Merging an older blog

You may have noticed a number of posts that are seemingly out of order, and missing some images and links that were in the originals. I have merged some old blogs from grad school to this site, and well, didn't take the time to move all of the images since I really only wanted to capture the content. 

Thoughts On and Experience with Distance Education

 

While being introduced this week to the historical origins of what we now generally refer to as distance learning, it was a bit of a surprise to learn that not only is distance education not a recent development but rather dates back to the 1800’s in the U.S. (Seibold, 2007), but also that initially it began in Europe in the form of correspondence courses (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, and Zvacek, 2012). This notion of learning at a distance has only grown with the advent of various telecommunications, computer, and digital technologies that beginning with the telegraph extended through radio, television, the telephone, and now the internet (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.). Access to information, however, is not tantamount to education, and this is where the importance of the distinction of education and other learning opportunities becomes important. 

Dr. Michael Simonson (n.d.) gave a strong consideration to the definition and contrast of distance education to distance learning. While the difference in word choice may seem trivial, I feel he made a strong argument in that self study, which presents the ability to learn, does not equate to education, though their end results may be identical. Two salient features of education are the institutional association as well as the contractual responsibilities of an instructor and the student (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, and Zvacek, 2012). The fact that this happens at a distance and the connection of teachers, students, and resources are mediated through technology fulfills the definition that Simonson (n.d.) and Simonson et al. (2012) present of distance education. But while currently this may be a satisfactory definition, an ever changing one is not at all surprising. With a constantly evolving knowledge base as well as rapidly changing technology, there will be new ways of understanding human cognition as well as new ways to interact digitally. On an individual level, I feel that one’s personal definition of distance learning may often be characterized not by their profession or technology prowess, but by their experience with distance education or lack thereof. 

My first experience with distance education was an astronomy and U.S. government course in community college in 2003. I never gave much thought or consideration to the courses then, though in retrospect, they resemble independent study more than education. These courses were tele-courses and had no interaction with an instructor or classmates, no shared learning experiences, and lacked a true technology based medium. This would fail the conditions proposed by Simonson et al. (2012) and describe many of the problems with poor instructional design (or violation of) in distance education that Moller, Foshay, and Huett (2008) describe at length. They summarize it well as “makes little real use of the wealth of technology available. The craft approach often takes advantage of only the simplest technology with little regard to how advances in streaming video, voice, print, and data resources can be utilized to enhance instruction” (p.67). While conditions have certainly changed over the last 10 years, there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done to provide sound methodology, modernized content, and adapted learning outcomes for the demographics and differences between mediums (Moller et al, 2008).

This work is definitely one of the challenges I currently see in my workplace as well as career. I work in a country with many forms of “educational” settings that range from a myriad of private institutes that span all manner of content area, most notably for English as a foreign language (also known as language mills), local K-12  schools, private international schools, and local universities.  While my school’s goal is not to add more online classes, or even promote them, we are trying to adopt many of the features of distance education- an online, technologically mediated environment through an LMS, shared resources, anytime collaboration,  and constant access to resources. This is what Dr. Simonson (n.d.) describes in his perception of the future of education and while I not only agree with this, I see this in my community now, as opposed to being off in the future. I have seen this blended environment extend more through K-12 in the US and elsewhere, but among the private international school system in Korea, this is an adoption that started more than 5 years ago full scale and has been expanding ever since.

With the introduction of 1:1 programs that are connected through services like GoogleDocs and LMS platforms, the idea of constant and instant inquiry, cloud based resources, collaboration regardless of geographic or temporal separation, are all hallmarks of Distance Education yet it is happening face-to-face. The definite positives of social learning, sharing learning experiences, and a growing, established set of heuristics of personalized learning or student autonomy, interaction, etc. (Tracey and Richey, 2005), will transform and contribute to traditional learning environments. I feel there will be less of a distinction of distance and face-to-face education and simply a larger tool set for education across the board. The variation in quality of distance education I see simply as a mirror image of the variation among institutions, individual instructors, and curriculum in traditional brick and mortar schools. Distance education is already massively expanding (Tracey and Richey, 2005), and while profit incentive may be a large factor in that expansion, it has the potential to reach a far greater audience and provide ongoing opportunities for all people to continually learn. There may be a paradigm shift where the individual does not need to accommodate the educational system, but rather one where the educational system accommodates the individual. Distance education is already a bridge where despite location, time, commitments, or responsibilities that traditionally negatively impact the ability to attend courses, the opportunity to earn an education is still available.

