Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Allure of new technological tools

Often when we become aware of new tools we try to use them in familiar ways; we try to adopt the new tools to our tried-and-true methods rather than change our methods to take advantage of capabilities the new tools provide. This has occurred with many or all of the technological tools now being used in an educational environment. It is happening now with wikis. This does not happen because people are not clever enough to figure out how to use the new tools. Often it is because people are just too busy or otherwise distracted to take time to investigate how to best use the new tools. Or it occurs because people become enthralled with the allure of the new tool and they do not adequately consider how to best use it. They fail to do an analysis to determine if they even should use it.

Here is a case in point. What came to be Macromedia Breeze was originally called Presidia; it was made by a company with the same name. Originally about all it offered was a way to add audio to PowerPoint presentations and stream them to the web. After Macromedia bought the company they made many improvements to the product, effectively making it into a new “tool”, and renamed it Breeze. The company I worked for continued to use the new tool, Breeze, the same way we had used the old tool, Presidia. We failed to capitalize on any of the new capabilities.

Before individuals start to use wikis they must make a conscious decision to figure out how to best use them in their particular circumstance. If they use them just for the sake of using a new technology they will gain very little benefit and will possibly cause many negative consequences.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Wiki class

I started taking a class about wikis this weekend, specifically Wikis as Tools for Collaborative Learning and Knowledge Management. It is very cool. I write “it is” because I am sitting in class at this moment. I am ...

OK I started writing this post while in class but could not finish it. There was way too much going on for me to concentrate on to write much worthwhile here. I hope to be able to learn a great deal in the next three weeks about wikis, how to develop and use them and what they are best for. With this newfound knowledge I hope to help develop and use wikis and help others learn more about them.

Wiki sustainability is a key issue with wikis. How do we get people to start, and continue, using them? We have to pay attention to the WIIFM factor – What’s In It For Me. If people see little use for themselves they will be less likely to use a wiki. However, if we can make people see great value in using a wiki they are likely to be active users.

Before taking this class I did not realize there were so many things to learn about wikis. The next few weeks are going to be quite interesting.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Online Education Skills

I read two interesting articles today, both referred to me by the Technology-Enabled Teaching email newsletter I receive each day. The first article, Fifty-One Competencies for Online Instruction, discusses skills instructors need in order to be effective in delivering courses online. The second article, Reflection in an Always-on Learning Environment: Has It Been Turned Off?, mentions how instructors need to build in time for reflection as part of their online courses. To me, these two articles represent two sides of the same coin. Both of these articles speak to the educational challenges we face in today’s high tech world.

Because of the fast growth rate of online programs in higher-educational institutions, most instructors beginning to teach in an online environment do not have experience teaching in that environment. This only stands to reason. However, what is perhaps less clear is that many of the needed skills are different from skills used teaching in a face-to-face environment. Consequently, to be most effective in this new environment, instructors need to learn what skills they should have and how to apply those skills. Smith (the author of the first article I mentioned above) advocates creating a training program for new online instructors that will help lead them to develop competencies (skills) needed before the course, during the course, and after the course.

A great many college students today are part of the net generation; these students have been termed digital natives. They are very adept at working in a multifaceted technological environment available to course designers today. They are comfortable multi-tasking and seem to suffer less from information overload than many, like me, in previous generations who struggle trying to keep up. However, Chen (the author of the second article I mentioned above) is concerned these digital natives are loosing the reflective thinking skills so important for learning. She supports including activities in online courses that promote reflective thinking. Some of the activities she mentions are blogging and creating electronic portfolios.

Online education requires new skills from both instructors and students. I am learning more each day about what these skills are. As I do so, I am learning how to develop programs that teach or promote use of these skills. Perhaps most importantly, I am beginning to learn how to develop these skills in myself.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

growth of online higher education

RedNova News reported today that the online higher-education market is expected to exceed $6 Billion in 2005. One of the things leading this growth is the trend towards quality in higher-education programs. Also distance education has been gaining acceptance and approval by students, their employers (who are often funding their courses), and higher-education institutions.

