The AgroWeb project mentions three specific goals:
1. The creation of an integrated framework for activities that have the potential to provide real world results through an interdisciplinary model easily applicable in the current educational practice.
2. The transfer of the reality of modern economy practices into the classroom.
3. Collaboration of people from different nations with common aims and objectives.
AgroWeb is an educational project, addressed in the secondary educational level. Three groups were identified by AgroWeb that should directly benefit from the project:
1. Teachers benefited by the on-line training seminars and the experience gained in running an ODL interdisciplinary project. Both were considered as practical, useful, and academicly valid help to any educator who incorporates ODL and ICT practices into his/her daily teaching.
2. Students participating in the project have benefited from the qualitative upgrading the introduction of ODL was expected to offer to the "conventional" teaching. They had the opportunity to use the web as an interactive communication medium and cooperate with virtual classmates remotely located and thus expand their learning experiences. At the same time they learned about European agricultural products and became familiar with e-commerce and the common currency. This procedure helped them as perspective consumers but, more importantly, it served as vocational training, equipping the students with skills that are very important for tomorrow’s citizens.
3. Local communities/enterprises profited as well from the project, through the promotion of their products, through the open days that students organised all around Europe.
Economic and social Impact of the project
The AgroWeb project realized an innovation in school education, targeting the meaningful application of ICT in an interdisciplinary approach of the learning process. It also initiated necessary measures to prepare students for their future active participation in e-commerce, since this new form of commerce is rapidly increasing and represents a common practice in Europe's near future. Undoubtedly e-commerce is a challenge for Europe as the European Union is an attractive market of 370 million people with one single currency, the EURO. Through the use of the e-shop platform, a discussion on the EURO was stimulated, helping students realise the imminent changes with a real example, so that the importance of the introduction of a common currency was understood in a clear self-discovery process.
According to the project handbook, Agroweb has generated an integrated framework for activities that have the potential to provide “real world” (as applied in traditional education) results through an interdisciplinary model applicable in the current educational practice. AgroWeb provides a classroom model of motivating activities such as e-commerce. This model includes an innovative learning environment based on the creation of a virtual classroom, where every possible aspect of a conventional classroom can be simulated. The project adopts an interactive and collaborative form of ODL's application in a decentralised organisational approach.
The AgroWeb project developed a web-based e-shop platform, in the design of which proper weight has been given to its educational concept. It is a tool for students, a distributed learning environment, facilitating the learning process. The e-shop platform includes facilities to produce graphical representations of the sales of a product (product's performance) to compare actual and anticipated performances and in general what is necessary to monitor the financial activities of a real shop. The e-shop is the electronic market place where, according to AgroWeb, the person-to-person contact took place and where the students had the chance to realize in praxis the importance of the European single market and the common European currency.
In the framework of the project, a network of European Secondary Schools and University Departments of Pedagogical Psychology, together with specialists in the field of development of educational Multi-Media, developed this application, the e-shop, through which students promoted agricultural products of their areas. The reality of modern economy practices is thus transferred into the classroom.
The AgroWeb project targeted the longterm effect on students' behaviour as active players in the European market. One of the central subjects of the project was the awareness of e-commerce, i.e., possible type of items to order via Internet, security and payment issues, design of web sites and elementary knowledge on commercial economy. According to the evaluator, pupils used the Internet more often in order to buy different kinds of items at the end of the project. This observation is of great importance as it shows that AgroWeb project had a positive influence in students’ attitude towards e-commerce. Concerning this matter no significant difference between technical and conventional schools could be found.
Results of the evaluation show that AgroWeb project encourages pupils to consider the Internet, not only as a communication tool or a source of useful information, but also as a daily service; in other words, the web becomes a style of life. This was achieved in the project by transmission of skills and critical knowledge to face the challenge of ICT practices in today's and, even more, tomorrow's daily life of European Citizens, including the motivation to constantly up-date their knowledge and to accept life-long learning. In particular, students involved in the project acquired tele-working experiences and organizational and management skills that are key competencies for tomorrow's European workers.
New teacher and student roles associated with ICT based innovative pedagogical practices
The AgroWeb project mentions three ODL-scenarios with different roles of students and teachers:
According to AgroWeb, the methodology of the virtual classroom can be, depending on the mode of instruction, a simple reproduction of the classroom model, i.e., a trainer-centred process or a more learner-centred process. Learners attend class individually or in groups in one or more rooms equipped with all the necessary infrastructures for audio/video-conference classes situated in learning centres. These audio/video-conferences, lectures by instructors/experts at appointed time, previously arranged, aim at delivering the core content of the course. The optional learning material, such as complementary information, drills, practice, and self-assessment tasks, can be accessed through off-line technologies (drill and practice software, CD-ROM, video, etc.) and on-line technologies (BBS, FTP, E-mail, etc.). Learners participate by asking questions and commenting on the issues raised.
