The student of our distance teaching University is at the centre of the educational process, being guided by the new profile professor-tutor who has the task of supplying him with the tools that are best suited to make the web-based learning and communication process easier. The psycho-pedagogic and didactic model was born from the results achieved by 25 years of international research programs, and was realized by our Rector, Prof. M. A. Garito and by her research team.
The main educational tool of the International Telematic University UNINETTUNO is the Internet-based learning environment
where teaching and learning are carried on in 6 languages—Italian, English, French, Arabic, Greek, Polish—and it allows implementing a new psycho-pedagogic model that is characterized by the shift:
From teacher’s central role to the student’s central role;
From knowledge transfer to knowledge creation;
From integration between practice and theory;
From a passive and competitive learning to active and collaborative learning.
This psycho-pedagogic model is characterized by the highest degree of flexibility for the student. By this model, the student can build his own learning path in function of his educational needs and of his skill-level. A learning environment developed in such a way does not limit itself to offer rigidly pre-established courses, but it offers dynamic contents that can be enriched by other contents existing on the Web.
Actually, in the International Telematic University UNINETTUNO, the student is at the centre of the educational process; however he is guided by the new profile of the professor/telematic tutor
who has the task of supplying the tools needed to facilitate the networked learning and communication process in a synchronic and diachronic way.
In the Didactic Cyberspace
, the students actively participate in the creation of their own learning paths being guided by expert teachers/tutors. This guided path leads the learner into the various virtual places that were designed and in each of them it is possible to implement a training session based on a specific model of communication:
Through the digitized video lessons, the student uses a linear learning mode which is still linked to a classical teaching mode, but thanks to the modular structure of the contents, the student can exploits the hypertextual modes to study and consult books related to the issues being treated;
In the virtual laboratory, the student can check and enhance his knowledge according to a “learning-by-doing” mode, being supported “in itinere” by a tutoring system;
Through the systems of chats, forums, wikis and with the web-based virtual classrooms and on second Life, finally, the student can carry out collaborative learning sharing the phases of the learning process with other students coming from different linguistic and social settings through a web-based meeting.
In each learning environment, it is possible to integrate each single learning mode with the other ones simultaneously and enrich them with various possibilities. The multimedia term is intended in its widest meaning and the learning activity is structured in such a way as to avoid wasting time and confusion and promote the spreading of knowledge though various means:
From simple to complex (video lesson and intelligent library);
From theory to application projection (learning by doing in the virtual laboratory);
From guided exercises to research on the World Wide Web (the Internet);
From individual study to interactive dialogue between professors and students (collaborative learning through synchronic and diachronic communication and sharing tools)
The main didactic tool is the Internet-based learning environment www.uninettunouniversity.net. In the didactic cyberspace can access various learning environments.
For each delivered course, the student has at his disposal a conceptual map (Fig. 1), a graphical, two-dimension and hypertextual representation, in which the macro-issues included into each course, the lessons included into each macro-issue; clicking on each single lesson, the student can see the issues it contains and what the materials associated to the whole lesson or each single macro-issue that are treated in it.
In UNINETTUNO psycho-pedagogic model, the videolessons play a major role; they are recorded by professors coming from the best universities of Italy and of the world; then, they are digitized and posted online on an interface allowing a hypermedia use. The student can watch the videolessons according to a linear sequence, or decide to control the teaching process by pausing, going backwards or moving along the time-line of a lesson as he likes; and he can use the tools made available on UNINETTUNO portal: by means of the interface designed by UNINETTUNO, the student can surf among the videolessons, moving from one to another, within the same videolessons, using the indexing option that allows him to select a specific sub-issue treated by the video professor and play the video to the second in which the professor starts to treat that specific issue or among the more-in-depth materials related to that specific video lesson, by means of the box at the right of it.
In addition, in some specific moments, a bookmark (Fig. 2), a lighting signal highlights or one of the types of more-in-depth study materials listed in the box at the right of the video, indicates to the student that a specific more-in-depth study material associated to what the professor is speaking about in that specific moment of the videolessons. Through this way, the learning process becomes an hypermedia process: the student can access more-in-depth contents suggested in real time by hypermedia bookmarks structured by professors and researchers that allow him directly access to books and articles, that is to say texts, lecture notes, produced essays, selected and made available by professors and tutors, CD-Roms, multimedia materials, photo galleries, films associated to videolessons; bibliographical references and selected lists of websites, collections of references to external materials validated by professors and tutors experts of each single course in scientific terms; exercises and virtual laboratories.
