Dr. Dion C. Smyth, Institute of Byzantine Studies
Students intending to read Byzantine Studies in honours mode must take at least one of the two following modules (or an approved history module or a module in Modern Greek Studies): The Byzantine Empire: an introduction to the history and institutions of Byzantium from the accession of the emperor Constantine to the fall of Constantinople in 1453; Byzantine Civilisation and the Orthodox Church: An introduction to the civilisation of Byzantium.
The modules comprise two lectures and one praxis class per week with one tutorial per fortnight.
The ICT Element
The tutor uses QOL to provide students with access to:
- PowerPoint slides from lectures. The slides typically include complicated information and names and dates that are difficult to spell etc. Access to the slides does not mean that students can skip lectures. Students need contact with their lecturer as they typically have no background knowledge in the subject and the slides are insufficient.
- Supplementary resources (articles) for lectures.
- Relevant web sites. The tutor rarely directs the students to specific sites. Rather he directs to general sites e.g. the Byzantine Studies page at Frodham University. He would like them to use the web more but recognises that students require good information literacy skills; the students need to be more discerning (of course, this applies to books as much as websites). Training in this life-skill of discernment - the ability to sort the wheat from the chaff in information on the web - is something that the lecturer wishes to develop further.
In addition, all students are expected to word process their work, following guidelines laid down in the Institute's student handbook.
The students use the Student Computer Centres (SCCs). Byzantine Studies has a common room with 1 computer, which the students can use to check email and use the Internet. Students can also access video clips, still images and other materials as well as accessing QOL on two computer terminals in the Benefactors' Research Library, situated in the Institute. This facility is especially important for some of the image files, whose size makes student access from home difficult, expensive or both.
Incentives to Innovate
QOL was embedded for a number of reasons:
- The lecturer wanted to extend the amount of information easily available to students in a flexible manner i.e. students can access relevant information as often as they want.
- Through QOL, the lecturer could provide easy access to resources that are both written and visual. Given the interdisciplinary nature of the subject, students are required to integrate sources from the two media (written and visual). Given their previous training, students often concentrate on written sources but use of QOL can help to encourage them to consider visual sources. The use of the Internet also helps to make the interdisciplinary nature of the subject more explicit. As a historical subject, Byzantine Studies seeks to account for change developing through time. The reality of human societies like Byzantium is more complex; most changes have more than one cause, and the evidence for those changes can be found sometimes only in a variety of evidence: written, visual or material. So whilst students will eventually have to think in a linear way to compose their essays and reports, while researching the topics, they need to think in a net or matrix fashion, not just seeing the connections but actively seeking them out. The way in which the web is structured, encourages students to see the world this way, rather than in the linear structure imposed by the traditional book.
- It helps to develop the students' ICT skills. Staff felt that they can now assume that the students have knowledge of QOL based on Induction sessions provided by Information Services at the start of the year. They do not explicitly set out to give student ICT skills; the lecturer feels that the students should have those basic skills and that the teaching staff should teach using ICT tools effectively. This also helps the students to apply and develop their own ICT skills (fostering a sense of independent learning and 'ownership').
- Growing numbers of students expect ICT embedded in teaching.
No financial support was used to create the materials. The lecturer attended the relevant training courses offered by the Educational Technology Unit and used appropriate QOL manuals. There were no real problems and he got support as he required it.
The lecturer has found that developing the use of QOL does take time and this is a major stumbling block in developing materials further. Time is required to think about the material as the teacher/subject matter expert i.e. what do I really want the students to get out of this, how do I structure the materials?
The students express a lot of satisfaction with the use of QOL; they expect it and would probably like more materials to be available online.
Staff that are involved in the use of QOL are happy with how the use of QOL is progressing. Some staff had concerns about the impact of QOL on student attendance but this has not proved to be an issue.
Effects of ICT Embedding
- Methods of delivery have changed slightly. The teaching is still largely teacher led but the use of PowerPoint is helping to make the structure of the lectures more explicit for the students.
- There is some more interaction with the students via e-mail within the QOL environment; whilst this is not yet a critical mass, it is growing and the lecturer hopes to encourage more use of the discussion board area of the QOL system. The computer environment is fostering the sharing of ideas, thoughts and queries among students. The lecturer sees this as the first stage in the development of a 'community of scholars'. The students are learning to become scholars in the subject, which is to be encouraged, as are all indicators of a professional approach to 'being a student'.
- Some students find the Internet more accessible and appear more motivated to look at the material when they might not otherwise do so.
- The use of QOL supports more interaction with the material as it gives the students access to different materials in different ways.
- Students have access to the material in a more flexible way; this gives them more control over their studies i.e. any time, anywhere.
- Develops independent thinking as the students interact more with material.
- Develops their ICT skills and confidence in using ICT.
Management of the module/course unit:
- Enables access to a greater range of module-relevant information or resources
- Improves communication with students through the use of email.
The lecturer would like to see more student engagement and hopes to introduce a discussion board. Colleagues in the US successfully use discussion boards and assess the quality of the contribution. This, he feels, would help to encourage the students to think about the material. It would also help the lecturer to get to know the students better. If used carefully, the tutor feels that discussion boards could enable him to provide some guidance to the students without being overwhelmed by the extra work. He recognises that some students feel nervous about asking what they perceive to be a 'stupid question' but with the use of both discussion boards and emails, they could email the questions directly to him.
Within the Institute, the policy is that ICT should be used where it is appropriate. It is not a case of one size fits all. It is incremental; they are piloting the use of QOL with some modules and then expanding to others as appropriate, drawing on the experience of the early adopters. Some staff have not yet engaged in this; they do not see the potential or relevance of the system or feel it inappropriate to the nature of the instruction that they give. However, the Institute feels that they are getting there; they are achieving what they want to achieve.