View Michael's Online Learning Blog responses to readings

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Carlson, S. Weblogs Come to the Classroom. The Chronicle of Higher Education. From the issue dated November 28,2003.http://chronicle.com/weekly/v50/i14/14a03301.htm

I have created my own blog for the purposes of reading reflections for this class. As the author of this article comments, it has been an experiment in the sense that I did not know how it would evolve and work out.

It seems as though it has been an experiment that has profited myself the most. Although I invited the members of the class to join my blog and make comments and give feedback, only about four did so; only one actually commented.

It seems as though there is a finite amount to accomplish tasks that one is expected to complete. Only if commenting on one’s blog is an expected task will people actually do it.

So, given the great versatility of blogs as the author mentions, it seems that unless it is hooked to a type of rubric, it ends up being a personal journal.
Oblinger, D. G., and Sean C. Rush. (2003). The Involvement of Corporations in Distance Education. In M. G. M. a. W. G. Anderson (Ed.), Handbook of Distance Education (pp. 587-598). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

I have completed two Undergraduate degrees and one Master’s degree in Canada with ever taking a distance-education course. Although I knew that distance education courses existed and virtual universities existed, I was not aware of their prevalence and future exponential growth.

I am teaching my first distance-education course this semester to a group of Master’s-level teachers in the Columbus, Indiana, area. For the first class, the video-conferencing equipment failed.

Thankfully, my co-instructor went to the site in person. While I waited in the Radio-Television building for the equipment to be repaired (which did not end up happening), I was able to watch another nursing distance education course on hospital record keeping. It was not exactly riveting television; however, for people in rural communities, it is better than commuting extremely long distances. Depending on the delivery method, it can also allow students to work on a class lesson at a time convenient to them. So, it has its advantages in addition to low costs.

The Power of the Internet for Learning: Moving from Promise to Practice

Commission, W.-b. E. (2000). The power of the Internet for learning: Moving from promise to practice. Retrieved September 10, 2003, from http://interact.hpcnet.org/webcommission/index.htm

I think that the content of this report is well intentioned, but falls short of attempting to solve some chronic social, political, and economic issues. While the internet and information-based economy is the wave of the future, the question remains of how to help the disenfranchised of our society to have the family, economic resources, and technological equipment to partake in this “electronic” feast.

Having all of these resources are great; but do all the people who need them the most have easy access to them? The answer is ‘no’. Just as students are profiled into being ‘unable’ due to their lack of nice clothes, proper routine of hygiene, academic routines at home (or at school), etc., many students will also lose out on this new revolution because they do not have access to the equipment nor have the literate practices that are part and parcel of the information-based economy.

I agree that we are in the Information Age. However, we need to remember that those elements of our society that lost out in the Industrial Age will lose out in this new one if we as a people just passively leave one era and move to the next.
HoDE Book (2003). Chapter 48 Insung Jung, Cost-Effectiveness of Online Education

This article mentions that many educators and decision makers view online learning as way to save money. I hope that this will become increasing less evident over time. Education is far too important an issue in our technological age to be constrained by the issue of money. If we want our economy to grow and prosper, education is a very wise investment.

What I found to be encouraging in this article was her comment that improving the quality of students’ learning and increasing access were also motivators for decision makers to adopt online learning. I think these are the hallmarks to online learning’s success in the future. I would agree with her that online learning opens up new opportunities for interaction with other students and instructors as well as access to a variety of multimedia resources.

As Injung comments on page 722, it is good to see that research in online learning is focusing more on the learning process, satisfaction, and achievement of students as opposed to cost-effectiveness. May this trend continue!

Thursday, November 27, 2003

HoDE Book (2003). Chapter 48 Insung Jung, Cost-Effectiveness of Online Education

I have no experience in the financial aspects of educational institutions. So, reading this article was an activity in which I do not have much background prior knowledge or experience. However, there were a few comments that I really could appreciate and agree with.

On page 108, Rumble (2003) states that the costs of a given technology is not just driven by the costs of the hardware and software, but other factors as well. What these ‘other factors’ might be can vary. In my own experience, I always find it interesting to investigate the given effectiveness of a given technological learning tool. It seems as though in many cases, you get what you pay for.

While I was an elementary school teacher, there never seemed to be much of an emphasis on technology. The principal would always grimace at the suggestion of buying something new fearing the cost involved. So, what we did have tended to be simple in nature and narrow in focus. This rendered the use of technology as a limiting endeavour.

As the article comments, there is an apparent law of diminishing returns on cost savings in terms of technology. While initially the costs seem large due to the actual price of a technology unit, the number of people using it makes the cost seem reduced. Of course the more people using it renders the need for more units to be purchased and thus more costs. The concept of the 80:20 rule (page 711) is another factor in that not all courses will have large numbers of students.