The methodology of supported self-learning is learner-centred; i.e., the learner is responsible for his/her progress and develops and refines learner and problem-solving strategies. In this case learning is initiated and directed by the learner and can include self-paced, independent, and individualized learning as well as self-instruction. A tutor coaches learners and in general supports them through the learning process by providing feedback, self-learning material and an evaluation system. AgroWeb states that this methodology has a high degree of flexibility as the learner chooses the time, the place and the pace of learning. The learner, working at a computer at a convenient time and pace, is able to search and utilize the vast resources of the Internet. Learners can write collaboratively with peers and even publish written and multimedia products on web pages.
The use and application of ICT to the learning process allows the realisation of collaborative learning. Technology is used in AgroWeb as a tool for learning, group work, communication and collaboration. Collaborative learning in AgroWeb is understood as the process of two or more students working together to learn.
AgroWeb thinks that the aforementioned learning methodologies complement one another and can be integrated. In this way the limitations of one method can be overcome by another. AgroWeb combined these elements together with “traditional” forms of classroom teaching, e.g., class teaching, self-directed learning, group work.
Changes in patterns of teacher-student and student-student interactions as a result of ICT mediated innovation
In AgroWeb the teacher is a key player in the implementation of the innovation. He/She is at the centre of effective use of instructional technology. AgroWeb states that for students to become comfortable and effective users of various technologies, teachers must be able to make wise, informed decisions about technology. All teachers should be confident in applying technology when and where appropriate.
The role of the teacher involves the following:
* creating an effective external learning environment that stimulates the environment within;
* mentoring and counselling to ensure that learners are encouraged to pursue their learning in an appropriate and meaningful direction using approaches best suited to them as individuals;
* facilitating student inquiry, guiding student work and offering individual help;
* coaching, observing students, offering hints and reminders, providing feedback, scaffolding and fading, modelling.
The AgroWeb project states that collaborative work enforced a strong sense of partnership between students and teachers and the pooling of knowledge has been rewarding for teachers and has affected their attitudes toward students initiative in class.
The students have experienced the fact that teaching and learning are not opposites but complementary activities, that partnership between students and teachers requires the students' willingness to co-operate and offers them the chance to use their initiative. They have become aware that the exchange and the pooling of knowledge is efficient as no individual can ever be omniscient. Several times students came to aid their teachers when students could not manage the computer. They have also come to accept that learning is an element of any individual's life independent of age or position - the need of lifelong learning.
Finally, the fact that many parts of the project were done in addition to the regular school work proved that teaching and collaboration between students and teachers may be extended out of the school context; i.e., may have the status of an extra curriculum activity without causing any opposition from the students.
Attitudes of teachers and trainers towards ICT
According to the AgroWeb project one of the most obvious results was a change of attitude towards ICT. Many teachers that had been reluctant to use of ICT in learning not only lost all reluctance as to computing but had come to use the computer and the Internet for school work in general.
What teachers needed, in order to respond to their new role, are skills in ICT, which have been classified by Agroweb into a range of competences:
<![if !supportLists]> · <![endif]> positive attitudes to ICT
<![if !supportLists]> · <![endif]> understanding of the educational potential of ICT
<![if !supportLists]> · <![endif]> ability to use ICT effectively in the curriculum
<![if !supportLists]> · <![endif]> ability to manage ICT use in the classroom
<![if !supportLists]> · <![endif]> ability to evaluate ICT use
<![if !supportLists]> · <![endif]> ability to ensure differentiation and progression
<![if !supportLists]> · <![endif]> technical capability to use an appropriate range of ICT resources and to update these skills, etc.
In order to develop these skills and overcome the barriers mentioned above, AgroWeb states that teachers needed:
<![if !supportLists]> · <![endif]> Sufficient professional development opportunities in order to
(1) learn how technology works and how it is integrated into the curriculum,
(2) develop new skills and
(3) change attitudes.
<![if !supportLists]> · <![endif]> Support both on pedagogical and on technological issues in order to sustain the use of new technologies in the instruction and to help teachers respond to the demands of their new multifaceted role. However, changing roles and adopting a new model of instruction which involves the use of ICT is a lengthy process. Teachers go through certain phases before they fully adopt and commit themselves to using ICTs for instructional purposes.
