Hypermedia in Camosun College’s ABE Program

The Demands for Change

In British Columbia the Ministry of Skills, Labour and Training (1995) has recently announced a policy on educational technology.

The Ministry recognizes that current and emerging educational technologies have special significance in the continuing development of the college and institute system. In particular, the Ministry recognizes:

  • the need for curriculum, professional and resource development to match the pace of the rapid rate of technological change, to ensure that educational programs are current both in their use of technological skills and their inclusion of technological information;
  • the continuing need to utilize advances in telecommunication and information technologies to meet the infrastructure requirements of the system and to maintain parity with developments external to the system;
  • the ongoing need to better serve the public by optimizing the capabilities of the system, through technological enhancements and alternatives in the delivery of educational services.

The fine print, as well as rub for post-secondary institutes in British Columbia, is that all of the above must be completed “. . . within the existing resource allocation framework.”

Camosun College, in Victoria, British Columbia provides one example of how educational institutions are responding to the demands for increased access coupled with decreasing resources. Over the next three years Camosun will be faced with up to ten per cent annual cuts in government funding. The college’s president has charted a new course for her institution.

To address this reality, colleges need to discover new ways of having a positive impact on these forces through innovation, entrepreneurship and productivity gains (Ashton, 1994).

The Access Division at Camosun College, responsible for facilitating student access to college programs, is responding to these new demands on several fronts.

The Need for Flexibility in ABE Programs

There is a need for more flexible course scheduling and delivery. (Adult Basic Education (ABE) Student Outcomes Steering Committee, March, 1995)

In March of 1995 the British Columbia Student Outcomes Steering Committee completed the first of a series of reports on the effectiveness of Adult Basic Education programs in provincial colleges. One of the major findings of the study was the identification of the adult student’s need for more flexible course scheduling and delivery. Camosun has long offered flexibility in its ABE offerings through continuous intake, individualized instruction and year-round programming. However, until the fall of this year (1995) classroom instruction continued to be offered only at set times and relatively few specific locations. The need for this flexibility has always been clear to ABE faculty and staff. Traditionally ABE students have been anything but ‘traditional’ students. That is they often come to Camosun’s ABE program with a set of challenges that few recent high school graduates face. Many are supporting single parent families. A number are dealing with addiction issues. Self-esteem due to unemployment and more recently under-employment is also an issue. The list of barriers to education faced by these mature learners is long. The James report discovered that due to these obstacles the majority of ABE learners take at least five years to complete their upgrading program.

In light of the college’s projected financial situation this project must be accomplished not just within the existing resource allocation framework, a difficult enough task, but also within a climate of federal cuts to post-secondary education. Camosun’s President, Elizabeth Ashton, estimates that the next three years will see cross-college budget reductions of ten per cent per year. Camosun’s ABE program, like most college ABE programs is driven by FTE’s or full time equivalencies. Every month a count of student numbers is taken. If classroom are less than full, then in the following year the program may an FTE. That is a faculty or staff member may lose their position. There will be a corresponding decrease in the number of classes the ABE program is able to offer. A major goal of this project is to develop appropriate technologies and systems which allow faculty and staff to effectively increase services to students. The business world has already demonstrated how the application of information technology can increase effectiveness. The appropriate utilization of these same technologies in the service of students combined with useful data management systems will provide similar gains in efficiency.

A Response to the Demands for Change

In 1993 planning was initiated for an Adult Basic Education open access lab. The purpose of this provincially funded Skills Now initiative was to provide more flexible course scheduling and delivery of access courses. Any adult learner wishing to enter Camosun who does not have the necessary prerequisites, or has been out of high school for more than three years, completes a math and English assessment. Adult learners whom the assessment test indicates need upgrading then come to the ABE program at Camosun. ABE offers English and math upgrading instruction to adults (mean age of thirty) towards completion of prerequisites for trades, technology, university transfer and college diploma programs. While ABE instruction has always been individualized and self-paced, it does take place in traditional classrooms with fixed timetables. The lab using both existing, traditional resources and as well as newly developed instructional print modules, offers more flexible instruction and course scheduling. Instruction is offered in all levels of ABE math and English, save Basic Academic Skills Development. It is expected this innovative diversification of instructional resources will allow Camosun’s ABE department to increase student access by at least ten per cent. Intake of new students on a weekly basis begins the Fall of 1995.