I realize that budgets are finite realities. However, it seems ridiculous to me to have so many resources available to help students learn but yet those who need them not have enough money to purchase them. I’m not sure what the answer is, but it commands an answer.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

HoDE Book (2003). Chapter 38 Melody Thompson & Modupe Irele, Evaluating Distance Education Programs

On page 580 of this article, a question is posed about how distance education could possibly demonstrate quality education relative to the educational system we have known for hundreds of years? In short my answer would be that the traditional system is nowhere near as good and effective as it is made out to be.

The concept of education has been developed over time to promote the skills of a certain type of learner. If you excel in an auditory-type format, can sit still in class, repeat and rephrase information as required, then, you will do very well. If you cannot do all these, you’re in trouble. Ask any teacher, the number of students having trouble with academics in school is increasing in alarming numbers.

It is the mentality behind the question posed above that e-learning must overcome. E-learning has a great potential of providing students with a large variety of interactive methods to learn and be evaluated on. The first step is taking the initiative and will to do so. The payoffs are endless. The end result, in my opinion, will be those students who are having such difficulty in school will have new alternative methods to use their learning style strengths to learn and demonstrate knowledge.

Monday, November 24, 2003

HoDE Book (2003). Chapter 31 Annette Sherry, Quality and Its Measurement in Distance Education

His article made a number of interesting points. I will comment on some of them. First, the article mentioned the need for distance learning to incorporate to a greater degree the perspective of women. (p. 449) I think this is an important point to make because other disciplines seem to have cultivated a very male-dominated mentality.

One classmate of mine recently told me about a conference which had its opening forum discussion presentation use a female’s body shape as the metaphor of the data to be presented. Her female friend who attended was not taken seriously at all by the other attendees. Distance Education is a format that probably would not evolve into this mentality; however, I think it is something to be mindful about.

This article also makes a point about the importance of how technology is used—not what technology is used. I think that this is important because there is great potential in the tools we already have. What is needed is the initiative to try them out, use them, and incorporate them into daily practice.

A third point that the article discussed is about how distance learning is being driven by demand—not sound pedagogy. In my opinion, the greatest danger for distance education is not gender domination (although this needs to be remembered) but monetary profit. Education is not a profit-means exercise. Teachers inform, not produce; they facilitate learning, not sell a product. So, good education is not the result of pure marketing or budgets. It’s about process, rapport, engagement. How much do these cost? They are priceless!

Friday, November 21, 2003

Keith Hmieleski & Matthew Champagne (2000). Plugging in to course evaluation. Technology Source. http://horizon.unc.edu/TS/assessment/2000-09.asp

My personal perspective on evaluations is to incorporate into a class a means for ongoing feedback. It is possible to develop a web-based format to do this. In an online class, this would be essential. However, in an on-campus class, I think paper copies are beneficial because they serve as permanent record of comments. Also, I find that there is still a definite portion of students who are not computer friendly enough to do an online survey; or, remember to do it after class. Doing a paper survey during class encourages feedback from everyone and gets it done.

In an online class, a web-based format would be essential. The lag time in paper copies would not be very efficient.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Sue Achtemeier, Libby Morris, & Caroline Finnegan (2003, February). Considerations for Developing Evaluations of Online Courses, Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7(1). http://www.aln.org/publications/jaln/v7n1/pdf/v7n1_achtemeier.pdf

This article commented on the potential for online courses/instructors developing course content in such a way that students are given frequent and consistent deadlines so that they are held more accountable for course activities and extrinsically encouraged to remain engaged. In my interview project, this element of on-campus courses was seen as the key benefit of taking a course at university. These interviewees liked the accountability system that on-campus courses provide. If online courses could mirror this, the students would see this as a definite plus.

The conclusion of this article provided readers with some disturbing information. It seems that many online courses seek to be evaluated ‘on the spot’ instead of giving some forethought as to what to ask respondents. This could be a dangerous practice given how little information there is on the effectiveness of online courses. If information from these respondents is used to any significant degree in online research, data may not show an accurate or complete picture of the nature of online courses and students.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Tatana Olson & Robert Wisher (2002, October). The Effectiveness of Web-Based Instruction: An Initial Inquiry. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. http://www.irrodl.org/content/v3.2/olsen.html

This article discusses a series of metanalysis on computer-based instruction (online learning) and traditional classroom instruction. I would like to comment on the following quotes:

Fletcher (1990) concluded on the basis of his analysis, that interactive video instruction was both more effective and less costly than conventional instruction.

I think that interactive instruction is probably always more effective than conventional instruction. In my experience, students like to be doing things.

The wide variety of content areas discovered in this review demonstrates the flexibility of Web-based instruction to be adapted to the requirements of students and teachers in different subject areas.

I would agree. I think one of the great strengths of web-based instruction is its versatility. Students can choose when they complete activities and can be offered a series of choices to select learning formats that suit them best.

