306 J. Pavey and S. W. Garland
within the student community, allow more students to participate than would be possible in a
conventional seminar, and give less-confident students a chance to contribute in an unthreaten-
ing environment (Taylor, 2002). Perhaps counter-intuitively, VLEs can also increase interaction
between staff and students (albeit not face-to-face interaction), although this bonding requires
encouragement by the tutor, and activities designed to foster student communications (Hiltz,
One important factor that needs to be considered when introducing active and interactive
activities into online learning—called ‘e-tivities’ by Salmon (2002)—is the need to determine
the roles of the students and tutors, and achieving the right balance between their interactions.
Consideration should also be given to the value of these learning experiences when compared
with traditional teaching methods. This paper describes a series of e-tivities implemented in
this module, and provides guidance for good practice, focusing on the key roles of the e-tutor
A series of e-tivities were integrated into the Cardiovascular Physiology section of the Level 1
Sport and Exercise Physiology module, and were delivered through an institutionally custom-
ized Virtual Learning Environment called Blackboard®, (http://www.blackboard.com/). The
VLE also provided a site to post lecture notes, reading lists, etc., although discussion of these is
beyond the scope of this paper.
Students were divided into groups of four or five members in order to perform their assigned
tasks, although individual independent work was also possible. Four e-tivities were developed:
(1) formative quizzes, (2) interactive web pages and animations, (3) topic discussions and (4)
an online lecture. These e-tivities were integrated through initial face-to-face instruction, and
the provision of a paper-based workbook that directed the students to the e-tivities. Prior to
performing the e-tivities, and over a period of three weekly lectures, the five stages of Salmon’s
model were used to implement a methodology that could encourage participation within the
VLE and engagement with the e-tivities (Salmon, 2000). Each stage of this model requires
participants to master certain technical and e-learning skills. The activities and instruction that
the tutor developed were in accordance with the steps of Salmon’s five-stage model (Salmon,
2000) (Figure 1).
Figure 1 A mapping of tutor activities on to Salmon’s five-stage module
The workbook directed students to a library reading list, and also to a range of online resources.
The online resources included external Web sites and the bespoke interactive web pages
described below. These resources were used by students to answer a series of questions for
automated marking and feedback through the assessment function in the VLE. For example,
one task was to identify structures of the circulatory system on an anatomical diagram using a
drag and drop feature with automated feedback (http://www.dur.ac.uk/interact.phys/
‘E-tivities’ to enhance students’ learning 307
Figure 1. A mapping of tutor activities on to Salmon’s five-stage module
Interactive web pages and animations
Diagrams usually presented either as lecture slides or photocopies were converted to animations
using the Macromedia® suite (http://www.macromedia.com/) and were incorporated into web
pages within the VLE. These animations were designed to explain physiological concepts that
could not be as effectively achieved on paper, and included interactive elements to engage students
in visualizing and anticipating processes. They also included questions for the students to think
about to aid with procedural knowledge and to contribute to an understanding of the concepts.
308 J. Pavey and S. W. Garland
Additional formative exercises were also incorporated to enhance their understanding and knowl-
edge of the subject (e.g. http://www.dur.ac.uk/interact.phys/physiology/slide14(b).swf).
The tutor used the asynchronous discussion board provided by the VLE in order to engage the
students in discussing the course outside lecture time. Discussion forums can replace the casual
conversations that take place between students and have a permanent written log. Discussions
are no longer rapid and experimental. As Clark (2001) points out “Students have ample time to
read other students’ comments, do research and formulate a detailed response”. Several threads
were set up in the discussion board that included the cardiovascular system and other topics in
the module. Students were aware that there was a regular moderating presence, and the tutor
regularly accessed the discussion forums, posted comments and answered questions.