Creating an ABE Hypermedia Instructional Delivery System

For the next phase of Camosun’s ABE Open Access lab, hypermedia is a key component. Once ABE faculty become skilled in this technology they will have an opportunity to apply, far more efficiently and effectively, the amalgam of curriculum design that is encapsulated in andragogy.

Hypermedia provides many advantages to the learner, especially through its abilities to adapt to individual differences and to allow the learner to control the path of his/her study. The learner can either be directed or wander through information. The system can provide customized interfaces for each user with varying levels of guidance. Some studies have shown that a learner-controlled environment can be more effective than a program that adapts automatically to learner differences (Allred & Locatis, 1988, quoted by Schroeder, 1991).

The planning for these hypermedia learning webs is running parallel to and in support of first phase of the Open Lab. The focus is on train faculty to use hypermedia based information technology to further expand the efficiency and effectiveness of the Open lab. How will this be accomplished? ABE faculty have already proven themselves adept at structuring information to meet individual learner needs. These same approaches can be applied and facilitated through information technology. However instructors need to be provided with appropriate hardware, software and training opportunities as well as technical support. The funding to support the first part of this project is already in place. Once ABE instructors have mastered this technology, they will be able to interact with students in a multi-modal fashion. Rather than limiting their contact with students to one location (i.e., an ABE classroom), and one time (i.e., a regularly scheduled class), instructors will also be able to electronically link with students. These links will provide ways structuring information in an electronic format that can be delivered over the college’s network.

According to Rogers (1989), “Learning is part of a circuit that is one of life’s fundamental pleasures: the instructor’s role is to keep the current flowing” (p. 38). Instructors who have successfully engaged adults as partners by providing direction and support will have succeeded admirably (Imel, 1994).

Camosun College ABE faculty are adept at engaging adults as partners. Further efficiencies of ten to fifteen per cent per year over the next three phases of the project (see Table 2) will result from offering this expertise to adult learners in a time and space independent fashion as envisioned by this project. Thus ABE faculty will also be able to offer instruction to Camosun students who discover upgrading needs in the midst of their career or university transfer college programs. Faculty prepared as well as appropriately modified “off-the-Internet” hypermedia modules delivered through a variety of media will allow the ABE program to diversify its services to students even outside the confines of the Open Lab classroom. Thanks to ample faculty development release time, two months every year, ABE instructors have the time to develop these modules. All that is required now are the hardware, software and support resources to allow them to develop individualized hypermedia modules to meet the specific learning needs of Camosun students.

The modules will be developed using the hypertext markup language (HTML) developed for the Internet’s World Wide Web. The second phase will culminate with the delivery and piloting of the first of these hypermedia modules to the existing Open Access Lab. Later phases will see the expansion of this instructional technology beyond the walls of the ABE Open Lab to students the ABE program would not normally reach. The goal is to make resources available to any college student, in any program, who needs remedial or upgrading assistance. This will be accomplished by expanding instructional delivery to other Camosun computer labs. Thanks to the college’s inter-campus computer network as well as the network-friendly capabilities of the HTML instructional modules, students will be able to interact with ABE instructors and curricula using any computer connected to the college network. These modules will also allow the department to leverage its resources to offer just-in-time instruction to workers at the job site. Thus ABE instruction will also be offered to workers at the job site with access provided via telephone, modem and office computer. The project’s ultimate goal is to establish an entrepreneurial delivery paradigm outside the “bricks and mortar” of the existing infrastructure, using the college’s Internet connections. The end result of this project will be to offer instruction to any adult learner who has a computer connected to the Internet. Instructors then will be able to extend their influence well beyond Camosun’s two campuses to anyone with an Internet connection, anywhere on the globe.

