The November 2010 edition of ‘Distance Education‘, Vol. 31, No 3. is now out, but not as an open access document. If you are fortunate to have access to a university library, or are a subscriber, you will find this edition does not have a specific theme, but several of the articles, in the words of the editor, report on

‘a design-based approach to learning and teaching enhancement….It comprises foremost, a clear definition of the learning outcomes for students, careful design and orchestration of appropriate learning and teaching experiences comprising assessment of learning achievement, and systematic evaluation of the impacts of the designed learning experiences on a range of learning and teaching outcomes.’

Bethel and Bernard’s paper: ‘Developments and trends in synthesizing diverse forms of evidence’ describes a range of models for synthesizing diverse forms of research evidence, with a focus on distance education and online learning.’ This is a useful paper for anyone placing their trust in meta-analysis of the kind recently done by the US Department of Education on comparisons between online and classroom teaching (Means et al. 2008), or for research students struggling to make sense of conflicting research studies. It did nothing though to ease my distrust of syntheses of research in the field of online and distance education; the contexts and variables are so great.

Pettinger and Doering’s paper ‘The influence of motivational design on completion rates in online self-study pharmacy-content courses’ examined why, contrary to general belief, the completion rates were high on these online courses offered by the University of Minnesota. ‘Motivational design utilizes educational scaffolding to provide clear directions and purpose to keep students engaged, while also creating assessments that efficiently clarify learning objectives.‘ In essence, active learning was built into the design of the learning materials; students in these courses did NOT participate in student-student or instructor-led discussion but still completed the courses.

Bolliger and Shepherd of the University of Wyoming’s paper: ‘Student perceptions of ePortfolio integration in online courses’ explored students’ perceptions regarding the integration of e-portfolios in two online graduate courses in an instructional technology program. The results: basically students liked e-portfolios, unless they had little previous experience of reflecting on their learning.

Beckett et their paper ‘Students use of asynchronous discussions for academic discourse socialization’ analyzed online forum postings from seven graduate hybrid courses and compared native English speakers’ responses with those of non-native English speakers in the group. The results ‘reveal that participants perceived OADs (online asynchronous discussions) highly positively… findings also suggested that students experienced some frustrations and disappointments regarding professorial presence and grading‘ (Basically the profs didn’t turn up in the online discussions.)

You have probably already concluded that I was unimpressed by any of the main papers in this edition, which seem to have travelled over already well trodden ground, and on the way, they make some challengeable statements which are then contradicted by their own findings.

It was therefore a pleasure to read Jon Baggeley’s clever ‘reflection’ on Luddites and educational technology. It is not what you expect it to be, and well worth reading, and because it takes a contrarian view, I will not spoil the fun by trying to synthesise his arguments (especially after reading the Bethel and Bernard paper.)

The edition ends with an excellent review by Terry Evans (Deakin University) of John Daniel’s latest book: ‘Mega-schools, technology and teachers: achieving education for all.’

Generally I have a high respect for this journal, but this edition is disappointing. Don’t rush out and buy it.


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