April 20, 2014

Time to retire from online learning?

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Working in my study

Working in my study

Forgive me for being personal in this post (well, it is a blog), but I also have a few important things to say professionally.

The context

I was 75 yesterday and as I’ve tried to do each birthday for the last 25 years, I spent the day skiing at Whistler. (A wonderful day: sunshine and still tons of snow, and a lot of terrain to cover). How to spend yesterday was an easy decision. The hard one is how to spend the rest of my life (yeah, welcome to the club).

In particular, I have decided to stop (nearly) all professional activities from now onwards. I want to go through the reasons for this, because the reasons are as much professional as personal. Also this change has implications for my blog in particular.

What I’m not going to do

In general, I’m not going to accept any invitations to do paid consultancy work nor to accept invitations to be a keynote speaker or a participant at conferences from now on. I will not be taking on any more thesis supervision or examinations, nor reviewing articles or books for publication, unless they are directly relevant to my own writing (see below). I say in general, because it’s stupid to be inflexible, but there will not be many exceptions.

Why stop now?

First, if 75 is good enough for judges in Canada to retire, it’s sure good enough for me, and after 45 years continuously working in online and distance education, I’ve certainly earned the right to stop. However, many people just don’t believe me (including my wife), because online learning and open and distance education are my passion and my life, and that’s not going to go away. As the day spent skiing illustrates, I’m really fortunate to be healthy and fit, so health is not the reason. But there are good reasons for me to stop now, and I want to share these with you.

The main reason for stopping now is that I want to stop when I am still at my best. I’ve been really on form over the last 12 months, as far as one can be objective about these things. But I have seen far too many great people who continued long after they should have stopped – and unfortunately it’s the later years that people often remember. Much of my expertise comes from having done things: teaching online, managing a department. But it’s over 10 years since I taught a full course, and a similar amount of time since I was responsible for a department. Given the pace of change, it is dangerous for a consultant to become adrift from the reality of teaching and management. It’s time to hang up my boots before I get really hurt (or more importantly, really hurt others).

Related to this is the difficulty in keeping up in this area of knowledge. It’s a full-time job just to keep abreast of new developments in online and distance learning, and this constant change is not going to go away. It’s tempting to say that it’s only the technology that changes; the important things – teaching and learning – don’t change much, but I don’t believe that to be true, either. Teaching in higher education is about to go through as major a revolution as one can imagine. This is not going to be easy; indeed it could get brutal.

Even the processes of learning, which used to be relatively stable, given how much is biological, are also undergoing change. Technology is not neutral; it does change the way we think and behave. Furthermore, I foresee major developments in the science of learning that will have major implications for teaching and learning – but it will also have major false directions and mistakes (be very careful with artificial intelligence in particular). So this is a field that needs full-time, professional application, and very hard work, and I just don’t have the energy any more to work at that level. To put it simply, this is not a profession where you can be half in and half out. Dabbling in online learning is very dangerous (politicians please note).

And then there’s MOOCs. I can’t express adequately just how pissed off I am about MOOCs – not the concept, but all the hubris and nonsense that’s been talked and written about them. At a personal level, it was as if 45 years of work was for nothing. All the research and study I and many others had done on what makes for successful learning online were totally ignored, with truly disastrous consequences in terms of effective learning for the vast majority of participants who took MOOCs from the Ivy League universities. Having ignored online learning for nearly 20 years, Stanford, MIT and Harvard had to re-invent online learning in their own image to maintain their perceived superiority in all things higher educational. And the media fell for it, hook, line and sinker. This is a battle I no longer want to fight – but it needs fighting. But my reaction did make me wonder, am I just an old man resisting the future? And that has definitely left a mark.

Lastly, I am concerned that the computer scientists seem to be taking over online education. Ivy League MOOCs are being driven mainly by computer scientists, not educators. Politicians are looking to computer science to automate learning in order to save money. Computer scientists have much to offer, but they need more humility and a greater willingness to work with other professionals, such as psychologists and teachers, who understand better how learning operates. This is a battle that has always existed in educational technology, but it’s one I fear the educators are losing. The result could be disastrous, but that’s a theme for a whole set of blog posts.