Through exercises and virtual labs, the students have at their disposal materials that will allow them to put into practice the knowledge learnt through the study of training materials described above. The goal is to create a powerful synergy in the virtual laboratory so that theoretical learning and practical problem-solving co-exist in the correct ratio and fully integrate each other: the student will be able to think about his
experiences in the learning environment, and the abstract principles described by the teacher become motivated, are made operative and can be committed to memory thanks to the problem-solving activities. The exercises available for each course; the self-evaluation exercises allow the student to get an independent feedback, lesson by lesson, on which is the comprehension level gained on the specific subjects that he studied. The progress-check exercises, to be submitted to the professor/tutor through the portal, are assessed by professors who, so doing, will give their feedback and a direct comment on which is the learning progress achieved by the students on the macro-issues for which he is assessed. In the Laboratories, the students can utilize online simulations for benefitting from tools that would be accessed only from excellence research centres, as well as use theoretical knowledge learnt in learning-by-doing activities on materials otherwise not accessible; the professor/tutor supervises and monitors the student’s activities, who, once he completes his experience, automatically sends the sheet with the results of his work to the his own tutor.
The International Telematic University UNINETTUNO learning environment gives the student an absolutely active role; all the training materials are made available for this purpose. The student is not left alone, but he is guided by an expert tutor. This is the reason why the portal has a special area called online tutoring. On the Forums, and Wikis, professors, tutors and students discuss about the issues proposed by the professors, they further analyze specific issues, ask questions on key points of the subject being studied. In addition, Professors and Tutors plan synchronic meetings on regular basis in UNINETTUNO virtual classrooms (Fig. 3) in which the students can exchange views with their own colleagues and their professors via chat, video streaming on the Web live or in the virtual classrooms in the UNINETTUNO Island of knowledge on second life.
The student’s whole learning process is continuously monitored by the professors and tutors. The students are organized in classes, with a numerosity varying from 20 to 30 students for each class. The organization in classes allows tracing course attendance and the learning progress of each student in quantitative as well as in qualitative terms. In quantitative terms, the tracing system of UNINETTUNO portal (Fig. 4) supplies reports and statistical data on the individual study activities of each student: accesses to the materials of each course, time of use of the videolessons, time spent by each student in studying the texts and training materials associated to the issues treated in the videolessons. In qualitative terms, the teacher/tutor has the task of checking the students’ learning progress through exercises as well as during meetings taking place in the Virtual Classroom during which the teacher/tutor ask the students questions on the issues dealt in the videolessons and check their comprehension and mastery level of the these issues for each student and including their assessments on a qualitative assessment sheet for each single student.
These data, beside populating the student’s sheet that is used by the teacher to decide the admission or not to the exam of the individual student who is required to have attended the course, having watched the videolessons, having taken part to the tutoring activities to be admitted to the final exam, are aggregated and represent a tool for having a feedback on the progress of the whole class. By means of data that are aggregate per class, the teacher-tutor can immediately see whether there any problems shared by the whole class on specific course issues; once he identifies a common problem, he can take measures “in itinere”, during the same course delivery period, supplying more-in-depth study texts, moderating a discussion on a forum or planning some meetings on the virtual classroom meant to fill the gap that this feedback system allowed highlights.
The model of interaction between teacher/tutor and students applies the Socratic pedagogical theories, which are based on the fundamental assumption that involves not one-way teacher-to-student teaching, but an active participation of the learner in his/her learning process; the teacher leads the students to a personalized learning continually encouraging them to participate activelly in the construction of his/her knowledge. This construction is made of continuous and dense dialogue, exchange of questions and answers, that allow a direct comparison between opposing views. The art of “maieutics”, the Socratic method, based on the dialectic, is a method of an active and interactive learning. Socrates supports, motivates, and encourages his pupil to never stop learning, enhancing his/her work where it is worthy of praise and stimulating him/her when he/she encounters difficulties. The interactivity develops in a dialectic manner: the teacher against the student, the teacher together with the student with a single goal: the knowledge conquest.
The teacher/tutor offers topics and presents his/her thesis on forums, talks with students in the virtual classroom, determines the objectives to be achieved; the students study, analyse, reinterpret, revitalise and enrich the content with new ideas, new knowledge, create new topics of study that become the topics of discussion in the next interactive virtual classrooms. Students become active builders of new knowledge.
“One to one” scenario (learning in single mode)
In this scenario by means of meetings in chat and video chat, the teacher/tutor assists the individual student in the exploration process of different environments, providing a continuous assessment of the realised learning path whenever the student requests it. In this phase the teacher/tutor, through interactive dialogues in the Socratic style, helps the student to examine his/her reasoning and to discover and correct both the errors and the causes that determined them.
“One-to-many” scenario (learning in collaborative mode)
In this scenario, by means of forums, wiki, and synchronous appointments in the Virtual Classrooms on the Web and on the Island of Knowledge on Second Life, the teacher/tutor organises and structures the sessions of collaborative learning to foster moments of interaction among different actors of the learning process. The teacher/tutor intervenes in the work of the groups in order to guide their work.