October 20, 2017

Innovative e-learning in the Vancouver area

I worry about the often negative tone of many of my posts. It was therefore a great pleasure to attend the joint Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC) and Vancouver Community College (VCC) ‘Online showcase’ at JIBC in New Westminster, just south-east of the City of Vancouver, and see demonstrations of some great uses of e-learning for education and training.

The showcase provided an opportunity for local universities and colleges to demonstrate what they are doing regarding online learning. There were presentations from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, British Columbia Institute of Technology, University of British Columbia, JIBC, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and VCC. I wasn’t able to see all the presentations, so my apologies to those presenters that I missed.

JIBC: Emergency management

JIBC is a unique education and training institution, Canada’s leading public safety educator. It provides training for police, paramedics, prison staff, probation officers, and so forth. It is partly funded by a grant from the BC provincial government and student tuition fees, but most of its revenues comes from training contracts with its main clients. The JIBC offers a range of applied and academic programs that span the spectrum of safety – from prevention to response and recovery. The JIBC’s main campus is located in New Westminster, but regional campuses allow students to study closer to home. It has a long history of using technology for the content and delivery of its programs.

The JIBC’s Emergency Management Division offers over 50 courses in this area, covering topics such as Incident Command, Emergency Operations Centre, Exercise Design and more. The Winter Olympics in Vancouver provided a challenge in terms of emergency response preparation, involving over 20 municipalities, several local police forces and the RCMP, fire and ambulance services, the Canadian (and US) military, and a host of other agencies, depending on the nature of the eventual emergency.

Jerome Rodriguez and Rosamaria Fong gave a demonstration of the materials created not only for the formal courses in emergency management offered by JIBC, but also made publicly available over the Internet and through mobile technology, such as iPhones and iPads. These resources enable all services involved in emergency response to have common and shared information about procedures, contacts and terminology. Indeed, you can see these materials by logging in to My Emergency Management Resources. The mobile learning component was assisted by a grant of $130,000 for the Inukshuk Fund, but a condition was that the material must be open access.

The Emergency Division has created open access resources such as downloadable forms that need to be completed in emergency situations, short 2-3 minutes videos of the various functional units in an Incident Command System, interactive walk throughs of a virtual emergency scene (clicking on ‘bubbles’ around the scene describes the functions of each of the units represented by bubbles), and some short video news reels of accidents or incidents to be used in training exercises. Some of these materials can be repurposed – for instance, the fire in the virtual walk through below could be moved to a high rise building and the ‘bubbles’ reconfigured.

A virtual walk through of an emergency scene © JIBC, 2010

The Division also offers WCDM 2010 – an “Immersive Simulation Technology” Workshop. Although delivered in a classroom, the immersive simulations make use of technologies such as mock video newscasts, Blackberry messages, and plotting first responder movements into GIS-enabled smart-phones using Google Earth. None of these reseources replaces the formal training provided by the JIBC, but these are low-cost, open access materials that are now available for use by training organizations across North America.

JIBC: Corrections

The Corrections and Social Justice Division trains professionals who work with adult and youth offenders in institutional and community settings, to manage the risk they pose to the public. It also trains individuals who work with families going through separation and divorce.

Rob Chong emphasised in his presentation the importance of context in designing programs. Part of the mandate of his division is to train 500 probation officers and 1500 prison guards scattered across the province. To do this, the division uses a mix of online and face-to-face learning.

There are three elements to the courses: self-study, with learners interacting with Blackboard, JIBC’s LMS; guided learning, with learners interacting with an instructor; and cohort learning, with learners interacting with other learners. Learners generally access their materials in the workplace, in prisons and local probation offices.

One example he gave was of personal safety awareness training for probation officers. Short video clips are used of simulated/acted situations, and in a self-study mode, learners are asked for how they would respond to the situation. These posts are collected then the learners meet with their managers in local offices to discuss the scenarios. As well as Blackboard and video clips, 360 degree interactive images are used, so the whole context can be seen (for instance, the design of the reception area in a probation office to highlight security). Also used are Webinars via Adobe Connect, for instance for training in interview skills. The aim is to ensure that the design and delivery of the teaching matches the context in which the learning will take place.

