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Published October 5, 2008 | Special Education Technology

A Practical Ecological On-Line Textbook

In order to increase students' laboratory time and consequently their success in my course, an on-line textbook (manuel-guide virtuel) or OLT is being tested for the second year. The multimedia capability of the internet has facilitated the mastery of theoretical concepts, and the project has proved to be easy, practical and stimulating. The virtual nature of the medium reduces paper use as well.

Why Use an OLT?

In the Special Education Technology Program, the course Clinical Tools (Outils Cliniques) requires the acquisition of practical knowledge through multiple repetitions of laboratory exercises. In order to give students the maximum time possible to succeed at this activity, we examined how we could minimize the time required presenting classroom theory. Any solution had to nonetheless foster the acquisition of the necessary concepts for use in the laboratories and still motivate the students.

Reading and homework were certainly an option, but seemed unlikely to engage student interest. Several concepts required precise operations that seemed best illustrated by role playing in groups. Because its content could contain multimedia and even be interactive, we examined producing an on-line textbook using IT in education.

OLT Development

We used the DECclic learning platform to make our first version because we already were familiar with it. All the necessary tools for web creation, e-mail, testing and more were available in one package. We wanted to create a document that was simple to use and easy to master. To minimize navigation we used Exam Studio for on-line testing as it was developped by DECclic and is their required testing software. Students only had to learn how to open the weekly test, and they had their week's lesson before them. Each 'test' contained the following items:

  • The multimedia content of the lesson,
  • A summary of the lesson in a PowerPoint presentation,
  • A formative quiz on the lesson's concepts,
  • A Word document containing the lesson's written content and
  • Pertinent Internet links.

We in effect transformed the agenda function of DECclic into a table of contents. The calendar entry in Week One for example linked directly to the Exam Studio file for that week whose introductory pages presented the lesson.

This resource seemed to not only satisfy our need to allow more time in the lab, but provided the following additional advantages:

  • Easy verification of each students' level of comprehension,
  • The possibility of student self-testing,
  • Economical and easy access to all course materials,
  • Additional means of student-teacher communication through DECclic's message service as well as a space for questions and comments within the essay question which was always last on the weekly test,
  • Richly interesting homework thanks to the multimedia content in the form of Flash videos and the interactive nature of the weekly test,
  • Considerably reduced use of paper as we only printed the course plan and summative work and tests.

The development of this resource was significantly eased through the efforts of our IT Representative Frank Fournier and our audio-visual consultant Pierre Cadieux.

The Results

Naturally, we were extremely interested in student reactions to our first attempt. Students were intrigued from the first announcement of the project and were familiar and even enthusiastic about using DECclic.

At the semester's end, the reaction seemed positive. Students liked the method's original approach and enjoyed using the multimedia content. Certain functions, however, seemed unnecessary. Few students completed the formative tests or communicated with us using the platform's messaging feature. We were therefore encouraged by the results and ready for a second streamlined version with some features improved and others deleted.

Textbook Evolution

As the formative tests for each lesson did not seem to be used, we considered changing our approach in favour of a simpler solution.WordPress seemed to fit the bill! This software, originally designed for blogs, could easily function as an easy to use CMS (content management system). That is how our OLT came to be hosted on Profweb's Personal Space. The more visually attractive presentation was open to all, not password protected. Reaction to the second version mentioned the practicality, accessibility and attractiveness of the approach, the last of these qualities referring to the videos and internet links.

In French only, the link to the Manuel-Guide Virtuel of the Outils Cliniques course is now available to all. You are invited to visit and to use the Reader Response Feature below to send us your questions, comments and suggestions.

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