Narvik University College (NUC) has an innovative way of catering to its distance students. At NUC all education programs are available online and 40% of its students study remotely.
Its digital approach serves as an example for schools investing in remote learning. Now, the long-time itslearning customer has developed an innovative testing system that promises to make their distance education programs more attractive, further entrenching its position as a leading online educator in the Nordic area.
Arild Steen, a computer science assistant professor at NUC, says NUC’s new online testing system will alter the face of distance education. In the past, distance students traveled to testing centers (other universities, public offices, study centers that cooperate with NUC) to take exams that were proctored by professors. Today, NUC uses a suite of tools, including itslearning, to administer online tests at a remote location.
Gaining a competitive edge
The system, which is in the testing phase, saves both school administrators and students time and money. First, students log in to itslearning and access a test created by Steen. Tests created in itslearning can feature 10 different types of questions, from true and false to multiple choice. “I am a big fan of the itslearning test tool. I always try to use it in new ways. I use it to the full extent to get the most out of it,” Arild explains.
A NUC student takes an exam remotely. NUC exam proctors supervise both the desktop and work area.
After logging in to itslearning, students join a net meeting facilitated by Adobe Connect. They then share their desktop and place a web camera behind their workstation, allowing an exam proctor to supervise the exam remotely. “We are experimenting with this and we are getting good results. We sent questionnaires to students after the exams. They tell us they are pleased with the exam format, because it saves them time and money. They no longer have to travel to take an exam. It is also much easier from an administration point of view. On a larger scale, this practice gives us a competitive edge because it strengthens our online offerings,” Arild says.
Online testing corresponds with NUC’s plan to use the Internet as a study platform to compliment classroom activities. This focus has led to the university College offering Norway’s only net-based Bachelor of Engineering study program. In addition, all lectures in all subjects are made available on itslearning, giving the students the option of where and when to view the lectures and how many times. Making testing more convenient for distance students makes NUC a more attractive place to study, says Rolf Håkon, chief technology officer at NUC. “itslearning is the core system at NUC. The platform covers everything in terms of teaching materials. Without itslearning, we would not be able to offer our net-based study programs,” he says.
Making teachers’ daily lives easier
Today, over 90% of NUC teachers use itslearning on a regular basis. It was not always this way. Five years ago only half of NUC teachers used itslearning. But, as teachers and students became more aware of the benefits of using a platform, usage skyrocketed. “Students get genuinely upset if their teachers do not use itslearning,” Rolf Håkon explains. “They understand how useful it is to have a system that makes it easy to locate subject-related information.”
Rolf Håkon attributes the uptick in usage to the increased use of learning technology in the classroom in recent years. This can be explained by the requirement laid out in Norwegian national curriculum requiring teachers to use digital tools in their teaching, as well as the notion that schools must embrace digital tools to stay current with the rest of society.
But Rolf Haakon also has another explanation for the increase. “Our teachers have realized how useful itslearning is for communicating with their students on subject-related topics,” he explains. “It makes teachers’ daily lives a lot easier, and they realize they are more restricted by not using it than by using it. By making their lives easier I am not just referring to teaching. I am referring to things like dialogue with students, control over information and giving feedback. Students send messages to their teachers and receive status updates for their subject. itslearning helps with the organizational aspects of a subject.”
NUC teachers also realize the pedagogical benefits of teaching with a learning platform. Arild, who has used the platform for over 10 years, says he tries to use as many platform functions as possible. “I use itslearning on a daily basis. It’s the most central tool for communicating with my students and keeping track of what they are doing and how they are doing. It’s very important,” he says.
Platform used to distribute, submit and collect assignments
He updates the grade book regularly so students can keep track of their progress. The platform also serves as a communication hub for student projects. “Often students invite me into a project and we use the discussion tool so I can give advice,” he says, adding the discussion tool also serves as a forum for students who are looking to join project groups.
Though he is fond of giving tests on the platform, Arild uses itslearning most for setting assignments. A typical example is a recent assignment where students were instructed to create a program in Linux. In the assignment description students were given a list of tasks and questions to answer as they installed the program. After the installation they submitted the answers. “In this case the hand-in was on itslearning and the hand out was on itslearning. So everything was there on the platform,” he says. “I use itslearning for everything. It’s where everything is published, and it’s the most important tool I use for communicating with my students. It’s the core, the center of my teaching.”