Below you can see a visualization of my characterization/impressions of Distance Education when I first experienced it 10 years ago, as well as the differences I now see and experience currently as a student in an online MSIDT program.

 

Available: http://popplet.com/app/#/47187

References

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). Distance Education: The Next Generation. [Video Podcast]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_3396926_1%26url%3D

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). Distance Learning Timeline Continuum. [Video Podcast]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_3396926_1%26url%3D

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 2: Higher education).TechTrends, 52(4), 66-70.

Seibold, Kathy Norene. 2007. “Employers’ Perception of Online Education.” Dissertation, Oklahoma City: Oklahoma State University. Retrieved from http://raptor1.bizlab.mtsu.edu/s-drive/TGRAEFF/SOTL%20FLC/Online%20Courses%20-%20Articles/employer%20perceptions%20of%20online.pdf

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Tracey, M., & Richey, R. (2005). The evolution of distance education. Distance Learning, 2(6), 17–21.

Organizational Needs, Technology Type, and Actual Technology

Example 1: Collaborative Training Environment

A new automated staff information system was recently purchased by a major corporation and needs to be implemented in six regional offices. Unfortunately, the staff is located throughout all the different offices and cannot meet at the same time or in the same location. As an instructional designer for the corporation, you have been charged with implementing a training workshop for these offices. As part of the training, you were advised how imperative it is that the staff members share information, in the form of screen captures and documents, and participate in ongoing collaboration.

In the scenario described above, an organization that is separated geographically and temporally is challenged with sharing documents and collaboration for the roll out of a new staff information system (SIS). Like Beldarrain (2006) said, “today’s workplace requires that individuals create and collaborate within the constraints of time and place. These needs have given way to technological advancements that allow for real-time communication among peers and co-workers who stay connected over the Internet.” (p. 12). While real-time communication and collaboration is important over distance, in a global world it is equally important asynchronously. Therefore, creating a collaborative asynchronous working environment must be carefully considered along the needs of the organization. As these are regional and/or national offices, cultural, linguistic, and social factors should be minimal (Germain-Rutherford and Kerr, 2008), and a fairly uniform knowledge of technology can be assumed. The “lowest common technology” of the organization and employees should be determined in order to “maximize efficiency” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, and Zvacek, 2012, p. 116). Discussion technology such as chat, conferencing, and forums are fundamental to collaboration (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.). While chat and conferencing facilitate collaboration, these two particular tools would not be the most helpful as the dialogue and sharing between staff members would be asynchronous. Forum-style discussion technology would, however, be appropriate for an asynchronous situation as seen in the scenario. Consideration would be needed for the organization of such a forum as Wade, Bentley, and Waters (in Simonson et al., 2012) describe 20 guidelines for threaded discussions, and highlighting the need to group members into smaller units (Simonson et al., 2012). While this scenario does not include staff numbers, possible group collaboration settings could include the geographic regions as individual units, as well as regional counterpart groups to share information on the same issues across the organization. Thus, the criteria of an asynchronous collaborative file sharing environment needed, alongside the organization’s available technologies, can be imposed on actual tools. The two I have chosen that meet these conditions are closely related: Google Drive and Google Docs.

The application known as Google Drive is a collective online file repository capable of storing the organization’s documents and screen shots needed for staff information system implementation. Depending on the administrative set up, all documents by default can shared with all stakeholders or allow individual or group level access. There would be no special software to install as Google Drive is a cloud-based solution where data is stored on an off-site server owned and maintained by Google (Google, n.d.). The only technology needed to access the Google product would be a technology common to every modern computer, tablet, and smartphone, a web browser. Simonson et al. (2012) refereed to this as the “lowest common technology” that would “maximize efficiency” (p. 116). Such an interface would require little training if any at all. Group level organization would also fulfill certain guidelines described by Wade et. al. (in Simonson et al., 2012) for discussion forums. But on a practical level, the forum discussion is built within the file viewer (whether a document or screen shot as described in the scenario) as seen in the images below.

 

 

 

Image Source: Creative Commons

Comments or visual elements added by users are differentiated with colors and mouse-over effects, and show time-stamps for when it was made. A comment can even specifically be directed at others through the use the “@” symbol as is common in other social media platforms. Users have access independent of geography and time, and can even benefit from mobile access as iOS, Android, and Mobile Web apps are universally available with similar functionality (Google, n.d.).

