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Approaches to Creating E-learning Educational Tools Reflecting the Students with Special Needs - Klement, Milan

Milan Klement, Hana Marešová, Jiří Langer
Faculty of Education, Palacký University Olomouc, Olomouc, Czech Republic


In spite of support and a series of measures concerning the integration and inclusion of people with special needs, there are still many people who, due to their specific needs, are socially excluded and suffer from a lack of opportunities to participate fully in the life of the majority society. People with special needs represent almost 10 % of the population of the European Union. It is clear that even a group of university students will contain a significant minority of students with specific needs to be met. The question is whether this really happens and whether universities provide the students with special needs with suitably adapted forms of education. One of the modern forms of education is definitely e-learning, which has been gradually integrated into the everyday school life. It is thus important that even this form of education reflect existence of a group of students with special needs. The present paperanalyses the field of educational tools used in e-learning from the perspective of evaluation of their characteristics and quality, especially in terms of their ability to evaluate specific tools suitable for students with special needs.

In Europe, a consensus was reached upon the use of a unified term of e-learning, which, according to the information at the e-learning portal for Europe Elearningeuropa.info, is understood as the application of new multimedia technologies and the Internet in education, in order to improve its quality by enhancing access to resources, services, the exchange of information and cooperation (Simonova, 2010).
According to this definition, e-learning covers not only a wide range of tools that are used for the presentation or the transfer of the educational content and for the management of studies, but also an entire spectrum of communication channels. The tools are used via LMS (Learning Management System), which is a prerequisite for the implementation of a truly effective learning process through e-learning. LMS thus represents a virtual ‘classroom’ environment comprised of tutorials, quizzes, study instructions, exercise plans or discussionforums (Mauthe, Thomas, 2004).
Apart from LMS, properly structured and didactically adapted educational texts, referred to as e-learning supports (Paulsen, 2003) contribute significantly to the implementation of e-learning. To get a clear and permanent definition of the term, it is therefore necessary to focus on the structure and the arrangement of individual elements that such a teaching material is composed of. Study materials for distance learning, in both classical form and the form of e-learning, have gradually evolved from textbooks. In terms of the text structure, a classicaltextbook (Möhlenbrock, 1982) iscomposed of two basic components, i.e. text components (‘written text’) and extra textual components (graphical components). It should nevertheless be noted that e-learning supports have their own unique characteristics as they are intended for a particular form study, characterized above all by a higher level of independence and individuality (Bates and Poole, 2003). A characteristic feature of thus structured electronic study supports designed for e-learning is the fact that their nuclear structure is enhanced by various interactive and multimedia elements, i.e. animation, multimedia records, dynamic simulation, sound recordings, etc.
Modern information and communication technology should therefore able to offer students with special needs educational tools that can help them in overcoming the difficulties arising from the latter. The interest of teachers and students is more frequently focused on the educational content, which is not just the text and static image information, but also the dynamic image information, animations, simulations, or even the virtual reality. (Marešová, 2009) According to the changing form of educational content and its structure, it is also necessary to change used tools and evaluation strategies by which the educational content and its structure is evaluated. If there is a possibility or an intention that the educational tool will be used in the education of students with special needs, it is necessary to extend the valuation of this area, too. The following text will describe currently the most commonly used approaches to evaluating e-learning training courses, namely from the perspective of readiness to evaluate specific tools suitable for students with special needs.
Current attitudes to evaluating e-learning courses
The conventional approaches to the evaluation of training courses (at the time also known as “training programs”) are based on Kirkpatrick the 4th level model. The four level model of educational evaluation were later reworked and in the year 1993 updated in the book called Evaluating Training Programs: The Four Levels (Kirkpatrick, 1998). The current system of evaluating the effectiveness of e-learning courses is based on the basic postulate of distance education, that education is the education of adults and can therefore be applied not only in the corporate sector, but also in the tertiary sector and in lifelong learning (Bednaříková, 2008).
Other systems are based on a qualitative concept of evaluation, for example in the European quality promotion policy, which the European Commission launched in 1994. The concept of total quality management – Total Quality Management – (Blecharz, Zindulková, 2005) is based on the business field, but is also applicable to the university education. Thanks to projects such as e.g. SEEQUEL, there already exist Conceptions of quality in e-learning (Seequel, 2004) or the General framework for quality in e-learning (Anderson, McCormic, 2005). The quality management system has gradually been constituted.
There are also questionnaires for assessing e-learning from this perspective (e.g., Quality on the line: benchmarks for success in Internet-based distance education, project SEEQUEL) and some are even of Czech origin, e.g. Evaluation Standards of Faculty of Economics of West Bohemia in Pilsen (Eger, 2005). This attitude to the evaluation of e-learning is based on the overall results of comparing the effectiveness of education and identifying, regardless of the qualitative aspect. It looks at the whole process of education as a single entity and does not differentiate the educational process itself, i.e. its phases, the arrangement and structure of learning content or its form. Neither of these evaluation systems reflectsthe demands of the group of students with special needs nor contains adequate tools for assessing the quality from this point of view.
Current attitudes to the evaluation of the learning materials for e-learning
Another attitude to the evaluation of e-learning (with which the authors of this article identify) is based on the fact that it is also possible to assess and evaluate the individual building blocks of e-learning. One of these basic pillars is that there are e-learning study texts with a high rate of use of multimedia and simulations, which are nowadays beginning to use cyberspace and virtual reality. Even in this attitude to the assessment e-learning there (both at home and abroad), a number of studiesand research investigations focused on the quality of standards of e-learning components have been carried out. There is a very interesting work by M. Simonson, S. Smaldin, M. Allbright and J. Frydengerg (Frydengerg, 2002). As regards Czech production, the publication of Květoň K., Koníček L., Bauerová D. (Bauerová, 2007), E. Mechlová, J. Šarmanová and M. Malčík, can be mentioned.
Even though these concepts of evaluation of e-learning study texts are very relevant and balanced, we must say again, that neither of these evaluation systems reflects the target group of students with special needs. According to this article authors’ opinions, it is necessary to create an appropriate assessment tool that would eliminate this deficiency.
Proposal for an evaluation system of e-learning study texts reflecting the students with special needs
We can say that during the analysis of existing systems for evaluating electronic learning texts, we did not find a totally adequate system that would be effective for the quality assessment in practice. Because of this, we have defined theoretically and on the basis of realized education research verified, a new system for evaluating electronic learning texts, which allows a wide application of all necessary aspects of evaluating. There are also some links to support management systems or control systems during the study, which under the conditions of distance learning, are implemented by LMS systems. A research investigation was carried out at the Faculty of Education of Palacký University in Olomouc and was attended by 734 respondents. The results were processed using multidimensional statistical methods of cluster and factor analysis. On the basis of the research we have shown that there are 6 main fields of evaluation, each containing three to five most important evaluation criteria (a total of 43 observed characteristics) necessary for the relevant assessing of the properties of e-learning study texts:
  • The criteria focused on the student’s personality (psychological aspects).
  • The criteria focused on student learning (educational aspects).
  • The criteria focused on educational content and its form (multimedia, visualization, abstraction).
  • The criteria focused on the specifics of e-learning tools (the element character of e-learning).
  • The criteria focused on the technical aspects of e-learning.
  • The criteria focused on the ergonomic aspects of e-learning.


