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Higher education is in crisis in much of the world (Daniel, 1996). The challenges for higher education come from the impact of technology, the ideas of the university as an instrument of social change, and the economics of education (St. Clair 1997). Distance education (DE) is one among the many possible solutions that have been proposed to deal with these challenges. The digital libraries that we believe are the future for libraries will serve the new vision of education and we will have to design new methods for teaching students to find and evaluate information.
In order to utilise DE more effectively in the new electronic environment good design, computer literacy, information literacy, copyright system and support of networked learners should be considered.
The Department of Information Studies of the Tallinn University of Educational Sciences have got a support from the Estonian Science Foundation for the study and implementation of distance learning and teaching in a new learning environment in Estonia. The purpose of this study is to develop a conceptual model to effectively plan and deliver library and information science (LIS) DE courses and programs.
The first phase of the study was to find out are the teachers and learners prepared for distance teaching and learning and a new learning environment in Estonia. We also hoped to obtain an overall picture of the degree to which telematic distance education technologies would be possible to integrate into traditional high education.
In order to evaluate the possibility of usage of open and distance learning tools in the universities of Estonia and to define the problems and needs of teachers and students in a new learning environment, a multiple questionnaire was developed and given to samples of university teachers and students during 1996-1998. The questionnaire was sent to teachers and learners that had an electronic mail account at the Tallinn University of Educational Sciences (TUES), Tartu University, Tallinn Technical University, Estonian Business School and Concordia International University in Estonia. A questionnaire was also delivered to teachers and learners that had no an electronic mail account at the University.
The results showed that a majority of teachers and learners connected to the university server from their university and only a small number of them logged in also from home. Seventy per cent of them used Internet on a regular basis and had a medium to advanced knowledge of how to use it. However, the use of Internet was mainly restricted to the two most widespread Internet technologies: electronic mail and World Wide Web. The use of FTP, mailing lists, newsgroups, electronic journals, library catalogues, etc. was much lower.
Synchronic communication tools (talk and other IRC tools) were used twenty-five per cent of the teachers and forty-one per cent of the students. The use of video and audio conference technologies was the lowest, 7 % of respondents had some knowledge of it.
Audio and video technologies were well known to only twenty-one per cent and CD-ROMs were not a largely used by teachers at the university. Teachers were also asked about their knowledge of presentation packages, HTML language, graphic design tools, etc. A majority of teachers reported very low knowledge of all technologies. Only a small group of teachers reported having medium or high knowledge in all technologies.
Only some of the teachers in our survey had delivered some sort of distance education courses. The picture that emerges from the survey showed us that the majority of our teachers are still largely dependent on traditional models of teaching. Lectures are the dominating way of teaching at the Estonian universities. Internet was used primarily as communication and information seeking tool, not for educational objectives.
Teachers were aware of their lack of knowledge in open and distance learning methods and tools and expressed their need for training. It was mentioned that there exists an urgent need for courses on how to design distance education in general and in the Internet environment in particular.
Current research emphasises the need of extensive training and access to adequate tools and resources as the only way to prepare teachers for the new educational space. To provide teachers with the necessary training, there will be organised a special training course next term for the design of distance learning materials at the Tallinn University of Educational Sciences.
The second phase of the project was to develop a conceptual model for designing and delivering open and distance education in library and information science education in Estonia. As defined by Moore and Kearsley (1996) a distance education system should include the components of content, design, communication, interaction, learner environment, and management. The model must also successfully cope with many issues concerning the status of faculty, the role of government, the priority of technologies and the cost of resources. It is essential to take into account how effectively that model promotes the preparation of the learner for a career and society.
A current model for designing and delivering DE in library and information science education in Estonia includes the following phases:
The learner and library support are also important aspects in this model. The model has been tested in the pilot project carried out at the Department of Information Studies of TUES in 1996-1997.
We may say that information and communication technologies are affecting the structure of universities and the traditional model of teaching in higher education in Estonia. Integrating the new technologies into this traditional model presents multiple challenges. Using new information and communication technology for educational purposes involves not only learning new skills like HTML design and mastering communication tools, but it also requires a redefinition of the process of design of educational material and a new approach to instruction and assessment. Another important challenge is to train students with the use of new information and communication technology as a learning tool.
Moore, M. G and Kearsley, G. (1996). Distance Education: a system view. Wadsworth Publishing Company.
St. Clair, Gloriana. Editorial: Coaching Higher Education for Change. Journal of academic librarianship, July 1997, 23, 4: 269