September 20, 2018

Changes to this web site

This whole web site will be down for 24 hours between midnight (EST) Friday, 18 November and midnight (EST) Saturday, 19 November.

I apologize for the inconvenience, but normal service will begin on Sunday (20th). Saturday was deliberately chosen as there is by far the least traffic to the site on a Saturday.

The shut down is because the web site is moving to a new server and will be under different technical management.

You will also note some minor changes in colour and the header. I have partnered with Contact North, Ontario, who will provide full technical support for the web site and will also embed the web site in their portal. However, under the agreement I still retain full editorial responsibility, and full freedom to choose what I write about and how I write about it. Apart from the slight changes in graphics there should be no other noticeable difference. The url for the site, and all Twitter and RSS feeds, will remain the same. However, if you notice anything different that’s not working for you, please let me know.

The change was made after a lot of agonizing, but the site is becoming so large now that I’m really in need of institutional support to ensure it continues to grow. This arrangement results in minimal changes but provides financial sustainability for the site.

I want to pay special thanks to Robert Ouimet of Bigsnit Media, who designed the original site and has provided a fantastic service maintaining it over a period of rapid development. If you’re looking for a terrific web site and great service, he’s your man.

Is online learning a waste of space?

What are the implications of online enrollments for space use on campus?

As more and more students enroll in online courses, questions arise as to the implications for use of space on campus:

  • With over one-third of students now taking at least one online course in the USA (Allen and Seaman, 2011), and with 15% of all enrollments in Ontario now online, and with online enrollments predicted to grow by between 30-50% over the next five years, will this mean an awful lot of empty seats or rooms on campus?
  • Does it mean that governments can actually reduce capital spending?
  • Can online learning help ease the perennial problem of parking, and reduce the number of cars coming on campus?
  • If there are savings to be made on physical plant, can they be measured and directly attributed to online learning?
  • Are there any studies of this? Have best practices been defined in using online learning to help with space-on-campus issues?

This is one of those issues that looks a lot simpler than it really is when you get down to it. A colleague of mine has been identifying this as an issue in some colleges and universities, but it is not arising so much as a ‘top-down’ strategic issue, but as a ‘bottom-up’ issue as instructors and administrators try to grapple with large classes, shortage of ‘specialist’ space such as labs and studios, and classroom scheduling with regard to hybrid courses. However, these are not easy issues to resolve.

Hybrid courses and classroom scheduling

One problem identified is that hybrid courses, which reduce but don’t eliminate the need for classroom time, probably need need major changes to the whole process of scheduling spaces, including rewriting or adapting software programs, if the space is to be used to maximum capacity. Classrooms tend to be allocated as ‘blocks’ to certain courses for a whole semester, e.g. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday 9.-10 to Arts 101, etc. Hybrid learning in particular could create a nightmare for schedulers, if for instance the instructor wanted a classroom only the first, middle and last week of the semester, with the rest done online, or even worse, if the classroom was needed only occasionally, say once every three weeks. The administrators who manage classroom space have a difficult job as it is and this just makes scheduling even more difficult. However, although difficult, it is not impossible, but it would need a very strong rationale or return on investment to make the effort worthwhile. It would probably be justified only in institutions facing a severe space shortage.

Access to specialist teaching areas

One area though where hybrid learning seems to offer some real solutions to overcrowding or lack of space and equipment is in respect to labs, operating rooms, studios or other rooms requiring specialist, expensive or not easily accessible equipment. For instance, I know of one institution that had a small increase in science enrollments , mainly because of a growth in international students, but not enough to justify building a whole new lab building. They used virtual labs to reduce the time students spent in the physical labs, thus allowing two shifts in what was previously a single three hour lab session. In other words, online learning can help with marginal increases where the space is already crowded. Whether this approach will work in the long term though depends on whether the marginal increase is ‘once-only’, or will continue to grow every year. Thus there are likely to be step increases in building new facilities. Online learning could though help space out those steps, so that investment in new buildings or equipment is spread out over a longer time.