Even though we have to prove a proposed system for evaluating electronic study texts using the statistical methods, we have to say again that the methods of this system do not currently reflect the target group of students with special needs. In another research work, we want to fill this gap and extend the evaluation system to include tools for assessing the quality of e-learning study texts, even if it is intended for this group of students. The system structure will therefore be enriched with another field of criteria:

  • The criteria focused on consideration groups of students with special needs.

It is already clear that this field of evaluation criteria will continue to be divided in more detail on the criteria of the target group reflecting hearing, visual and physical disability (psychical illnesses and mental disability are not resolved at this stage). The definition of the observed characteristics and their verification on the basis of statistical methods is the main focus of further research work of the authors of this article. In connection with this there is an intention to create a national (Czech) or international team of experts who would be involved in this research, both in the theoretical and application parts. This article is thus also a challenge to all those interested in cooperation.

Outline of a way to test the proposed system for evaluating of e-learning study texts reflecting the students with special needs
The extended evaluation system described above will be subjected to a statistical analysis aimed at verifying the research premise: “the system of evaluation of educational materials for e-learning can be divided into 7 basic groups of evaluation criteria.” This premise will be proved by using the multivariate (multidimensional) statistical methods, cluster and factor analysis. The evaluation will be performed with quantitative methods, and as the default research method, the factor analysis (McDonald, 1991) will be used. Another research method to be used in verifying the evaluation systems is the cluster analysis (Pecáková, 2008).
There is a presumption that the research sample of this survey will consist of a group of students with special needs from Palacký University in Olomouc, who graduated the full-time and combined forms of study using LMS Unifor through using the educational materials intended for e-learning. We think, however, that to ensure really valid results, it is necessary to verify our assumption within a wider research sample, so we are fully prepared to accept any offers from colleagues from Czech and foreign schools. Collecting the research data will be realized via an interview – qualitative methods.
The area of supporting students with special needs manifests itself through all levels of education. As regards of Czech elementary education,focus is currently put on the issue of developing inclusive education, which brings along the need for restructuring the educational content for the students’ with special needs seek. These students can also take advantage of the possibilities of managed self-study, which in the case of elementary schools is not common yet. Here, therefore, e-learning could help to solve these difficulties. To this area, an evaluation system could be introduced, supposing it will be applied on this sample of respondents, as a good guide for teachers for developing learning support materials.
As for tertiary or secondary education, it is essential to providethe students with special needs with a wider range of forms of education, which may contribute to increasing comfort and level of education of the latter. E-learning seems very promising in this area. It is necessary that there be adequate tools for the evaluation of educational instruments intended for this form of study.
The facts mentioned above are perceived as a stimulus for a further discussion and as well as an incentive for a responsible and balanced attitude to the specific demands of students with special needs by implementing e-learning, even if only as a small part of their study. There is an intention of the authors of this article to build up a national (Czech) or international team of experts who would participate in further research, both in theoretical and application parts. This article is thus also a challenge to all those interested in cooperation.

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