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Reality in Virtual Learning - Challenges without the Classroom

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The development of ITC has increased focus onto distance learning programs worldwide. Most universities today offer distance learning programs that are based on the Internet. This development represents a fundamental change in the very logic of being a university. It is no longer enough to rely on professor authority. How can one create a learning situation that enables the university to remain viable? In most western countries, the professors have dominated the learning processes at universities. Since the 50-ties, learning has been about learning-in, memorizing, and cram (Illeris, 2000) where professors most often decide what and when one could learn by providing the context and substance. In this perspective, the student has a role which is close to the one of a passive receiver, and s/he is mainly preoccupied with the problem of generating substance in memory most efficiently. Today, technology challenges our pedagogical reasoning in many ways. However, old pedagogical models often prevail. We see practices where lectures, notes and course information are published on the Internet, where ICT helps professor-student communication, and online based student tests. These attempts are based on old-time educational logic. There are fewer attempts to use ICT according to a different pedagogical perspective than the old professor authoritarian model.The purpose of this paper is to illuminate some challenges virtual students experience when facing a new ICT-based learning situation. We will try to explore and develop understandings of what it might mean to be a student when learning occurs within a virtual problem based learning landscape. When students are used to the traditional classroom, challenges appear in the twilight zone between two pedagogical practices. How do the students cope with challenges that a new virtual program demands, and what paradoxes and ambiguities appear when old learning processes do not work anymore? The present focus reflects an existential-phenomenological point of departure. This perspective is based on the philosophical writings of Søren Kierkegaard and Martin Heidegger (1927/1996; "Being and Time”), and the successors Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur. The work is also inspired of the father of culturalism – Jerome Bruner (1996) and Wenger’s (1998) community of practice. Thompson (1997) is an inspiration through his initiator of hermeneutical endeavor within consumer research. The consequences of this perspective are that the student and his/her experiences and learning cannot be separated from the student’s existence. As for the subject matter, we cannot separate the student from his/her studying. Learning becomes a profoundly socio-cultural process which has to be studied according to the situation and context in which it appears. It is the heart of this project that the twilight zone between cultural roles might reveal some interesting knowledge about the introduction of ICT and its consequences. The socio-cultural conditions of present society set the context for the hermeneutic analysis of meanings and salient life concerns that learning experiences hold for time-pressured virtual students with high degree of responsibilities. An existential-phenomenological assumption is that individuals would tend to interpret their experiences within present socio-cultural framework. Due to its novel characteristics of the program, however, it is particularly interesting to investigate the role that virtual studying serves in the construction of reality and meaning. Furthermore, as it is assumed that experiences cannot be separated from who one is (being-in-the world), the process of human change during virtual studying is also expected to influence salient types of learning, the student’s work practice, and his/her private practice.

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Frank Lindberg, Michael Pettersson

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