Teaching/Learning experience using eLearning platform

In this reflective essay, I am going to share my experience on teaching Information Security course using various ICT-tools. It was the fourth course that I was teaching in the span of one year at Lulea University of Technology (LTU). I got good reviews and some critical comments in my three previous courses. Those courses have some limitations in terms of aligning intended learning outcomes, teaching/learning activities, and assessment. Particularly, utilization of ICT-tools in these courses was limited to Fronter and Adobe Connect. Before teaching my fourth course ‘Information Security’, I attended two courses in teaching and learning in higher education. In these courses, I came across two theoretical lenses constructive alignment (Biggs & Tang, 2011) and conversational framework (Laurillard, 2002). The theoretical lenses were useful to understand how to align various teaching/learning activities and assessment process. Furthermore, the framework also helped me to select different ICT-tools and integrate these tools to teaching/learning activities. In response to the questions such as why two theories, I would say constructive alignment provides a holistic approach to align intended learning outcome, teaching learning activities, and assessment, but says little about choice of media in this process. On the other hand, conversational framework as a complementary framework explains nicely on selection and use of the media. For example, Laurillard’s (2002) framework explains how teachers and students create a shared understanding through discussion, adaptation, interaction, and reflection. She also suggested that in this learning process, media provide different affordances, such as narrative (e.g. showing some text and images), interactive (e.g. responding to the participant), communicative (e.g. exchanging ideas through discussion forums), adaptive (e.g. changing the learning environment as per learners need) and productive (e.g. where learners can produce something while learning).
To start with the planning of mixed mode (distance as well as campus) teaching/learning activities as Salmon (2002) termed it as E-tivity. My prime concern was to use the ICT-tools to actively involve all the students, especially distance, in the classroom discussions and exercises. In Laurillard’s word, I used media as an interactive (Adobe), communicative (Fronter and Wiki) and productive (Security Lab) tool. In this approach, I establish myself as an e-mediators (Salmon, 2004). I applied the E-tivity concept here to bring learners and e-moderator (myself) in the same platform using online communication environment. To achieve this goal as Salmon suggested, I asked my teaching assistant, to provide all the necessary information to explore the ICT-tools that we were using in the course. Thereafter, I asked my students to write their perception of information security as the first assignment. The idea was to socialize and understand their pre-knowledge and expectation from the course. The initial short notes from students helped me to get an overall idea of students’ background with regard to the subject. The intended learning outcome of the course was to provide a broader picture of the information security as formal, informal and technical controls.
The next activity was to make interactive seminar. In this seminar, the students were already provided with reading materials before coming to classroom. Thereafter, they used to write down the essence of the reading materials and try to form a shared understanding through debate and discussions on the wiki.  The biggest challenge in this case was to actively involve students in the discussions. For example, it was easy to engage on-campus student, but bringing distance students into the dialogue was not so easy. To tackle this situation, I used Adobe as an interactive tool. The benefits of using adobe are we can use microphone, chat room, discussion rooms, etc. to promote active participation.  There are some technical challenges with using adobe such as poor sound and video quality, and low bandwidth in the end user side.
In my teaching/learning activities, some elements of flipped classroom (Baker, 2000) were also introduced. For instance, I use to record all the lectures so that distance student can watch the video in their own pace and post their reflections and questions in the wiki. The use of wiki was not only for writing learning diaries but also for the group discussion. For that I divided the students into different groups and assigned a case study so that they can generate discussion among their own group members. The idea of dividing students into smaller groups was to enact the sense of roles and responsibilities among group members. The enactment was easy in smaller group. However, at the same time, I gave the liberty to every student so that they can comments to any other groups’ task, if they found some discussions interesting to them. I was continually reading and monitoring their wiki entries. I have also used the learning management system (Fronter) as an information organizing tool. For instance all the lecture recordings, prescribed reading materials, and administrative information were uploaded on the Fronter. The information security course needs hands on exercises as well. Therefore, I designed some lab assignments. The micro approach in designing lab assignments was PSI personalized system of instruction (Sherman & Ruskin, 1978). The idea is to give assignment with specific deadline, and make the entire assignments path dependent. It means they have to complete first assignment to attempt the second one. Moodle another learning management system was deployed to handle security lab exercises. Salmon (2002) argued that E-tivies take place asynchronously; however, I utilized both synchronous and asynchronous approach to provide feedback and critique as an e-moderator. Furthermore, the ICT-tools facilitated an environment where learner/moderator exchange their information, co-create their knowledge, and developed the habit of being responsible for reflecting and assessing their own in addition to peers work.
The whole process helped me to do the formative assessment more efficiently and effectively. Likewise, I could easily monitor the contributions of each student as an individual as well as a contributor to the group work. For the summative assessment, I used case study analysis instead of multiple choice questions. The evaluation framework was derived from SOLO framework (Biggs & Tang, 2011). The framework suggests creating a deep learning among students. Therefore, to assess the students’ level of understanding, I reassigned the same task to them that they did at the beginning of the lecture. For example, write about their understanding of information security. And, as expected the understanding of students about the subject was enriched. For example, at the beginning, most of them wrote that they think information security is mostly about technical control; however, after the course, they realized that information security is not just about protecting hardware and software, but it is an interaction among technical, social, formal (policies), and informal (culture) controls.
Teaching students with different cultural and educational background, and mix of online and campus students using different media in education is always a challenging task. One of the challenges in the online education is to create a sense of presence as Dreyfus (2008) call it embodied involvement. That’s why Salmon (2002) suggested that the first step in this learning   process should be ‘Socialization’. We have to create a rapport with the student. We as an e-moderator needs a lot of social skills to successfully implement eLearning platforms.
It is also important to make all the teachers’ familiar with the ICT-tools and pedagogical approaches. We need to apply useful and easy to use ICT-tools to the students. In my course, I found that once the students get familiar with the tools, they start using it in a very productive way. Likewise, teacher assistant plays an important role in providing technical support, managing assignments, and facilitating students to communicate with the teacher.
Similarly, conducting online examination can be another challenge. It is difficult to monitor the students during the exam time, and sometimes students get offended when they are asked to install spyware to take distance exam. One of the solutions can be to create affiliation with different distant educational institutions and provide examination facilities in those affiliated centers.
In conclusion, the growing use of internet and inter-connectivity have changed the teaching paradigms, therefore it’s a time to look for appropriate pedagogical approaches that can integrate the emerging technologies in teaching/learning activities.