So yes, time to go, and to leave the good fight to the next generation.

What I will continue to do

I will continue to write. In particular, I have already started writing an open textbook on ‘Teaching in a Digital Age’, and when that is done, I will write a semi-autobiographical novel (only the names will be changed to protect the innocent). I will also complete any existing professional commitments.

I will also continue this blog focused on online learning, but it will be more journalistic and less based on my immediate and recent experiences in online learning. So I hope it will continue to be of interest and value.

And yes, plenty of golf, and more time with family.

Last words

This post has ended up being a bit too personal. But it’s been an incredible, wonderful 45 years. Open and distance education are honourable fields of endeavour, aimed at widening access. Online learning is an exciting field, constantly under development, and has huge potential for both increasing the quality of teaching and the productivity of higher education. Above all, though, the journey has brought me many marvellous and true friends and colleagues. It has been an honour and a privilege to work with such great people. Thank you all.

Why successful consortia for online learning are so difficult

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The five steps of online system collaboration © Rachel Fishman, 2013

The five steps of online system collaboration © Rachel Fishman, 2013

Fishman, R. (2013) State U Online Washington DC: The New America Foundation

Fishman, R. (2014) Seeking Your Input on Online Consortia and Online Community Colleges WCET Frontiers

It would seem obvious that there would be great advantage in building consortia for online courses, so that courses could be shared between institutions, thus saving institutions the cost of developing new courses that are already being offered by other institutions. In particular, when you have a single state system of universities and two year colleges, it seems even more obvious. This is basically the idea behind the new Ontario Online initiative, for universities (Ontario already has a collaborative system, OntarioLearn, a partnership of 24 Ontario community colleges that have pooled their resources to increase online learning options.)

However, credit-based online courses have been around for many years, and yet there are very few successful consortia (Open Universities Australia is one good example.) The University of Florida System is a more recent example, as is the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.

Rachel Fishman’s report, State U Online, was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and tracks the development of online university consortia in the USA. She  identifies five steps that a state can take to build an integrated state-wide online system, and provides case studies of systems and institutions that have reached each ‘level.’

  1. Clearinghouse: State institutions collaborate to provide a clearinghouse of courses and degrees that a student can easily search. However, students must apply to each institution individually, and credit transfer between institutions is not automatic. Contact North provides such a portal in Ontario.
  2. Shared contracts: State institutions join together to purchase shared contracts for resources like a common LMS or services such as web conferencing or professional development around online learning. BCcampus operates something similar in British Columbia.
  3. Shared student services: state systems provide a variety of student support services at all (participating) institutions within the system, such as advising, local study centres, or even more common, proctored examination centres.
  4. Shared and articulated credentials: state systems have created carefully articulated efforts that include easy transfer of credit among institutions and shared credentialing. (This would include OntarioLearn)
  5. Shared credentials beyond state borders:  Several state systems create collaborative inter-institutional and inter-state efforts that take all of the previous steps, and allow students to move freely beyond state borders. Great Plains IDEA is an example from the USA, and Open Universities Australia is another example.

Fishman argues in the report that ‘public institutions should strongly consider adopting a system wide or consortia approach, in a manner that fits their unique contexts‘ and makes seven recommendations that will help strengthen such consortia.

However, in her blog post for WCET Frontiers, where she is asking for input for a new study on consortia in two-year colleges, she acknowledges that ‘[these five] categories may not be as distinct or as linear as I have made them out to be. And for some states, there are many barriers already in place that prevent institutions from even being able to come together and collaborate in the first place.’

Comments

The State U Online report should be compulsory reading for politicians and policy makers interested in course sharing and creating consortia.

However, what the report does not adequately address are the economics of online learning. Course sharing is not just about delivery of content, but also about providing learner support. If an institution takes a course from another institution, who will provide that ongoing learner support and assessment? It is the learner support that costs money (at least twice the cost of course development), and it is in the details of who will do the teaching of the online course – and how that gets paid for – where consortia so often break down. Having a strong and robust business model that adequately ensures the costs of all partners are adequately covered, and any surplus revenues are appropriately shared, is essential for successful consortia, but these conditions are very difficult to meet.