UBC: Using social media in a formal course


One of the courses in UBC’s fully online Master in Educational Technology is ETEC 522, Ventures in Learning Technology, taught by David Vogt and David Porter. To enable students to understand the success of entrepreneurial or intrapreneurial ventures involving learning technologies, the course provides an online immersion in global learning technologies products, services and initiatives in public and commercial domains. ETEC 522 is delivered from a venture and market analysis perspective, with a particular focus on emerging markets and real-world ventures. Jeff Miller, the instructional designer for the course, gave a presentation on ‘Creating coherence with social media.’

Quite apart from the subject matter, there are a number of innovative elements in this course. First, even though UBC is the home of WebCT, this course does not use a learning management system, but WordPress and MediaWiki, because the students as much as the instructors are creating content. Second, student’s ‘final’ work is public. Their final assignment is a multimedia ‘pitch’ for an e-learning product, service or business. These ‘pitches’ may take the form of slide or video presentations. Some of the videos can be found on YouTube. (Jeff made the interesting comment that ‘universities should be like kindergartens: students’ work should be posted on the wall.’). The ‘open’ part of the course can be seen here.

One of the challenges Jeff mentioned is drawing the line between open and closed aspects of the teaching. Although the ‘scholarship’ is public, non-registered viewers can ‘see but not touch’. The interaction between instructors and students is private; the finished work is made public. Another challenge  is archiving students’ work in a secure way while enabling it to be used by new students in the current  version of the course. For instance, the course makes use of students’ work in earlier versions of the course. (I will be writing a review of a new book on ‘Content management in E-Learning’, which looks in detail at the question of content management in e-learning.)

It is clear that moving away from a learning management system offers lots of opportunities for student engagement and student generated content, but there are also challenges in ensuring coherence and the management of their workload. This course is truly dynamic, changing each year, and continually pushing the frontiers of e-learning.

UBC: Designing online courses in science for non-science students

All UBC Arts students must take at least six credits in science as part of the Bachelor of Arts. This results in large classes for a limited number of online science courses. Most popular are the courses in Earth and Ocean Sciences, some with over 200 students per course section. Each course will have a senior instructor, usually a tenured faculty member, supported by up to four teaching assistants (usually graduate students).

The design challenge is to create science courses for students with little or poor numeracy and quantitative skills for large online classes. Chris Crowley, Josefina Rosado and Sunah Cho from UBC’s Office of Learning Technology described how they used Flash 3D images and animations within Web CT Vista to help students understand the scientific principles that explain coastal upwelling in oceans.

The senior instructor role was identified as facilitator, stimulator, monitor, subject specialist, and evaluator.

Despite the value of using interactive graphics and simulations to improve understanding, I had many questions, both about the policy (good intention but can you really train someone in science in two one semester courses?) and the design. For instance can you teach science without an understanding of and experience in experimental design?

Emily Carr University of Art and Design: Science 202

Jane Slemon offers an interesting online version of a course also offered on campus called: Heart, Mind Health: Learning from the Human Body. This course offers comprehensive understanding of the shape and function of the organs of the human body and invites creative consideration to the metaphors relative to the body that abound in culture, language and design. She showed some of the outstanding student work inspired by their understanding of human biology, reflected in metaphors of asthma, dyslexia, autism, HIV, and other areas of human suffering.

Vancouver Community College

Karen Belfer presented on VCC’s online automotive collision repair course for unqualified apprentices in the work force. (Fewer than 50% complete full-time apprenticeship training in BC, resulting in large numbers of unqualified tradespeople in the BC workforce.)  VCC used to offer this program over seven weeks on campus, requiring 30 hours a week of class attendance. This caused many problems for both apprentices (who often lost wages and unemployment insurance and would have to travel to Vancouver) and employers, who had to manage without staff during this period. The course, which is 80% theory and 20% practice/hands-on), was redesigned for study over 16 weeks online (mainly while learners were at work) and the last two weeks full-time on campus in Vancouver. Here they are tested in their practical skills, and assessed on their knowledge.

Although VCC used its Moodle LMS for this course, it found apprentices are not prepared for large amounts of reading, so efforts were made to the use industry standard online content with a high graphics, video and audio content, and to reduce the amount of text through the use of audio, video clips, graphics and cartoons, with a good deal of online interaction with materials, such as moving online objects. This hybrid course has proved to be very successful, bot with employers and learners.

