Analysis of a Practical Experiment
Isabel Cuadrado Gordillo and Inmaculada Fernández Antelo
Department of Psychology and Sociology of Education, and Department of Education Science
University of Extremadura Badajoz, Spain
Keywords: EHEA, ECTS, virtual tutorials, psychopædagogical guidance.
Abstract: During the 2005/6 academic year, we experimented with adapting the subject of Psychology of Instruction
in the undergraduate Psychopædagogy degree course to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). This
involved transforming presencial tutorials into virtual tutorials. We here describe our experience and
analyze the strengths and weaknesses that we encountered in using different tools of synchronous and
asynchronous virtual communication to monitor the students' learning. The results showed a greater
willingness of the students to become involved in the study of the material, a significant increase in their
grades and in particular in the number of passing grades, and a change of attitude from one of total passivity
to an optimal degree of activity, responsibility, and commitment.
The adaptation to the European Higher Education
Area (EHEA) of the subjects taught in Spain's
degree courses entails major structural and
methodological changes that are determinants in the
teaching and learning process. The transformation to
a model of teacher education centred on the
development of skills that will allow the prospective
teacher to adapt to the new situations and demands
of a constantly changing society means that the
university will have to renounce, at least in part, the
excessive specialization that has been the case until
now. In the process of European Convergence in
Higher Education, it is of prime importance that
prospective teachers finish their studies not only
with the knowledge needed to master a certain area,
but also with the skills required to apply that
knowledge in practice, to resolve the problems that
they will face, to manage information, work in
groups, analyze, synthesize, organize, plan, etc.
(Reichert and Tauch, 2003).
To put these changes into effect, Spain's
universities must undergo a process of
transformation which will require both the
acceptance of a new structure (undergraduate–
graduate) and a modification of the roles of the
faculty and the students. Nevertheless, these new
roles are really no more than a reflection of a long
suppressed demand that has on many occasions not
been allowed to come to the surface because it
would have meant a break with the monotony and
commodity that had been forged over years, because
of a lack of time, because of the constraints imposed
by the system itself, because of the lack of
commitment of some of the stakeholders (faculty or
students), etc.
If we were to ask students what they expect from
a teacher, or what they would wish their teachers to
be like, we would almost certainly get answers such
as that she (or he) should be a pleasant person who
makes her classes participative and attractive, who
explains things comprehensibly, who is easy to
make contact with to resolve points of doubt or to
ask questions, who allows the student a certain
margin of autonomy and initiative, who makes her
material appear interesting and useful, etc. Likewise,
if we were to ask teachers what type of students they
would like to have in class, it is not hard to imagine
what some of the answers would be: active people
with initiative, responsible in their dedication to
study, participative, showing a certain degree of
uncertainty and curiosity that leads them to go
deeper into the content that they have been presented
with, etc.
In these foreseeable answers, one discerns
already the 'new' roles that faculty and students are
expected to play. The students are asked to be more
Cuadrado Gordillo I. and Fernández Antelo I. (2007).
In Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies - Society, e-Business and e-Government /
e-Learning, pages 378-382
DOI: 10.5220/0001267903780382
active in their own teacher education, with a greater
capacity for autonomy, responsibility, decision
making, and dedication to study. The teacher is
asked to act as a manager of learning, i.e., to
perform the functions of programming and
coordinating the teaching and learning process,
giving priority to the development of skills for the
acquisition and reproduction of academic knowledge
(Lugo, 2003).
In this sense, the adaptation of Spanish credits to
the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS)
promotes and facilitates this reorganization of the
roles of teacher and student, as well as encourages
the use of new formulas for communication and
monitoring that allow the participants not all to be
physically present. In particular, we refer to virtual
tutorials carried out either synchronously or
asynchronously. Indeed, the tutorial function can be
said to be one of the pillars consolidating on-line
education (Padula, 2002).
In the University of Extremadura, as in many
other Spanish universities, this process of adaptation
to the EHEA has been initiated by putting into
practice pilot projects focused on specific subjects or
entire courses. The present work deals in particular
with the material of the Psychology of Instruction
course taught in the Psychopædagogy undergraduate
degree syllabus, and presents an analysis of the
measures adopted and the results.