Another major barrier is academic distrust of other institutions: ‘Our courses are always good; yours are garbage.’ Also, for obvious reasons, faculty often feel uncomfortable teaching a course designed by someone else, and into the design of which they had no input.

For consortia to work, there has to be a synergy and a mutual respect for the other partners in the consortium. In a large system it is unrealistic to expect automatic transfer of credits between every institution in the system, although some states, such as California and Florida, have gone a long way to building equivalencies between courses in different institutions that facilitate formal credit transfer arrangements, through subject discipline articulation committees. But that is very hard work, takes many years to build, and requires a common vision and mutual respect. That is very hard to achieve in systems that put so much emphasis on competition and rankings.

So yes, consortia are desirable, but it ain’t easy. In the meantime, if you know of any successful online consortia let Rachel Fishman know (and me, too!)

A new MOOC on how to do blended learning

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UCF BlendKit

Kelly, R. (2014) EDUCAUSE and UCF launching blended learning MOOC Campus Technology, 3 April

EDUCAUSE and the University of Central Florida are offering a free MOOC called ‘BlendKit2014 – Becoming a Blended Learning Designer‘, which will run initially from April 21 to May 27.

It is aimed primarily at faculty and instructional designers, will come away with best practices for developing design documents, content pages and peer review feedback tools. In particular it will offer:

  1.  a consideration of key issues related to blended learning and
  2. practical step-by-step guidance in producing materials for a blended course (e.g., developing design documents, creating content pages, and receiving peer review feedback at one’s own institution).

The course was developed and will be taught by two staff members from the UCF Center for Distributed Learning: associate director Kelvin Thompson and department head Linda Futch.

Participants may also choose to pursue an official “UCF/EDUCAUSE Certified Blended Learning Designer” credential. Those who choose this more rigorous option will submit the materials they develop as part of the free MOOC for a portfolio review. This portfolio review is available for a  US$89 fee.

Registration for BlendKit 2014 is open on Canvas Network for the class that begins April 21. Details can be found at www.canvas.net and on Twitter at #BlendKit2014.

It should be noted that UCF has a great deal of experience in this field, having offered blended and fully online courses for many years.

 

 

Contact North on Online Learning, Innovation, Flexibility and Open Educational Resources

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Contact North's humble office in Sudbury, Ontario

Contact North’s humble office in Sudbury, Ontario

Contact North continues to produce a range of interesting short pieces on different aspects of online learning. (Disclaimer: I am a Contact North research associate, and have contributed a few times.)

The April 9 edition of Contact North’s Online Learning News contains three such contributions (all these pieces are generally anonymously written):

The What, Why, Where, and How of Open Educational Resources (OER)

Dr. Rory McGreal, Contact North | Contact Nord Research Associate and the UNESCO/Commonwealth of Learning Chair in Open Educational Resources answers these fundamental questions in a series of 10 short, informative videos, Open Educational Resources (OER) – A Video Primer.

There are two available at the moment, with others coming:

  1. What are open educational resources?
  2. Comparing commercial and open educational resources.

How to Design an Innovative Course

This piece suggests some steps that can help faculty and instructors approach the issue of innovative teaching in a systematic way, including

  • being clear on the problem you are trying to solve
  • working in a team
  • applying technology appropriately to address the problem to be solved
  • evaluating and disseminating your innovation

Greater Flexibility as the New Mantra

I have recently visited a Canadian university developing a major strategy around flexible learning, and this short piece (by someone else) suggests a wide range of ways in which institutions can increase their flexibility, including:

  • course design and delivery options
  • learning recognition and credit granting
  • program completion
  • assessment
  • transition from apprenticeship through diploma to degrees to graduate work .

These and many more items can be found on Contact North’s ‘Ontario Online Learning Portal for Faculty and Instructors’, available both in English and French.

Click here if you wish to subscribe to Contact North’s newsletter.

Concepteur(e)s pédagogiques: faire bien avec rien

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ACCP Tous pour un

Quel: ACCP (L’association canadienne des concepteurs et des conceptrices pédagogiques) offre un ‘webinar mousquetaire’ qui s’appelle: Tous pour un, au sujet de: Faire bien avec rien : travailler avec peu de ressourcesComment accomplir son travail de CP avec des ressources financières, humaines et techniques limitées? Quoi privilégier? Quoi sacrifier? Sur quoi miser?