The ‘chat’ facility was used within the VLE to deliver a 90-minute online tutorial, based on the
material covered in the activities described above, and as a replacement for a face-to-face tuto-
rial. Instructions and the rules were developed by the tutor and posted to the students prior to
the synchronous online lecture commencing, to enhance the discussion (Figure 2). According
to a recent study by Beaudin (1999), providing guidelines for online activity should be rated as
an important criterion for keeping online discussions ‘on-topic’. In their groups, students
accessed a computer terminal typically in their Hall of Residence or a University computer
room, although they could have used any location that had Internet access. The tutor ran the
session from the tutor’s office. The tutor was online before any students in order to take control
of the session so that they were focused on the academic material, and were not able to chat
informally before the session began. The tutor led and guided the discussion, encouraged those
who were contributing useful information, and invited and encouraged groups who were not
contributing by posing specific questions. The tutor drew the dialogue back to the point when
the discussion went too far off track and encouraged contributors to keep to the topic if the
Figure 2 Rules for communication
Results and evaluation
Within two weeks of the completion of the tasks described above, the tutor and 95 of the 146
students taking the module (65% response rate) provided written feedback based on their expe-
riences of e-learning in this module. This involved a multiple-choice questionnaire, short-
answer questions (which was posted in the VLE as a survey), as well as the opportunity to
provide open-ended feedback.
General e-learning feedback
Positive feedback from students regarding the use of the VLE included: ‘I don’t believe the VLE
should take the place of live lectures but I do feel it should be integrated further’, ‘different styles
‘E-tivities’ to enhance students’ learning 309
Figure 2. Rules for communication
of learning are useful to my understanding of the work’ and ‘it is really useful and more inter-
esting than somebody talking all the time. It also helps with understanding the course more’.
Table 1 illustrates students’ responses to the multiple-choice questions. It is evident that
many students responded positively to the VLE, finding it easy to access and useful in aiding
their learning, and although this was by no means universal, 83% of the students would recom-
mend that Web-based material should be developed for other modules (Table 1, question 6).
Formative quiz feedback
These quizzes were structurally no different from quizzes that could be delivered on paper.
Several were incorporated in the web pages near to the relevant sub-topic, which may have
encouraged students to test themselves as they progressed. Sixty per cent of the students found
them useful in terms of aiding their understanding (Table 1, question 7).
Interactive web pages and animation feedback
Written feedback regarding the in-house animations produced this typical response: ‘Interactive
diagrams can help understanding as you can see what is happening. Also it is easier to learn facts/
310 J. Pavey and S. W. Garland
ideas when you are “involved” in them and not just reading’. Most students stated that the
animations were useful or very useful in aiding their understanding of the topic, reflected in their
answers to multiple-choice question 8 (Table 1).
Table 1. Results from evaluation
1. How did you find the navigation of the web pages?
Very easy 12%
Very difficult 0%
2. What is your preference for learning?
Web-based materials 3%
Paper-based materials 49%
A combination of both 48%
3. In terms of revision will you find the web pages a useful resource?
4. Overall, how do you rate the effectiveness of this VLE as a learning resource?
It has greatly assisted in my learning 13%
It has assisted to some extent 78%
It has not assisted at all 7%
No answer given 2%
5. In terms of your lectures and in relation to your use of this VLE, please select the statement
you most agree with:
I no longer take notes in lectures 0%
The amount of note taking I do in lectures has reduced 32%
The amount of note taking I do has stayed the same 68%
6. In the future would you recommend that supporting materials should be developed as web
pages in other modules?
7. Did you find the quizzes in the VLE useful in terms of aiding your understanding?
8. Please select the statement you most agree with:
The animations were useful in aiding my understanding of the topic 55%
The animations were the same as if I had studied a static diagram, but were more 21%
I could have understood the concepts just as easily if I had studied static diagrams 13%
No answer given 11%
9. Did you find the session delivered using the chat facility a worthwhile experience as an
alternative to face-to-face delivery?
‘E-tivities’ to enhance students’ learning 311
In the asynchronous discussions, more active discussion among students developed in certain
topics but not all contributed. Discussion topics were introduced by the tutor and the progres-
sion of the discussion was generally a question and answer format. As discussion on a topic
progressed, the tutor followed and observed, intervening as necessary in order to maintain an
interesting and productive conversation. Sometimes participants built on each other’s
comments and often the tutor found it unnecessary to intervene. The tutor weaved ideas and
summarized key points but no specific conclusions were drawn—the discussion boards were left
open throughout the duration of the course.
In the chat session, the structured question–response format worked effectively, with the tutor
posing a question and each group responding. The tutor then allowed time for groups to
comment on each other’s responses, promoting student interaction and independent discussion.