 

 

Image Source: Creative Commons

But most importantly, these two tools fulfill the requirements of an asynchronous file sharing and collaborative environment that is needed for the SIS roll out. It also requires little to no financial investment for the use of the tool. If concern over the effectiveness of the tool was prevalent, there are numerous examples to examine.

Such apps from Google have been widely adopted in education as well as the business world. Ferenstein (2010) reported that “it saves schools money; 2) It boosts academic performance and motivation, and; 3) It prepares students for digital communication in the real world”. Essentially Ferenstein (2010) suggests that these tools are financially viable, increase performance, and fosters communication. This true for education as Google offers the suite free of charge, but offers the same productivity potential and streamlined communication to businesses among other resources. If the entire public school system in Oregon is embracing these tools for those reasons (Ferenstein, 2010), then the organization should feel there is compelling evidence that they can expect similar a experience.

References

Beldarrain, Y. (2006). Distance education trends: Integrating new technologies to foster student interaction and collaboration. Distance Education, 27(2),139–153.

Ferenstein, G. (2010, April 28). Why schools are turning to google apps. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2010/04/28/schools-google-apps/

Germain-Rutherford, A., & Kerr, B. (2008). An inclusive approach to online learning environments: Models and resources. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education TOJDE, 9(2). Retrieved from http://tojde.anadolu.edu.tr/tojde30/pdf/article_2.pdf

Google. (n.d.). Google apps for business. Retrieved from http://www.google.com/enterprise/apps/business/products.html

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). The technology of distance education.[Multimedia]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_3396926_1%26url%3D

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a      distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

The Impact of Open Source: MIT’s EdX

http://www.edx.org

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIh8huowqO8

Anything that is open source “is intended to be freely shared and can be improved upon and redistributed to others” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, and Zvacek, 2012, p. 141). While many people are familiar with open source products such as the operating system Linux or the “so widely adopted” CMS Moodle (p.142), but OpenCourses, or Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCS) present open access to universities and have the potential to democratize education. One such exemplar is MIT and Harvard’s edX.

 

EdX was founded by MIT and Harvard as a consortium that currently has 28 contributing institutions from the U.S., France, Korea, Japan, Australia, China, India, Germany, Hong Kong, and Sweden (edX, 2013). In edX’s own words, “we’re bringing the best of higher education to students around the world. EdX offers MOOCs and interactive online classes in subjects including law, history, science, engineering, business, social sciences, computer science, public health, and artificial intelligence (AI)” (edX, 2013). As of this writing, there are 57 total courses (new, current, and past) available.

 

On average, the typical MOOC enrolls around 50,000 students  (Jordan, 2013), and has a completion rate of about 10% (Jordan, 2013; Simonite, 2013). While interpreting results, shortcomings, or the effectiveness of MOOCs can be debated ad nauseam as to why they may not be living up to the hype (Zemsky and Massy, 2004), the purpose of this post is to determine whether or not a typical edX course adheres to good instructional design and distance learning principles in its planning, design, and subsequent development, elements noted by Dr. Piskurich (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.). To do so, I registered in both the DemoX Demo Course which is the CMS orientation module, as well as CB22x The Ancient Greek Hero from Harvard.

 

The CMS orientation module, DemoX Demo, is designed to teach the learner how to navigate the environment and provides a generic overview of what a course may look like. In DemoX, a sample course, divided into 3 weeks, with typical course elements such as videos, reading materials, and assessment questions are all present. The platform itself benefits from an excellent functional interactivity in its design (Chou, 2003), and a very modern and effective color schema and visual layout (Paper Leaf, 2010; Paper Leaf, 2012), succeeding in visual literacy design (Metros, 2008). 

Learning objects (i.e. videos) that I was able to access in the DemoX Demo and CB22x The Ancient Greek Hero all followed production guidelines described by Hartsell and Yuen (2006) specifically for distance learners. Access is redundant (Beldarrain, 2006), and close captions are provided in addition to the ability to slow down the pace of the video. These are all explicit considerations of distance learners (FCC, n.d.; Tabbers, Martens, and van Merriënboer, 2001). Thus, the CMS and media within typically qualify as well designed learning objects for distance learners (Smith Nash, 2005), and provide a genuine multimodal learning experience (Mayer, 2007). Activities were limited to discussion forums, multiple choice assessments, and close reading exercises, but matched directly to learning goals as described in the syllabus.

