I attended the CDA Distance Education Workshop this week. It was an excellent activity that had a good balance of presentations and authentic-task activities. The workshop leaders and presenters were Judy Roberts and Terry Anderson. Their presentations were delightful. It’s the first time I have seen either of them present and I was pleased that they lived up to their reputations (*grin*).
Here are a few points from their presentations that I feel are worth reiterating in the context of my personal experience.
Judy made an excellent introductory point that terminology is very variable in distance education and instructional technology to the point where researchers have specific challenges when designing literature research strategies. As a trained biochemist, if I want to know something about “Hepatocyte Growth Factor” and “cell-cell signaling,” it’s pretty easy to find out almost everything I need to know from a simple MedLine search on those two key phrases; however, the same is not the case for a phrase like “Learning Management System” or “Distance Education.” Different people have different definitions of these terms, and several synonyms also exist, therefore, special considerations must be made to exploring the literature in a more comprehensive way.
An interesting insight to me was the comment about converging media onto computers. In the old days, circa. 1990s (*grin*), it was rare that the majority of end-users had powerful enough computer technology to run two-way video, two-way audio and other multi-media on their machines. Distance educators sometimes distributed videos on VHS tapes, or audio on audiocassette tapes, and held telephone conferences with students instead. However, now that we’ve reached the middle of the first decade of the second millennium, with the advent of more powerful microcomputers and high-speed Internet networks, this multi-media conversion is occurring in fortunate segments of the industrialized world. Now there is only one tool needed to process all this two-way multi-media: the computer.
There’s a business study out there (no reference given) that says that approximately 50% of participants do something else while on an audio teleconference (i.e. check email, surf the Internet, etc.) I believe there is a big difference between that statistic and the amount of people in a F2F talk that do something else while the presenter is speaking. What are the implications for learning in those two scenarios? Do people learn less on audio-conferences than in F2F situations? Has anyone seen any research on that?
The challenge in distance education and instructional technology is that it is sometimes difficult to achieve economies of scale when delivering courses due to the rapidity of the changes in textbook editions and software versions. There is nothing new here, but it’s nice to see it continuing to be acknowledged.
Terry spoke about Student Agents like the I-Help System from the University of Saskatchewan. It’s open source. I must look into that someday. The idea of teacher agents that might help with marking, tutoring, guiding, coordinating, scheduling, managing course content and tracking developments in the academic field is very appealing!
Very few colleges and universities have a well-articulated and congruent set of these three things: 1) Mission Statement, 2) Teaching and Learning Plan, and 3) Technology Plan. Judy argues that having this material in place brings a great advantage to the institution.
ROI in the course development process is a popular topic. Budget an ROI over time but don’t forget to include the course revisions in the business plan.
Wagner’s (1994) definition of interaction 1994 should not be forgotten: “reciprocal events that require at least two objects and two actions. Interactions occur when these objects and events mutually influence one another.” Note that interaction is suggested to be an important modulator of motivation, perseverance and learning in a student. Many workshop participants were interested in interactivity online. Is a comprehensive taxonomy of web-enabled activities associated with levels of cognitive interaction available? I will have to look for one sometime! The design of web-enabled learning activities for high-level cognitive objectives is a challenge! What are the best practices? Consider also that from a technology perspective, a page-turner in correspondence can still be a page-turner in web-enabled learning. The level of interactivity is critical!
Learning communities that involve learner-to-student interaction are a cost-effective way to promote learning. They’re cheaper than learner-to-instructor and learner-to-content interaction.
Herrington, Oliver and Reeve’s (2003). Authentic activities have real world relevance that can motivate adult learners. They are ill-defined complex tasks that require students to agree on tasks and construct their learning over a sustained period of time. They can offer students the opportunity to reflect, and can result in polished end products that may be useful for sharing outside the classroom environment.
Judy described a useful illustration of the justification of instructional design. Instructional designers find the optimal intersection between capacities of learners, teachers, content and technology, all within the current administrative framework. Neat!
From a learner perspective, how much support should be given prior to the class beginning? Writing skills, technology skills, study skills? How do you prepare the online learner? Are their best practices? Does every institution has to home grow their own support resources or are links to existing material from other institutions sufficient?
Three simple models of web-enabled course development: 1) the “lone ranger” model (i.e. one person does it all), 2) the SME-IT two person model, and 3) the many person project based approach. Which is best? It depends on resources.
Judy notes that the four principles of effective teleconferencing that were developed in the 1970s translate very well to online-based learning: 1) Humanizing (before, online, offline), 2) participating (individual and group), 3) presenting (variety, repetition, reinforcement), and 4) feedback (formative and summative).
So, the above are the “take home” messages that I noted from the workshop. I’ve documented them here in order to remind myself of their importance.