On-line tutorials may be conducted using a variety
of communication tools. These may be synchronous
(IRC, videoconferencing, digital blackboard) or
asynchronous (e-mail, discussion fora, FAQs).
An IRC (Internet Relay Chat) allows the real-
time exchange of messages in order to resolve
doubts, share opinions, reflections, etc. The tutor and
the students agree on a timetable for entrance to a
virtual 'chat room' in which these exchanges of
communication will take place. One of the
advantages of this tool is its immediacy and
simultaneity. Nevertheless, it does not allow for the
concept of flexibility that is the backbone of virtual
on-line education and in particular of virtual
tutorials. The fact of setting a timetable can make it
difficult for some people to access and use this
means of tutoring. It may require major changes to
the management of their study time which they do
not always willingly accept. Also, an IRC channel
involving an extensive group of students such as an
entire undergraduate class can generate a situation of
chaos that makes it necessary to consider a more
restricted use of this medium for very specific
situations and with smaller groups. If all the students
participate, the tutor can not attend to them all at the
same time, and the delay can become interminable
and boring, as well as the session extending for long
hours that the students could instead be devoting to
studying and planning the material. In our case, the
large number of students enrolled in the course
(more than one hundred and forty) made it
unfeasible to activate a single virtual chat room. But
using different IRC channels, and dividing the
students into groups, would have required devoting
an entire working day to the task, when there are
other tools available that facilitate these exchanges
and provide better results with less investment of
Videoconferencing still has to overcome various
technical drawbacks (speed, precision, cost), and it
requires some innovations at the software level to be
optimally acceptable as a tool of virtual tutoring.
When videoconferencing is as simple as making a
phone call, it will represent a major advance in on-
line education. Our students lack the necessary
means and resources (both material and in terms of
know-how) for videoconferencing to be established
as a way to conduct tutorials. In sum, this system
was inviable in our case.
Within the group of asynchronous
communication tools, we would highlight the use of
e-mail. This medium allow each student to set out
his or her doubts and questions without the
limitations of time and space represented by the
dynamics of an IRC channel, and allows the
response to be individualized and thorough. The
effectiveness and utility of this tutoring system are
greater the more promptly the response is given to
the e-mails received. It is at least recommendable
not to exceed twenty-four hours. Again, the large
number of students enrolled in the course appeared
as one of the main problems in virtual tutorials of
this type. This unsurprisingly was especially notable
on the days or weeks prior to the deadline for
handing in a work or to an examination. On those
occasions, we received an average of 80 e-mails
daily, which made it practically impossible to
respond to all of them in a reasonable time. Also,
this task required the teacher to work exclusively on
answering e-mails, an aspect which is really not
permissible. In those cases when the questions
referred to points corresponding to some practical
work on the material that counted towards the final
grade, the students were asked to use group e-mails
through a mailing-list type address that all the
members could consult. This measure led to a
reduction in the number of e-mails received, and
helped streamline the responses.
Nonetheless, we think that many of these e-mails
become unnecessary if one makes the appropriate
use of discussion fora and FAQs (Frequently Asked
Questions). These tools allow one to make public
both the questions that the students raise and the
teacher's answers. The advantage of this system is
that the teacher's explanations can resolve the doubts
of many students without each of them having to be
answered personally. We encountered two basic
problems using these means for tutoring. First, the
students often made inappropriate use of the
discussion fora. They used the system to comment
on situations or questions that were unrelated to the
material or the topics under discussion. This
converted the fora into bulletin boards and meeting
places for extra-academic subjects. And second, the
distrust and insecurity of many students led them to
use e-mail as the main means of communicating
with the teacher. One of the reasons was their
preference for a personal response (e-mail) over a
group response (discussion forum).
From the experience of adapting the Psychology of
Instruction content to the EHEA and adopting the
ECTS tutorials as the means for guidance and
monitoring of the students' learning, we were able to
extract a series of apparent strengths and weaknesses
of the process.
