Online Learning Advice via Tony Bates and other experts

May 2, 2011

I’ll quote the part that represents Tony’s difference of opinion with the overall study summary:

“Although I agree strongly with the importance of design, I’m not sure I agree with playing down the importance of technology. In my view, the technology, and especially web 2.0 technologies, are potential game changers. What makes the difference is the shift in power: web 2.0 technologies give learners as equal if not better access to learning technologies as instructors, and thus more control over their learning. True, if instructors don’t take advantage of this, things may not appear to be changing, but in the end, if instructors and institutions do not adapt and respond appropriately to this technology shift, they will lose control.”

I fully agree that institutions need to incorporate all that’s right about informal learning or they will become less and less relevant to the overall learning picture.

Here’s the link:

And I also believe that the education system needs to ensure that kids/young adults leave the system with good strategies for finding information, evaluating it, thinking critically etc.

Stuff I’ve said before but perhaps it’s time to say it again 🙂

And a recent article by David Parry on what he calls “Mobile Literacy” (I like the concept but almost wish there was another name for it as we’ve had so many ‘literacies’ I suspect people are getting tired of them ) does a good job of addressing the education system’s responsibilities regarding ensuring students are aware of factors involved in information access, hyperconnectedness, and sense of space via mobile devices. Link:

Veletsianos Conclusion: “Emerging Technologies in Distance Education”

January 17, 2011

This post is about the Conclusion in the Veletsianos (ed.) book.

The first thing George Veletsianos talks about in his conclusion to “Emerging Technologies in Distance Education” is that the authors did not focus on technology for its own sake but instead focused on “educational research and practice based on the notion that powerful learning experiences are social, immersive, engaging, and participatory… and lend themselves well to being enhanced through emerging technologies.” (p. 318)

A second topic addressed involves the open access nature of the book and the willingness of authors to be part of this process. Related to this (and just published yesterday) is an interesting blog post from Paul Stacey in response to the 2011 change to Canadian licensing agreements. His posting is titled Access Copyright’s Royalty Demands Spark Interest in OER.

Stacey’s post speaks for itself and includes links to some important background.

Finally, Veletsianos describes areas of interest worthy of research attention and it’s interesting to consider how in this fast-moving environment, some things already appear to be shifting. veletsianos talks about a multidisciplinary approach and speaks of the rise of participatory web and its relationship to emerging technologies and pedagogies. Perhaps we haven’t quite seen an ‘educational’ parallel to WikiLeaks — but participatory information and transparency seems to be in the air and is almost certainly having an impact on learning and research as well as compelling us to think differently about information and knowledge (See Clay Shirky’s blog post on this topic)

I would say that crowdsourcing and data visualization, things that I see as being made possible because of the participatory web, are also becoming increasingly important and will contribute to what and how we know (and learn) in very profound ways.

It took me longer than I expected to write about each chapter in this book and it has been a truly rewarding experience. I’m very happy to have been a part of it and I look forward to continuing to share the message.

And finally — thanks again to George for his work in pulling it all together!

This is from the “Elizabeth Tweets” series of chapter-by-chapter blog posts related to the new book “Emerging Technologies in Distance Education“, edited by George Veletsianos and published by Athabasca University Press (including a freely available e-book version).

Animated Pedagogical Agents and Immersive Worlds: Two Worlds Colliding – Chapter 16

January 15, 2011

Bob Heller and Mike Procter’s chapter “Animated Pedagogical Agents and Immersive Worlds: Two Worlds Colliding” (Chapter 16) is the final chapter in the Veletsianos (ed.) book, and after a lengthy gap in blogging which I will partially explain, I am now happy to write about it and consider how it looks forward and expands ideas about possibilities in distance education through the use, including the combined use, of
1. animated pedagogical agents (APAs) which are responsive computer generated characters with special abilities to communicate and
2. immersive worlds, such as Second Life, in which human-controlled avatar personas interact with each other.

First, I will describe my own recent experience with an immersive world introduced to me by my eighteen-year-old son who had been watching me play “Boggle™” on a first generation i-Pod touch in an attempt to distract myself from the side-effects of some medical interventions that were part of my life this past November-December and were the reason my blogging disappeared.

Moms and eighteen-year-olds don’t always communicate fully in verbal ways, so when he showed me how to sign up for a trial version of ‘World of Warcraft’ which I could play from my laptop, I believed (although he didn’t really say so) that his intention was to find an engaging “escape” for me. What I discovered is that getting me into the game was probably also an opportunity for him to deal with and express his own concerns about my situation. At the time I couldn’t focus for more than half an hour or so, and the game is hard work so I was constantly in trouble with it. Although there wasn’t much my son or anyone else could do to make me feel better at that time in real life (thank goodness that is all behind me now), when he disappeared to his own computer and arrived a few moments later at my virtual side, literally riding on a white steed, I knew that help, and perhaps something more, was at hand. Marge Simpson aside (see World of Warcraft is not a place where most moms expect to spend much time (and truly, I found it was not the right place for me), but to gain an insight into my son’s intentions in this way, even briefly, was, well, amazing. And, it definitely provided a very real example of how communication and motivation can function in these environments – a major topic discussed in the Heller/Procter chapter and something that I hadn’t found much of in my limited journeys into Second Life.