Table 2. Project Timelines and Resulting Productivity Increases

Phase  Location                                  Start Date     FTE     

  1    Interurban Open Lab                        Oct. '95      10%     

  2    electronic modules piloted at Interurban   Sept. '96     10%     
       ABE Open Access Lab                                              

  3    expansion to Lansdowne campus and any      Jan. '97      15%     
       college networked computer                                       

  4    worksite based delivery                    Sept. '97     15%     

  5    Internet based delivery                    Jan. '98      15%     

This information technology based instructional system, implemented in the context of the growing sophistication of what is known about instructional design for the adult learner, can provide a flexible, innovative and multi-modal means of instruction. Such an approach would extend the instructor’s influence beyond the walls of the classroom. This system would encourage choice and structure for both learner and instructor by offering modularization of curriculum, self-pacing, and interactive feedback. Critical to all of this, however, is the provision by instructors of a structure to encourage the development in students of good research skills and work habits. Under such a system the instructor moves from the role of information dispenser to that of learning facilitator and courseware developer.

Phase One of the Open Access Lab

Initial planning for Phase One of the Camosun College Adult Basic Education Open Lab was begun in 1993. In the fall of 1994 financing of the planning stage of the project was provided in part by the provincial Skills Now initiative supported by faculty’s annual block of two month’s development time.

The ABE program is the first stop for any student who is unable to meet college entry standards as measured by math and English assessment tests. The ABE department then becomes the college’s ‘assessor’, preparing the student to meet the prerequisites of the program identified by his or her career goal. All students without a high school diploma or who have been out of school for more than three years complete this assessment test. ABE’s particular focus is on the mature adult learner. The program is not normally available to students younger than nineteen. The average age of ABE learners is in the mid-thirties. While ABE instruction, in math, English and general science has always been individualized and self-paced, it does take place in traditional classrooms with traditional timetables. Phase One of the lab, using both existing resources and as well as newly developed instructional print modules, offers more flexible course scheduling. Faculty and staff are available from 8:30 am to 8:30 pm Monday through Thursday and 8:30 am to 1:00 pm on Friday. It is expected this model will allow Camosun’s ABE department to offer students increased access and retention in a cost effective program.

Phase Two — Electronic Delivery of Instruction

Development of the next phase of the ABE Open Lab is also already underway. It focuses on providing faculty with the resources necessary to electronically expand the efficiency and effectiveness of the Open Lab. As mentioned earlier, this will include hypermedia instructional offerings to both current ABE student as well as other Camosun students who discover upgrading needs in the midst of their college programs. Faculty developed instructional modules using a variety of media, but delivered through the Web, will allow the ABE program to expand its services to students in other college programs. The modules will be developed using the Web’s hypertext markup language (HTML) which includes provision for electronic print, graphics, video and audio. Faculty development time has been leveraged by a grant from the college to provide initial hardware, software and support resources to provide faculty with the expertise necessary to develop hypermedia modules. To effectively deliver the modules, however, an additional sum of money is required (see Table 3). To publish the electronic instructional modules a Windows NT server and twenty-five student multimedia workstations are required. With this sum of $128,000 in place by September 1996, Phase Two team members expect the delivery of the first of these modules in the existing Open Lab to bring an addition FTE increase of ten per cent.

