My final project video for The World is Open course is based on the quote:

“With the enormous and intellectually enticing Web of Learning, anyone can now learn anything from anyone at anytime.” – Dr. Curtis Bonk


The Dunes and Deltak

March 24, 2010

Last week was Spring Break. Other than visiting the Lake Michigan dunes for an exhilarating climb out onto the ice flows, the highlight was visiting Deltak in Chicago. I met a representative from there at the job fair at the IST Conference who had invited me to come visit sometime, so I did.

Deltak’s stated mission is: “Deltak is focused on extending the mission, programs and reach of our academic partners to a broader geographic and diverse population of learners. Leveraging our experience, knowledge, and capabilities we connect learners seeking online degree programs with prominent institutions that possess a reputation for academic integrity and rigor.”

When I first started researching online learning in 2000 and saw how poorly some programs were being done I thought, “I’d really enjoy partnering with institutions to help them develop quality online degree programs.” Sounds very much like that’s what Deltak does. Interesting . . .


Creating Community

March 11, 2010

“The key to remember is that the quality of the relationship is the most important thing to work on — don’t get distracted by the technology” (Steve Hoard shared this quote from Josh Plaskoff in one of our class forums last week). These past several weeks, I’ve looked closely at what is important in an elearning higher education program and am convinced it’s not the quality or “coolness” of the technology used but the foundational values of the institution that drive the pedagogical approaches used that cause the technology to be effective.

It’s not the piece or tool itself but what is done with it. The more I study, the more certain I am that what is done in the elearning classroom needs to be based in a strong sense of community whether it’s creating a community among learners as might happen in a university course, connecting volunteers to a non-profit organization during their training, or making the employees of a corporation (such as Deloitte) feel more connected to the mission of their employer.

I attended my first-ever IST conference on the Bloomington campus this past weekend – very worthwhile! While there, I met with my advisor to discuss my portfolio goal statement – in other words working on “what I want to be when I grow up.”

A discussion of the key panel members mentioned the lack of correlation between how well someone does in a school program (good grades, good student, etc.) and how s/he does on the job. In other words, the best students don’t necessarily make the best doctors, lawyers, teachers, IST professionals, etc.

This brings into serious question what’s being taught in university programs who are presumably certifying that people are competent to enter a particular field. For someone wrapping up her time of study, it causes one to ponder the connections (and lack of connections) between what has been taught and the way things really are, asking questions like, “I thought I was preparing to do ‘this,’ but in reality if I take a job in this field, I’ll be doing ‘that.’”

I also talked to several company representatives at the job fair which possibly did more to clarify the relationship being content and skills taught and the opportunities (as well as lack of opportunities) to apply that content and those skills than has anything else in the IST program. Perhaps everyone should be required to attend job fairs at the start of a degree program.

So, as I’m writing a goal statement, listing my “skills” and “qualifications,” and considering what artifacts to place in my online portfolio that demonstrate those, I find it useful to “stay hungry” (reference from Jobs presentation link below) and “feed” my perspective by going back to a few inspirational life-stories of people who first pursued their gut instincts rather than following some pre-scripted career paths such as Matt Harding and Steve Jobs.

Resourcing Online

February 22, 2010

With Second Life

As I was visiting a language class in Second Life this week, I was privately IM’ing a person from India who had helped me get to the right area for the visit, listening to the avatar teacher talk to a group of international avatar students, watching the local chat to see what was being input there, and listening to sounds coming from outside the classroom we were in, it was amazing to me the coming together of so many resources and wise use of online tools to help people learn one specific topic (speaking English).

The teacher not only had some moving visuals, but as she mentioned terms she thought might not be picked up well audibly by students, she typed the text of the words into chat so they could have the vocabulary reinforced. She did this without missing a beat in the conversation. Students could use the chat to ask questions or clarify as well. YouTube links, site links, sound files, and image files were instantly available to students that they could also easily save for study later. It was a very social, reinforcing atmosphere for learning.

With OERs and OCWs

I’ve always been a believer in providing people with resources and tools. In our course this week we talked about how that is happening online with some major initiatives toward making efforts to organize and make available all the content, resources, and tools out there – particularly Open Educational Resources (OER) and OpenCourseWare (OCW).

They ranged from the average person at Squidoo where “everyone is an expert on something” to the professional resourcing offered by MERLOT. Below are some sites that stuck out from this week:

•    Squidoo
•    Connextions (from Rice University)
•    MOOM (The Museum of Online Museums)
•    Tufts University’s OCW:
•    Penn State Live (professor’s anatomy quiz website)

I’ve been reading a lot of material on elearning and blended (combination of face-to-face and online components) learning. It seems to me that perhaps it’s not so much about the use of the media itself for learning, but that the media avenues (such as the Internet) offer opportunities for learner-centered pedagogy outside of the traditional, entrenched, and (primarily) immovable systems.