An important idea expressed in the chapter is to use APAs and immersive technologies in ways that don’t just replicate “old learning”. Simulations, coaching, virtual historians based on real historical figures, and learning by teaching are some of the strategies described. And there is potential for immersive environments like “Second Life” to combine with fully interactional actor-agents incorporating artificial intelligence. These agents could be able, for instance, to simulate a medical patient and allow students to practice their clinical interviewing skills, all in an immersive environment that would allow the students to participate as avatars. As the chapter authors state, what needs to be explored now is not “do they work?” but rather “when do they work and in what context?” (p. 314).

This is from the “Elizabeth Tweets” series of chapter-by-chapter blog posts related to the new book “Emerging Technologies in Distance Education“, edited by George Veletsianos and published by Athabasca University Press (including a freely available e-book version).

Language Learning in MUVEs: Chapt 15 Veletsianos

November 17, 2010

“Technical, Pedagogical, and Cultural Considerations for Language Learning in MUVEs”. The authors of this chapter are Charles Xiaoxue Wang, Brendan Calandra, & Youngjoo Yi
(Chapter 15)

The authors describe a study of the Multi-User Virtual Environment (MUVE) “Second Life” used in a facilitated manner to connect students in China and the US for the purpose of language learning. In this environment, users create a personal avatar which can move around through the virtual classes, meeting spaces, shops, recreational areas etc. that are part of the online environment. One’s avator can chat via text, use non-verbal gestures and receive documents. Most importantly for this project, VoIP allows users to talk (verbally) to each other in real time.

The integration of skills such as speaking and writing is important here, as the study indicates that students could draw on their stronger skill to support the weaker one. At the onset, specific tasks were assigned and facilitation was incorporated to ensure that distractions (which can be plentiful in this environment) didn’t get in the way.

The authors are very excited about the potential of this approach. There are many features of MUVEs that seem ideally suited to language learning and lots of ideas to be explored in the future.

This is from the “Elizabeth Tweets” series of chapter-by-chapter blog posts related to the 2010 book “Emerging Technologies in Distance Education“, edited by George Veletsianos and published by Athabasca University Press (including a freely available e-book version).

Using Social Media to Create a Place that Supports Communication (Chapt 14)

November 10, 2010

Chapter 14 in the Veletsianos book is titled “Using Social Media to Create a Place that Supports Communication” and is authored by Rita Kop: (Chapter 14)

Kop’s chapter describes a project in South Wales, UK, built around distance learning with extensive use of Web 2.0 tools. The intention was to explore a model where increased learner control and shared information are key components. Blogs, wikis, chat, pod and video-casts were all used in the interactive environment that was created for this undergraduate Higher Education Certificate program, taught mainly at a distance. Tutors, learning technologists and students were all interviewed as part of the evaluation of the project. Activities and interactions (blog use, wikis, chat etc.) were monitored, analyzed and coded.

Conclusions of the analysis revealed that the students responded well to “spur of the moment” videos from their tutors, found wikis to be less useful for collaborative knowledge creation than would be expected (the author sees this as possibly because the concept of collaborative knowledge was just not very familiar and the asynchronous nature did now help with time management issues that the students were having), and found chat to be a good way to create a sense of togetherness. (p. 279). For all tools, the role of the tutor was seen as working best when it was supportive and nurturing, while still allowing semi-autonomous learning. The ideal is that semi-autonomous learning is a bridge that will one day lead to fully self-directed learning.

Having just concluded co-instructing a course that attempted to incorporate some of the ideas in this chapter, I would agree that finding the right balance as an instructor can be a challenge. For any student new to online learning, there seems to often be an initial sense of uncertainty at being left on one’s own. Teamwork very early in the experience is a good motivator, and tools like chat, forums and wikis definitely do create a “place” for this to happen. I’m not sure if the UK project described encouraged the collaborative writers to select a person to take the role of editor. My personal experience is that this, rotating from assignment to assignment, can really help with the time management issues. I’ve seen teams start to self-manage in an amazingly quick period of time, but again, there is a need for subtle facilitation and being ready to step in if things are not happening as they should be. In some ways, (again in my own personal experience) the most effective “instruction” in this model is often completely invisible to the students much of the time.