 

The planning of the course is evident, and divided into either weeks (for DemoX Demo) or hours (for Hero X). A detailed syllabus is provided that explains, hour by hour, the goals for that particular lesson, and includes a section on assessment and evaluation. As Dr. Piskurich noted in his podcast, the syllabus is tantamount to an instructional design of the course (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.). Detailed information regarding the course is also provided in the sections labeled “course info”, “advice for participants”, and “courseware” (edX, 2013).

 

The course designers have clearly followed guidelines of instructional design, learning object design, and distance learning theory. The CMS is designed to “keep students informed constantly” (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 135), and detailed instructions along with clear requirements for each week or session are stated each session and in multiple locations (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 134). The target audience of learners is adults, and the forums are designed so that they “can learn as much or more from each other as from the instructor” (p. 136). In terms of theory, this is a clear sign of andragogy with “participatory learning” (p. 50), a “clear course descriptions, learning objectives, resources, and timelines for events” (p. 51).

In a big picture view, the current state of edX and its courses seems to fit the 3rd Cycle definition that Zemsky and Massy (2004) that include sophisticated electronic learning objects. EdX has strong foundations, although the impact of its mission to democratize education is one that has yet to be felt. While the penetration of distance learning is incredible for continuing education (Allen, Seaman, and Garret, 2007), the positive effects career wise or financially are inconclusive (Seibold, 2007). There are no degrees awarded from edX, and the FAQ section clearly states “X Universities do not currently offer formal academic credit for edX coursework and do not certify that MOOC students have met the same requirements as matriculated students taking the original course on which the MOOC is based” (edX, 2013).

 

Ultimately, as time passes and society changes, there will be more definitive conclusions on the impact of Open Courses. Nonetheless, it is refreshing to see such initiatives being taken by educational leaders. As stated in the third part of Holmberg’s theory of guided didactic conversation, “society benefits from distance education…from the liberal study opportunities it affords individual learners, and, …, from the professional/occupational training it provides” (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 49).

All images are from edX’s website (http://www.edx.org).

References

Allen, I., Seaman, J., & Garret, R. (2007). Blending in: The extent and promise of blended education in the united states. ()Retrieved from http://sloanconsortium.org/publications/survey/pdf/Blending_In.pdf

Beldarrain, Y. (2006). Distance education trends: Integrating new technologies to foster student interaction and collaboration. Distance Education, 27(2),139–153.

Chou, C. (2003). Interactivity and interactive functions in web-based learning systems: a technical framework for designers. British Journal of Educational Technology, 34(3), 265–279.

edX. (2013). edx. Retrieved from http://www.edx.org

FCC. (n.d.). Closed captioning. Retrieved from http://www.fcc.gov/guides/closed-captioning

Hartsell, T., & Yuen, S. C.-y. (2006). Video streaming in online learning. AACE Journal, 14(1), 31–43.

Jordan, K. (2013, February). Mooc completion rates: The data. Retrieved from http://www.katyjordan.com/MOOCproject.html

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). Developing online courses. [Video Podcast]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute %2Flauncher %3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_3396926_1%26url%3D

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). Planning and designing online courses. [Video Podcast]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_3396926_1%26url%3D

Mayer, R. E. (2007). Five features of effective multimedia messages: An evidence-based approach. In Fiore, S. M., & Salas, E. (Eds.). Toward a science of distributed learning (pp. 171–184). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Metros, S. E. (2008). The educator’s role in preparing visually literate learners. Theory Into Practice, 47(2), 102–109.

Paper Leaf. (2010, 01 18). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.paper-leaf.com/blog/2010/01/color-theory-quick-reference-poster/

Paper Leaf. (2012, 10 15). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.paper-leaf.com/blog/2012/10/principles-of-design-quick-reference-poster/

Seibold, Kathy Norene. 2007. “Employers’ Perception of Online Education.” Dissertation, Oklahoma City: Oklahoma State University. Retrieved from http://raptor1.bizlab.mtsu.edu/s-drive/TGRAEFF/SOTL%20FLC/Online%20Courses%20-%20Articles/employer%20perceptions%20of%20online.pdf

Simonite, T. (2013, June 5). As data floods in, massive open online courses evolve. MIT Technology Review. Retrieved from http://www.technologyreview.com/news/515396/as-data-floods-in-massive-open-online-courses-evolve/

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Smith Nash, S. (2005). Learning objects, learning object repositories, and learning theory: preliminary best practices for online courses. Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects, 1. Retrieved from http://www.ijello.org/Volume1/v1p217-228Nash.pdf

