Thursday, December 30, 2004

Acadia's Remote Microscopes and MIT's iLab

Over a year ago I went to a cool presentation by a Technology Manager at Acadia University where he showed that Acadia students could have remote control access to an Optical Microscope from their residence rooms via an Internet connection. How cool is that? Remote experimentation! I'm a big fan!

Well, take a look MIT's iLab Project. This is great! Now, would they allow remote access from students not registered at MIT? Likely not as the aparatus would fall under extensive demand and their own MIT students would experience huge difficulties getting on the aparatus. Would they consider "hosting" experiments such like this for other institutions by replicating the aparatus and leasing out time? I don't know. Interesting possible business concept though.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

WebCT Compile Tool: Captivate

My colleague Erika and I have been exploring Macromedia Captivate. Here's a presentation that we made that will be used to introduce students taking a WebCT course how to use the Compile Tool. For those unfamiliar with the Compile Tool, it can be used to compile together all the individual HTML files of a content module into one file that can be printed in one step. This can save the student a great deal of work as some content modules can have dozens of individual HTML files in them. Printing them one by one is indeed arduous! The Compile tool makes this process much easier and quicker.

Please view our short Captivate demonstration. It has screen tips demonstrating each step. The final output Flash movie is only 306 kb in size so this presentation is a manageable download even at low connection speeds (only 43 seconds at 56 KBps). Once downloaded the first time, students can view the presentation as often as they like before trying to use the Compile Tool in their course. (Note that the Flash Player browser plugin is required to view this file.)

Monday, December 13, 2004

Digital Copyright Issues in Canada

There is continued confusion amonst instructors about Digital Copyright issues and processes in Canada. A lovely article (PDF Format)authored by Lori Wallace of the University of Manitoba appears in a recent issue of the CADE journal. It's definately a good read for anyone in Canada working on Digital Copyrights. Ignorance is certainly not bliss when it comes to copyright infringements.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Blogs in Education

I'm going to do some brief research to compile some relevant materials together that describe how to use weblogs in education. I will post this results in this message.

1. Apple Distinguished Educators Bloggers have a nice list of scenarios where blogs might be useful in an educational context.

2. Blogging and RSS — The "What's It?" and "How To" of Powerful New Web Tools for Educators by Will Richardson.

3. Weblogs@UPEI describes a recent initiative at the University of Prince Edward Island where each student is assigned a blogspace for use during their academic degree at UPEI.

4. Blogs in Education from the University of Houston - Clear Lake

5. Weblogg-Ed - A Blog about Blogs in Education! written by Will Richardson.

6. Resources from the EDTU Discussion on Blogs in Education October 2003.

7. Educational Blogging by Stephen Downes in EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 39, no. 5 (September/October 2004): 14–26.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Flash Ahh-Ahh!

I've been taking a Beginner Flash course completely online this semester and I must say I have enjoyed it a great deal. It certainly has met my expectations. I went from knowing nothing, to being able to create my own basic Flash movies (admittedly rudimentary however). Here's my final Assignment if you'd like to take a peek. (Flash Player is required. You may obtain it from the macromedia website under the Downloads link). It's 68kb in length and hosted on my Queen's University student server account (since I don't have any public RMC server space. *grin*). I hope to take the Intermediate Flash course next semester!!!

Friday, November 26, 2004

Does multimedia really enhance learning?

An interesting article crossed my desk today. Despite being “long in the tooth” by today’s information age standards, the article published in 1996 in the Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia (Vol. 5 Issue 2, pp 129-150) by Lawrence J. Najjar is a very good read. While at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Dr. Najjar examines the literature in detail to try and show some foundation to the claim that “multimedia helps people learn.”

His resulting review shows several key studies in a wide range of fields where multimedia can indeed help people learn. He distills the findings to two major themes:

1. When multimedia encourages dual coding of information, it can help people learn better. The idea is that if more than one cognitive pathway is constructed (say, a cognitive pathway for pictures and a cognitive pathway for text) on the same material, learning will be better due to the fact that two pathways are being built. Later the learner can utilize more cognitive paths to retrieve the information than is a single encoding structure were used (i.e. simply text-alone or pictures-alone)

2. When different components of media support each other, it can help people learn better. The key point here is not to create multi-media for the sake of multi-media alone. One media must not distract the learner from the other media. All media must relate closely and supportively when addressing the teaching point, or the learning objective. A picture of a typical lightning bolt accompanied with a detailed text description of the process of how lightening is generated is an example of a one media distracting from another. Students may be distracted from the spectacular lightening photo which in actuality has very little to do with the process by which lightening is generated. The relevancy between these two media is lost.

3. When multimedia is presented to learners with low prior knowledge or aptitude in the domain being learned, it can help them learn better. Educational psychologists believe that information from different media sources can help learners who are novices in the topic to better understand which aspects of the content are most important and as a result, more useful cognitive pathways can be built. Those learners that are experts in the field already have a rich knowledge of the material and can more easily make new connections with existing material with mono-media presentations (i.e. by reading text alone).