© Wilfred Laurier University

Impact of online enrollments on ancillary campus services

Another reason sometimes suggested is to cut down on traffic to the campus and to help with the perennial problem of parking. (However, the introduction of express bus services was much more effective in this respect than increasing online courses at the University of British Columbia)! Nevertheless as a strategy for dealing with growth, there are some quite good reasons for looking at the costs of the ancillary services that arise from an expansion of on-campus physical facilities, and the potential savings from going online instead. It is not just the capital investment, but also operating costs such as heating, lighting, ground and plant maintenance, etc. that needs to be considered. On the other side, there is the costs to students, IT infrastructure and training due to an expansion of online learning. So, yes, there are opportunities for space saving through online learning but it would need to be very carefully handled and planned for.

Taking a strategic approach

In order to make measurable savings or cost reductions in physical facilities and services through a planned move to online learning, the institution would need to build in space saving as a key priority or strategy. This tends though to go against the culture – institutions want to expand their physical presence, they want names on buildings, they want to show how big they are becoming. Presidents in particular have an edifice complex. Opening a spanking new building is one of the few tangible measures of their success. In particular, using online learning to cut down on requests for new campus building may be avoided as it may be seen as an easy way out for government to avoid much needed capital spending (given the billions of dollars required merely to upgrade existing infrastructure on most Canadian campuses).

Also it means not looking at campus planning in isolation from plans for online learning. I don’t know of any institution that has tried to look at the costs and benefits of a move to online learning in this way (if so, please let me know!), but a more holistic approach to the planning of campuses and online learning could lead to improved efficiencies and even perhaps improvements in quality of the learning experience at the same time. Now wouldn’t that be nice.


1. Is the impact of online learning on physical space an issue that is appearing or has appeared on your campus? if so, how is it being handled?

2. Do you know of any study that has looked at the impact of online learning on campus facilities?

3. Is this a road worth travelling? Are the benefits likely to prove ephemeral or impossible to measure?

See also: Andrew Creelman: The Changing Campus in his blog, the Corridor of Uncertainly


Adjuncts, LMSs and lack of training: an accident waiting to happen?

© Gozo News, 2011

The use of underpaid, untrained adjunct faculty is one of higher education’s dirty little secrets, especially (but not only) in the USA. The two blog posts below discuss this issue.

Leahgrrl (2011) AdjuncTechnology – or why I can’t figure out Blackboard Connexions, November 12

Apostolos K (2011) AdjuncTechnology – or pay your adjuncts better? Multilitteratus Incognitus, November 16

We all like to brag about the rapid increase in online enrollments, but it is being achieved often on the backs of highly exploited adjuncts. Apostolos K (AK) is absolutely right in pointing out that not only is this unethical, but also damaging for students and in the long term for the institutions themselves. I suspect that the new regulations brought in by the US Department of Education for online courses don’t come near to addressing this issue (if they do, please point out where). Also, as AK says, this is not just an online education issue; it also applies to classroom instructors who also need training in using technology within the classroom.

My question though is: where are the US accreditation bodies in this?  The use of untrained adjuncts is a quality assurance issue, and if the accreditation agencies aren’t tackling such an egregious example of poor quality, why do they exist? I work occasionally as an assessor for a Canadian accreditation agency and the use of adjuncts and the training offered is one of the areas we pay particular attention to when institutions are applying to run a new online program (although once they have been approved, little is done to follow up afterwards).

Of course we know the answers to these questions. Many institutions or full-time faculty don’t see teaching in post-secondary education as a skill or profession. Anyone can do it and the cheaper the better.

Underlying Leahgrrl’s post though is another interesting question. She suggests that it is too much work to learn Blackboard (appointed just a week before the class opens), yet the whole point of learning management systems is that they are meant to make it simple and easy for faculty to move their teaching online. How much extra work will Laehgrrl be doing because she isn’t using an LMS?

In the meantime, stop asking why we have such poor use of technology in higher education. We won’t get better use until training is mandatory, and for all instructors, not just adjuncts, and since it is an essential requirement, institutions will need to pay adjuncts for training. If not the institution shouldn’t be accredited.