Phase Three — Delivery of Instruction to Other Campuses

The next phase will see the delivery of these hypermedia instructional modules beyond the walls of the ABE Open Lab at Interurban. The goal is to make these resources available to any college student, in any program, on any campus, who needs remedial or upgrading assistance. Phase Three will begin with expansion of instructional delivery to the ABE computer lab at Lansdowne. This will necessitate the purchase of a second Windows NT server, student/instructor workstations and the appropriate support staff for a total of $226,500. Thanks to the college’s inter-campus computer network as well as the network-friendly capabilities of HTML, a further increase of fifteen per cent in FTE is predicted here. Any college network connected computer, including the general purpose computer labs will be able to receive and display ABE instructional modules. Thus learning webs will be created between ABE faculty and virtually any college student. The network transmission capabilities of these modules will eventually permit the Access Division to offer just-in-time instruction to workers off-campus at their job site.

Phase Four — Delivery of Instruction to the Worksite

ABE instruction will be offered to worksites connected to the college via telephone, modem and office computer by September 1997. Learners needing skill upgrading, both former Camosun students and those who have never darkened the college corridors, will have access to ABE faculty expertise. An expenditure of $198,000 for additional instructor workstations and support should result in a further FTE increase of fifteen per cent. This phase should tie in well with the college decentralization of its community education programs. Under this plan, currently being implemented, each college division is assigned a community, international and co-op education programmer. These individuals along with faculty representatives and the division dean will comprise a Management Segment Team. Their principal task is to develop courseware offerings for the community beyond the campus walls, which has traditionally been southern Vancouver Island. However, the college committee responsible for overseeing the set up of these Management Segment Teams, sees the Camosun’s potential market as a world-wide one. This ties in well with the project’s ultimate goal of establishing a delivery paradigm outside the “bricks and mortar” of the existing infrastructure, using the college’s Internet connections.

Phase Five — Delivery of Instruction over the Internet

From 1995 to 1998 the total number of people connected by the Internet is expected to reach 125 million worldwide. This phase anticipates this by expanding the delivery of ABE course offerings through the college’s Internet connections to any of these potential students. For an expenditure of $198,000 for instructor workstations and technical support, an FTE increase of fifteen per cent is predicted. As more and more homes and offices become equipped with Internet connected computers, Camosun instructors will be able to extend their influence well beyond Camosun’s two campuses and offer the ultimate in flexible course scheduling and delivery. The world will have become their classroom.

Table 3. Detailed Project Timelines and Additional Resources Required.

Phase           Start Date  Additional Resources Required     FTE Increase  

1. Development  Sept. 1994   all resources in place                         

 Action          Oct. 1995   computer technician -- $             10%       

2. Development  Sept. 1995   all resources in place                         

 Action         Sept. 1996   Win NT network server --             10%       
                             student workstations --                        
                             computer technician -- $19,500                 
                             Phase 2 total -- $128,000                      

3. Development  Sept. 1996   instructor workstations --                     
                             web (HTML) coder -- $18,500                    
                             project manager -- $33,000                     

 Action          Jan. 1997   Win NT network server --             15%       
                             student workstations --                        
                             computer technician -- $39,000                 
                             Phase 3 total -- $226,500                      

4. Development  Sept. 1996   instructor workstations --                     
                             web (HTML) coder -- $38,000                    
                             project manager -- $66,000                     

 Action         Sept. 1997   instructor workstations --           15%       
                             computer technician -- $39,000                 
                             Phase 4 total -- $198,000                      

5. Development  Sept. 1997   instructor workstations --                     
                             web (HTML) coder -- $38,000                    
                             project manager -- $66,000                     

 Action          Jan. 1998   instructor workstations --           15%       
                             computer technician -- $39,000                 
                             Phase 5 total -- $198,000                      