What the Studies Say:

The report Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies. U. S. Department of Education (2009) found that online courses were more effective than face-to-face ones but stated that “An important issue to keep in mind in reviewing these findings is that many studies did not attempt to equate (a) all the curriculum materials, (b) aspects of pedagogy and (c) learning time in the treatment and control conditions. Indeed, some authors asserted that it would be impossible to have done so. Hence, the observed advantage for online learning in general, and blended learning conditions in particular, is not necessarily rooted in the media used per se and may reflect differences in content, pedagogy and learning time” (p. xv).

The same report later states, “Online learning can be enhanced by giving learners control of their interactions with media and prompting learner reflection. Studies indicate that manipulations that trigger learner activity or learner reflection and self-monitoring of understanding are effective when students pursue online learning as individuals” (p. xvi) and “In many of the studies showing an advantage for online learning, the online and classroom conditions differed in terms of time spent, curriculum and pedagogy. It was the combination of elements in the treatment conditions (which was likely to have included additional learning time and materials as well as additional opportunities for collaboration) that produced the observed learning advantages” (p. xvii).

Who will Provide Learner-Driven Opportunities?

Businesses are starting to fill-in the gaps for learner-driven, online courses that traditional schools seem mostly unwilling to provide. In a report by Project Tomorrow and Blackboard (2009), they reference Clayton Christensen who “makes a bold prediction in Disrupting Class, a national bestseller on the future of education, that 50% of all high school classes will be delivered online by 2019. Christensen argues that online learning will provide students the educational opportunities they seek, and by meeting that demand, will disrupt the current educational system.”

The same report noted that “Speak Up teachers who had taught an online class were much more likely to respond that they had encouraged students to be more self-directed (67%), facilitated collaboration between students (48%), and facilitated student-centered learning (47%)” (p. 5).

So it seems that students’ desires are for education that is “self-directed, collaborative, and student-centered,” and if they can’t find it through the traditional systems, they will go elsewhere to find it.


Barbara Means, Yukie Toyama, Robert Murphy, Marianne Bakia, & Karla Jones (2009). Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies. U. S. Department of Education.

Project Tomorrow and Blackboard Inc (2009, June 30). Learning in the 21st Century: 2009 Trends Update.

Usborne Book Revelation

This week we’ve studied ebooks in class which took me back to the first time I saw an Usborne book. These children’s educational books with an emphasis on reference material were a true innovation for the time. Theme based rather than organized in a linear fashion as most reference books are, they come to life with intense graphics, side bars, games, and activity ideas. A reader can turn to any page and read any block of text on that page and learn something without having to have first read an introduction or followed a linear path of knowledge chunks.

I’m sure some found them to be too chaotic for children and thought them distracting, but looking back at them today, it strikes me how much they are designed like a webpage. Little blocks of information that the reader chooses which ones to attend to and in what order.

Ebooks, Etexts, and iPad Launch

We had a lot of class discussion about the validity and usability of ebooks and ereaders such as the Kindle and just launched this week Apple iPad (which is much more than an ereader – think of it as a really big iPhone) as well as using etextbooks for students. All that made me wonder why we try to reproduce the old format with the new.

  • Why should an ebook be linear and have pages that “turn”?
  • Why can’t we take some of the advantages of technology and rethink what a textbook (or any book for that matter) is?
  • Why can’t there be little blocks of information?
  • Why can’t they be more like a wikipage with internal links to things of interest like a character study of major characters?
  • Why can’t there be sound files imbedded to help high school students learn new terms in their biology text or Shakespeare play?
  • Why not short video clips for reinforcement of material or to present an experiment or historic study?
  • Why can’t they be learner-focused instead of publisher convenient?

Elearning Effectiveness

All this reminded me of how when we homeschooled some families would set up a room with a teacher’s desk and student desks for their 2 or 3 kids; I was always baffled by why someone would want to physically replicate the very institution which they had essentially rejected. One mom of a single child once bought educational overheads and a projector! You don’t need a projector when you can sit next to the child and share a page of information. It was very much about having an understanding of what a “real” school was and did and thinking it needed simulated.

Likewise, many online learning classes in the early days (and sadly still today) only attain to imitate what can be done in a physical setting: lectures, orderly discussions, multiple-choice tests, and written research paper assignments. So much more is possible though! The online courses that take advantage of technology for resource sharing, collaboration, and learner choice are far more effective. In fact, a recent U.S. Department of Education systematic meta-analysis study of the research literature from 1996 through July 2008 found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. Considering this includes all those really badly done online courses is quite remarkable. Imagine if the courses that sought only to replicate the face-to-face environment were excluded out what the results might be!

Whether we’re talking about etextbooks, ebooks, or elearning, we need to think beyond replicating the past and create something better for the future.