3.1 Strengths
A first advantage of the ECTS tutorials arises from
the use of e-mail. This time-delayed means of
communication adapts itself to all the students'
timetables, since they use it when needed or when
convenient. In this sense, ECTS tutorials satisfy the
criteria of flexibility that are indispensable in virtual
education. For instance, it facilitates independent
management of study time according to each
student's possibilities and needs.
The second advantage is the potential of this
instrument for thorough in-depth monitoring of the
student's learning. The questions that a student puts
to us in e-mails allow us to observe the degree of
understanding of the material that he or she has
reached, the learning strategies used, the level of
reasoning and expression, etc. With this information
available, guidance will not only be directed to
resolving conceptual content, but also to fostering
reflection and the acquisition of metacognitive
strategies that will allow the student to adopt a more
effective strategic form of behaviour. This
information also allows a re-orientation of the
instructor's teaching. When the teacher detects
difficulties that the students show in carrying out
some task, he or she can propose new activities,
follow other procedures, complete part of the
syllabus, check that the methodological strategies
match the students' needs and demands, etc. In this
sense, the virtual ECTS tutorials constitute an
exceptional evaluation tool in the sense of being an
instrument of improvement as well as of monitoring.
Also, the information contained in the e-mails makes
it possible to evaluate the effort that the student has
made, how he or she has managed study time,
organization, planning, etc.
A third advantage lies in the possibility of using
new formulas for teacher-student interaction.
Sometimes, fear of ridicule or of making their lack
of knowledge public leads some students to be
reticent to participate in class, to ask questions, to
contribute observations, etc. In these cases, the
anxiety, tension, or stress generated by a public face-
to-face intervention with the teacher or with their
classmates disappears, or is at least softened, as the
contact is not direct but deferred. In this way, the
students can present their doubts and the teacher can
access their prior knowledge and conceptual
relationships with respect to the content dealt with in
class. This all allows the teacher to more easily
guide the learning process.
And a fourth advantage is the students' enhanced
involvement in and positive predisposition towards
their own learning. This was reflected in the present
experiment in an increase in the number of passing
grades in Psychology of Instruction relative to the
results in previous years in which the tutorials were
exclusively presencial and at set hours. The students
observed that the almost immediate resolution of
their doubts and the contribution of complementary
material avoided interruptions in their study time
and learning process. Some of them too indicated
that the teacher's monitoring of their e-mails
demonstrated interest and concern for their learning,
and led them to accept greater levels of commitment
to study and carrying out course work. For other
WEBIST 2007 - International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies
students, being able to get a personalized answer
from the teacher gave them a greater sense of
security and confidence because they no longer had
to guess what the teacher was going to consider as
valid or incorrect, but now had this information
directly and immediately. This sense of security
encouraged them to continue advancing in their
learning, to look for new information, to explore
other forms of resolution, etc.
3.2 Weaknesses
The weaknesses that we detected were of two types:
those that directly affected the figure and functions
of the teacher, and those that were more related to
the activity of the students.
With respect to the teacher, the large number of
students enrolled meant the reception of an
enormous amount of e-mail, especially at certain
times of the course. If to this one adds the
promptness with which the teacher must reply for
the answer to provide the student with the help
expected, the result was an excess of work load that,
together with the preparation and teaching of the
classes themselves, meant that all of the teacher's
working hours and a large part of personal time as
well had daily to be devoted to monitoring and
The new educational approach accompanying
adaptation to the EHEA – learning general content,
with the focus on the acquisition of skills, as
opposed to learning excessively specific content –
implies breaking with an individualistic culture and
encouraging coordination between teachers by
providing and constructing new routes of
communication and cooperation.
Finally, the need arises for greater support and
endowment of teacher education centres and
departments to enable content to be adapted to the
EHEA and to put ECTS tutorials into practice. In
particular, the need is for more personal resources
and technological infrastructure, and greater
organizational flexibility such as in class timetables.
With respect to the students, we perceived an
apathy or resistance on the part of some concerning
the change from presencial to virtual tutorials, and
fundamentally towards the new system of
orientation and monitoring of learning. We found
one of the possible explanations for this resistance to
the change to be the modifications that they have to
incorporate into how they work on the subject.