Hardware and Software Requirements for Students

While a powerful multimedia capable computer is the ultimate Internet workstation, virtually any computer that can be connected to a modem and run telecommunications software is Internet capable. Even with this minimal configuration, students will be equipped to access most of what the Internet offers. A graphical user interface Windows or Mac multimedia equipped machine will lessen the learning curve substantially. Almost a century ago anyone who wanted to operate the first motor cars had to be a mechanic or hire a chauffeur (French for the furnace-man — the only person in the household with sufficient mechanical ability). So too one must be a bit of a computer wizard to take advantage of an older computer’s capabilities. Much preferred are the current generation of computers, many which come equipped and preconfigured with all of the functionality and ease of use necessary to connect to the Internet. Once a college or private Internet provider has provided the software necessary to link a Mac or Windows machine to the Net, graphical software ‘browsers’ make Internet access ‘push button’ easy. Also free and recommended is an email package to facilitate instructor-student communication. Again a Windows or Mac capable machine is necessary to make email easy to master. A word processing package complete with spelling and grammar checker is also critical. If the connection is via a modem, it should be 14,400 bits per second or faster. While students would be happiest with a multimedia capable machine (including a sound card, and CD-ROM drive, 540 megabytes of storage and eight megabytes or more of system memory), an older machine is capable of meeting the basic requirements for Web connectivity. The needs for faculty and staff, the developers of the Web pages, are more stringent, however.

Hardware and Software Requirements for Faculty

A major step, in building a Web-based instructional system that will allow instructors to extend their influence electronically, is to provide those responsible for its development with the hardware, software and network connections necessary to create such a system. At Camosun College the hardware system of choice is a Microsoft Windows capable machine. To properly run Windows each instructor and student workstation should have the fastest processor affordable. In mid 1995 this is a minimum of a 486DX/2 66 Mhz. Before the end of 1995 that will be a Pentium 75 Mhz. In general, the faster the speed (Mhz) the better. Each system should come equipped with a minimum of eight megabyte (MB) of random access memory (RAM), sixteen MB if funding permits. In addition to a three and a half inch floppy drive (1.44 MB) each machine should have a hard drive. While 500 MB may be enough for students one gigabyte (1000 MB) or more is essential for staff. To make the Internet connection available at most colleges, each machine will need an ethernet network interface card. If this direct interface is not available, then a fast (14,4000 bits per second or faster) modem connected to a phone line is essential. As more and more educational multimedia titles, including texts, are being offered on CD-ROM disks, a multimedia upgrade kit is also required. This typically includes a 16 bit Sound Blaster (TM) sound card and a quadruple-speed or faster CD-ROM drive. For student use, replace the speakers that are provided with most of these kits with headphones. All modern machines come with a mouse and operating system. While the Microsoft Workgroup for Windows will allow the machines to connect to one another, additional software will be required to connect to off-campus networks. In August 1995 Windows 95 arrived complete with Internet connection software built in. Indications are that it is a much easier system for the novice to learn, an important consideration for both ABE students and faculty. As these computer systems have now become commodities, they may be purchased just as cheaply from any of the major computer manufacturers like Compaq, Dell and IBM as from the “no-name” clone manufacturers. In mid September 1995 the system specified is available for about $3300 including software. See Appendix C for more information on hardware costs.

The choice of software may be influenced by what products a particular college computing services has chosen to support. Many colleges have standardized on Microsoft (MS) products. Under the MS Select program a college is able to purchase most Microsoft products significantly below cost. No matter whose products are purchased, each machine should come equipped with an integrated package containing word processing, spreadsheet, presentation manager and data base software. In the case of Microsoft products the best bet is the MS Office Professional. It is available under the Select Program for about $150.

When it comes to connecting to the Internet, many excellent software packages are available over the Internet at little or no cost. Netscape has become the interface of choice to connect to the fast growing, and easiest part of the Internet to use — the World Wide Web. At the moment it is available at no cost to educators at the Web home page location of http://home.netscape.com/. It also allows one to download files from remote computer sites around the world as well as access to gopher. With a version of Netscape that is just about to be released, one can even send and receive email. For many educators Eudora is the recommended email program. Once again it is available for free download this time at the Web location of http://www.qualcomm.com/. There are several other useful additions to Netscape that are itemized at the Netscape home page. Again all are free or available at minimal cost. Microsoft has just come out with their own browser available free from http://www.microsoft.com/. If a fax/modem has been purchased, then also purchase a telecommunications program. Delrina’s Communication Suite does both fax and data communications for about $200. For faculty with an interest in simple programming, Visual Basic Professional is a useful addition. Under the Select pricing it is about $75. For just under $500, each machine can be equipped with the software needed to develop and manage an informatics curriculum.