[PhD Thesis] - Exploring the Link between ICT Intervention and Human Development through a Social Capital Lens

While it is generally accepted that information and communication technology (ICT) can lead to development, the process through which this may happen remains unclear. At the core of this debate is the very definition of the term ‘development’. In this thesis, I adopted Amartya Sen’s definition. According to Sen (1999), human development is built upon a particular capability approach. He inferred that human development is the enhancement of human capabilities (freedom of choice) in order that people can live a life which they value and have reasons to value. The capability approach has, however, been criticized for its individualistic stance. In responding to this criticism, this thesis integrated the societal level by adding collective capabilities to conceptualize development. Such capabilities, which are not simple aggregates of individual capabilities, are built on collective action that can be fostered through social capital. Social capital is characterized as shared norms or values that promote social cooperation within and between communities. It can be further categorized into three forms: bonding, bridging, and linking social capital. Bonding refers to networks between homogeneous groups of people, bridging refers to networks between socially heterogeneous groups, and linking refers to vertical ties between different hierarchies of power and social status. The research approach used in this thesis was interpretive; specific research questions emerged with the progression of data collections and analyses. The eventual outcome of the research process is a proposition that ICT intervention can promote social capital building process, which in turn encourages collective action that can create collective and individual capabilities. Two sets of research questions emerged during this course of action:
RQ. (1) The purpose of the first set of research questions is to understand the process of building social capital through ICT intervention and its implications for development.
(a) What is the process needed to create, maintain, and extend the bonding, bridging, and linking of social capital through ICT intervention in the mountain regions of developing countries?
(b) How does extended social capital foster development in the mountain regions of developing countries?

RQ. (2) The purpose of the second set of research questions is to further understand the process of building collective  and individual capabilities through a social capital and collective action perspective.
(a) How does social capital promote collective action in the mountain regions of developing countries?
(b) How does collective action enhance collective and individual capabilities of the mountain communities of 
developing countries? 

To explore the answers to these questions, this thesis drew on the analytical lenses of actor-network theory (ANT), social capital, collective action, and collective capabilities. Insights from the interpretive case study of a wireless project carried out in the Myagdi district, a mountain region of Nepal, were used to connect data and theory. Three rounds of data collections were carried out in ten villages of the Myagdi district within the span of three years. Data analysis was carried out to understand the process of building social capital through ICT intervention, and its relation to human development through collective action and extended capabilities.
The empirical findings are presented in the five papers published in peer-reviewed international journals and conference proceedings. Results show that the formation and extension of social capital due to the NWNP in the mountain district went through different phases. These related to the identification of the relevant actors, their roles, negotiations between them, and their interest alignment. The interaction between people in the community and the project enabled the residents of the village to create, maintain and extend their social capital. Subsequently, various forms of social capital, such as bonding, bridging and linking, assisted them in promoting collective action. This led to the building and development of collective and individual capabilities through the improvement of social opportunities, education, and income-generating activities. The study also 
identified challenges, such as over dependency on a single actor, a high illiteracy rate, poor physical infrastructure, political instability, and lack of participation, all of which may impede the development process.  

Based on the dialogue between existing ICT4D literature and observations from the case study, this thesis makes two substantive contributions to an understanding of the holistic view of ICT intervention and human development. Firstly, this thesis contributes to the conceptualization of human development. It describes the role of ICT, social capital and collective action in fostering the development process in the mountain regions of developing countries. Secondly, this thesis broadens the theoretical and empirical understanding of the process of building and extending social capital through ICT intervention.  It does so by integrating the complementary lenses of actor-network theory and social capital. This thesis also reveals some practical implications for policy makers. The findings suggest that the ICT policies and strategies of governmental and non-governmental organizations in developing countries should focus on analyzing the developmental context  before embarking on an ICT4D project. They should, for example, consider development for what and for whom. The project should be attentive in identifying key actors whilst, at the same time, enhancing local participation and the social capital building process in remote communities of developing countries. These underlining guidelines can promote collective action, and build collective and individual capabilities that can lead to human development in the long run.

To access the THESIS click here.