See also:Review of book on disasters in teaching online

Book review: Clark Quinn’s ‘The Mobile Academy’

© Anthony's Blog, 2009-2011

Quinn, C. (2012) The Mobile Academy: mLearning for Higher Education San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/John Wiley, 120 pp

The author points out that 90% of the world’s population now has access to mobile networks, yet less than a quarter of post-secondary educational institutions in North America have mobile learning or administrative activities. As the author states: ‘Mobile has matured and stabilized to the point where it now makes sense to understand, plan and start developing mobile solutions….What we have on tap is the opportunity to revisit the fundamentals of the learning experience and use technology to come closer to the ideals we would like to achieve.‘ The book sets out in a straightforward, non-technical way a set of strategies for mobile learning so as ‘to optimize the learner experience‘.

From the preface:

Who the book is for

This book is for the higher education instructor and folks that support them as instructional designers or in administrative services.


The book provides the background information necessary to successfully design mobile learning solutions


1. The Mobile Revolution: no, this is not directly about the Arab Spring, but a brief introduction, focusing particularly on why higher education needs to pay attention to mobile learning.

2. Foundations: mobile: a brief introduction to the underlying technology behind mobile devices.

3. Foundations: learning: another brief but well-founded introduction to the principles/theories of learning relevant to mobile learning

4. Administration to go: an introduction to learner support focused on issues that are not directly associated with teaching and learning: What needs do students have for information and transactions on campus? Can they be provided any time and anywhere via mobile communications?

5. Content is king: this chapter focuses on using mobiles for delivering or accessing content in its various forms; it includes a useful summary of the status of various LMSs in supporting mobile at the time of writing.

6. Practice: interactivity and assessment deals with learner activities, practice/applications of learning and various forms of assessment available through or facilitated by mobile devices

7. Going social examines the various ways mobile devices can support social learning

8 Going beyond discusses the ‘cutting edge’ of mobile applications, including augmented reality, alternate reality and adaptive delivery

9. Getting going: organizational issues focuses on the organizational context needed to support mobile learning, such as design, development, implementation and policies, and the chapter ends with a brief conclusion to the book


I really liked this book. It’s probably no co-incidence that a book on mobile learning is short and simple (critical design features for mobile applications). However, it is not trivial. It is based on sound pedagogical principles. It focuses not only on what’s involved in the general transfer of digital learning from desktops or laptops to digital devices, but also focuses on the special ‘affordances’ of mobile learning. In particular, Quinn organizes the book around his four ‘C’s of mobile learning: content; capture; compute; and communicate.

This book is squarely aimed at faculty and instructors. It is not intended for IT specialists and probably won’t satisfy the more experienced users of mobile learning. But it is an excellent introduction to mobile learning for instructors in the 75% of institutions that do not have a mobile strategy yet, and for those instructors in the other institutions who are still hesitating about committing to mobile applications.

However, reading the book on its own is unlikely to be enough for many instructors. They will need to work with IT and media support staff and instructional designers if they are to avoid overwork and poor quality applications. A lot of the value from mobile learning requires fairly sophisticated media production, for instance, that is likely to beyond the scope of most instructors, working alone. Above all, institutions need to be committed to supporting mobile learning as a key strategy and to put in place the organization and support needed to make it a success. But this book will be a great start for many instructors, and I hope also that this will be read by senior managers in the 75% of institutions without a mobile strategy.


The image at the head of this post is from an excellent case study of mobile learning at St Edmund’s Catholic School, Wolverhampton, UK, in Anthony’s Blog in, February 25, 2011

See also: Sharples, M., Corlett, D., & Westmancott, O.  (2002)  The design and implementation of a mobile learning resource. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing Vol. 6, No. 3 pp. 220-234.

For-profit online enrollments down in 2011

Fain, P. (2011) More selective for-profits Inside Higher Education, November 11

One major factor in the slow down in online enrollments overall in 2011 in the USA (from a 21% annual increase in 2010 to 10% increase in 2011) is that new enrollments for the for-profits are way down this year, by between 30-40%. Since the for-profit sector constitute nearly a third of the overall market in online enrollments, this large drop in new enrollments in the for-profit sector suggests that the public sector enrollments have managed a rate of increased enrollments much higher than 10%.

There are two reasons given for the drop in enrollments at the for-profits: the effect of new Federal regulations; and the slow economy which affects for-profit enrollments more than public sector enrollments. However, the article argues that U of Phoenix and Kaplan in particular are better placed in the future, having reduced considerably the number of non-starters in their enrollments.