One last but critical piece of software is the add-on to the word processing package that allows for the creation of hypertext markup language (HTML) documents. The Microsoft product is called Internet Assistant for Windows. Available from Microsoft or over the Net (http://www.microsoft.com), this product is the key to the pilot project. Any instructor who is able to manipulate a word processor like Word for Windows (a similar product is available for Wordperfect) will soon be creating electronic hypermedia documents with this addition to the word processor.

Creating Customized Hypermedia Instruction Modules

The ABE faculty at Camosun have a long history of customized curriculum development for their students. Jack Crane developed the complete ABE Math 040 program on a Macintosh computer ten years ago. Instructors are also developing curricula for English programs. HTML is a natural extension of this effort. With appropriate training and support an instructor will be able to take her existing word processed curriculum and bring it up in Word for Windows. With the Internet Assistant upgrade installed she can soon convert her curriculum documents into hypermedia documents capable of being delivered electronically to her students in the Open Lab or indeed to any location with a computer network connection.

Due to a paucity of computer resources within the Camosun ABE department, any faculty or staff member who has more than a basic computer literacy has had to accomplish that by expending their personal resources at home. Fortunately the last few months have seen faculty and staff computing resources finally being made available to a few . This small core group of faculty have begun to learn about the possibilities of facilitating instruction through appropriate technologies. There is, hopefully, a larger group who provided with the appropriate technology and peer support would also be willing to engage in this activity. One of the goals of this project is to provide the department with a collaborative electronic environment, at the moment through email and listservs, to help support the acquisition of new knowledge in the development of new ways of delivering instruction.

Training and Support for Faculty and Staff

No innovative initiative will succeed without the support of the faculty and staff who must implement it. As mentioned previously the majority of ABE faculty and staff have limited experience with information technology. Many are plus forty years old. Research indicates that this group can find change to be a more difficult process than do younger colleagues who have grown up with this technology. Thus an important goal for project is to provide colleagues and support staff with the human support necessary to help them become information literate. That is why there is provision in the project budget for a project leader, a hardware technician and a web coder. The leader is there to guide faculty and staff toward a new understanding of what it means to facilitate learning in the information age. The technician is there to deal with the myriad of problems that seem inevitable with new computer networks. The web coder is necessary to help faculty and staff master new software programs and provide the HTML expertise necessary to create effective, interactive web documents. These folks will go a long way to help develop a learning community (electronic and otherwise) for those “early leaders” amongst faculty who wish to discover how the networked information resources of the college and the Internet can help facilitate innovation in faculty and staff’s own learning and instruction. This core group can then in turn provide leadership and instruction to ‘later adopter’ colleagues as they become interested in and aware of the capabilities of this new technology. By the latter phases of the pilot project, an informatics literate faculty and support staff will be committed to the building and maintaining of electronic learning webs. These webs will be there for not only ABE students, but indeed all college students, regardless of their program or physical location.

Critical Partnerships

In order to bring this vision into being, additional resources beyond what the college can offer must be sought. BC Tel or one of its competitors is a natural partner. The former currently supplies the cables that connect computers at Camosun’s two campuses to each other as well as the rest of the Internet. Phases three through five of this project are dependent on fast and dependable network connections to other colleges, jobsites and student computers. Representative from Stentor, the alliance of telephone companies from across the country building the information highway infrastructure, have indicated that they want to do more than just supply the highways to transport information. They also want to be involved in delivering the content that travels on those electronic roadways. The faculty at Camosun have the expertise and, thanks to faculty development, the time to structure information into knowledge that can be electronically delivered to any student, anywhere, anytime. A synergistic partnership could benefit both organizations.

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