It has been widely recognized that the attrition of students is a greater problem for online courses than classroom courses (Phipps and Merisotis, 1999; Terry, 2001). In addition, some research has shown that blended courses should be considered separately from completely online courses when assessing student attrition as blended courses have lower attrition rates (Bonk, 2001). However, only 14 (34 percent) of the studies reported information about attrition.

I think it is difficult to really make a conclusion about comparing attrition rates. Even if attrition rates in web-based courses is higher, it could be that students have committed themselves to doing too much—something that is easy to do when you feel that you can make all of the time necessary to complete something.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Carol Twigg (2003). Improving Learning and Reducing Costs: Lessons Learned from Round I of the Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign. http://center.rpi.edu/PewGrant/Rd1intro.html

This article comments on a number of innovative strategies that were implemented at a group of universities so as to improve student learning through technology. I really concur with many of the comments made about strategies to have students more engaged and involved in their own learning. Specifically, the following quotes highlight examples of my agreement:

Lectures were replaced with a variety of learning resources, all of which involved more active forms of student learning or more individualized assistance. When the structure of the course moves from an entirely lecture-based to a student-engagement approach, learning was less dependent on the conveying of words by instructors and more on reading, exploring, and problem solving by students.

I think the key element here is variety. Cooperative games, newspaper articles, and videos are three good examples of incorporating variety into lessons. Using technology extends the tools of the instructor/facilitator so as to make the course even more varied.

Shared Resources. When the whole course (or more than one section) is redesigned, substantial amounts of time that faculty spend developing and revising course materials and preparing for classes can be considerably reduced by eliminating duplication of effort.

Having been teaching a distance-education online class this semester, I can testify to the benefits of collaboration in planning lessons and activities. It has been a great help to all the instructors to be responsible for a portion of the lessons and then share resources and ideas. I think a greater amount of “product” results from such experiences.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Stacie Furst, Richard Blackburn, Benson Rosen. Virtual team effectiveness: a proposed research agenda. Information Systems Journal
Volume 9, Issue 4, Page 271-289, Oct 1999

This article discussed similarities and differences between virtual teams and more traditional types of team structures employed by businesses. As with the Kimble et al. article (2000), this article also highlighted the importance of virtual teams being provided the opportunity to meet face-to-face early in the virtual team's task(s), this helps develop more meaningful and productive relationships amongst the members.

Another concept highlighted in this article is the virtual team members being provided with all of the necessary resources and training to facilitate the team's success at accomplishing the task(s). I see this as being really important. It can easily become very frustrating to be expected to do a task and not have enough resources or knowledge to do it. It is amazing how satisfying and productive an objective can become when the opposite happens.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

What I found interesting about this article on group development in computer-mediated communication (CMC) is how it discourages domination of one group member (p. 223, 227). Rather, the discussions facilitate a broader group of students to give input which in turn renders CMC as a great forum to brainstorm ideas. Although I have never taken an online course as a student, I have been involved in projects where the members have conversed via email. I found there to be a high level of communication amongst the participants with virtually everyone contributing to the “conversation”.

I think that one of the unknowns about online communication is how to resolve conflict? This could become even more complicated if people from a variety of cultural backgrounds are participating. Thankfully, I have not had this experience, but I am sure it happens. Maybe this is where periodic face-to-face meeting opportunities can be incorporated? This might help to resolve issues in a more direct setting and context? I’m not sure.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Chris Kimble, Feng Li, & Alexis Barlow (2000). Effective Virtual Teams Through Communities of Practice. Management Science: Theory, Method, and Practice. ftp://www.managementscience.org/mansci/papers/wp0009.pdf

I enjoyed reading this article and its comments relative to virtual teams. One of the sections commented on technology issues and how problems in this area can be really demoralizing to the virtual team process. Since I have commented on this in the past, I would like to focus my comments on the importance of online groups (eg. Virtual teams) having the opportunity to meet face-to-face at least once and how that benefits the collaboration process.

In the distance-education course I am currently teaching, I have found this to be a great help. My going to the site from time to time has really helped build a rapport between myself and the other students. They really appreciate meeting me in person and having face-to-face dialogue. I know this not only because they tell me so but also because I can really sense a level of rapport after having done this.

I think that virtual teams have a lot f potential. Their true potential is predicated on a short list of qualifiers—one of which includes facilitating the participants an opportunity to meet each other in person early in the process.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Charles Graham (2002). Understanding and Facilitating Computer Mediated Teamwork: A Study of How Norms Develop in Online Learning Teams. Doctoral Dissertation. Indiana University at Bloomington, Bloomington, IN. http://www.byu.edu/ipt/faculty/documents/charles_graham_dissertation.doc

I think online learning teams have a lot of potential, but I agree that further research needs to be completed to ascertain a better sense of this. I think that one of the main questions online learners ask themselves is why be engaged? For what purpose? Typing on a computer to a group of people I have never met may not be an encouraging means to participate. However, when tasks are specified and a goal put in focus, the competitive desire of students comes to life.