The demand for higher-education in an online environment is partially driven by the need to access education anywhere, anytime. This appeals to employees and their employers who can not afford to have employees miss work to take courses. It also opens up a wealth of opportunities for employees to take courses from institutions they could not attend in person due to geographical limitations. There are also benefits for companies who choose to outsource much of their educational needs. With the growth in online education, employers have more choices to partner with organizations to provide the specific courses their employees need.

For the complete article click here.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

the right technology

This evening I completed chapter four – Technologies and Media – in Distance Education: A Systems View by Moore and Kearsley (2005).

It is sometimes difficult for me to keep in mind that the technology is not as important as the design. Great technology coupled with poor design will yield little better than mediocre results. Also, “technology” in relation to distance education can refer to a variety of mediums ranging from print to internet delivery. No one technology is best in every situation. Rather, designers must select the best technology for a given learning objective and learner. Older technologies are not necessarily bad; newer technologies are not necessarily good.

According to Moore and Kearsley, print is still the most pervasive technology used in distance education (p. 73). This surprised me at first until I thought about the fact that many of the leading distance education universities in terms of enrollment are not in countries that enjoy high percentages of access to the internet. Instead they are in countries like Turkey, China, Indonesia, and South Africa. In these areas print is the main delivery medium for distance education courses.

As mentioned above, the key is selecting the right technology for the application. There are many learning objectives where print is perfectly acceptable, and quite possibly even preferable. There are other objectives for which a good graphic, picture, or video clip is best. For other objectives perhaps an audio clip or interactive audio discussion might be the best approach to get the message across. Designers should not let themselves get tied into any one technology. They will be best served if they use a mix of technologies to portray the learning objectives for which they are designing.

Moore, M. G. & Kearsley, G. (2005). Distance education: a systems view (2nd Ed.). Belmont, CA: Thompson Wadsworth.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Distance Education - Process or Product?

This morning I finished reading chapter three in Distance Education: A Systems View by Moore and Kearsley (2005). One of the points that struck me most was in the final section about course sharing initiatives. They mentioned how the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has recently made available to the public all its course materials. They continue by writing how this decision by MIT has caused much debate; the issue is that of product verses process (pp. 69-70). The product is the course material MIT has made available. The process includes the individual presenting the material, the way the material is presented, and the interaction between all parties involved.

As I compare the value of the product with the value of the process, it seems to me the process is far more important than the product. Naturally, using the best processes in the world with sub-standard product would be of little worth. However, using the best product with inferior processes will probably yield little better results, at least for most learners. If the process has little worth, any individual should be able to become expert in any field or discipline simply by referring to the multitude of information sources available in today’s world. I believe this is usually not possible for most people. Most people require at least some level of structure and guidance in their learning endeavors. This is where the process comes into play. And this is where the theory of transactional distance comes in.

Michael Moore (the same Moore that authored the texts I am reading this semester) developed the Transactional Distance Theory (TDT) to describe how “distance” in distance education is more related to the art or science of teaching than to physical distance between instructor and learner. According to the CMC Resource Site (, “There are three key variables to consider regarding transactional distance: structure, dialogue, and learner autonomy.” Each of these variables refers to the process mentioned in the above paragraphs.

TDT is something I am only beginning to learn about. Nevertheless, it seems at least one of the key issues to be dealt with regarding distance education in the near-term future. As technological delivery mechanisms continue to improve, we will need to pay less attention to the technology and more attention to pedagogy. TDT is one pedagogical area I look forward to studying more about.

Moore, M. G. & Kearsley, G. (2005). Distance education: a systems view (2nd Ed.). Belmont, CA: Thompson Wadsworth.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

opportunities and challenges

With the ever-increasing expanse of communications technologies such as the internet, opportunities for distance education continue to expand. As the internet expands its reach, greater percentages of the world’s population have increased access to distance education. However, as distance education expands from one country to another, there are several issues that should be addressed. Some of these issues relate to culture, specifically how culture relates to distance education, or even more specifically how people from different cultures react and respond to distance education. As I have written before this is an area of great interest to me.

