Actual curricula design and development for distance learning courses have been challenged by constraints such as the absence of conventional face-to-face (F2F) (Keeton 2002) class communication, the required student’s autonomy, active participation and highly interactive engagement, the need for ergonometric interfaces, just to mention some. In this context, both the extensive use and the focused application of ICT components (Felder & Silverman 1988) may provide some significant contributions to overcome these drawbacks, typically existent in distance learning conventional approaches.
THE DESIGN PRINCIPLES
The design principles adopted in the curricula design are the capillary approach, the adoption of a web-centric solution as the basis for the mediating process and a highly flexible implementation approach which corresponds to an intensive use of multimedia, ICT resources and multiple content formats.
The capillary approach is intended to provide higher education services in rural areas, underdeveloped regions and other unassisted remote locations where they are scarce and have limited options. By adopting this principle, attendees do not need to move away from their home locations and, beyond that, they may keep their activities while following courses.
THE PEDAGOGICAL MODEL
The pedagogical model adopted for curricula development preserves the design principles discussed and, in addition, is based on principles such as autonomous cognitive learning process, interdisciplinary methods, collaborative and meaningful learning.
PRACTICES, METHODS AND EXPERIENCE
The discussed design principles, pedagogical model and curricula development are in practice intended to support real-life, limited ICT resources and high capillary scenarios. In effect, a broad coverage (Portuguese speaking countries like Brazil, Portugal, Angola, others) and a significant numbers of students (thousands) are the course targets.
Capillary and ICT Constraints Mappings
The constraints apphed to the basic implementation setup (set of Medias and communication faculties) are related respectively to the student profile, the network access facilities and the computer equipment available. An attendee is considered to be qualified to follow a distance learning course if he has minimum computer handling abilities (basic informatics concepts: commands, peripheral manipulation, others) and, beyond that, he has minimum understanding of the autonomy, self-learning and other characteristics necessary to undertake a distance learning program.
A minimalist acceptable condition for network access corresponds to having either permanent or dialup access independently of their quality.
Practice Methods and Pedagogical Strategies
The described constraints mappings “B” and “C” are the focus of the practices methods and pedagogical strategies defined to deal with the challenges resulting from a capillary approach and they do represent a reallife implementation issue.
The reason to include the teaching of computer skills (digital insertion) and introduce distance learning working principles as part of the course itself has strategic and economic reasons. The adoption of this approach allows an immediate increase of the potential number of attendees in rural areas and underdeveloped economic regions and, as such, is fundamental for a capillary approach. Certainly, this argument is not valid worldwide and, eventually, would be applied only for underdeveloped and 3^^ world countries.
Course Quality as an Consolidation Approach
Course evaluation is a key quality factor and, as such, the fidelity plan defines the evaluation procedures, the quality metrics, the relation among pedagogical and practical actions for distinct scenarios, the timing constraints involved when upgrading attendees and, finally, computes a “quality rank”.
The design principles, implementation issues and practices adopted for a real-life distance learning course considering a capillary approach and limited ICT resources have been briefly described. It is argued that for a huge volume of attendees spread over less developed areas, a highly flexible and adaptable set of practices have to be applied.