Tabbers, H. K., Martens, R. L., & van Merriënboer, J. (2001). The modality effect in multimedia instructions. Retrieved from http://www.hcrc.ed.ac.uk/cogsci2001/pdf-files/1024.pdf

Zemsky R., & Massy, W.F. (2004). Thwarted innovation: what happened to e-learning and why. The Learning Alliance. Retrieved from http://immagic.com/eLibrary/ARCHIVES/GENERAL/UPENN_US/P040600Z.pdf

 

Converting Training Formats: A Guide and Checklist

Scenario:

A training manager has been frustrated with the quality of communication among trainees in his face-to-face training sessions and wants to try something new. With his supervisor’s permission, the trainer plans to convert all current training modules to a blended learning format, which would provide trainees and trainers the opportunity to interact with each other and learn the material in both a face-to-face and online environment. In addition, he is considering putting all of his training materials on a server so that the trainees have access to resources and assignments at all times.

For the scenario described above, the trainer intends to convert the program or sessions into a blended format. This choice assumes a wide range of content or activity that may take place online, anywhere from 30%-79% (Allen, Seaman, and Garret, 2007).  Preplanning would involve determining how much of and particularly what kind of content (i.e. documents, multimedia, streaming content, plug in based content, etc.) is going to be pushed online and what is still taught face-to-face and whether the hybrid  model will be synchronous or asynchronous. Subsequently a suitable CMS can be selected that is capable not only of delivering the content, but of providing the interaction and facilitative qualities that are necessary for learning objectives (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.).  For example, if the training is synchronous, then some kind of chat module would be necessary (Beldarrain, 2006). Redesigning the content can also enhance the learning environment by properly designing for a multi-modal environment (Mayer, 2007). Everything would also need to be designed and accessible through the lowest common technology that trainees have access to (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, and Zvacek, 2012). Additionally, as the trainees will have constant temporal and geographic access to materials, the trainer’s role will become more of a facilitative one, rather than a trainer-centered one (Simonson et al., 2012). Establishing a culture of friendly and professional communication that is paramount and must be modeled by the trainer (Simonson et al., 2012), especially as the trainer is already dissatisfied with the face-to-face communication of the group thus far. Getting trainees to do the same will require engagement to make them understand that they are “responsible for their own learning” (p. 233).  Considering the how trainees learn will be helpful in designing the environment (Simonson et al., 2012), as well as the cultural context from which they perceive learning (Germain-Rutherford and Kerr, 2008). The best practices guide is formulated of these considerations and intended to help successfully convert the face-to-face course into an online, blended environment.

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References

Allen, I., Seaman, J., & Garret, R. (2007). Blending in: The extent and promise of blended education in the united states. ()Retrieved from http://sloanconsortium.org/publications/survey/pdf/Blending_In.pdf

Beldarrain, Y. (2006). Distance education trends: Integrating new technologies to foster student interaction and collaboration. Distance Education, 27(2),139–153.

Germain-Rutherford, A., & Kerr, B. (2008). An inclusive approach to online learning environments: Models and resources. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education TOJDE, 9(2). Retrieved from http://tojde.anadolu.edu.tr/tojde30/pdf/article_2.pdf

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). Delivery Analysis. [Video Podcast]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_3396926_1%26url%3D

Mayer, R. E. (2007). Five features of effective multimedia messages: An evidence-based approach. In Fiore, S. M., & Salas, E. (Eds.). Toward a science of distributed learning (pp. 171–184). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a            distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Reflections on the Future of Distance Education

            Like all changes in the world and paradigm shifts, it comes as no surprise that currently there is skepticism surrounding online education. The earth was once flat, yet is now round. The earth was once the center of the universe, yet now only a pale blue dot in the void. Distance education for degree programs is often viewed cynically (Seibold, 2007), yet 200 years of practice and 70 years of research has proven that even in nascent form, is as equally effective as any traditional means when done right (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, and Zvacek, 2012).

 

(Image Credit: DeviontArt)

            The current penetration of rates of distance learning for continuing education is astronomical (Allen, Seaman, and Garret, 2007). MOOC enrollment is on the rise with an average enrollment of 50,000 students per course (Jordan, 2013; Simonite, 2013). Like the change in the earth’s position in the human world view, distance education is clearly changing positions as to where it fits in with society and education at large.