I am interested in the interrelation of culture and distance education for several reasons. A key part of designing any educational program should be helping ensure the audience actually learns something from the program. If we are going to take the time to develop distance education programs it seems we should put effort into designing programs that will help people learn. This is usually taken as a given. However, if people from different cultures react to online educational programs in different ways, perhaps we need to try and design programs that are targeted to people in the culture we are targeting. At the very least we need to design educational programs in such a way as they will not alienate people from the target audience. Though I am now very much a novice in this area I feel it is an area with a great many research opportunities.

We in the west must also be careful that we are sensitive to cultural differences. What I mean to say is that when we are developing programs to help improve people’s knowledge in a certain area, we should be careful that we do not at the same time impart values specific to our culture to people from other cultures. Of course if we are aiming to alter another culture’s values that is another matter entirely.

In my beginning quest for knowledge about distance education I feel as if I am standing on the edge of a very great ocean. I am barely getting my feet wet as the waves occasionally roll up the beach to where I am standing. However, as far as I can see there is nothing but water. I want to drink it all in but where do I start? How can I possibly make even a small impact on the amount of water there? Perhaps it is useful to remember the saying “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

As you can tell from my writings here I am only beginning to take baby steps. Nevertheless, I am encouraged to keep going. I hope you will continue to journey along with me.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

post-modern distance education

I sat in on the second session of my EDTEC 650 class earlier this evening. A big part of this course, about 30%, will be working on a course project or research paper. The project or research paper must be relevant to the field of distance education.

This evening we had two guest presenters, one from the local campus television station and the other from the campus Instructional Technology Services, each of them pitching a project from their respective organizations. Dr. Saba also discussed several other projects he is interested in having us work on. One of these is designing a Learning Management System (LMS) for the future. This LMS would be much more learner centered, i.e. be designed considering the needs of the learner, than instructor centered. This would be a new paradigm for LMS systems. I am sure I will write more about this later.

Dr. Saba also discussed how much of the teaching done today is pre-modern, most university management and administration is modern, and distance education is post-modern. Much teaching is done similar to how a craft is done. For example a teacher is a solo worker. He or she does everything for the course he or she is teaching. The management and administration of the university is standardized, industrial. There is little or no room to cater to individual needs or interests. Distance education, on the other hand, allows for mass customization, a key to post-modernism.

I can almost hear some of you saying, “So what?” Because distance education allows for mass customization, it provides individuals opportunities to take only those courses that are directly relevant to them. Individuals can take courses when they want them from many different providers whether those providers are located nearby or across the globe. They can work on courses at their own pace, starting and finishing when they want to. They can also pick and choose from the best suppliers of those courses.

While distance education provides these and many other benefits, it also raises significant challenges. Although I do not want to overlook the challenges, I don’t have time to discuss them here and now. Check back in coming days for more on this topic.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Distance Education as a system

Today I purchased and started reading the other book I must read for EDTEC 650, Distance Education: A Systems View by Michael Moore and Greg Kearsley (2005). It is an introductory text to the field of Distance Education. Today I read the preface and chapter one – Basic Concepts. As the name of the book implies, Moore and Kearsley take a systems view of distance education; this is introduced in the first chapter.

They list what they term “four levels of distance education.” These are Single Mode Institutions, Dual Mode Institutions, Individual Teachers, and Virtual Universities and Consortia (pp. 4-5). Single mode institutions are those that only engage in distance education. Dual mode institutions are those that have added distance education to their traditional on campus course offerings. Individual teachers is self explanatory; virtual universities and consortia are groups of two or more institutions that have banded together to provide distance education.