Simply providing sufficient access to technology for teaching and learning was not enough. The preparation of new teachers has to be improved, including their knowledge of how to use technology for effective teaching and learning; the quantity, quality and coherence of technology-focused activities aimed at the professional development of teachers have to be increased; and the instructional support available to teachers who use technology has to be improved.
According to AgroWeb teachers directly benefited by the on-line training seminars and the experience gained in running an ODL interdisciplinary project. Teachers that have experienced the qualitative upgrade that ODL can bring to the teaching practice act as "promoters" of the idea in the educators' society.
Main actors, adopters and resisters to the adoption of the innovation as identified in the projects
AgroWeb identifies a number of teacher-related factors that should be carefully considered so that appropriate support and professional development opportunities are provided. Teachers may have developed patterns and styles of teaching and students interaction that fit their own circumstances and can be managed. Previous practice provides them security. Many prefer replicating traditional chalk and talk instruction and "safe", teacher-led and controlled learning activities. AgroWeb observed that changing what they think as appropriate pedagogy for the learners, themselves and their subject area may be difficult. This can be even harder when teachers act in isolation from one another and are not exposed to innovative models of learning.
On the other side teachers who actively participated in the project benefited by the on-line training seminars and the experience gained in running an ODL interdisciplinary project. Both were considered as practical useful and academic valid help to any educator who will decide to incorporate ODL and ICT practices to his/her daily teaching. Although some of them were reluctant to use ICT at school nearly all of them lost their reluctance and even started to use ICT in other areas.
According to AgroWeb teachers that have by themselves experienced the qualitative upgrade that the introduction of ODL could bring to the teaching practice are definitely effective "promoters" of the idea in the educators' society.
AgroWeb states that students showed enthusiasm and eagerness right from the beginning to participate in the project; they in some cases taught themselves, each other, and their teachers how to work with the Web more efficiently and alternative ways of creating Webpages. They created their own Websites for the promotion of their products with a link to the AgroWeb home page. Often students worked on the project in their free time. Students participating in the project have benefited from the qualitative upgrading the introduction of ODL was expected to offer to the "conventional" teaching. They had the opportunity to use the web as an interactive communication medium and cooperate with virtual classmates remotely located and by this expand their learning experiences.
AgroWeb observed many cases in which students, because of their involvment in the project's activities, were considering very seriously the possibility of working in fields such as Web design or e-commerce. From the intense collaboration between companies-producers and students, there were also cases where companies asked some of the students to work for them as trainees not only after the end of school year but in a permanent position.
Enterprises were main supporters of the innovations as they profited through the promotion of their products. As already mentioned above enterprises profited by the perspective of getting qualified personnel.
The general organisational approach and structure was set in the partners' meetings. During the meetings representatives from all the participating institutions had the chance to discuss in detail all the organisational aspects of the project and exchange ideas about theoretical and practical issues of the projects' implementation. The applied methodology ensured the active participation of all partner parties.
According to AgroWeb the school's climate or else the school's culture has a major impact on the teacher and has to be considered in the implementation of ICT based learning. AgroWeb observed that teachers working in isolation from peers, without collegial support and in a stagnant environment, were likely to remain static. On the other hand, an organisational culture that is characterised by teacher collegiality and formal or informal collaborative work, both supports and facilitates the development of the organisation's members. Teachers working in an environment where they feel safe, give and receive support from their peers and/ or from the head, exchange ideas and innovative practices and share the same values, are likely to respond positively to an innovation and embrace it.
Accessing technology for lesson preparation but also for instructional purposes plays a significant role. AgroWeb observed that the availability and operability of technologies influences the extent to which they are used. Teachers' workload and lack of flexibility in time and in the curriculum are also considerable constraints.
Based on the experience with the project, in the most of the schools new courses related to electronic commerce and web development will be added to their curriculum, which will be mandatory for business students, to be taken concurrently with the business planning course. School administrations had the opportunity to see the effects of integrating information technology with the curriculum and the enthusiasm generated from students and other faculty. AgroWeb mentions that they are convinced today that the Internet will become a major source of knowledge, and may be easily integrated as an additional tool in educational and scientific programs. Mrs. Reba Georgiadi, teacher in the Anatolia Farm School in Thessaloniki, pointed out that the AgroWeb project gave the school administration the opportunity to see the effects of integrating information technology with the curriculum.