 

(Image Credit: SMU Distance Education Blog)

George Siemens gave a simple historical lesson of how video conferencing and chatting simultaneously across the world was once almost a dream, yet today is so pervasive and woven into the fabric of society (Laureate Education Inc., 2010). Distance Education is not quite that nascent, but it still has a ways to go before things like academic rigor, quality, or fidelity are the well known forefront of perception of distance education rather than convenience and flexibility of it (Gambescia and Paolucci, 2009). More pressing is society’s view of the validity of an online degree through either an online university or a brick and mortar institution’s online degree program, or traditional face-to-face degree. Not all employers view it equally (Seibold, 2007). However, I believe this discrepancy is the age old maxim of simply fearing or misunderstanding the unknown, as well as discomfort with change.

 

(Image Credit: Lisbon Evolution Day)

Distance education while pervasive in certain contexts (Simonson et al., 2012), is still not a universally common experience. As the modern instructional designer’s responsibilities now often include distance education, I think there is a certain onus of responsibility, rightly or wrongly, to educate others, whether clients, students, employers, or educators, on how it can be  not only equally effective but appropriate in many situations that otherwise might prohibit access to education or knowledge. Access of course is one of the tenants of many distance learning theories and like Holmberg assumed, would benefit society (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 49).

 

(image Credit: SFGate Chronicle)

When I conducted interviews this past week on the perceptions of distance education, I asked “if you were an employer, would you consider an online degree negatively or neutrally”. The strongest response was from a friend, also taking a course of study online, was that he would consider it second class and treat it differently. This ironic opinion is largely due to his experience in both a brick and mortar institution and the program online for his second bachelor’s degree. However, he did stipulate that if he could be convinced of the quality of the degree by the holder, he would change his view on a case by case basis. On one hand this may be unfair, however the criticism and treatment is not without precedent (Seibold, 2007). It also really highlights the fact that distance education, in general, is not quite mainstream enough to be unquestionably uniform in quality and rigor (Seibold, 2007; Gabescia and Paolucci, 2009; Schmidt and Gallegos, 2001), and as students of distance education, and practitioners as instructional designers, this is part of the responsibility of improving the field and educating others to have informed decisions rather than decisions formed in the absence of knowledge of the field and practice.

While this may be the current state of affairs of distance education in the beginning of the 21st century, I imagine that at the dawn of the 22nd, 100 more years of research, and exponential increase in blended learning environments, that constant and large use generation after generation will propel distance education into being a social norm, or simply just an educational norm. People may simply look back and wonder how they once were educated without it in much the same way we wonder why our ancestors viewed the earth as flat and that it was the center of the universe, despite the emerging evidence to the contrary.

References

Allen, I., Seaman, J., & Garret, R. (2007). Blending in: The extent and promise of blended education in the united states. ()Retrieved from http://sloanconsortium.org/publications/survey/pdf/Blending_In.pdf

Gambescia, S., & Paolucci, R. (2009). Academic fidelity and integrity as attributes of university online degree program offerings. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(1). Retrieved from http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring121/gambescia121.html

Jordan, K. (2013, February). Mooc completion rates: The data. Retrieved from http://www.katyjordan.com/MOOCproject.html

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2010). The future of distance education. [Video Podcast].     Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?       tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute     %2Flauncher   %3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_3396926_1%26url%3D

Schmidt, E., & Gallegos, A. (2001). Distance learning: Issues and concerns of distance learners. Journal of Industrial Technology, 17(3). Retrieved fromhttp://atmae.org/jit/Articles/schmidt041801.pdf

Seibold, Kathy Norene. 2007. “Employers’ Perception of Online Education.” Dissertation, Oklahoma City: Oklahoma State University. Retrieved from http://raptor1.bizlab.mtsu.edu/s-drive/TGRAEFF/SOTL%20FLC/Online%20Courses%20-%20Articles/employer%20perceptions%20of%20online.pdf

Simonite, T. (2013, June 5). As data floods in, massive open online courses evolve. MIT Technology Review. Retrieved from http://www.technologyreview.com/news/515396/as-data-floods-in-massive-open-online-courses-evolve/

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a            distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Project: Post Mortem

The Project

 

(Image Credit: Edudemic.com)

The most involved project I have been a part of to date was an iPad 1:1 initiative pilot program at my institution. It’s lifespan began in March of 2012 with the idea to establish the feasibility of a 1:1 to program in our current facility, as well as build a working body of knowledge on the steps involved in running one on a day to day basis. This included, of course, procedures for locating lost/missing/stolen hardware, app distribution and updating, as well OS updating and mobile device management (MDM) through a server. While the initial approval for the project happened in April, it was not until July that meetings with vendors for hardware took place, or until early August that it arrived and disk images were created and deployed. The disk image payload had been discussed and decided on through out the summer between the two pilot program teachers and the project manager (myself). The project was active until the end of the 2012-2013 school year in June, and subsequently ended.

