Online Learning…here to stay?

Small, private colleges fret over online classes By Denise-Marie Ordway, Orlando Sentinel

Small, private, liberal arts colleges are slow to jump on the bandwagon of online education.  The official line is often that what they do can’t be replicated in an online environment.  While there is some truth to this, it is also true that more can be done to simulate the student interaction that promotes critical thinking, at a distance.  It does require some vision, creativity and administrative courage, however.   Standing still may lead to declining enrollments as students have come to expect more convenience in the educational marketplace.  As educational consultant, Robert Lytle puts it, “…online education is here to stay … to pretend that it is a fad is to imperil an institution.”  I expect we’ll see more of the types of baby-steps described in Ordway’s article – that is, the move towards blended learning.  Colleges moving in such a direction may even end up being closer to what the future of higher education will look like than they know.

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Virtual Worlds for Learning

Virtual-Learning Landscape by Brian Shuster in Today’s Campus

This is a great article about the use of virtual worlds that students can explore, alone or together, as part of the learning process.  The idea is that historical times and places can be recreated on the computer.  Students, through their avatars (computer character representing the student), can roam the computerized landscape as they choose.  The virtual world can give students a real flavor for what it was like to be in that time and place – a virtual trip through history.  It makes it easier to imagine what it might have been like for the people of the time or how that landscape might have influenced a specific historical character.  Perhaps they can relive a famous event, like the eruption of Vesuvius, a battle in WWI or see the Gettysburg Address from the cheap seats.  Virtual worlds are another tool in the educational toolbox to make learning fun or to reach students that they might not otherwise reach.  I always thought the use of Second Life was interesting for holding class meetings, but I thought it limited.  How interesting will things be when it is common for an instructor to say, “I’ll see you next week at the Cotton Club in 1920’s Harlem for our next lesson.”

OER and Quality

On Quality and OER by David Wiley

There was much discussion in our class lately regarding Open Educational Resources (OER) and their quality or lack thereof.  Tony Bates argued that “the materials available to date are terrible…” in response to OER available at GlobalUni’s site (a free university), though he was arguing about that as but one example of the poor quality of general OER (Bates, 2011, The Bad, para. 4).  David Wiley, in the attached link above, argues for the opposing view – that just because it is OER doesn’t mean that it is poor quality.  In fact, he offers evidence that quality (in terms of accuracy) is little different between an OER like Wikipedia and an encyclopedia produced through traditional means, like the Encyclopedia Britannica.  Further, he questions how quality really should be defined, settling on a definition that refers to whether students learn using the resource and not whether the resource has a lot of glossy photos.

In the quality argument, I think that Wiley is closer to the mark, but that there is room to include a bit of both views in the definition.  It isn’t that I think that glossy pictures are more important than whether the resources are effective learning tools.  Rather, I wonder if more people will persist in the learning process if they are attracted to the resources.  While I suspect that Bates was being deliberately provocative, it is an unfair indictment – as Wiley’s evidence shows,  Ultimately I think it is just important to encourage the OER movement to improve educational access for all.  Market mechanisms, for those who have determined how to make money using OER, and people voting with their clicks, may determine the highest quality materials and provide the drive to improve that quality.

References

Bates, T., (2011, February 6). OERs: the good, the bad and the ugly. Available from:http://www.tonybates.ca/2011/02/06/oers-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/

Distance Education Defined

3 Must-Knows on Distance Ed by Joel Shapiro

This article was a good summary of the complexities of the distance education experience.  Distance education (DE) spans the spectrum from synchronous to asynchronous, active learning to more passive learning and structured to more open, less organized, approaches.  Contrary to the popular view, DE allows for a variety of teaching and learning styles while generally increasing flexibility and expanding access to education.  In the future the question may be less about whether we will engage in the DE experience and instead be about what type of DE model works best for your learning style.

One of the more interesting statements in the article is: “No serious distance educator would ever suggest that distance education fully supplants the benefits of a live in-person experience. Rather, we argue that the loss of face-to-face benefits in a classroom can be mitigated in a distance learning environment if students achieve the intended learning outcomes while benefiting from convenience and increased access to higher education.”   I do wonder about the importance of the social experience in the educational environment.  In DE it is often just replaced by a different type of social experience, at least among the less passive types.  One of the main questions in considering this issue is whether we are achieving the desired outcomes and is the social experience one of the desired outcomes?  In today’s marketplace, you’d certainly expect a level of social competency that may be lost in a DE environment.  There are things like synchronous and asynchronous video that approximate the social experience – but is it enough or even necessary?  As DE evolves and the marketplace evolves with it, will it be necessary then?

Blogging and the educational process

Educational Blogging by Stephen Downes

This is my first entry in fulfillment of an assignment for our class entitled, “Technology in Distance Education and e-learning.”  I figured a good place to start was to look at the use of blogging to the educational process.  One of my favorite bloggers to follow, educational researcher Stephen Downes, just happened to have the perfect article to start the ball rolling!   One reason he started his blog was an effort to organize his bookmarks of important material.  This was my thinking as well, as someone who often finds articles worthy of saving for another day.  In the attached article, he explains the benefits of educational blogging.  Teachers use it as a class webpage, as a link to material relevant to course material, to organize in-class discussions and readings, and to encourage students to write and think critically.  Downes sums it up by explaining that blogging “…is about engaging with the content and with the authors of what you have read—reflecting, criticizing, questioning, reacting” and doing so in a way that connects with others on the topic – with the outside community.  This is what makes it different from simply keeping a journal.

These are all excellent reasons to blog.  Another good reason is that you can easily map out, in real time, the evolution of your thought on an issue.  It is no longer a question of, “how did I get here?”  Through the blog, you can see how your thoughts progressed.  That is a nice aspect of learning that typically gets lost in our attempts to understand the world.

One more point that I found interesting – in the comments section of Downes’ blog, one poster states that blogging has become another form of spamming. It’s an interesting idea in that I can see how it could be used that way and I am sure it sometimes is. At the same time, I think there is great utility in linking to quality content and critically analyzing the material. I think it is an additive process.