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1.1 Online communication

With increasing student numbers, short semesters and tight budgets, it is increasingly difficult to give students personalised attention. The decline of the tutorial from the teaching process is an illustration. While lectures may remain a staple aspect of modern higher education, weekly or twice-weekly seminars with perhaps 20 students have come to replace the tutorial as the main interaction between the student and the lecturer or tutor.

The Web can help us to regain that sense of personal guidance and mentorship because with online discussion we can monitor our students' progress and contributions to the class. We can observe and encourage their developing skills, including their ability to think for themselves, to work individually and to contribute to a group.

Leidner and Jarvenpaa (1995) identify four roles that IT can play in the context of education. Kevin Hinde sees his economics website as progressing through these four functions as he gains experience:

Course websites usually focus on the first of these roles. Yet it is the latter three which can potentially recapture the aforementioned sense of individual contribution to a learning community. Virtual Learning Environments and other tools that we will consider in section 2 are suited for this active learning style with their facility for moderated online discussion.

Online discussion has a number of benefits relevant to the modern university context:

This guide will illustrate use of the Web as a complement to existing teaching practice, rather than as a replacement for physical meetings between learners and tutors.

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1.2 Networked learning materials