The PM Process

The project management (PM) process was informally applied to the 1:1 project by virtue of a team member being a former general manager at Chevron and full of prior experience and expertise. As a small team with only 4 members, there was little confusion over hierarchy or the work breakdown structure as described by Dr. Stolovitch (n.d.), Portny et al. (2008), Greer (2010), and Murphy (1994). Each member knew their role in the program. I was the technological facilitator but not involved in classroom practices. The teachers in the classroom brought back their issues and concerns to me and we would work together to find solutions or experiment. The other fortunate aspect of the project was that the timeline and budget were fixed, and the scope was unchangeable (i.e. we could not expand the project to other classes due a lack of iPads and available textbooks through a school vendor). The only stakeholders involved that wanted to increase scope were the students/parents wanting the ability to add additional digital textbooks and have the iPad accessible in other classes. This had been anticipated earlier in the planning phase of the project and was routinely communicated whenever this kind of scope creep appeared (Portny et al., 2008). We had also completed some risk planning for the potential damage to iPads, loss, or theft, which did in fact occur. While students were billed for the loss or destruction of “school property”, we had set aside spares for this eventuality.

 

 

(Image Credit: the author)

The success in the functioning of the program can definitely be attributed to having had a strong plan in place prior to commencing the project that indicated a chain of command and established enough basic procedures for certain events. Having already thought about risks and responses prior to beginning made it easy to solve problems when they arose with adequate failure prevention (Portny et al., 2008). Not everything had been contemplated, however. When iPads were definitively “lost”, it was unclear who the student should have reported to-me, the technological facilitative manager, or management; more specifically the accounting and operations manager responsible for billing the students’ parents. 

Success, Failure, Improvement

The project was successful in operating due to proper planning, in the end. The fixed nature of time, money, scope, and small team, made it easy to operate within the project boundaries. Establishing basic protocols and easily anticipated problems made things run smoothly. In the end, we generated a working program and documented areas for improvement related to infrastructure, mobile device management, better classroom hardware, and the need for  ongoing training and support. The absence of significantly negative issues is indicative of a solid planning process and little deviation from that plan. Without this, we would have been playing everything by ear which would have been far too difficult to manage and enact while carrying full teaching loads and other administrative responsibilities during the school year.

 

References

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d). Project management and instructional design. [Video Podcast]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp

 

Murphy, C. (1994). Utilizing project management techniques in the design of instructional materialsPerformance & Instruction, 33(3), 9–11.

 

Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.

 

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Project Planning: 3 Resources to help you out

It is amazing how much computers and software have democratized various resources and brought to the average consumer the ability to create content and do just about anything. Project Management is one of many activities that has benefited from the automation and data visualization that software can easily do. As a Mac user (though do I have Parallels and Windows 7), I am always looking for great software to help me out in my daily workflow and routines. Because project management is new to me, I did some quick searches for mac software and the number one result that came up was OmniPlan 2. You can download a trial version (sorry Windows users, it’s Mac only) to give it a try and see what it can do to turn resource allocation, budget projections, and ultimately timelines into a less mind boggling task. Check out some of the screen shots below.

 

 

(Image Credit: The Omni Group)

You can start from whatever perspective you like, tasks from a WBS, a timeline, or the resources needed. I started by simply entering all of the tasks involved, added personnel, and simply assigned the individual task to a person. You can then set start/end dates, hourly rates or flat fees to help estimate a budget. You can also make tasks dependent on others. In short, you can dive into some pretty detailed and complicated features but at its most basic, you organize yourself pretty quickly. One of the nicest parts about the software is that you can export all of your data in various formats, the coolest of which is an HTML site that displays the task summary, Gantt chart, resource timeline, and even provides individual calendar files and milestone reminders for Apple’s iCal and Reminders apps. The individual only has to download their calendar file and can see what they need to do and by when.

The complementary mobile software from The Omni Group is their separate (but syncable) mobile app for iOS that allows one to do all of the same from an iPad, anywhere, anytime, and on to go. Check out the pics below.

 

(Image Credit: The Omni Group)

 

The software is by no means cheap, however. It’s great to be able to give it a test run for free, and it is available for purchase in the Mac App Store, although it’s sold for $200. Should you be a student, involved in education, or looking for larger site licenses, the Omni Group sells the software direct from their web site for discounts, especially student discounts, that knock the price down by almost 50%. That’s a huge benefit to making their software affordable, especially for an MISDT student like myself.