On a side-bar topic, Dr. Najjar also notes another interesting observation that self-paced learning models are probably a more effective way to learn that group-paced learning models, as they allow the student to better control the amount of time they spend personally on learning activities for specific topics. The ability to move on to the next topic when required without being bounded by group-paced constraints may be beneficial to learners.

So, overall, an excellent read. Pick it up if you can. It just goes to show you that some research articles certainly stand the test of time.

Speaking of standing the test of time. I quick Google search failed to help me locate Dr. Najjar’s current whereabouts. He left Georgia Tech and worked for companies like iXL, Viant and BMC Software. No clue where he is now. Does anyone know?

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Macromedia Captivate

I spent a couple of hours this morning trying out Macromedia Captivate. It's the new release of their already popular RoboDemo software. I like the name change!

It allows the creation of presentations containing a series of screen captures and the subsequent layering of audio on each slide. It then exports the presentation as a FLASH object that can be hosted on any server and viewed in any remote browser that is equipped with the FLASH Player plugin. I put together a short demo on the software so you can see the capability.

There may be some immediate use for a tool like this for Prog Dev. In particular, I think the WebCT QuickTips and DCE090 could benefit greatly from technology such as this!!! Although there are still things to test like bandwidth issues. Speaking of bandwidth, you can export this Flash object right into Flash MX 2004 and then manually put a preloader on the file that could ensure the movie is fully downloaded before beginning to play. Under low bandwidth situations this would prevent the movie from choking.

Let me know what you think of my short demo. Turn on your speakers!

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Introducing Dr. Susan Nash to the Blog Roll

Dr. Susan Nash (a.k.a. the eLearning Queen) has given permission to have her blog listed on my blog roll. There's lots of goodies in it. Be sure to check out her associated website at where she has available many resources that she has authored herself.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Are you hungry for some practical tidbits?

The latest issue of the International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning has a beautiful article chock full of practical tidbits on how to deliver online course via distance. Kaye Shelton and George Saltsman provide a wonderfully written collection of best practices for the modality that I found refreshing to read. I also found it great to see that I follow most (but not all!!!) of the best practices identified herein when I design my online courses. There's always room for improvement I guess!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Can you be everything to everyone?

We are working on a course that may have more than one delivery mode. We're considering having these two delivery modes:

1) Distance learning course.
2) Traditional classroom course.

As for instructional materials, we are leaning towards producing a paper-based set of course notes and an accompanying set of multi-media CDs with video, audio, and other multimedia. The course notes would refer to the CD at appropriate times in the contents.

For the Distance course, we'd like to have a student to instructor ratio of 100:1. Whereas in the classroom course, we would like to have a 30:2 student ratio. In effect this means the classroom course is approximately six times more expensive to run than the distance course. The instructor salary is the major cost.

One possible solution for cutting down the cost of the onsite course is to distribute no material to the students. No course notes and no accompanying multimedia CD. Therefore, the in-class students would have only the instructor's "song and dance" delivered in the lecture as resources.

I'm beginning to wonder about the ethical nature of this possible cost cutting measure. We are deliberately holding back existing resources (course notes and CDs) from in-class students due to cost. Is this cost cutting measure putting the in-class students at a disadvantage? Does the fact that the in-class students have a higher instructor to student ratio compensate for this potential disadvantage? Does the fact that all students, regardless of delivery mode,will write the exact same final exam affect the conclusions in the above two questions?

Comments are welcome!!!

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Ultimate WebCT Handbook

Available as of July 2004, The Ultimate WebCT Handbook: A Practical and Pedagogical Guide for WebCT 4.x arrived in my office last week. Measuring close to 600 pages, it looks like an excellent resource at first glance (especially to staff members who are new or relatively new to WebCT). Lots of detailed descriptions on each tool available and its advantages (For example, the section on the Quiz and Survey tool is a whopping 68 pages long! WOW!). Lots of "how to" sections that contain useful and detailled step-by-step instructions. Perhaps most useful and interesting are the sections that focus on best practices for online teaching. For example, common group work activities and assessment methods are discussed.

At $70USD + $10USD shipping it's not for every instructor (especially those with lots of experience working in this modality); however, it should be in every faculty lunchroom's reference section.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Faculty do not receive enough training in order to teach online

This is not a shocking conclusion. A recent article in The Journal explains the results of a survey that shows clearly that Faculty believe they are not receiving enough training in order to become online teachers.

The interesting thing to me about this article is tied to the conluding recommendations. I quote:

Training for faculty to teach online should contain four major components:

1. Technical training
2. Pedagogical training
3. Mentoring
4. Online coursework

I bet these might surprise you? I have recently experienced resistance from the "powers that be" at my intitution about giving Faculty "pedagogical training." I was a proponent of it and it looks like this article might also support that. In addition, the idea of giving Faculty experience in the Online Environment by giving them Online Coursework exercises during their training is also something I support!

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Bye Bye Textbooks

This is an interesting report about a school in Tuscon, Arizona that is currently being built with technology in mind. The powers that be have decided to design the entire school around technology and one of the ways they have chosen to mitigate costs is to forego buying textbooks. Yup... and entire school without textbooks. Instead every student will be issued a laptop and every teacher will select readings from the Internet for their class.

