eLINC expands scope of online learning

Feb 20, 2003, vol. 26, no. 4
By Terry Lavender

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It's midnight and SFU Surrey's course website is humming. One student is checking to see what assignment is due for her entrepreneurship and business course.

Another is studying images posted on the animation: modeling identities and forms course website. A professor is hurriedly posting a change of time for tomorrow's seminar. Several students are in various conferences, either discussing particular courses, looking for squash partners, selling textbooks, or just hanging out.

The site gets 500,000 hits each day, millions every year, and with roughly 50 per cent of SFU Surrey's course content online, it's crucial that it be up and running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and that it be easy to use for both students and professors.

That's the job of the eLearning innovation centre eLINC which developed and now maintains SFU Surrey's course management system (CMS). The unit, which evolved out of the former educational technology and learning unit at TechBC, is now broadening its scope beyond the CMS. It's designing online programs for other units within SFU, partnering with institutions abroad and undertaking research into online learning, which they prefer to call technology mediated learning.

For example, eLINC recently developed an online bridging course for the cooperative education program. It's also working with the faculty of business administration in revamping its online GDBA program and in planning for an online MBA. And, says eLINC director Ron Marteniuk, through working with Nello Angerilli, executive director of SFU international, it has become apparent that one or two Chinese universities are interested in developing joint programs with SFU that would involve both traditional and online learning. If the program comes about, students in China and Canada would study in their home countries for two years, then take their final two years in the other country.

Marteniuk says the eLINC course developers do “something that is very rarely done - they start by looking at what the learning objectives of the course are, and work backward from there so that the course content fully supports those objectives. They talk to the students, and to the instructors, and they're always seeking feedback so they can improve the courses.”

Besides expanding eLINC's role beyond SFU Surrey, one of Marteniuk's major challenges is to ensure there's coordination, not duplication, between his group and the centre for distance education (CDE) and the learning and instructional development centre (LIDC), both of which are also involved with online learning. To ensure effective use of these resources, all three groups are coordinated by the learning technologies coordinating committee chaired by associate VP-academic Bill Krane.

Research into the effectiveness of technology mediated learning is another important objective. Marteniuk admits there is still some controversy over online learning. Some faculty members and other educational professionals are dubious about its benefits and effectiveness. However, he feels that a proper mix of online, or technology mediated, and face-to-face learning is very effective.

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