Monday, February 27, 2006

Thursday, February 23, 2006

It’s Birkie Weekend

I’m writing this from the Telemark Lodge in Cable, WI. Today and tomorrow we have a promotional table for LSC Online at the Birkie Expo and we have 18 or so students who are participating in the races on Saturday. This is a great event and provides some good exposure for our college.

We need to get more press out of this event. Joshua Tesch, our P.E. instructor (and a world-class Nordic skier) was just telling me about one of the students in the class who lives in Oregon but is here in town for the event. That is exactly what I was after when I first came up with the idea of combining Distance Education with distance athletic events. I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to meet her and get a few quotes that we can work into a news article.

They have limited wireless connectivity here at the lodge; not much coverage area and a weak signal. It’s funny to walk out into the lobby and see a lineup of about 8-10 people on the couches all with their laptops open and clicking away. Not funny ha ha, but funny in the way that you would have never seen that even just two or three years ago. Not only has the Internet changed the way that many of us live, but wireless access continues to change things more and more all the time.

There is absolutely no cell phone coverage out here at all. But I can call my wife using the wireless network and free calling service at Skype. I don’t even need to call her, but I’ll do it anyway just because I can…and also to let her know that I don’t have cell service out here. I could just send her an email, but it is more fun to call over the Internet. Or maybe I’ll just send her one of those quick Springdoo messages. She may not be able to talk back, but she and the kids will probably get a kick out oh hearing me on the Internet. Luckily, the kids are easily impressed.

Why don't we listen to what students are telling us?

I've ranted previously about how Higher Ed is so entrenched in tradition that it is generally slow to change and this appears especially true when we talk about whether Higher Ed is changing as our student population is changing. The examples of reluctance to change in Higher Ed are rampant. One area that has particularly piqued my interest lately is the controversy swirling around putting podcasts of classroom lectures on the Web for students to download.

Faculty near and far are pulling their podcasts off-line because students won't attend their incredibly boring lectures in the classroom if they can listen to the incredibly boring lectures at the time and place of their choosing. Right now there should be the sound of 1,000 voices saying DOH!!

Now I'm not trying to pick a fight with all faculty who stand in front of students and TALK AT them for an hour or more at a time. It has been my experience that about 10% are able to do that rather effectively. So you 10% (and you know who you are) can excuse yourselves from the rest of this rant.

The students are trying to tell you that your lectures are not captivating enough to bring them to class if they have any other alternative. LISTEN TO THEM! Why not let them listen to that material outside the class, and then .......(pay attention, this is KEY)..... do something interesting with your class time. Give them a reason to attend class. Create active learning opportunities for your classroom hours. Give them meaningful, engaging, learning activities and assessment activities in the classroom. If you give them a reason to come, THEY'LL COME!

I'm sure that I offended some readers (if there are any), and I'm sorry....but only to a point. We have to start engaging today's learners or we will lose them altogether.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Thoughts worth chewing on

Some of these are my thoughts, others are unattributed thoughts overheard at the conference, while much of the data about web usage came from Will Richardson's workshop.

  • 70% of the jobs in 2020 don't exist today
  • 80% of the technology that will exist in 2020 doesn't exist now
  • The read-only web has only been around about 12 years
  • The read/write web is where all the action is and is the future of the web, and it is only a couple of years old
  • In 2005, someone accessing the web for the first time became the billionth person to do so
  • There are over 40 million blogs, with a new one created every second
  • There are 7 million new web pages created every day
  • In the past year there was a 3,600% increase in the amount of consumer generated digital video

Many of the new learning technologies are enabling something dubbed "Nomadic learning" (podcast) …students can go where the relevant information is, from many different teachers (compared to one teacher in the classroom). There is also alot of talk these days about m-learning for mobile learning, or the use of cell phones, PDAs and other mobile devices.

No other part of higher ed is a "vendor-driven" as E-Learning. The major players in the IMS market have such control over what we do and how we do it. That is one reason why the open source IMS platforms are getting more and more attention from higher ed.

There is a lot of research and rhetoric flying around higher education about the importance of building community among online learners. A very detailed study was presented at the conference about the factors that have a positive and negative affect on the sense of community. However, the researchers never bothered to ask the students whether this sense of community in E-Learning was important to them. Our satisfaction survey results collected at LSC indicate that it may not be very important at all.

According to Mickey Slimp of the Northeast Texas Consortium:
Most e-learners who dropped said that the main reason was related to communication issues
• Can't find teachers
• Slow response from teacher
• Inconvenient office hours

It seems to me that this all means that we have to pay more attention to the concept of transactional distance, and keep working to minimze it. Cheers. BD

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The best things I found at E-Learning 2006:

Online Student Support Services - A Best Practices Monograph

Assessing readiness for new e-learners: READI tool

People Putty is an inexpensive way to create a digital assistant. You can even turn your own likeness into a digital talking head.
Haptek makes the digital assistant software
Sinclair College has an example of the "buddy" for a keyboarding class. Click on Class Overview to see some of the functionality.
You have to download a special player but it is free, quick, and easy.

Moodle, one of the Open Source IMS platforms, is gaining ground fast with many new features and many new large adopters around the world. It doesn't currently have all the functionality of D2L, Blackboard, and others; but it is closing the gap rather quickly.

The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD, for short (I'm serious)) has purchased and refurbished about 65 old houses/mansions/buildings around Savannah and uses them for classrooms, offices, galleries, and many other things. Not only have they helped save many old and beautiful structures, but they literally have made the city of Savannah into their campus. It's really quite amazing.