Firstly, they have to replace their passive and
receptive attitude by one that is more active and
participative, in which the protagonism passes from
the teacher or the content to the students and their
system of seeking, selecting, and organizing
Secondly, continuous work is required from
them, since the guidance and monitoring are not
aimed at preparing them to pass an examination, and
in particular not at concentrating this preparation in
the two weeks prior to the examination date. The
objective of the tutorials is to provide the students
with strategies that facilitate self-regulation in their
learning process and the attainment of greater
Thirdly, they are asked to change their
conception of learning as an individual and solitary
activity, and accept new patterns of action based on
collaboration and cooperative work. This change,
however, involves modifying and reinforcing certain
academic skills related to the acquisition of
strategies that allow one to approach a given activity
from different perspectives.
And fourthly, they have to conceive of
monitoring and evaluation as being constructive
actions aimed at facilitating and improving their
learning, and not as a form of constant control.
The difficulties and obstacles that we found in the
course of our experiment of adapting to the EHEA
and applying ECTS virtual tutorials led us to
consider adopting a series of measures aimed at
facilitating and promoting new formulas for
monitoring learning, channeled through the Internet.
Among these measures, we would highlight the
Increasing the use and diversity of synchronous
and asynchronous communication tools in
tutoring. To this end, one must clearly define
the content of the discussion fora and
participation in them. One must also form the
students into groups of 25–30 to be able to
establish different IRC sessions and avoid the
interferences and saturation that are inevitable
when all the students are called to a single
session (considering the large classes in our
Psychopædagogy undergraduate courses).
Reducing the number of students enrolled so as
to be able to carry out individual monitoring and
contribute to greater quality of the teaching and
learning process.
Giving priority to collaborative work and the
acquisition of skills related to seeking, selecting,
and organizing information, as opposed to
individualist work and the reception of ready-
made content.
Institutionalizing the figure of the coordinator of
the degree course, as well as of structures of
Coordinating the method of the students'
personal logging of their work.
Fostering transversality and the interrelationship
between subjects.
Designing a 'Degree Course Counseling and
Tutorial Plan' for Psychopædagogy.
Introducing ECTS tutorial activities that foster
and broaden the continuous evaluation of skills.
Recognizing the increased teaching load in core
and obligatory courses (with more than 80
Offering different models of inquiry,
exploration, and experimentation, and fostering
the acquisition of learning strategies and
metacognitive strategies that will allow the
prospective teacher to adapt to society's new
situations and demands.
Promoting coordination and collaboration
between teachers.
Facilitating access to and the availability of
material and organizational resources. Among
them, we would mention increased bandwidth,
access to virtual platforms with a high capacity
for downloading documents, the renovation of
computer equipment, flexibility in scheduling
and in grouping the students, etc.
Our experiment with virtual monitoring of learning
gave results that augur very positively for its
continuity. Outstanding among the conclusions we
drew from the work was that not only did more
students achieve a passing grade in Psychology of
Instruction compared to the grades in previous
years, but also that, as the students themselves
observed, some of their working schemes changed
and they acquired certain strategies which facilitated
their study of this and other subjects. They also
noted the benefit they got from the continuous
nature of the guidance and evaluation. Amongst
other aspects, they reported a greater involvement in
the study and search for complementary information,
that the on-line tutorials were an extraordinary aid to
resolving, almost immediately, the doubts that arose
in their study and preparation of the curriculum, that
it was indispensable for managing study time, etc.
In sum, when virtual tutorials have overcome the
obstacles mentioned above, they will constitute one
of the most accessible, rapid, and effective means of
monitoring undergraduate learning.
Lugo, Mª.T, 2003. Las Tutorías: un indicador de éxito de
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Padula, J.E, 2002. Contigo en la distancia. El Rol del tutor
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Reichert, S., Tauch, C., 2003. Progress towards the
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Berlin: the role of universities: to 2010 and beyond,
European University Association (EUA). Trends.
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