This is from the “Elizabeth Tweets” series of chapter-by-chapter blog posts related to the new book “Emerging Technologies in Distance Education“, edited by George Veletsianos and published by Athabasca University Press (including a freely available e-book version).

New Communications Options: A Renaissance in Videoconference Use: Chapter 13 in Veletsianos

November 1, 2010

So, I went through the whole month of October without blogging. Having a blog-free month was not a planned decision or anything like that. – it’s just one of those things that happened.

And now it’s time to move forward with Chapter 13 in the Veletsianos book. authored by Caladine, Andres, Tynan, Smyth and Vale. (Chapter 13) in the Veletsianos (ed.) book.

Videoconferencing has been around for a while but it hadn’t always found its way into effective distance education experiences, for a range of reasons that are described by these authors (cost, bandwidth issues and unreliability of early systems are some of the obvious factors). The current “renaissance” described in this chapter refers to newer tools (Skype, etc.) that provide easy and inexpensive options.

Challenges for distance education arise with these options though. In particular, with respect to pedagogy the authors state “a repeating dilemma will arise with each new wave of technology: should this be used for formal education or is it a personal/social tool better left in the realm of informal communication?” (p. 254)

The chapter discusses how videoconference has “frequently copied typical lecture-hall formats of didactic information delivery rather than exploring approaches that are interactive and oriented towards knowledge construction” (p. 254) and recommend that more constructivist activities be considered as part of the use of videoconference for education to reduce isolation and personalize learning. To do so, it will be necessary to move away from the previous perception, held by many, that videoconferencing is about ‘transmission’.

The chapter is also a source of technical information about videoconference types and how to plan for them.

This is from the “Elizabeth Tweets” series of chapter-by-chapter blog posts related to the new book “Emerging Technologies in Distance Education“, edited by George Veletsianos and published by Athabasca University Press (including a freely available e-book version).

Web Analytics in the Design and Evaluation of Distance Education Chapt 12

September 27, 2010

Rogers, McEwen and Pond have written a chapter on “The Use of Web Analytics in the Design and Evaluation of Distance Education” (Chapter 12) in the Veletsianos (ed.) book.

Web analytics are defined here as “the measurement, collection, analysis, and reporting of Internet data for the purpose of understanding and optimizing Web usage.” (from Web Analytics Association 2005).

This chapter discusses the ethical standards that apply to tracking usage in this way. A simple “for instance” example that goes back to my earliest days in online education is that it would be wrong to assume that a student who visits a course reading frequently is actually more engaged in the material than another who has visited it only once. Perhaps the second student printed the reading. A much larger picture that doesn’t identify individual users is what is of value in web analytics – a “conglomeration of data from hundreds, thousands, and even millions of users”… allowing for the analysis of trends that can inform alterations to the website being analyzed.

So this is where a careful determination of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) is required to ensure they relate to outcomes with meaning (and remember outputs are not outcomes). Key Educational Requirements (KERs) guide this. Know what it is you want to track and know the reasons why this information is of value to you.

The chapter describes a case study out of Brigham Young University. The KERs in this case related to quality and individualization and patterns that emerged related to peak usage times and some navigation issues, with plenty of room for further analysis.

By the way, the first sentence in the abstract of this chapter is “One main challenge that has faced distance education since its inception has been a relative lack of knowledge concerning how students actually interact with the materials”. The authors compare this to the face-to-face learning environment where educators are seen to be more aware of how students interact with materials, but I’d argue that in many cases (large lecture halls in postsecondary come to mind) the things that students do to learn, whether face to face or at a distance, are not well understood.

But new technologies, for instance those which analyze social media, are coming available that can give us insights to any number of trends and I am optimistic about these.

Here are some of my past blog posts on related topics:

This is from the “Elizabeth Tweets” series of chapter-by-chapter blog posts related to the new book “Emerging Technologies in Distance Education“, edited by George Veletsianos and published by Athabasca University Press (including a freely available e-book version).

Chapt 11: Institutional Implementation of Wikis in Higher Education: The Case of the Open University of Israel (OUI)

September 21, 2010

Hagit Meishar-Tal, Yoav Yair and Edna Tal-Elhasid are the authors of Chapter 11, “Institutional Implementation of Wikis in Higher Education: The Case of the Open University of Israel (OUI)” in the Veletsianos (ed.) book.

This chapter outlines a process for implementing a new technology (wikis – used for collaborative writing) into an existing program. It’s a case study worth reviewing to inform planning models in many institutions and with a range of innovations. It’s also a very interesting companion/comparison to the Moodle implementations described in Chapter 10, where one of the examples was a centralized model. Chapter 11 gives a very explicit account of OUI’s planning steps within their version of a centralized model.