In advance of the synchronous session, the tutor typed out the questions and other relevant
information in a text document for fast and accurate dialogue. This kept the concentration of
the students as they did not have to wait for the tutor to type out long explanations or instruc-
tions. The tutor weaved ideas and summarized key points and also drew conclusions at the end
of the session. The topics and questions covered were decided and each was allocated a specific
time-period within the 90 minutes, which enabled the discussion to move forwards to the next
topic according to the schedule. This also ensured that the objectives of the task were met; other-
wise the dialogue could have dwelled on one subject without progressing forwards.
Not all students responded well to this activity, and 69% of students did not find the session
a worthwhile experience as an alternative to face-to-face delivery, although others commented:
‘more stimulating than sitting in a classroom’, ‘Admittedly I anticipated that the virtual lecture
would not be of that much extra use to a “normal” lecture. However, I found that the experience
was in fact very beneficial. The way it was conducted meant that you had to get involved and
contribute, if more lectures were taken in this way I think it would encourage me (personally) to
participate and interact more, not only during the time on-line, but to take a more active interest
in, for example, background reading so that I knew what I was talking about in the lecture and
could follow what was being said’.
This series of e-tivities was incorporated part-way through this module, therefore allowing the
tutor time to provide instruction, and allowing students time to access and become familiar with
the VLE before performing formal, directed tasks. This approach supports the work of Salmon
(2000) who found that students need to feel competent about how to use a VLE before they are
comfortable with exchanging ideas and information. Indeed Salmon’s (2000) five-stage model
was followed closely, and resulted in only 3% of students reporting difficulty in accessing the
VLE. Further to this the success could also lie with the predisposition of the students. A
Communication and Information Technology skills audit of students was performed during the
312 J. Pavey and S. W. Garland
first week at University and revealed that 81% of students perceived themselves to be either
confident or very confident computer users (http://www.dur.ac.uk/its/lt/cit/).
Before the material was developed, the tutor also became familiar with the medium and was
convinced of its potential educational value (Salmon & Giles, 1997). As the tutor provided the
instructions to the students, it was important to include a rationale for incorporating the e-tivi-
ties into the module, in particular outlining some of the merits of using synchronous and asyn-
Students were encouraged to access the VLE, and in particular the asynchronous and
synchronous discussion tools prior to the session. It was important to carry out this familiar-
ization separately to the main session, as students may not want to view social dialogue when
it comes to revision of the material. Positive feelings were established by creating an informal
setting and providing a forum for conversations of a social nature (Rohfeld & Hiemstra,
Animation may or may not promote learning, depending on how it is used (Mayer &
Moreno, 2002). Animations could be described as useful if they (1) lead to better understand-
ing than what is achieved by alternative approaches or (2) less time is spent using the anima-
tion approach to achieve similar learning outcomes. Birkeland (1998) also stated this and
believed that good computer animations can overcome some learning difficulties for many
students. Used correctly, animation is potentially a powerful tool for learning; the first princi-
ple is that students learn more deeply from animation and narration than from narration alone.
The theoretical rationale for this principle is that students are better able to build connections
between corresponding words and pictures when both are presented (Mayer & Moreno,
2002). If animations are developed where learners are enabled to perform cognitive processes
which they might not be able to perform without the support of such a medium, learning
through animations can be important. Although much material remained non-verbal, interac-
tive animations were likely to have caused elaborative thinking processes that enforce memory.
This is confirmed by the students’ comments presented in the Results section. The incorpora-
tion of interactive animations is perhaps an important aspect of scientific courses where
complex processes are presented, and particularly for those students who have less background
or ability in scientific subjects.
The asynchronous and synchronous discussions were the most innovative aspects of the
developments presented in this paper. Online discussion is perhaps a less intimidating environ-
ment than the lecture room, and encouraged shy students to express their ideas without feelings
of embarrassment. There were no anonymous postings and no mechanism to ensure that every
student participated, but these alternative methods provided a range of opportunities to encour-
age those students who might not necessarily contribute face-to-face. It is important to provide
a range of learning opportunities to try to engage all students, and all student learning styles. It
is unlikely that every student will respond well to every activity described in this paper, but very
likely that every student will find an approach that suits them well. Online discussions perhaps
provide an approach to engage those students who prefer not to ask questions in the lecture
room, in front of their peers and lecturer.