To describe a system they use as an example the human body and tell how the human body is a system made up of various individual parts. They go on to state that either neglecting one part or paying undue attention to one part can have negative affects on the other parts. So it is with distance education. A distance education system consists of many individual parts. Some of these listed by Moore and Kearsley are: Management, Content Sources, Interaction, Delivery, and Learning Environment (p. 14). If we either neglect or emphasize one particular part it will have deleterious affects on the system as a whole.

Each of the parts of a distance education system is itself made up of several individual parts. For example the delivery part includes both the media used and the technology. Many institutions have spent much money on technology and now consider themselves to have a distance education program. If they neglect all the other parts of the distance education system though, their program as a whole will be woefully inadequate. A comprehensive distance education program includes much more than just technology. For me and others like me who are very much interested in technology, this is information of which we must remain aware.

Moore, M. G. & Kearsley, G. (2005). Distance education: a systems view (2nd Ed.). Belmont, CA: Thompson Wadsworth.

Friday, September 09, 2005

beach time and distance education

I went to the beach today. I write this not to brag about where I live (though I could) or to boast how great it is to live only 20 minutes from the ocean (though it is). I won’t even go on about how lovely it is to sit in a beach chair, with feet in the sand, hearing the waves crash on the shore, while the sun beats down all around (though it is beginning to sound like I am going on about it). I only mention going to the beach today to illustrate a point – the any where, any time benefits of distance education. While at the beach I read two chapters in the Handbook of Distance Education.

I am not actually taking my class – EDTEC 650 – through distance education. However, I could be. I have taken about twenty classes through distance education in the past and EDTEC 650 is currently offered in both on campus and online formats. I also had my computer with a wireless broadband modem with me at the beach. (am i really that sick?) So I could have been sitting there logged on to the class web site, reading and posting messages to Dr. Saba as well as other students in the class, while at the same time referring to my textbook. Distance education, like perhaps no other course delivery method, allows this flexibility. That is one reason I am so keenly interested in distance education.

Ah, but alas, I am not so interested in distance education only to integrate my own pleasure trips with my studies. Rather, I am interested in the field of distance education because it provides others, from not only other parts of the United States but also from other parts of the world, the exact same educational opportunities as I enjoy. This leads me to the first chapter I read today – Culture and Online Education – by Gunawardena, Wilson, & Nolla (2003). This is a topic of great interest to me. As I wrote on Tuesday, within the field of distance education, I am most interested in how culture affects online learning. This interest stems from my living overseas for about seven years and from my experience working as an instructor in the semiconductor equipment industry.

In my early adult life I lived in England for about two-and-a-half years while serving in the Air Force. A few years later I returned to England for about another two years; during that stay I worked for a computer maintenance company. After leaving England I moved directly to Japan where I lived for about another two-and-a-half years. Those experiences gave me some appreciation for other cultures. While teaching in the semiconductor equipment industry many of my students were from several European and Asian countries. I taught both at company headquarters in the United States and at various customer sites in Asia and Europe. My teaching experience served to increase my exposure to and interest in other cultures. My experience teaching and developing training for people from other cultures, coupled with my experience taking many online courses, has served to solidify my interest in how culture affects online learning.

Unfortunately, I have taken too much time today writing about far too little. Thus I must leave any real discussion of Culture and Online Education to another time. Stay tuned.

Gunawardena, C. N., Wilson, P. L., & Nolla, A. C. (2003). Culture and online education. In M. G. Moore & W. G. Anderson (Eds.), Handbook of distance education (pp. 753-775). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Distance Education Introduction

I attended a live broadcast of an educational television program this morning at the KPBS studio on SDSU campus. The program was produced by the International Training Center,, as part of their 2005 Series – Managerial Excellence and Networked Collaboration for Global Competitiveness. Their programs are live, interactive videoconferences. They transmit them in both English and Spanish via satellite, microwave, and cable to parts of the United States and to several parts of Latin America.