Qui: tousavec Boriana Panayotova

Quand: 7 mai 2014

Où: salle virtuelle de l’ACCP

Comment: Pour participer, faites parvenir un courriel à appel-call@accp-caid.org à partir de l’adresse de courriel qui sera utilisée pour accéder à la salle virtuelle.

For Anglophones: ACCP-CAID has invited instructional designers to submit a challenging case from their workplace to the greater ID community to receive collective support and share their own experience. The All for One event will bring together one ID who faced with this challenge and other IDs who want to find a solution or suggest alternatives. For the All for One activity, the CAID will provide IDs access to one or more sharing tools (virtual room, discussion forum, etc.), as needed, and will circulate the invitation. The presenter is responsible for facilitating the event, which can be in English or French.

For more information or to submit a challenge, contact ACCP-CAID at info@accp-caid.org

Three musketeers

 

MADLaT conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in May

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Red River near the Falls, central Winnipeg

Red River near the Forks, central Winnipeg (my photo)

What: 13th Annual MADLaT conference: The conference promises lots of opportunities for you to explore relevant issues in e-learning and educational technology, inspire you with new ideas and provide time for you to network with colleagues

Who: The Manitoba Association for Distributed Learning and Training.

Where: Red River College Notre Dame Campus located at 2055 Notre Dame Ave, Winnipeg, Manitoba

When: 1-2 May, 2014

Keynote: Richard Van Eck is a professor of Instructional Design & Technology at the University of North Dakota and a leading researcher on serious games. For more on those presenting, click here

How: For information on conference fees and how to register, click here.

And, yes, the snow WILL be gone by May 1!

Learn to fly – online

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tony-plane-3

Warnock, C. (2014) 1,600 students worldwide take online flight classes Daily Herald, April 5

“Yeah, you’ll be telling me next that you can learn to fly a plane online – what, you can?!”

Not only that, you can get a Bachelor of Science in Aviation from the Utah Valley University, Orem, the largest public university in the state of Utah. The program has 200 students studying on campus, and the other 1,600 studying online. The program enables students to get a private aviation license, an instrument license and even a commercial pilot’s license. The 1,600 students who take classes online do their actual flying hours in airports local to them, so it’s only the theory part that is done online (although there are an increasing number of flight simulation programs now available as well, for those interested).

I have a special interest as I also have a private pilot’s license – yes, that’s me with my plane, a Cessna 172. It took me over 30 hours of night classes to get through my theory classes, and I would love to have been able to have taken that part online at the time, as it meant two hours driving from home to the airport and back for each lesson.

I’m still flying and in 2008 I flew across Canada from coast to coast (Tofino to Sydney, Nova Scotia) and back again as part of the Century Flight Club’s celebration of 100 years since the first flight in Canada. The photo below os of Black Tusk mountain, near Whistler, and was taken by my grandson, Marley, who was 14 at the time.

IMG_0012

Blogs and wikis in formal higher education: examples of open education

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 UBC blogs

Raths, D. (2014) An e-portfolio with no limits Campus Technology, March 2

This is an article on a project by the University of Mary Washington, Virginia, that enables all students to create their own academic web presence through the provision of a university-wide blogging platform. The article provides some good examples of student work done through this project, particularly in history. A recent development at UMW has been the creation of a community site that aggregates the activity of the project, including sites created and content published. The article also provides links to similar projects at Emory University and Davidson College.

It should be noted that the University of British Columbia here in Vancouver established UBC Blogs and UBC Wiki several years ago.

UBC Blogs currently has 22,785 members. Go to http://blogs.ubc.ca/support/about/ to see the many different ways UBC Blogs are being used. Choosing any one is invidious, but the first one I came across is an excellent example, UBC student Matthew Kyriakides’ essay on gentrification and social movements in Vancouver’s downtown east side.

While the blog service is aimed at individual students and faculty members, i.e. anyone with a CWL (campus-wide log-in), the wiki enables group contributions:

The UBC Wiki is a shared space for use by students, staff, and faculty at the University of British Columbia. It serves as a course repository, a personal and collaborative work space, a documentation depository, and a growing guide to everything and anything UBC. The information, resources, and links that it contains are created, expanded, and annotated by its users. It is constantly evolving and changing because every member can add to it and edit any page.