Some reflections on the showcase

1. I find such ‘show and tell’ sessions extremely valuable. They reflect what people are actually doing now, and you need to see what has been created and how the program works to fully evaluate it. Such sessions are also extremely valuable for showing faculty and instructors what is possible using learning technologies. Unfortunately, there were not many instructors present during this showcase, most being instructional designers.

2. The session also emphasised the value of having learning material publicly available. Open resources provide a good indication of the quality of the course or program. I think all institutions now offering hybrid or fully online courses should have ‘sample’ resources of each course on their course web sites, so potential students can be better informed about the courses they are having to make decisions about. Also, the open educational resources in both the Emergency Response and ETEC 522 courses are very different from the very didactic and lengthy OER’s offered by MIT, Carnegie Mellon and the Open University, or from meta-tagged learning objects, and hence, in my humble view, are very much more re-usable.

3. In almost all the cases, the course designers were ‘stretching’ the functions of an LMS, or, in one case, going outside it altogether. Flash animations and short video clips were evident in several of the cases. Video now is cheap and easy to make, and adds considerable value to courses, particularly where process or procedures need to be demonstrated or where authenticity is required for training purposes. LMSs are still useful for helping students and instructors to organize learning, but they need increasingly to accommodate more multimedia functions. The main limitation of LMSs is that they require time-consuming adaptations or additions and specialist multimedia staff if students are to freely create and organize their multimedia learning. However, going without an LMS and relying entirely on web 2.0 tools presents challenges in enabling both students and instructors to manage their work within a formal course structure.

4. These cases showed a mix of approaches to the design of courses, and emphasised in particular the importance of designing for the context of learning. The diversity of learners’ needs, and the wide range of technologies now available, challenges the idea of ‘standardized’ course design, such as the traditional ‘ADDIE’ model of course design. The most innovative of the cases (Emergency Response training and ETEC 522) both used very dynamic, almost ‘on-the-fly’ course design, taking advantage of learning opportunities, new technologies and changing contexts as they arose. Interestingly, though, these courses still used project management and instructional designers.

5. The only thing missing for me in these cases was some formal evaluation of their success, partly because they were often work in progress. It could be argued that building in evaluation from the start would slow down innovation, but if the ‘system’ is to change, it will be really important to have good data and information about the success or otherwise of such projects.

I would like to end by congratulating Tannis Morgan (JIBC) and Karen Belfer for organizing this showcase. It’s made me much more optimistic about the future of e-learning heading into a new year. I believe that BC Campus has recorded the showcase, and if so, I will let you know how to access this when it is ready.

For other excellent posts (well, theirs are excellent) on this showcase see Tannis Morgan’s:

Showcase Wrapup – Extended LMS

Showcase Wrapup-Instructional Design

and Leva Lee’s Online Course Showcase

List of web 2.0 tools for instruction

Lloyd, M. (2010) 18 Web 2.0 tools for instruction Campus Technology, April 28

This very useful article asks two experts, Sarah Robbins (aka Intellagirl), of the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University-Bloomington, and Mark Frydenberg of Bentley University, to pick their favourite web 2.0 tools for instruction. Here’s their choices (read the article to find out why, and how they’ve used them):



If anyone out there has experience in using any of these tools for teaching, and is willing to share their experience, I’d be very grateful

The Horizon 2010 report on emerging technologies for education

Johnson, L., Levine, A., Smith, R., & Stone, S. (2010). The 2010 Horizon Report. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium

The New Media Consortium’s annual report on emerging technologies is out. It follows previous formats in identifying six technologies over three time periods. This year the authors picked the following:

One year or less

  • mobile computing
  • open content

Two to three years

  • electronic books
  • simple augmented reality

Four to five years

  • gesture-based computing
  • visual data analysis

Perhaps more importantly, they identified four key trends that will drive technology adoption over  the five years:

  • redefinition of educators’ roles in sense-making, coaching and credentialling
  • people expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want to
  • the technologies we use are increasingly cloud-based, and our notions of IT support are decentralized
  • the work of students is increasingly seen as collaborative by nature, and there is more cross-campus collaboration between departments.

Lastly, they identified four critical challenges:

  • the role of the academy — and the way we prepare students for their future lives — is changing
  • new scholarly forms of authoring, publishing, and researching continue to emerge but appropriate metrics for evaluating them increasingly and far too often lag behind
  • digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession
  • institutions increasingly focus more narrowly on key goals, as a result of shrinking budgets in the present economic climate

The first critical challenge is for me the most important. Quoting a 2007 report of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, the New Media Horizon report states:

It is incumbent upon the academy to adapt teaching and learning practices to meet the needs of today’s learners; to emphasize critical inquiry and mental flexibility, and provide students with necessary tools for those tasks; to connect learners to broad social issues through civic engagement; and to encourage them to apply their learning to solve large-scale complex problems.

If you have to give priority to your reading, this opublication should be top of your list.

The state of e-learning 2009

It’s that time of year again. Here’s a personal look back at e-learning in 2009 (I will do another blog on priorities for Canadian e-learning in 2010, and a third blog on international trends to watch in 2010).

What I did

This year I worked in Alberta, Cuba, Mexico, Germany, and Saudi Arabia, and taught online briefly (but twice) for the University of Maryland/Oldenburg University’s joint Masters in Distance Education. I also visited UBC several times to see what they were doing, which included attending the excellent Canadian e-learning conference in June.

Meeting with the Distance Education people, University of Havana

Meeting with the Distance Education people, University of Havana

My major work was for the Government of Alberta, helping them develop strategic directions for the use of information and communications technologies for the whole post-secondary system. This will eventually see the light of day next year.

I’m currently writing a book (with Albert Sangra) on the governance and management of information and communications technologies in post-secondary educational institutions, to be published at the end of 2010 by Jossey-Bass/John Wiley. I also have another book in the pipeline, a (third) complete re-write of Technology, e-Learning and Distance Education, due in 2011.


In my blog, the State of e-Learning, 2008, I argued that although e-learning continues to grow and expand, there was a lack of innovation and change, with efforts concentrated on using technology to re-inforce the classroom teaching model, while I on the other hand believe that e-learning should be used to re-design teaching and learning for the digital age.

I have very mixed feelings about e-learning in 2009.

Good developments in 2009

The technology gets better

First, the developments in technology are very exciting. In particular, the developments in mobile technology are moving forward in ways that are really valuable for education: greater bandwidth, greater functionality, improved user interfaces, many more apps, greater access, lower costs (especially for Canada in 2010). Social media such as Twitter and Facebook are beginning to penetrate even formal education, if only in limited ways. The uptake of e-portfolios is increasing. The first steps in open source administrative systems, with the launch of the Kuali Project, offers potentially huge savings for universities and colleges. Cloud computing also offers potentially large savings and greater flexibility for educational applications. Technology continues its rapid development, ever more interesting and exciting, with huge potential for education.

E-learning outside ‘the system’

Outside of the formal education system, great things are happening in e-learning. Communities of practice, sharing of experiences, and self-learning are growing rapidly. For instance, Supercool School, which uses Facebook to link those who want to learn with those who want to teach, is taking off in a big way, with contracts with some of the larger IT corporations, such as Google, for in-house training. Open publishing now enables many people who want to share ideas in a limited market that traditional publishers wouldn’t touch can now get their ideas out. More importantly for the formal educational system, open publishing is dramatically cutting the costs of textbooks for students. For the general public, and especially for small Internet-based companies, ranging from advice on beauty spas to advising parents on how deal with their children’s difficulties at school to independent advice on banking services, e-learning is taking off around the world.

Disappointments in 2009

Then we look at the public sector, and in particular the big research universities, and what do we see? Clickers, lecture capture, multiple screens in the classroom, learning management systems with Powerpoint slides and pdf files loaded, and a total lack of recognition that the current formal higher education system is failing, and a total lack of vision of what is needed for the future, and the role that information and communications technologies can play in formal learning.

As always, I will bracket my comments by noting that many individual lecturers and instructors are doing great work, being innovative and doing great things. Also, there are a lot of colleges and universities with excellent support units and staff, who are doing great work in helping instructors and faculty do the best they can with new technologies. Fully online learning, i.e. online distance learning, continues to grow at a rapid pace – but not as fast as market demand, and often institutions or instructors moving into fully online courses are often not applying best practices so the quality is not always as high as it should be.

Open educational resources

First, some specifics. My biggest disappointment this year (apart from the disastrous Canadian Council of Learning report on e-learning, which in any case is an irrelevance) has been with open educational resources. Yes, we have seen more initiatives, not just in North America but also in Europe and Africa. But what are we getting? Digitally recorded 50 minute classroom lectures and digital textbooks. What we are not getting are materials designed from scratch for multiple use, with learning objectives, contextual materials (such as links to other open source materials and possible assessment questions), student activities, and guides for instructors. There is one exception to this statement and that is Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative, which I welcome, but which I fear is too much in the other direction of whole packaged courses.

And there is still so little of it. What I would like to see are many thousands of short modules with contextual materials that allow instructors to mix and mash – yes, remashing for education. So when a new course is being planned, thought needs to be given at the design stage not only to the ‘in-course’ design of materials for students enrolled in the course, but to how the materials could best be used as open source materials. We also need some educational design models for using open source materials that would help both in their development and their application.

Mobile learning

Now mobile learning. Although the technology is rapidly developing, and some of the existing apps could be (and are being) adapted for educational purposes (such as RSS feeds), we need specifically educational apps for mobile learning that make it easy to organise and create learning materials, and integrate them with materials located elsewhere, without having to come out of the mobile environment. However, this is just a matter of time. What we then will need will be again appropriate design models for mobile learning that make full use of mobility, audio-visual collection and analysis of data, and geo-spatial location.

Virtual worlds

Educational applications of virtual worlds also seem to have been on hold this year. The reality is that creating educational virtual worlds is expensive. Again, it is also necessary to develop appropriate design models as well as creating the virtual environment, so that the skills and competencies afforded by virtual worlds are achieved. I wouldn’t write them off, but I had hoped for more developments in 2009.

Institutional vision and the management of e-learning

This is the area of greatest disappointment for me in 2009. Where are the exciting new developments in hybrid learning in universities? What institutions are making the break with traditional classroom and laboratory-based teaching and looking to develop a digital learning environment where face-to-face teaching has a specific but limited role? How are institutions responding to the fact that they have more students now who are over 24, in reality working at least part-time, with families, and many returning for a second or third degree, than they have young, full-time students? I look at UBC’s latest strategic plan (Place and Promise) and there is nothing in it that refers to the the needs of learners in a post-industrial society, the changing profiles of our students, or the role of technology (even though UBC has probably more innovative e-learning projects than most institutions in North America).

The problem is that there cannot be real change in our post-secondary institutions without strong leadership and vision, but it seems that for the leadership of most North American post-secondary education systems, technology is so 1990s – been there, done that. The funding crisis doesn’t help, at least in the short term (more on that in my future trends blog).

However, our public post-secondary institutions are far too complacent about the current classroom-based teaching model, which is not serving our students well, in terms of giving them personal interaction with highly qualified and expert teachers and developing the skills and competencies needed in the 21st century. Too many institutions pay lip service to the use of technology for teaching, (‘a cutting edge university in the use of technology for teaching’ referring to the introduction of clickers, for instance), seeing it as a marketing tool or a way of winning government funding, rather than addressing the needs of learners in fundamentally different ways. There are no real incentives for change, especially with respect to the essential need for instructors to be properly trained to teach, which would include pedagogy as well as training in the use of technologies.


So in summary, the technology continues to develop and improve, e-learning is developing incredibly well outside the public system, there are many individuals and units working very hard within formal education to make e-learning succeed, but there are still deep systemic issues in the public post-secondary system that are severely limiting the application and usefulness of e-learning.

Your comments

However, I am now on the outside of the system looking in, which of course is both a strength and a weakness. What is the reaction of those of you inside the system to my review of 2009? What excited or disappointed you? Have you got examples that contradict my very subjective conclusions?

Examples of technology-based learner-centered teaching

Villano, M. (2009) Expanding the cannon Campus Technology, October 1

An article on three projects where undergraduate students at ‘Duke University (NC), Coastal Carolina University (SC), Arkansas State University, and Harvard University (MA)– incorporate interactive technologies to enable undergrads to research local and far-off worlds and create meaningful, original content that furthers the study of their discipline for other students and researchers alike. The content that springs from this research takes the form of high-tech simulations, interactive lesson plans, and history-rich websites for the public.’


Although these are very interesting learner-centered projects, they seem very complex, use advanced technologies that will normally be out of the reach of many students, and appear time consuming for the instructors. It should be possible to design simpler, more reproducible learner centered teaching projects that make use of more readily available technology, such as mobile phones and cameras, combined with e-portfolio or content management software (such as WordPress), that allow students to collect and analyse digitally original material for projects.

I’d be interested if any of you have done anything like this – a collection of examples would be really useful.