OUI started their wiki project with a conscious knowledge of their historical background and emerging needs. They did a feasibility study/pilot, carefully considered technology requirements for broader implementation, looked at the financial aspects of the project, provided training and support, and were conscious of how the new technology added a collaborative element that had not been present in the traditional model that the institution had followed up to this point. Finally, evaluation/assessment was built-in at all points of the project with adoption being one of the key measures along with measures of student satisfaction.

The authors state that “dramatic change” was required at OUI to move the institution towards collaborative learning (p. 216). It appears that this change was achieved through careful planning and monitoring, and although not everyone in the institution has adopted the change yet, the project is viewed as a success.

This is from the “Elizabeth Tweets” series of chapter-by-chapter blog posts related to the new book “Emerging Technologies in Distance Education“, edited by George Veletsianos and published by Athabasca University Press (including a freely available e-book version).

Chapter 10, Learning, Design, and Emergence: Two Case Studies of Moodle in Distance Education

September 18, 2010

Andrew Whitworth and Angela Benson are the authors of Chapter 10, “Learning, Design, and Emergence: Two Case Studies of Moodle in Distance Education,” in the Veletsianos (ed.) book.

As someone who has lived and breathed Moodle, an open source Course Management System [CMS]), for the past five or six years I can fully relate to the level of commitment described in this chapter. CMS decisions should not be made lightly and success depends on an ongoing effort to stay on top of how the system is being used and what needs are emerging.

Some key points:

Open Source has hidden costs

The organizational structure/community values around the use of a CMS are extremely important, .e.g.

– communities of practice can work to promote the values of the organization 🙂
– communities of practice can also be the source of “workarounds” to avoid policy 😦
– Moodle can be used both passively and actively, and can be standardized or customized

Two case studies are described, illustrating different reasons for choosing Moodle and different points on the scale from standardization to individualization. Based on the observation of these two cases, the authors recommend a middle ground.

My opinion is that there are many valid approaches to using a CMS and awareness of your expectations is key. Benefits can be wonderful but nobody should be under the illusion that you can “start the process” and simply leave it to self-manage. Monitoring and fine-tuning will always be necessary. As these authors state, “conscious design” is required.

This is from the “Elizabeth Tweets” series of chapter-by-chapter blog posts related to the new book “Emerging Technologies in Distance Education“, edited by George Veletsianos and published by Athabasca University Press (including a freely available e-book version).

Veletsianos Chapt 9: Trey Martindale & Michael Dowdy, “Personal Learning Environments”

September 13, 2010


Chapter 9 in the Veletsianos (ed.) book is the beginning of Part 3 (Social, Organizational, and Contextual Factors in Emerging Technologies Implementations).

The chapter itself, by Trey Martindale and Michael Dowdy, is titled “Personal Learning Environments” and discusses the history of the concept, its use, how it compares with Learning Management Systems (LMSs) and its future. In this chapter, the PLE is shown to have some varying definitions, and examples range from ELGG to Facebook. And in looking at how the PLE compares to the LMS, these authors provide several scenarios.

At this point I have to point to a blog post that also compares the PLE to the LMS (and has a graphic that I really like)

In a nutshell, almost everyone who compares the LMS to the PLE tends to see the LMS as more formal and structured, with the PLE being more transformative.

Basically I agree with the concept – I’d say that the LMS *can* be a bit better than “one size fits all” though, but it does take work to make that happen. I like one of the comments to the above blog — that the LMS can be part of the PLE. Certainly my work revolves around delivering courses via an LMS, but as much as possible, I encourage everyone involved to use the LMS as a springboard to developing a PLE (or PLN) because I don’t want the experience to end with the final assignment of the “course”.

Finally, for an account of a story that shows the power of making educational opportunities less formal, look to:

Using mobile phones to promote lifelong learning among rural women in Southern India

by K. Balasubramanian et al, August 2010 in the special edition of the Australian Journal “Distance Education” p. 193-209 (your library may have this journal in their online collection and it’s definitely worth accessing)

for a description of nine female goats, one buck and one cellphone and how the combination of mobile phones and goat grazing is allowing women to learn without sacrificing their employment.

Note: The PLE is sometimes distinguished from the PLN (Personal Learning Network – see my blog post on Chapter 6 where Alec Couros describes this with PLE being more focused on the technology and PLN more focused on the networking of people. But I think many of us (Alec Couros included, as far as I can tell from this link: see a lot of overlap and are interested in collaborating for learning in any way possible.

Fifteen minutes after posting this, I find a new take on the controversy here: “The institutional PLE? Impossible or feasible?”

This is from the “Elizabeth Tweets” series of chapter-by-chapter blog posts related to the new book “Emerging Technologies in Distance Education“, edited by George Veletsianos and published by Athabasca University Press (including a freely available e-book version).