 

The second resource I found also happens to be from the Omni Group, another app called OmniGraffle. It’s a diagramming tool that can easily accomplish all of your WBS needs. While this can be done in any graphics program like Photoshop or Pixelmator, they aren’t designed to make the hierarchical relationship of images (i.e. visualized tasks) or flow diagramming easy. This is really where OmniGraffle makes the process quick and allows a whole host of other features that I am assuming when learned, allow for some pretty power but quick diagrams.

 

If you own a Mac and are involved in Project Management in any capacity, it is hard to avoid the Omni Group. A third app, OmniFocus, is another powerhouse for task management. Their upcoming 2.0 update for the Mac is promising though as of this writing is unreleased. It’s newly released iOS 7 design is highly acclaimed as a truly powerful design that takes advantage of all of the new features of iOS 7.

 

 

 

But you don’t have to take my word for it. I’m not an OmniGroup salesman. I have found their tools incredibly helpful as a student and I recommend giving their products a try for free from their site http://www.omnigroup.com.

Managing Scope Creep

2 years ago I was the head facilitator of a 1:1 program that was intended to develop an internal working body of knowledge on the administration, technical requirements, infrastructure shortcomings, and general how-to in our school with its own unique resources and context. On the recipient end (i.e. students and teachers), the 1:1 program was going to take place in two high school classes; Geometry and U.S. History. While many aspects of the project were fixed by a school calendar and the amount of students and teachers in those two specific classes (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, and Kramer, 2008), this did not stop the issue of scope creep (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.). And among all of the stakeholder groups involved (e.g. administrators, teachers, students, parents), the scope creep always came from students and parents.

 

 

(Image Credit: Touch Arcade)

One part of the program was to pilot the use of interactive, digital textbooks as replacements for traditional, paper copies. We wanted to get feedback directly from students and teachers if the content, in a digital, multimedia form, was better received by the students. Another goal was the cost feasibility of using an iPad with all digital textbooks versus the costs presently incurred with shipping fees. This was positively supported by parents as even if there were no demonstrable learning benefits,; the single-form factor and computing power for virtually all school tasks and tools was an incredible benefit that parents would support regardless. As the program progressed, this is where the scope creep routinely came from.

We were able to demonstrate that we could provide students with a single iPad, secured from student tampering, and free of games and other distractions that the parents were highly concerned about. Eventually as they saw their students using the iPad as a tool, rather than an entertainment vehicle, they assumed it would be very easy to simply expand the pilot program’s textbook offerings to the students participating in the program. The logic simply was, we see that it works, so let’s just replace the rest of their textbooks with digital ones. This way the students won’t have to carry a giant load of books, just a single iPad which they already have. While our school had purchased some additional textbooks in digital form (and some students were in those classes), it wasn’t so simple a process to do which parents routinely did not understand.

 

 

(Image Credit: Wired.com)

The act of downloading a book is relatively simple. But when other students in the class do not have the digital books, or supplied with an iPad by the school, suddenly it becomes an issue of inequity-making it easier for some students and not for others. The teachers in the classes out side of the pilot program did not have access to digital copies of the book as well, and as we discovered with the Geometry textbook, they did not match up perfectly with their analogue counterparts. Entire problem sets would be different, and we had no way to review this for the other texts. 

If the scope was increased, all of these problems would have been added to an already exploratory, learning process. At the same time, there was no realistic way that I, as the head facilitator, could have added more files to their iPads since I was working a full class load and trying balance to administrative tasks in my own prep time. 

While increasing the scope was impossible from a resource perspective, we still had to manage the students and parents’ expectations of it by routinely sending home letters about why it could not be done, despite it being possible. We understood their perspective and the positive motive behind wanting more, but we diplomatically had to remind them it would cause other inequities with other students, as well as more work that simply could not be completed at that time. This is what Budrovich (n.d.) described simply as not over-promising, and the notion that the good was the enemy of the best. Parents and students ultimately wanted a better functioning capability over a good one.

 

References

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d). Overcoming “scope creep”. [Video Podcast]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp

 

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Ed.D

I've decided to explore options and opportunities to undertake an Ed.D program in 2015. While the decision has come a bit late in terms of meeting application deadlines, I have narrowed down a lot of choices to 2 main ones-Boise State and ISU (although I probably won't be able to make the deadline for ISU).

Up & Running

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