I really liked some of Charles Graham’s ideas about norms development for online learning teams. He suggests that a functional ability to use the technology expected throughout the team process be facilitated through a training process—inexperience with online communication tools and strategies, for example. Students need to become familiar with the tools of the process if they can be expected to accomplish the tasks of the process.

In conclusion, I agree that online learning has great potential, but much research needs to be completed on all of its aspects to better substantiate its true potential.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Learning for the 21st Century (A Report and MILE Guide for 21st Century Skills)
http://www.21stcenturyskills.org/downloads/P21_Report.pdf. MILE (Milestones for Improving Learning) Guide for 21st Century Skills.

This report commented on a wide variety of educational issues. I think I will focus my comments on standardized assessment. The article commented on how an inquiry/synthesis-type strategy was implemented at a New York high school with the result that scores on the regent exams increased from 60% to 90%. While I appreciate that the strategy may very well be a good one, I really disagree with standardized assessments and how they are infecting our educational system.

Having taught for 11 years and participated in the standardized assessment marking process, I feel that by it’s mere presence in our educational structure, it has overtaken the educational agenda. Teachers and schools have been forced to take the priority off of learning and instead focus on mastering a given assessment. I do not think that this change in priorities will render a positive outcome in the long run.

Students want education to be meaningful to them. Standardized assessments only result in students, teachers, schools, districts, and communities becoming labeled and categorized when having everyone ‘energized’ should be the goal. There are so many students with special needs, yet millions is spent every year on standardized assessments instead of the assistance and materials that could be provided to these children. The payoffs would be very beneficial to the child with special needs, the classroom teacher, and the other students who would receive more of the teacher’s time and focus. The ending of standardized assessments would be a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

HoDE Book (2003). Chapter 20 Diane Davis, Developing Text for Web-Based Instruction

As I have mentioned in other responses, I think one of the greatest assets of online learning is its potential to in fact blend a variety of media formats within its structure with the added aspect of being in an asynchronous timeframe—students can log on anytime, not just class time. Within any online text, one could include a link to a short video, instant pop-up dictionary for new vocabulary, etc. The limits are almost endless.

As a special educator, I have a lot of experience with the concepts of prior knowledge and prediction in reading. The fact that online texts could offer a pretest on a chapter’s topic or show a visual image asking the student to choose some predictive components of a text and for the student to get immediate feedback about their choices is very promising. If there is one thing I have noticed about students and computers, it’s that they love the immediate feedback.

Finally, I think that reading a lengthy amount of text on a computer screen is too much. I often print such long texts—and I have excellent eyesight. Maybe online texts need to be more concise.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

HoDE Book (2003). Chapter 17 Michael Hannafin, Janette Hill, Kevin Oliver, Evan Glazer, & Priya Sharma, Cognitive and Learning Factors in Web-Based Distance Learning Environments

This article discussed a number of important points about web-based learning environments. I have commented on students having difficulty with technology and using variety in individual lessons in the past. So, I will comment on a different issue this time.
I would agree with Hannafin et al. that online learning would take more time than traditional-format courses. I find that as an instructor of a blended online course, I need to spend more time planning ahead and considering what types of activities are doable via live video as opposed to being in the same room with students. As of this point in time, I find this limiting. I would like to develop a different perspective and feeling about it.
I think that there are so many possibilities for online learning to be just as engaging as traditional courses. Yet, I think many resources have yet to be created and exemplified for instructors. Maybe this is how I will make my first million dollars?

Monday, November 03, 2003

HoDE Book (2003). Chapter 16 Connie Dillon & Barbara Greene, Learner Differences in Distance Learning: Finding Differences that Matter

There were a number of interesting points in this article. Dillon and Greene comment on how little schools have changed over the past century. Although industry, technology, and societal values are changing rapidly, school remains essentially a forum where auditory learners excel and those who have different learning strengths get neglected.

As a teacher for 11 years, I have wondered why this is the case? The Canadian Taxpayers Coalition thrives on highlighting that only healthcare gets more government money than education. Another often heard comment is that 80% of taxpayers do not have children in school; so, they demand value for the money they pay in taxes given that there are no direct rewards for them from the educational system. So, we have this great demand for success and a perception of having tons of money to achieve it; yet, we never seem to really get there.

I think the answer of improved, innovative education is a simple change in teacher practices. Regardless of what academic standards may say, teachers themselves can vary the format of their lessons; the only obstacle in doing it is putting forth the initiative to do it. Teachers do not to feel that they must do it for taxpayers’ sake. Who cares about their selfish interests? It is in the best interests of students to meet the largest scope of learning strengths and needs possible.

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