Keynote Address


Virtual Teaching Tools: Bringing academics closer to the design of e-learning

Diana Laurillard and Patrick McAndrew, Open University


The paper argues that, for e-learning to be successful, academics need to become professional teachers, in the sense of being reflective practitioners in the pedagogy of their subject. They need support from production professionals, as they should not be expected to embrace the technical skills necessary. However, it is important that academics remain close to the capabilities of the media, as they must design the learning experience in terms of the way they wish students to engage with the knowledge and skills they are teaching. This means that the teaching tools we create for academics must embody the experience of what works for the learner, and must be easy for academics to use to generate their own successful learning experiences for students.

The idea of a Ďgeneric learning activity modelí is that it should provide a virtual teaching tool for the academic that embodies good pedagogic practice, building on an iterative design and evaluation process. Such generic models could enable professional teachers to share ideas, build on each otherís work, and so develop best practice in e-learning. This would be the beginning of the kind of collective R&D program we need to generate innovative and effective teaching through Web-based learning.

The paper will present examples of generic models, designed to support students in learning the skills of scholarship through the dialogic forms of collaboration and co-operation offered by a Web-based environment. The examples draw on research conducted in the UK and in Australia to test the feasibility of the approach. Such tools are indeed feasible, but the results show, for example, that as teaching ideas are shared and practice transfers, the original pedagogic ideas can develop differently in the new teaching context. In this way, academics mirror the learning mode of their students, as they learn about pedagogy through dialogic collaboration.

In conclusion, we will consider what the research tells us about how the academic community can use virtual teaching tools of this kind to build on each otherís work, and create a functioning reflective practicum (SchŲn, 1987) for the pedagogy of a discipline.