On the asynchronous discussion boards, after initial postings by the tutor, participants built
on each other’s comments. According to Rohfeld and Hiemstra (1995), often the tutor can serve
best by staying silent, and often this was the case. The burden for learning therefore moved away
‘E-tivities’ to enhance students’ learning 313
from the tutor and towards the individual student and the student community. This student-
centred approach has previously been demonstrated to be an effective learning strategy and it
has been suggested that this type of delivery can increase critical thinking and active learning for
students (Hughes & Daykin, 2002).
Despite this shift in burden, the tutor regularly accessed the discussion forums to read
students’ comments and answer questions. Students were aware that there was a regular pres-
ence from the tutor and therefore were confident that questions posted would be answered,
which encouraged discussion. A key feature of online learning is that it is collaborative, there-
fore, when the tutor and students are comfortable with the software and the social environment
online, the role of the tutor is that of enabling effective and purposeful collaboration (Salmon &
Giles, 1997). Successful bonding required encouragement and well-planned activities to foster
student communication both for synchronous and asynchronous discussion.
A face-to-face tutorial was replaced by an online synchronous discussion session. This form
of lecture delivery was chosen to present an alternative and innovative learning method into
the module to foster enthusiasm with the aim of enhancing the learning experience. The tutor
led and guided the discussion and encouraged those who were contributing useful informa-
tion. When facilitating online discussion, asking the right questions was found to be almost
more important than giving the right answers, an idea supported by Muilenburg and Berge
Generally positive feedback emerged from the students’ overall experience of participating in
e-tivities to support their learning. The key to the success of incorporating such e-tivities is the
method by which they are introduced and integrated within the module and consistent support
from the tutor. Also of importance was the variety and alternative style of teaching that was
brought about by use of the VLE. This was valued by the students and comments such as the
following emerged: ‘different styles of learning are useful to my understanding of the work’.
Further comments emerged relating to the positive impact of the VLE that ‘it is really useful and
more interesting than somebody talking all the time. It also helps with understanding the course
The main negative feedback emerged from the lecture that was delivered through the chat
session; 69% of the students did not value this as a worthwhile experience. A possible explana-
tion could be related to the wording of the question which asked if they found it useful as an
alternative to face-to-face delivery. Many students stated that they had found the experience
worthwhile but not as a replacement/alternative to face-to-face contact but rather as a supple-
mentary learning method. More positive results may have emerged if the word ‘alternative’ had
been omitted, possibly replacing it with ‘additional’. Concerned comments such as ‘I don’t
believe the VLE should take the place of live lectures but I do feel it should be integrated further’
emerged. This emphasizes the need to establish the rationale for using a VLE to the students
with the notion that the aim is to supplement and enhance their learning and the idea is not to
replace face-to-face interaction.
Some feedback emerged that stated they had found the chat session ‘more stimulating than
sitting in a classroom’. However, many students commented that they found it was very hard to
keep up with what was happening, possibly because of the high number of people taking part
and they felt that more material was covered in a lecture environment, possibly because unnec-
essary postings were made during the session. A significant comment was stated by two students
314 J. Pavey and S. W. Garland
which emphasizes a shift in preference for learning using online materials as they stated that ‘I
find I pick up things better from the computer than a book or sheets of paper, I seem to under-
stand it more’.
Overall the students engaged well with the e-tivities and a high percentage stated a preference
for learning with web materials. The online chat session was a qualified success, some students
responded positively towards this method of lecture delivery, although most commented that it
could not replace face-to-face methods.
An element of the overall success of the delivery of these materials could be related to the vari-
ety and consistency of the use of the Learning Environment by the tutor. The students knew
that their materials would be delivered through this medium and that the tutor would take an
active role. This reiterates what Rohfeld and Hiemstra (1995) concluded—the interaction of the
tutor through questions, expressed reflection and silence enables everyone to succeed.
Notes on contributors
Juliette Pavey is a member of the Learning Technologies Team of the Information Technology
Service at the University of Durham. Her role is to encourage, support and develop e-learning
throughout the University.
Stephen Garland is a Sport and Exercise Physiologist in the Department of Sport and Health,
and teaches on the ‘Sport in the Community’ and ‘Sport, Health and Exercise’ BA courses.
His scientific research interests are in performance limitations in sport.
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