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September 7, 2001

eTutor of the Year 2001 competition judge Pat Leon describes the qualities the judging panel were looking for in this year's entrants

Entries for the first eTutor of the Year 2001 competition show the battle for supremacy in universities and colleges between two models of virtual learning environments (VLEs): the broadcast and the simulated classroom.

Many of the 31 entries, drawn mostly from the United Kingdom but also from the United States, the Netherlands and New Zealand, were excellent examples of how to use the internet to deliver course content. But, for the five judges, evidence of interaction between tutor and student, and student and student, was a key criterion.

The winner of the competition, sponsored by The THES and the Learning and Teaching Support Network , (LTSN) will be announced next Wednesday. He or she will receive a trophy and £1,000 at the Association for Learning Technology conference in Edinburgh. There are two runners-up.

Judge Stephen Brown, representing the ALT, said: "The broadcast model is distance learning done on the internet. You just say to the student: 'Here is the url, go find the material.' It chops out a lot of what really happens in face-to-face tutoring where people learn from one another. It misses the interaction of the simulated classroom."

Assessment was seen as evidence of interaction. It is still quite unusual for people working on teaching and learning technology to include assessment.

Professor Brown said: "If students are busy, perhaps working part time, they think 'I'll only do what I have to do'. This misses the essence of online learning - which is interaction. Assessment focuses students' minds. They look at what learning outcomes are expected and work backwards to identify what they need to concentrate on or revise."

The aim of the competition, the brainchild of experts working for the LTSN, established last autumn, was to find how innovative and effective colleges and universities have become in using virtual environments to support student learning.

Judge Andrew Booth, senior adviser to the network's generic centre, said the winning entry demonstrated how assessed online group activities could form the core of a course without getting bogged down in the intricacies of delivering content.

The competition was open to teachers and teaching teams up to and including first-degree level, but excluded postgraduate courses.

Judges looked for evidence of: use of communication facilities; two-way communication; group work; assessment with feedback; ease of navigation; easy access; and integrated use of VLE's facilities.

The short list

Bishop Burton College HND in animal care (zoology and animal psychology) year 1; On-Linm system

City University Business School IT and business 1 (BSc year 2); Lotus Notes Domino

Clemson University, South Carolina, US Principles of management; inhouse collaborative learning environment

University of Sussex Part1B natural science tripos for the University of Cambridge; PATSy

University of West of England BSc applied biological and biomedical sciences; Learning Resources Web


Amsterdam Faculty of Education All teacher education courses; web-based portfolio system

University of Bath Directed study, department of sport and exercise; Blackboard

Bournemouth University Accounting, finance and law; Net Objects Fusion (First-Class conferencing)

Clemson University, South Carolina, US Abnormal psychology; Collaborative learning environment

University of Coventry Language in use/joint degrees with a language; WebCT

De Montfort University Moments of decision: Britain and the construction of Europe; An exploration of light (photography module); WebCT

Edge Hill College of Higher Education Online history: 18th-century enclosure and the local community; WebCT

University of Huddersfield Marketing on the internet; Blackboard

King's College London Dental courses: therapeutics, pain and diagnosis; WebCT

University of Leeds Microbes and man; Nathan Bodington Building discussion room

Middlesex University IT for social science; Locally created system

University of North London Business School International purchasing; WebCT

University of Oxford Diploma in computing via the internet; inhouse system

The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand 150 computer concepts, diploma in business; Microsoft listbots

Paisley University Occupational psychology; Blackboard

University of Portsmouth WebCT virtual staffroom

Queen's University, Belfast Introduction to jurisprudence; inhouse

Royal Free and University College Medical School Discourse electronic medical classroom project Semple Piggot Rochez

Sheffield Hallam University ICT in an educational environment; Blackboard

University of London LLB Course

University of Sheffield Support of medical training; WebCT

University of Staffordshire SIfT ICT training for teachers (geography); Lotus Learning Space

Suffolk College, University of East Anglia online tutoring-professional development programme; WebCT

University of Ulster Development nursing/introduction to research Certificate in disability studies; Topclass

Judges: Alan Booth, Learning and Teaching Support Network; Stephen Brown, Association of Learning Technology; Tim Greenhalgh and Pat Leon, The THES; Laurie Phipps, Techdisc.

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