Tilemodule Distance Education

Tilemodule. A self-contained learning package intended to take the learner a total of about two to three hours to complete, not necessarily all at one time, where completion of the tilemodule requires the production of some learner generated work in permanent form which can be included in a portfolio.

It is sometimes the case that a person would like, in principle, to take an educational course, yet, with conventional methods this is not possible, for reasons of time availability, other commitments, lack of a suitable course locally, not being able to afford fees and so on.

Distance education programmes are suitable for many people yet sometimes require the student to study for ten hours each week on a regular basis. This may well be necessary in order to achieve the goal qualification.

However, in local colleges, people regularly take courses that require attendance for two hours each week for ten to twelve weeks, produce a portfolio of work and receive a Certificate of Credit Award.

The tilemodule concept takes the concept of the two hour each week course, uses it as the basis for a distance education course, then recognizes that there is then no need to necessarily make study a regular event. Certainly if one does not work regularly then there is a good chance that one may drift off completing the course. However, regular time for study is not an option available to everyone, so I have devised the concept of a tilemodule so that one can make progress and complete something tangible in two to three hours, whenever one has the two to three hours available. For example, some Saturday afternoons. The intention is that, like the tiles of a mosaic, a portfolio of the results of carrying out a number of tilemodules, say ten or twelve, will amount to something worthwhile, compatible with the portfolio produced by attending a two hour a week course at a local college.

Certainly, tilemodules are much more applicable to some subjects rather than others. Tilemodules are particularly applicable to subjects where no equipment is necessary and to subjects where the topics are non-hierarchical in that one does not need to have a complete course prepared by one author or by one course team.

I put forward the concept of a tilemodule with the specially coined word tilemodule in the hope that it will be a ready shaped building block to build infrastructure for the future of distance education upon the internet and upon digital broadcasting channels. The electronic technology provides the carrier method. The tilemodule is concerned with the organization of the content.

Financial Implications

I have a hope that a tilemodule education will be an education that is free to the student. I envisage that the authorship and publication of tilemodules will be financed by sponsorship and advertising revenue. The existence of the internet and the newsgroup system means that anyone with access to the internet who so chooses can author and publish a tilemodule. Anyone with a web site, even a small home user site such as this, can publish a tilemodule if he or she so chooses. Yet, even though such tilemodules may be valuable and a collection of such tilemodules could be made available by unfinanced effort, I feel that in order for tilemodules to become a significant educational feature of the internet, financial considerations will need to be involved.

The educational content of tilemodules could be either in a vocational field or in a non-vocational field. Sponsorship could be unlinked to content, loosely linked to content or directly linked to content. For example, sponsorship unlinked to content might be where, say, a major news organization decides to sponsor a collection of tilemodules on medieval English history. For example, sponsorship loosely linked to content might be where a major fruit importer decides to sponsor a collection of tilemodules on the literature of the country where the fruit is grown. For example, sponsorship directly linked to content might be where a major oil company decides to sponsor a collection of tilemodules on the geology of oil prospecting. For example, a software company might publish a java application as shareware and accompany the package with several tilemodules so that a person who spent time learning the package could both learn the package and also obtain some learner generated output in permanent form for a portfolio. If tilemodules can become an accepted part of distance education upon the internet and upon digital broadcasting channels then it may become the case that sponsors will either directly employ staff to author and tutorially support tilemodules or will pay large sums of money to independent tilemodule authorship and tutorial support companies to carry out all the necessary work in order to publicise their company.

Certainly I would like to hope that a tilemodule education will be an education free of fees to the end user. It is up to publishers how they choose to use their work. I wonder whether the inclusion of advertisement material in routing pages and indexes, though not in the tilemodules themselves, would be capable of generating sufficient revenue for a publisher to find it worthwhile to sponsor the authorship of tilemodules to then be available free of charge on the internet.

My hope is that, as well as enjoying carrying out tilemodules, some people will also wish to author tilemodules and publish them on the internet. It is possible that individuals may be able to use such authorship for academic credit as an educational author. Tilemodules could be published on web sites, with perhaps a posting about the existence of the web site in the alt.education.distance newsgroup; or could be published in the alt.education.distance newsgroup, which would cause them to be archived on www.dejanews.com and thus available on a web site even if the person publishing the tilemodule did not have his or her own website. It would be helpful if anyone publishing a tilemodule in the alt.education.distance newsgroup used the word TILEMODULE in capitals in the subject line of the posting. Publication in the alt.education.distance newsgroup would be straightforward for a single text page. Where multiple pages and graphics were involved, formats could be devised so that the tilemodule can be made available to as many people as possible by choosing a lowest common denominator method. There could also be a general practice that authors would list, on the main page of a tilemodule, the filenames of all the files used in that tilemodule, including graphics files, so that a student could easily copy all of the files for that tilemodule to his or her local storage media.

The possibility also exists that electronic publishers might also invite tilemodule authors to send in tilemodules to them and pay the authors for publication. This payment could either be in money or in tokens of a specially formed independent company or in a combination of money and tokens as desired. The possibility of payment in tokens has very interesting possibilities if the tokens were independently issued by a specially formed non-profit company that had educational objectives. A person could then author a tilemodule for a commercial publisher and receive tokens valid for goods and services from the independent non-profit company. A person could collect tokens from several commercial publishers all issued by the same independent non-profit company. As the independent non-profit token company would receive the payment for the tokens up front from the commercial publishers, the independent non-profit token company could employ economy of scale in providing such items as specially printed text books and so on. Such an independent non-profit token company might well have its own website and could issue a small number of its own tokens directly to sponsor the authorship of tilemodules of some of those academically valuable subjects which would not be specially commissioned by a commercial electronic publisher.

I am hoping that tilemodules will become an effective part of distance education on the internet, bearing in mind the availability of features that could be used, such as java applications.

Accreditation and Qualifications

Learning for its own sake certainly, yet qualifications are important. I envisage the possibility that tilemodules could be accredited independently and that qualifications could be awarded by a properly accredited college for a portfolio of work of suitable quality from accredited tilemodules. A tilemodule could be authored entirely separately from the institution that awards the qualification. There will need to be great care in the matter of the accreditation of tilemodules and in the matter of the awarding of qualifications, particularly if students are asked to pay money for such an assessment and award. Lists of accredited tilemodules and the world wide web address where they could be found could appear regularly in the alt.education.distance newsgroup. Yet the need for care is no reason that time and effort should not be spent in taking that care and the need for care is no reason for not seeking to build an infrastructure upon the concept of tilemodules where students could receive qualifications.

For example, for small portfolios of work for Certificates of Credit Award, is it possible that the sponsors of tilemodules will also pay duly accredited local colleges to assess portfolios and award a Certificate of Credit Award to those students who meet the required standard?

William Overington

3 February 1998