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With the ever increasing reliance on IT in education, how courseware and instructional mediums are designed is vital if technology in education is to be used and implemented successfully. The aim of this issue of CDTL Brief is to examine some of the issues surrounding Instructional Systems Design.

May 2002, Vol. 5 No. 3 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
e-Learning at Singapore Polytechnic: From Concept to Reality
Mr D. Paul Gagnon
Educational Development Specialist/Instructional Designer
Educational & Staff Development Department, Singapore Polytechnic


The Virtual College (VC) at Singapore Polytechnic was established in 1996 as a pilot project with two major objectives: (1) to promote independent learning among Singapore Polytechnic students, and (2) to promote life-long learning through distance education for graduates and professionals from industry. From its inception, the VC moved quickly through a number of stages, beginning with the first trial application of content delivery via Singapore One in 1997, to the launching of its first modules in 1998 on Magix, thence to full delivery of online modules using two Learning Management Delivery Systems (LMDS): Type B (an in-house project) and Blackboard (an off-the-shelf purchase).

From 1997 until the present, the number of modules now available to students and the public has grown from 37 to over 1000. These modules now reside on Blackboard, the LMDS system of choice. Currently, the VC has approximately 14,290 users, with hits numbering in the 5.5 million range.

Present Status

While this increase in the number of modules and users is encouraging, it must be acknowledged, nevertheless, that much of what constitutes e-Learning today remains little more than the porting of classroom text to the Internet, and trying to reproduce the functionality and ‘look and feel’ of existing classroom materials. The Web is thus utilised as a delivery system for what already exists, as opposed to being viewed as an instrument for seeking ways to expand the scope, sequence and delivery of content.

Accordingly, new VC initiatives will stress that the role of IT in teaching and learning must expand to reflect an understanding of the best practices in online pedagogy. In this way, the VC will continue to pursue its two important strategic objectives: (1) to enhance lecturers’ abilities to deliver materials in a new and more vibrant manner, and (2) to stimulate student interest and application to online learning programmes.

The overall philosophical orientation within the VC continues to be that IT exists to provide multiple vehicles for exploring knowledge and supporting learning-by-doing. Therefore, lecturers are now being encouraged to explore ways to move from ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘guide on the side’. Concomitantly, it is believed that as the lecturers become more skilled and experienced with technology, the more they and their students will be better prepared for the knowledge-based society. To nudge lecturers towards this perspective, the VC strategy is threefold:

  1. establish a comfort zone with the technology,
  2. provide ongoing pedagogical support to guide their thinking about how to use the technology,
  3. encourage explorations in the development of their instructional delivery methods.

The current online pedagogical focus increasingly, then, explores ways to adapt and utilise existing interactive software tools for delivery using Blackboard. It is felt that this approach to module development will eventuate in materials that reflect a more student-centred and constructivist pedagogy, as opposed to the didactic teaching and learning model now extant.

The end goal, of course, is to provide staff with the confidence and the skill-set to move skilfully and effortlessly through the continuum of Classical Tutorial, Activity-Centred, Learner-Customised, Knowledge-Paced and Program-Customised lessons—as and when it suits individual pedagogical purposes.

Subsequently, modules are being developed and delivered which model these new approaches. It is also recognised, however, that much trial and error must attend such explorations. To that end, more resources are being allocated to test the various ways that Blackboard can enable teaching staff to extend the online pedagogical paradigm.

Future Directions

Currently, a number of initiatives exist to support the growth of staff in the development of online modules that reflect the online pedagogical lesson continuum. One such initiative is the Online Learning Rubric. Based on a four-point scale—with 1 representing little or no development and 4, good to excellent development—the rubric serves as a guide for lecturers in the self-evaluation of their module design. The current target is for the VC modules to reflect a benchmark of at least 3 by the end of 2002. Concurrently, new initiatives will be rolled out to push the benchmark towards 4.

Supporting the rubric initiative is a systematic and comprehensive training programme that builds around a required basic training workshop in Blackboard. This programme features enrichment workshops that focus on the specific skills necessary to understand and successfully deploy the many features available within Blackboard. These workshops are offered on a rotating and regular basis and are designed, not only to facilitate staff skills with current Blackboard features, but also to encourage new ways of thinking about their online pedagogy, as they journey towards mastery in online pedagogy.

Another practical initiative designed to support this movement to skilled online instructional delivery is the Competency in IT Certification. This programme identifies the essential IT skills considered to be prerequisites for successful design, development and delivery of online modules. Staff who can demonstrate competency in all skills will be issued the certificate.

Further support rests with research and development staff, who are focusing on the enhancement and effective use of instructional software to model practical approaches to curriculum delivery. For example, expansion is underway with respect to Virtual Lab applications/simulations that demonstrate effective pedagogy in the areas of case study and problem-based learning.

Rounding out these initiatives is the recent acquisition of Centra’s Virtual Classroom technology to complement Blackboard and thereby, enhance the distance learning capability of the VC. By providing this virtual face-to-face platform, confidence grows that lecturers can build successfully on existing pedagogical strengths. Notably, this technology will facilitate more successful utilisation of current Blackboard content, as well as provide on-time, anytime, anywhere, training and development for workers in Singapore and abroad.


The history of the VC at Singapore Polytechnic has been one of meeting and overcoming challenges. Current directions reflect this history and build on experiences to date. Future challenges to be handled include: conversion of module materials to files appropriate for downloading to pocket PCs and personal digital assistants, and the development and delivery of reusable content processes within Blackboard. Thus the Singapore Polytechnic VC continues to sail successfully on a virtual and ever-changing sea: its vessel sound, and its Captain, Officers and crew well trained and ever vigilant.

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Inside this issue
e-Learning at Singapore Polytechnic: From Concept to Reality
Considerations for Web-Based Learning Design
Creating a Meaningful Learning Environment Using ICT
Understanding Strategies of Authoring Computer Courseware
Towards a Blended Design for e-Learning