RSS feeds are really the only efficient way to gather, organize, and consume the overwhelming amount of useful digital information that is out there in the blogosphere, wikisphere, and all those other spheres.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Readiness Tool for New E-Learners

We have played around for several years with different tutorials, and sample courses, and other things to try to help students do a self-assessment for their readiness to take online courses. Lately I've been thinking that maybe we need to go even further.

I'm not so sure that we are in a position where we can require that they complete a readiness assessment before they are allowed to register for their first online course. However, I do think that we can make available to them a much more thorough readiness assessment that will give them and us a much better picture of whether they have the skills needed to succeed in e-learning.

At the conference I took a good look at the READI tool. This assesses 5 areas of readiness:

  • Typing speed and accuracy
  • On-screen reading speed and comprehension
  • Technical competence skills
  • Individual Attributes
  • Preferred Learning Styles
We are not obligated to use all five modules if we don't want to. We can pilot test this tool for a semester at no cost before determining whether to continue with it. I'm seriously considering trying to use this prior to the start of the fall semester classes.

Most of those sections are probably self-explanatory except the Individual Attributes section. According to their website:
"... identified the individual attributes which are significant predictors of success in an online learning environment. These are variables such as motivation, procrastination, time availability, and willingness to seek help. "

I think that the preferred learning style information might be even more important for us to gather than the technical competence skills. There are other tools out there but this does seem to be quite comprehensive and I like the fact that we can really try it out before we have to start paying for it.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Another Report from e-Learning 2006

The breakfast speaker at the conference today was Marc Prensky. This is at least the third time I've seen/heard him speak at a conference in the past year. Either he is getting overexposed, or I am. Probably the latter. I always enjoy his topics and agree with much of what he has to say, but I always come away with the feeling that it is all talk and no action. By no action, I mean no movement in higher ed to get any closer to the things that he and others are talking about regarding how to reach the millenials, or digital natives as he calls them. As I said, this is the third time I've heard him speak in the past year. I don't think that there has been any significant change or even any momentum being gathered on this topic during that time. Higher ed typically moves at a glacial pace, but this is ridiculous and we can't afford to move so slowly in today's fast-twitch world.

The best presentation I've seen here (and there are many good ones, and yes, those are shocking words coming out of my critical fingers) was actually a full-day workshop by Will Richardson (his blog). I've never been to a full-day workshop at any conference where I was engaged the whole time and could have or would have stayed longer than the schedule allowed. I've already recommended that he be brought to Duluth for the NorthEast MN faculty duty day in August. He is a user and promoter for all things digital in education....blogs, wikis, podcasts, RSS feeds, social bookmarking, etc. etc. Really loaded with ideas for valuable educational uses of these tools, plus a great perspective and many examples of what K-12 students are doing right now in many places, and how we need to be prepared for when these kids walk in our front door.

I'm becoming more and more amazed at how a bunch of old fogies thinks that they know all about these new technologies. Right now I'm listening to a guy who must be 55-65 years old. He's speaking (intelligently, I might add) about RSS feeds and peer-to-peer collaboration and other related things. It's a reasonably good presentation, but I can't help but think that I would much rather be listening to a group of his students talking about what they actually do with this stuff. Have the students show me a live demonstration and I'd be paying attention right now rather than writing this blog entry. And I'll bet you $20 that those students wouldn't be using PowerPoint at any time during their demonstration.

Looking forward to a riverboat cruise tonight on the Savannah River. I think they also go out into the Atlantic O for a quick look (in the dark).

And now the truth: I too am an old fogey since I'll turn 50 in a couple of months. I'll be making a presentation this afternoon (about online student mentors with H. E.) and another one tomorrow morning (about satisfaction data from the PSOL), and yes, I have a PowerPoint show with handouts for each of them. Someday, I too, will break out of that box. BD

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Greetings from Savannah

I'm writing this from the e-Learning 2006 conference in Savannah, GA. First trip for me to this very cool city. Having some great southern cooking (tonight was the "Low Country Boil") and fresh seafood in the evening and lousy conference food during the day.

This has been a great conference weekend because I have spent several hours exploring some of the newer web apps that I have wanted to explore but have only had the chance to scratch the surface until now (like this blog for example that I created in November but only started getting serious about this weekend).

I sent an email to the e-learning faculty list about the website where you can create Word-compatible documents, and store them online, and open them up to collaborate with others, and much, much more. Perfect example of useful but free web applications that are changing the world in many ways.

Today I created my first batch of custom postage stamps at They're a little bit pricey for 39 cent postage stamps, but my wife is going to love them and I'm thinking that the grandmas are going to love getting letters that have their grandkids on the postage stamps. Can't wait to get them.

This pic wouldn't work well for the postage stamp, but it makes my heart warm to see these kids jumping off rocks into a very cold swimming pool in Texas in early January. They would have been swimming in the very cold Gulf of Mexico except that there were jellyfish all around.

Books I want to buy AND then hope I find the time to read them:
1. Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers by Scobel and Israel (Scobel is the widely read Microsoft blogger)
2. Small Pieces, Loosely Joined: a unified theory of the web, by David Weinberger
3. The Future of Ideas, by Lawrence Lessig
4. Freakonomics, A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, by Levitt and Dubner

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Why Am I Doing This?

A better question might be...what took me so long? I've wanted to publish my own blog thoughts for the past couple of years. It's always one of those things that I couldn't get to because I had more "important" (not) things to do.

So, in this space I will be sharing my thoughts about educational technology, e-learning, infusion of new technologies in society, the digital divide, serious educational gaming, etc. etc.

Please share your thoughts as well. BD