A good example of a UBC wiki is Math Exam Resources:

a community project started in March 2012 by graduate students at the UBC Math Department [that] features hints and worked out solutions to past math exams. The goal of the project is to provide an open and free educational resource to undergraduate students taking math courses, with a strong emphasis for first and second year courses. The provided solutions do not simply provide what the answer is, but instead focus on the processes that it takes to solve the problem. The Math Exam Resources wiki offers:

    • Free study tips, hints and detailed solutions to past exams of the Math Department.
    • High quality content written by math graduate students. The content is reviewed and can be updated on the fly with your comments and feedback.
    • The ability to use the discussion pages of any page in this wiki to dialogue with us or with other students about mathematics!

I strongly recommend that you browse the UBC Blogs and Wiki sites in particular to see how social media are being integrated fully with credit-based online learning at UBC. Most UBC courses still use a learning management system that allows for ‘private’ or ‘course only’ communications, but the blogs and wikis open up the courses to the general public who can comment on blogs or participate in wikis. Linking blogs and wikis to particular courses and controlling access through the use of passwords enables a degree of quality control. Usually it is UBC students who are ‘in control’. This is a development of open education that deserves more attention.

Does distance education socialize students? A study from Québec

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image ©www.ameriquefrançais.org, 2014

image © www.amériquefrançaise.org, 2014

Loisier, J. (2014) Socialisation des Etudiants en FAD au Canada Francophone Montréal QC: REFAD

REFAD (the Canadian francophone distance education network) has published a very interesting research paper on socialization and distance education in francophone Canada by one of its research consultants, Dr. Jean Loisier. If you can read French, and are interested in research on the extent to which socialization exists and the role it plays in online and distance education, this report is essential reading. (Because of the value of this report, I hope it will be made available in English so that it can have a wider market).

As well as providing a good review of theoretical issues around the subject of socialization in education, which takes into account  students’ use of social media, the report is based on in-depth interviews with 26 distance education leaders in the majority of francophone post-secondary institutions, and 121 questionnaires received from distance education instructors.

The report covers six topics:

  • characteristics of francophone distance learners and their mode of distance learning (individual, cohort, flexible);
  • technologies that support or discourage socialization;
  • teaching strategies that focus or not on collaborative activities;
  • phenomena associated with group activities;
  • the need for “social relations” between students;
  • actions taken by Canadian institutions to support the integration of distance students, and the importance these institutions give to different aspects of socialization in relation to educational goals, and the importance these aspects of socialization have in maintaining and strengthening ties within the Francophone communities outside Quebec.

I’m not going to attempt to summarize a 144 page report in French, but Loisier’s conclusions in particular are quite provocative (if I have translated correctly!). He notes that while most distance education leaders support the idea of collaborative learning and the socialization of students, in practice this does not happen often in distance programs, and in any case collaborative learning often conflicts with the desire of distance students for individual and flexible learning. Furthermore, socialization does not occur automatically online merely by putting students together in groups. Nevertheless, there are important educational goals that are best facilitated through collaborative learning, but careful planning and a framework/context  are needed that avoid the more affective or emotional elements of socialization, and focus more on the cognitive elements of learning in a group.

This is one of the most interesting, provocative and useful research reports I’ve read in a long while.

Instructional design, the academy and industry: a ‘blended’ event

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image © eLearning Industry Companies, 2013

image © eLearning Industry Companies, 2013

What: The Academy and Industry: Exploring Instructional Design Roles

In a professional discipline, sometimes there can be uneasy tensions between those in the Academy (i.e. professors and researchers) and those in industry. This collaborative event will attempt to highlight some of the tensions that exist in instructional design. How do I.D. practices and conditions differ in the Academy vs in the corporate sector? How important is it to keep up with current research? What value is placed on formal credentials, or practical experience? Join us in our discussion online, and attend the culminating panel session.

Who: CNIE (Canadian Network for Innovation) + CAID (Canadian Association of Instructional Designers – ACCP en français)

When and how: