September 20, 2018

IRRODL, Vol. 14, No. 1 now available

IRRODL (International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning), Volume 14, Number 1 is now available, for free downloading as open educational resources.

This is a valuable pot-pourri of different topics, so it is not possible for me to do a review, but Terry Anderson provides an excellent editor’s summary of each of the articles.


Green curriculum: Sustainable learning in higher education HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Willa Petronella Louw 1-15


A predictive study of student satisfaction in online education programs HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Yu-Chun Kuo, Andrew E Walker, Brian R Belland, Kerstin E E Schroder 16-39


On-the-job e-learning: Workers’ attitudes and perceptions HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Josep-Maria Batalla-Busquets, Carmen Pacheco-Bernal 40-64


An OER architecture framework: Need and design HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Pankaj Khanna, P C Basak 65-83


Development of ODL in a newly industrialised country according to face-to-face contact, ICT, and e-readiness HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
J Marinda van Zyl, Christoffel Johannes Els, A Seugnet Blignaut 84-105


Employability in online higher education: A case study HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Ana Paula Silva, Pedro Lourtie, Luisa Aires 106-125


Identifying barriers to the remix of translated open educational resources HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Tel Amiel 126-144


Uses of published research: An exploratory case study HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Patrick J. Fahy 145-166


A framework for developing competencies in open and distance e-learning HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Patricia B Arinto 167-185


Peer Portal: Quality enhancement in thesis writing using self-managed peer review on a mass scale HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Naghmeh Aghaee, Henrik Hansson 186-203


Learning in multiple communities from the perspective of knowledge capital HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Hayriye Tugba Ozturk, Huseyin Ozcinar 204-221


A multimedia approach to ODL for agricultural training in Cambodia HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Helena Grunfeld, Maria Lee Hoon Ng 222-238


Automatic evaluation for e-learning using latent semantic analysis: A use case HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Mireia Farrús, Marta R. Costa-jussà 239-254

Field Notes

“Opening” a new kind of school: The story of the Open High School of Utah HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
DeLaina Tonks, Sarah Weston, David Wiley, Michael K. Barbour 255-271


This journal is possible only because of strong support from Athabasca University, which is undergoing some convulsive changes at the moment. If nothing else remains, I hope this journal survives, as it is an essential resource for those working in the field.




The role of information sciences in online learning: a review of IRRODL, Vol. 13, No. 5

An overview of the papers

IRRODL (the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning) has once again produced a fascinating themed edition, this time about the application of information science approaches to online learning. The issue has been promoted, reviewed, and edited by a skilled team of researchers led by editors Dr. Maiga Chang (Athabasca University, Canada), Dr. Rita Kuo (Knowledge Square Inc., Taiwan), Dr. Gene Loeb (Center for Technology and Mental Health of Elderly, USA), and Dr. Bolanle Olaniran (Texas Tech University, USA).

I provide at the end of this post a very brief summary of the papers, to give some indication of the range of topics. As Terry Anderson, the journal editor in chief, says: ‘The issue is a bit more techie than our usual offering’, and the articles certainly warrant careful reading, but are well worth it. I will provide here my personal reflections on what the articles, taken as a whole, suggest for future developments in online learning, although it should be pointed out that although all the articles are looking at computer-based approaches to issues in online learning, within them they reflect a wide variety of positions on the role of computers.

Computers and teachers

First I should lay out my inbuilt bias or prejudice. I am very skeptical about claims that computers can replace teachers. However, if computers can – and can do a better job – they should. We should always be looking for ways to improve not only the quality of post-secondary education, but also its cost-effectiveness. One can argue about the level of investment needed, but given the challenges on a global basis, we should not ignore opportunities to stretch scarce resources – and in particular skilled teachers – further.

These articles in fact are very interesting in that between them they lay out different roles for (human) teachers and computers. In most of the papers, the role of computers or software is to enhance or make more effective the role of teachers, rather than replacing them; in other words, the information science approaches here are providing additional tools for instructors.

There are several reasons for this. Perhaps the most important is that many of the tools or approaches described here are still in the early stages of development. They are partly developing definitions, theories and new approaches, and partly testing them as prototypes. Teachers are still needed, to provide input, to validate and to test the prototypes. We don’t know if some of the approaches set out in these papers will eventually be feasible or will work when scaled up. Even if the tools do turn out to be effective and scalable, the authors often see these tools as requiring additional intervention or control by teachers, and this is likely to hold for a long time.

Another reason is the still very strong limitations of computing in dealing with semantics, meaning, context and complexity. Despite huge advances in computing power, developing ontologies or protocols that apply to the extraordinarily wide range of contexts and variables in which most learning occurs is extremely challenging. One way this is done is to break the challenge into sub-sets, with the rest left to the training, experience and intuition of ‘live’ teachers. Reading these papers, it seems that the sub-sets being dealt with, while helpful, are still somewhat on the fringes of the challenges faced in most learning contexts. However, they are a start, and several (for instance recommendation systems for identifying papers most helpful for a particular learning task) seem extremely promising.

The third reason why this remains such a challenge (although one that is the easiest to deal with) is the very narrow view of learning often held by the computer scientists who work in this field, who tend to focus (not surprisingly) on teaching as information transmission and retrieval, rather than on teaching as cognitive, personal and social development. One reason of course is that it is easier to develop ontologies for the former and extremely difficult for the latter. Too narrow a view of learning is an easier challenge to overcome because it should not be difficult to ensure that computer scientists and educators work together as equals in approaching the challenge of teaching and learning. While most of the papers in this edition did seem to embrace this broader approach to learning, some did not.

Nevertheless, I greatly appreciate IRRODL’s decision to focus on this area, because we do need to bridge the world of computer scientists and educators if the power of computing is to be wisely applied to education and training.

Implications of the papers – especially for MOOCs

Once some of these approaches are established and validated, their main value is that they can be scaled up. This is of particular significance to MOOCs. Currently the main challenge for MOOCs is to:

  • find ways of automating learner interaction with materials beyond the level of checking that information has been retained
  • provide contextually rich feedback on learning
  • improve unsupervised peer interaction to ensure knowledge construction,
  • avoid, detect and deal with plagiarism
  • provide secure forms of authentic and valid assessment of learning,

all on a massive scale.

In these papers, we did see some of the ways in which these problems might be resolved, or at least a more general approach to dealing with large blocks of learners with few instructors. I suspect that over the next year or so, we will see similar developments being applied to the design of MOOCs. How effective such approaches will be remains to be seen, but there is promise and it certainly seems worth trying. I just hope though that those responsible for MOOCs will apply as rigorous evaluation protocols as are found in the papers in this edition. Let’s hope that this is at least combined with independence in the evaluation of MOOCs.

Which way for online learning?

Lastly, I’m wondering whether we will see two very divergent approaches to online learning, one based on very low cost or free teaching to massive numbers, drawing heavily on a computer science approach to teaching and learning, and another based on a more humanistic approach to teaching and learning, with smaller numbers and greater involvement of human teachers, and hence much more expensive, but still with greater focus than at present on hybrid and fully online delivery.

In my mind, I think (or rather hope) that it will be neither such extremes, but a mix of the two approaches. Good quality education is never going to be free for most people; there will always be costs. The human approach will also remain a core component for most education. But a judicious combination of computer science and humanistic designs and flexible delivery should enable high quality education to be delivered much more cost-effectively than it is at present. These articles are important milestones on this journey.

Summary of papers in this edition

Butakov, S. et al. (2012) Protecting Students’ Intellectual Property in the Web Plagiarism Detection Process IRRODL, Vol. 13, No. 5

This article suggests an architecture for plagiarism detection that protects the student IP by sending a randomized selection of content to a third party plagiarism detector.

Yu, P-T. et al. (2012) A Rapid Auto-Indexing Technology for Designing Readable E-Learning Content IRRODL, Vol. 13, No. 5

This paper presents an automatic method for detecting the changes in a PowerPoint based videoed lecture, and embedding this technology in an online course as an interactive component.

The fastest and easiest way to provide an adequate amount of e-learning content is to record teachers’ presentations in a classroom or studio and then directly put those recordings into a learning management system (LMS)’…..However, this kind of streaming data lacks flexibility and interactive capability. Therefore, a user-friendly interface is required to let students easily capture any segment of the recorded instructional videos’

The authors designed a mechanism of regular testing which requires learners to answer questions corresponding to pop-up information triggered when they click on an access point found by the indexing mechanism. Changes in the powerpoint slides in this case acted as the trigger for the access point.

Cheng, J.-S., Huang, E. and Lin, C-L.  (2012) An E-Book Hub Service Based on a Cloud Platform IRRODL, Vol. 13, No. 5

This research project developed an e-book hub service on a cloud computing platform in order to overcome the limitations of computing capability and storage capacity that are inherent in many mobile devices. The e-book hub service also allows users to automatically adjust the rendering of multimedia pages at different resolutions on terminal units such as smartphones, tablets, PCs, and so forth.

Winoto, P., Ya, T, and McCalla, G. (2012) Contexts in a Paper Recommendation System with Collaborative Filtering IRRODL, Vol. 13, No. 5

The authors designed, developed and evaluated a recommender system (RS) that enables students to recommend papers that will facilitate other students in their learning. The RS was tried out on both ‘novice’ (undergraduate) and ‘experienced’ (post-graduate) students. The authors found that a multi-dimensional system that took account of different pedagogical factors worked better than a unidimensional RS based on ‘liking’.

Baldiris, S. et al. (2012) Searching for and Positioning of Contextualized Learning Objects, IRRODL, Vol. 13, No. 5

This paper focuses on two ways to increase the re-usability of learning objects (LO). The paper

promotes LO reuse by encouraging instructors to access distributed learning object repositories (DLOR) as sources of LO with diverse granularity that could be elements in a generated learning design. [The] proposal consists of two different parts: the distributed learning object metadata searching process (LORSE) and the micro-context-based positioning process (LOOK).

The authors found that to achieve a viable solution with these repositories, the object metadata (in the LO depositories investigated) needs to be refined. Metadata available in the involved repositories currently has limited information. This inhibits identifying the contextual relevance of a learning object for re-use in a learning design.

Wen, D., Cuzzola, J., Brown, L. and Kinshuk (2012) Instructor-Aided Asynchronous Question Answering System for Online Education and Distance Learning IRRODL, Vol. 13, No. 5

This paper introduces a question answering (QA) system particularly suited for delayed-answered questions that are typical in certain asynchronous online and distance learning settings. The authors propose a solution that integrates into an organization’s existing learning management system. They present how their system fits into an online and distance learning situation and how it can better assist supporting students.

Wong, W-K., Yin, S-K, and Yang, C-Z (2012) Drawing Dynamic Geometry Figures Online with Natural Language for Junior High School Geometry IRRODL, Vol. 13, No. 5

This paper presents a tool for drawing dynamic geometric figures by understanding the texts of geometry problems. With the tool, teachers and students can construct dynamic geometric figures on a web page by inputting a geometry problem in natural language. A preliminary evaluation of the tool showed that it produced correct dynamic geometric figures for over 90% of problems from textbooks. With such high accuracy, the system produced by this study can support distance learning for geometry students as well as distance learning in producing geometry content for instructors.

Nguyen, B-A., and  Yang, D-L. (2012) A Semi-Automatic Approach to Construct Vietnamese Ontology from Online Text IRRODL, Vol. 13, No. 5

An ontology is an effective formal representation of knowledge used commonly in artificial intelligence, semantic web, software engineering, and information retrieval. The authors present a support system for Vietnamese ontology construction using pattern-based mechanisms to discover Vietnamese concepts and conceptual relations from Vietnamese text documents. The approach provides a feasible solution to build Vietnamese ontologies used for supporting systems in education.

Tierney, P. (2012) A Qualitative Analysis Framework Using Natural Language Processing and Graph Theory IRRODL, Vol. 13, No. 5

This paper introduces a method of extending natural language-based processing of qualitative data analysis with the use of a very quantitative tool—graph theory. It is not an attempt to convert qualitative research to a positivist approach with a mathematical black box, nor is it a “graphical solution”. Rather, it is a method to help qualitative researchers, especially those with limited experience, to discover and tease out what lies within the data.

IRRODL call for papers: Technology Enhanced Information Retrieval for Online Learning

The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning is planning a Special Issue on Technology Enhanced Information Retrieval for Online Learning  (

Online learning has been developed for over decades and has become an important tool for education. Many tutors design web-based teaching materials and share them in the learning management systems. Learners develop knowledge from those materials, tutor supports, and the collaborations with other learners in distance in the online learning environment and platforms. While information technology changes rapidly and the variety of online learning activities increase, especially with the aid of social network and Web 2.0 tools that are available to instruction designers, we may need to consider how to provide learners personalized pedagogical service which can help them learn more efficiently. In order to have such personalized service, both course contents and learner’s characteristics need to be well analyzed. How to retrieve useful information from learning materials, data stored in the learning management systems, and discussions and interactions among learners and how to design and use information retrieval technologies to improve learner’s online learning performance become interesting and important topics. The purpose of this special issue is to explore how models, theories, and solutions of information retrieval and content analysis can be used in online learning and what benefits users can receive from such systems and agents.

Guest Editors (in alphabetical order): Dr. Maiga Chang, Dr. Rita Kuo, Dr. Gene Loeb and Dr. Bolanle Olaniran

Suggested topics:

IRRODL cordially invites authors to submit high quality manuscripts for any application domain as long as the core of the manuscript belongs to:

  • Affect sensing from text
  • Culture in information retrieving
  • Data mining in learning content
  • Evaluation models for NLP/IR/IE/Ontology-based research and systems
  • Human computer interaction issues and challenges that NLP/IR/IE/Ontology-based solutions for online learning may have
  • Individual knowledge acquisition from user behavior analysis
  • Information retrieval and extraction algorithms
  • Information retrieving and processing computing tools, systems, and applications for online learning
  • Intelligent tutoring agents/systems based on NLP, Information Retrieval (IR), Information Extraction (IE), and Ontology
  • Knowledge navigation in learning content
  • Learning content analysis by semantic web technology
  • Learning style and learning preferences in data retrieval
  • Mobile dissemination and retrieval
  • Multi-agent based information processing systems and applications
  • Not-so-successful cases and the lessons learnt
  • Ontology learning
  • Practical experiences in using & deploying NLP/IR/IE/Ontology-based research for online learning
  • Questioning and Answering applications and systems
  • Social Network Analysis based on Content Analysis of activities happened in Web 2.0 applications
  • Social networks and interactions in learning communities
  • Successful cases of applying NLP/IR/IE/Ontology-based research to online learning

Important dates and manuscript guidelines:

All submissions have to follow International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning (IRRODL) research article guidelines (and should be submitted online by April 30, 2012). All submissions will be reviewed by at least three peer reviewers, and the final camera-ready manuscripts have to be revised by the author(s) according to reviewer comments before resubmitting by June 1, 2012.

The important dates are

  • April 30, 2012: Submission deadline
  • July 15, 2012: Review result notification

IRRODL research article guidelines at:

Please submit your article to the IRRODL site at after registering as an author and hopefully also offering to be a reviewer by clicking the reviewer category in the enrollment form and noting your area of research expertise.


IRRODL’s new issue on emergent learning

IRRODL, Vol. 12, No. 7, 2011: Special Issue: Emergent Learning, Connections, Design for Learning

The guest editors, Rod Sims and Elena Kays have collected together a number of articles on emergent learning which Williams, Karousou, and Mackness (2011, p. 41) have described as “learning which arises out of the interaction between a number of people and resources, in which the learners organise and determine both the process and to some extent the learning destinations, both of which are unpredictable”.

This is an edition that I can’t quickly review. There are some very thought-provoking articles in this edition, and I need time not just to read them, but also to think about them (not pointillist, I must admit). Here though is a very brief listing of the articles with a direct link. I will probably though do separate posts on several of the articles below (I may well end up reviewing them all!).

Rod Sims and Elena Kays: Editorial. This provides not only a brief summary of each of the articles, but some important definitions.

Gail Casey and Terry Evans: Designing for learning: Online social networks as a classroom environment

Pekka Ihanainen and  John Moravec : Pointillist, cyclical, and overlapping: Multidimensional facets of time in online education I will definitely be discussing this fascinating article in a later post

Marta Kawka, Kevin Larkin, and Patrick Alan Danaher Emergent learning and interactive media artworks: Parameters of interaction for novice groups

Katherine Joyce Janzen, Beth Perry, and Margaret Edwards  Aligning the quantum perspective of learning to instructional design: Exploring the seven definitive questions

Rita Kop, Hélène Fournier, and John Sui Fai Mak A pedagogy of abundance or a pedagogy to support human beings? Participant support on massive open online courses I will certainly be commenting on both this and the other MOOC article, in the light of my own, recent experience.

Inge de Waard, Sean Abajian, Michael Sean Gallagher, Rebecca Hogue, Nilgün Keskin, Apostolos Koutropoulos, and Osvaldo C. Rodriguez Using mLearning and MOOCs to understand chaos, emergence, and complexity in education

David Murphy Chaos rules” revisited – a discussion of chaos theory and doing a Ph.D – gotta read this!

Carlo Antonio Ricci Emergent, self-directed, and self-organized learning: Literacy, numeracy, and the iPod Touch

Nataly Tcherepashenets  Book review – Telecollaboration 2.0: Language, literacies and intercultural learning in the 21st century, by Sara Guth and Francesca Helm

Damn you, Terry – I’ve now got about a week’s really heavy but interesting reading to do now!




IRRODL, Vol. 12. No. 6: an evolving web-based journal

Vol. 12, No. 6 of the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning continues to evolve the concept of the online, web-based journal.

New features

Quite apart from a wide range of articles and four book reviews (more on this below) Terry Anderson and his team have added two new features:

At the bottom of the Index page, there are eight special and regional focus issues. As Terry says in his editorial:

a special topic issue in an online journal can remain alive as new content is developed. These new articles can be hyperlinked to the special issue in a regular issue or more tightly focused and aggregated for inclusion within the special issue. You can read these articles or check out the summary included in the special issue editorial. This attention to the special issue is a means to keep these topical issues alive, and indeed we have added two new articles to the Prior, Experiential, and Informal Learning in the Age of Information and Communication Technologies issue.

This is a very interesting development and extremely useful for researchers focused on such topics.

The second feature is a little more controversial. In the editorial, Terry lists the 20 articles from the journal to date with the most downloads. Terry recognizes that this is an imperfect measure of ‘popularity’ but it is good to see a journal trying to use web data analytics. This is an area which I am sure will become more sophisticated. It will likely also become invaluable for promotion and tenure committees (although I am not confident they will use such tools wisely).

However, I’m not too sure what to make of the results. (Terry wisely decided not to comment.) The most downloaded article by far was ‘Conceptual Integration in Online Interdisciplinary Study: Current Perspective, Theories, and Implications for Future Research‘, by James Morrison of the University of Oklahoma, and it is hard to see why this article would have generated such a large number of downloads, as interesting as the article is. This had almost double the number of downloads of the next article (‘An Assessment of the Effectiveness of e-learning in Corporate Training Programs’) which was much more closely followed by the other articles. Now here’s a nice topic for research! If you have an explanation for why this particular article was so outstanding, please send it on a postcard (or online comment) to me and I’ll pass them on to Terry and all other prospective authors.


There is no particular theme for this edition (which makes it harder to do a review) so I’ll just recommend that you read Terry’s editorial or the abstracts to help you choose. Here are the articles:

The importance of interaction for academic success in online courses with hearing, deaf, and hard-of-hearing students HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Gary L Long, Carol Marchetti, Richard Fasse 1-19
Examining motivation in online distance learning environments: Complex, multifaceted and situation-dependent HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Maggie Hartnett, Alison St. George, Jon Dron 20-38
Factors that impact student usage of the learning management system in Qatari schools HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Ramzi Nasser, Maha Cherif, Michael Romanowski 39-62
Quality assurance in Asian distance education: Diverse approaches and common culture HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Insung Jung, Tat Meng Wong, Chen Li, Sanjaa Baigaltugs, Tian Belawati 63-83
Literacy at a distance in multilingual contexts: Issues and challenges HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Christine I Ofulue 84-101
Distance students’ readiness for social media and collaboration HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Bruno Poellhuber, Terry Anderson 102-125
Applying the community of inquiry framework to an online professional practice doctoral program HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Swapna Kumar, Kara Dawson, Erik W Black, Catherine Cavanaugh, Christopher D Sessums 126-142
Applying constructionist principles to online teacher professional development HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Nathaniel Mark Ostashewski, Doug Reid, Susan Moisey 143-156
ODL and the impact of digital divide on information access in Botswana HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Olugbade Oladokun, Lenrie Aina 157-177
Increased technology provision and learning: Giving more for nothing? HTML PDF MP3 EPUB
Emmanuelle Quillerou

Book reviews

Book Review – The Perfect Online Course: Best Practices for Designing and Teaching

Marta Ruiz-Corbella

Book review – Bridging the knowledge divide: Educational technology for development
Aminudin Zuhairi

Book review – Web 2.0-based e-learning: Applying social informatics for tertiary teaching

Juan Leon  


Book review – Learning with digital games: A practical guide to engaging students in higher education

Maja Pivec

Special and regional focus issues

Special Issue: Connectivism – Design and Delivery of Social Networked Learning

Special Issue: Prior, Experiential and Informal Learning in Open and Distance Institutions

Special Issue: The Role of Distance Learning in the Right to Education 

Special Issue: Openness and the Future of Higher Education

Special Issue: Mobile Learning

Regional Focus Issue: Learning Technologies in the Middle East

Regional Focus Issue: Open and Distance Learning in Africa

Regional Focus Issue: Open and Distance Education in Asia



This is another excellent set of articles, and IRRODL is beginning to leave most other journals in the field way behind in both relevance and innovation in publishing. Well done, Terry and team!