co-ordinate the availability of resources in the Library (books and reprints in the short-term loan collection, for example), all other aspects of resource-based learning will require forward planning with which the course organizer will have to be involved.

Various learning technologies (such as computer and multi-media resources) are increasingly being used in support of the learning process, presenting new challenges and opportunities for staff and students. A major resource being used more frequently is the World Wide Web (WWW). An example of its use in presenting information about course content is given in Case Study 1 at the end of this chapter. Wholesale importation of computer-based learning (CBL) activities across the curriculum is unlikely to be a wise or desirable move for any course. CBL enthusiasts have been predicting significant gains in quality and efficiency of the teaching and learning process for many years, but the realities have, as yet, been less clear cut. On the other hand, computer-based approaches in education have been subjected to more demanding criteria of evaluation than the more traditional approaches have ever had to face. One of the real benefits of the recent interest in new learning technologies has been the reassessment of our more familiar approaches, which has in itself been useful.

There are undoubtedly areas of the curriculum, however, in which the appropriate and targeted use of learning technologies will be of considerable importance, affording students the opportunity to engage with materials and resources which would otherwise be impossible. In particular, the confluence of computer and communication technologies suggest exciting possibilities for the use of computer-mediated communication (CMC), in the form of electronic mail or computer conferencing systems, in support of tutorial and group work. While students are facing increasing financial pressures, with the implication that many are functionally in part-time education, the asynchronous communications with teachers and peers which CMC potentially offers can ease conflict between employment and study.

Many subjects, from Fine Art to Neuroanatomy, will benefit from the possibility of networked access to high quality images which may be in short supply, if not completely inaccessible, in the printed form. Computer simulations of practical exercises can allow us to address some of the problems inherent in teaching large classes, provide access to experimental domains which would not otherwise be possible for reasons of cost or personal safety, and circumvent many of the ethical difficulties associated with some areas of research. Many organizations and agencies exist which can provide help to the teacher or course organizer wishing to become involved with the use of IT in the curriculum.

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