Taking a course by distance learning with the Ironbridge Institute is not the lonely experience that distance learning once might have been. The course is designed to keep you in touch with fellow students and tutors and gives you good opportunities to meet them at the beginning of the course and at study schools. The website for the course provides a focal point for students and tutors and helps provide a structure for your learning.
The ‘virtual learning environment’ (or the course website, which uses the software known as WebCT – you don’t have to buy any software) holds the core of the teaching materials you will need as well as the discussion groups which form a key part of the course.
The website also contains links to online resources such as libraries, e-journals and any webpages which provide useful content for the course. Once you are registered for your programme you are sent a username and a password and will have access to the website via the central Birmingham University website for WebCT, www.weblearn.bham.ac.uk.
Your course is structured so that every taught module is broken down into a number of meaningful sections, each of which discusses particular issues. You will follow the module, one section at a time, as the materials are released on the website on the dates specified.
Typically you might be required to read through a section over the course of two or three weeks and then to contribute to group discussions on that issue. After those two or three weeks, a new section of the module is made available to you and you move on to that new topic, reading and thinking about that particular issue, and discussing it online with your ‘classmates’ and tutor.
You will not be expected to log on at specified times for discussions – although WebCT has the facility for real-time chat and you are free to use it – but to contribute to a discussion group by a certain date. That way everyone can discuss the same issue at roughly the same time.