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)

The Assignment

As I’ve written about previously, I’ve been exploring Second Life. I would like to do an observation assignment for a qualitative research class I’m also taking in addition to The World is Open. It took quite a bit of convincing for the professor to allow me to do this for the assignment as she was under the impression Second Life is a game and that gestures, expressions, and personal interaction could not be observed there.

The “Experts”

I thought it would be easy to find an educational event to observe because I am acquainted with a few people who are professionally involved in SL. Not so. Some never answered my email requests, others suggested someone else but then those people didn’t answer my emails. From about six contact names, I came up with no assistance.

The Community User

Then I mentioned it in casual conversation to a friend who works with someone who spends a great deal of time in SL. Within 24 hours he’d met up with me and introduced me to the world of SL giving a lot of insight not just in the how-to aspects of exploration but for some of the rather radically impacting paradigm shifts that are currently happening there in how the community is structured to function.

So ultimately, someone I had never even met spent an hour and a half orienting me to SL simply because he has a passion for helping others get around in a world he has expertise in through his own experiences.

Community Spread of Knowledge

As we’ve discussed how learning is being opened via the Internet and the collaboration of masses of people that are making that happen, it is all the more evident that going to the “experts” isn’t always an option because they are busy, inaccessible, or just don’t want to help – but when there are thousands (even millions) of others out there willing to share their knowledge with others, then the spread of knowledge and experience becomes exponential!

See you in Second Life! For now I’m using: eLee Winstanley. If you decide to visit some snowed-in evening, send me a friend request, and we’ll do some exploring together.

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.


Second Life Exploration

January 25, 2010

After years of wanting to explore Second Life, I finally did it this week. I signed up, chose an avatar, changed its description slightly, and visited two Help Islands. There I learned to fly, walk, sit (finally), and chat with others.

I was surprised to find the help features difficult to get to the information I wanted. For example, I tried several ways of searching how to sit without success. My son finally figured it out for me (right click on a place with the “sit” option). I had been right-clicking the avatar without success, searching menus, trying various movement combinations, etc.

I was able to transport to the IU Kelly School of Business Island and Ball State’s Island but no one was there and not much to interact with as a visitor (at least that I was able to discover on my own). I want to find out how to discover where the places are that people hang out as well as how to attend events. Search options exist for this, but I didn’t have much success with that this weekend. I will be trying again though. I think a Stumble option would be awesome for those of us who just want to visit and explore.

I would like to find a way to teach some free lessons but have no clue where to go.

This week I will be doing more exploring (probably break down and actually watch the beginner tutorials too) as well as visiting other sites from the endless Bonk list. I’m grateful that this course has pushed me to finally visit Second Life – something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. I’ve heard there is a site for Moodle that is connected to Second Life called Sloodle that is educationally focused. I’ll be looking into that this week as well.


I saw a connection this week as the World is Open class focused on the learners of the 21st century who live in an era where learning is open, accessible, and shared.

Post-Modern Era Shifts and Web 2.0
As we’ve entered the Post-Modern Era and made shifts from an Industrial Age to a Technological Age, we’ve seen huge shifts in how people process information for learning and how we understand how that happens. For the purpose of this post, that means less value in linear, logical oriented teaching and more learner-centered, experiential learning. Less trust in experts and more need for “guides on the side.” The highly interactive Web 2.0 provides the potential for learners to learn on their own and from one another more easily and effectively than ever before which brings me to qualitative research.

Qualitative Research
Not qualitative research really, but a post got me thinking from a student in my qualitative research about what sounds like an awesome publically-funded learner-centered school she teaches at which takes in kids who haven’t succeeded in the traditional school systems (as well as other posts from students whose research centers around at-risk kids). This made me wonder why these programs always seem to be offered to the at-risk kids, and you don’t see them in the traditional system.

I suspect it’s because the traditional system doesn’t want these kids, and the other kids are well controlled in the traditional system so why offer them anything different? That makes me think of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers in which he makes the case that had the opportunities available to people like Bill Gates been widely available to many kids, we wouldn’t have one Bill Gates success story but an exponential number of similar ones.

Working Learners
All that brings me to the working learners whom we read about in an article by Louis Soares in which he calls for accommodations to be made by the government worker training systems, colleges, and credentialing systems to adjust for learners who work in order to produce an economically strong workforce.

By the lens through which I see things, the current systems aren’t moving well out of the Modern Era fast enough, and a big part of that is our credentialing system. When a learner wants to learn, s/he usually finds a way (often outside the existing systems). As we have seen an explosion in open learning online, I believe learners will continue to seek out what they need to learn and the ways we credential people is going to have to match that rather than setting up a system and then developing the learner-system to fit those requirements as we’ve done in the past.

I believe great opportunity exists for businesses to form who lead learners through all the resources available to them to become skilled for careers without ever setting foot in a traditional credentialing institution. Millions of homeschoolers have already been doing this widely for decades. I’m going to be keeping that need in mind as I work through this semester.


January 11, 2010

Welcome The World is Open classmates (as well as the 2 or 3 other people who may read this blog occasionally).

The picture is the winter view from our deck and will change with the seasons.

When this little experimental journey is complete (in April 2010), the snow will have melted, the ice will be gone, and I will have:

  • oriented myself to blogging
  • commented extensively on how web technology is revolutionizing educational opportunities
  • fulfilled a class requirement for Dr. Curt Bonk’s The World is Open Indiana University course (based on his book)