This evening I decided to read some of the required reading for EDTEC 650. I read an article by Dr. Fred Saba, my professor for the course. The article is entitled Distance Education: An Introduction to the Discipline and the Practice. Dr. Saba starts off by introducing distance education as “a general concept that has its roots in general and adult education; embracing independent study, self-directed learning, as well as non-traditional and open education.” He goes on to list how its roots can be traced back to at least the 1600’s. He next discusses correspondence education, educational radio, and educational television before writing about the telecommunications revolution and the internet.

As I read the section about educational television I thought how appropriate it was that I attended the broadcast of an educational television program this morning. It is good to see how, even though the FCC granted the first educational television license in 1945, educational television is still being used effectively today. However, it is important to point out that the program I saw today would not be possible without many advances in telecommunications that Dr. Saba lists in his paper. So we see the old (educational television) blending with the new (telecommunications revolution) to present a current educational product.

While reading the section about educational television I had another idea about the old (educational television) and the new (the internet). Dr. Saba mentioned much research concerning educational television that has been done over the years. One of the early studies he discussed was Kumata’s research in the late 1950’s. Kumata (1960) determined that certain learner traits were primary factors in learning. Among these were audience motivation, subject matter preparation, interaction with the teacher, and audience attitudes towards television and the subject matter being presented. I thought how interesting that these are some of the same traits being studied today in reference to learning on the internet. This (learning on the internet or online learning) is one area I hope to learn much more about over the coming weeks and months.

Kumata . H. (1960). A decade of teaching by television. In Schramm, W. (Ed,). The impact of television: Selected studies form the research sponsored by the National Educational Television and Radio Center. Urbana, Ill. University of Illinois Press.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

EDTEC 650 - Another start

I started my fall semester today. The main course I am taking this semester is EDTEC 650: Distance Education.

The major text for the course is Handbook of Distance Education edited by Moore & Anderson. It includes seven sections comprising 55 chapters. Many of the top writers in the field contributed to the handbook. Therefore, it is a great source of information, particularly for the beginning practitioner, about distance education. I hope to concentrate most closely on the section about International Perspectives. However, I also feel it is important for me to read and understand the first section – Historical and Conceptual Foundations – to serve as foundational knowledge for all other sections.

My main area of interest in distance education relates to how culture affects online learning. That is why I am most interested in the International Perspectives section. I started the book by reading the preface and overview by Michael G. Moore. In it he mentioned a problem with researchers today is that they do not know what other researchers have written. This lends added impetus for me to read the first section of the book. It could be argued that it indicates I should read the entire book. It certainly points to the need to read widely in the field, especially in the main area of one’s interest.

The Handbook of Distance Education is over 800 pages long. When I add to that the hundreds of references, representing perhaps thousands of pages, listed in the International Perspectives section, I see that I am embarking on the start of a very long quest. Nevertheless, it is a quest I am keenly interested in making. I must quickly improve and speed up both my reading and writing skills.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

New Day - New Year

Today starts a new semester and a new school year at SDSU. Much has happened since my last post just over one year ago. (Hmmm, so much for Edtec Student's Daily...) Well, never mind. As the title suggests, today is a new day in a new year.

I am now over two-thirds of the way through the MA in Educational Technology at SDSU. It has been a very good program, as I knew it would be, and I have learned much. Nevertheless, there is still a great deal more to learn. Even after I finish the program I am sure I will only be starting to skim the surface of knowledge about educational technology. If nothing else, the program is teaching me how little I know about the field and how very much more I need to learn. Knowing what one does not know is a good beginning of knowing.

This fall (2005) I am taking one three-semester-hour class and three one-semester-hour classes. My big class is Distance Education taught by Dr. Farhad Saba. The three smaller classes are (1) Wikis as Tools for Collaborative Learning and Knowledge Management, (2) Advanced Digital Video, and (3) Electronic Teaching Portfolios. I am also taking the comprehensive exams (Comps) this semester. That should prove a good opportunity for me to review my educational technology knowledge to date. All in all it looks like a good semester ahead.

Join in for the ride.