It's an interesting and creative solution that cuts out the insidious problem of textbook edition changes and escalating costs of books. Also, a student no longer has to worry about a locker full of textbooks; instead they only have to worry about one laptop. The article goes on to say that those students who still love books won't go hungry, as there will be a conventional library on site.

I think this is a great idea.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Instructional Design Gone Wrong!

In an effort to learn a new skill, I registered in an Introductory Macromedia Flash course. It's a 30 hour community college level course offered entirely online at a distance. The First Class Learning Management System is being used to construct a virtual classroom where students can exchange ideas and obtain all the course content: assignments, learning activities and lecture materials.

I'm into the 7th day of the course, and so far the only learning activity we have been asked to perform is to post a brief biography of ourselves to one particular forum. Ok, so don't get me wrong, I like the biography activity. The thing I don't like about it is that I was able to complete this task on day 1. So what have I been doing the last 6 days of class: twiddling my mouse!!! BORING.

I was quite excited to be taking this course, now I'm getting bored before it even "begins." At this point, no student has access to the first set of lecture notes, the first assignment nor have any other activities been assigned. We just wait. Yesterday I learned that it will be day 14 before the instructor "releases" the first set of lecture notes and assignment. This frustrates me a great deal.

(Eric puts on his Instructional Designer hat... here's a close approximation of what he looks like with it on )

I will argue that adult students in distance courses have the highest degree of intrinsic motivation for a course at the beginning of it. It follows that if an Instructor wants to cultivate and leverage this high level of motivation, that he or she must fuel it with learning activities and material in the early stages of the course. Based on this idea, I beleive my instructor is missing the boat by waiting 14 days before he releases any material and that students may have a less than optimal learning experience as a result.

I fail to see how waiting 14 days to deliver material can promote or enhance the learning. If someone has any ideas about what might be motivating this Instructor, please let me know by posting a comment.

PS: I hope he doesn't come across this blog before I get my final grade.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

WebLogs in Higher Education

BINGO BANGO! I've been waiting for more articles to appear in the academic litterature about the utility of Blogs in Higher Education.... and here's a beauty! Nice work by Jeremy Williams and Joane Jacobs published in the Australiasian Journal of Education technology in 2004.

I especially like the analysis of the data collected from the Brisbane School of Graduate Studies on their use of Blogs in an MBA two MBA courses.

In summary, there seems to be a broad favourable reaction by students to using this technology in University settings. However, best practices which outline effective usage of this technology may not yet exist.

The Edu-Blogger: ITI: Stephen Downes keynote

The Edu-Blogger: ITI: Stephen Downes keynote

Here's a wonderful recap created by Rick West of Stephen Downes' talk at the Instructional Technology Institute in Utah last week. When I was reading it, a great many points rang true in my mind. The best point is that certain successful applications such as FTP, email, blogs have common criteria that made them successful.. they were:

* - simple
* - decentralized
* - open – we could all play
* - free, etc.

I would suggest that these four criteria are a must for educational applications to be successful; however, what companies are going to invest in R&D around products that are FREE? Catch 22 right there. So successful educational initiatives might be found at the grass roots level in the future. Just interesting food for thought.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Conflict within Teams

I was cruising the net while waiting for the delivery of my new washer and dryer (yeeehhhaaa... bye bye laundrymat!) and I came across this very nice article off of Asterisk. It goes on to describe a situation that I have been in numerous times in my work over the last two years: when conflict arises in teams that are creating "something." You recognize the comments, things like "oh, that font is too big," "I don't like that colour," or "that logo should go here on the page instead of here." I've been present at many meetings that included large periods of time devoted to comments scuh as these. The article has a great introductory paragraph:

"Working with a team of creatives can be a real challenge. It’s often hard to take a step back and realize that someone else’s aesthetic taste might just be different instead of worse."

The article goes on to give a few good tips on what to do in these situations. It is an excellent read for those interested in improving their ability to work in teams.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Everything you need to know about Learning Styles

Absolutely awesome reference document on Learning Styles. *4 pages jammed packed with current, relavant and useful information about the different classes of learning styles. An excellent Literature Review that is useful. Published by the Learning Skills Research Centre in PDF format.

Common Craft - Online Community Strategies: What Are the Differences Between Message Boards and Weblogs?

Here's an excellent posting from Common Craft on the differences between Message Boards and Blogs. I agree with their assessment.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Ding Ding the Blog is Dead! The Blog is Dead!

So.... I used to have a blog. But it died.

I was using RadioUserland and I didn't know that all the data was stored on my local machine, so when my machine was upgraded at work.... -=WHAMMO=- bye bye blog. (*boo hoo*) I used to have some neat things on there. Especially some links to some cool e-learning junk that I found over the last year and a half. But's all up in smoke.

So... I might as well start over. I'll use this Blog to write about some of the interesting things I'm doing at work and in my spare time. I'm just about to go on holidays as I type this.

So next week I'll be leisurely working on finishing the design of LART5: Fundamentals in Teaching Adults. The week after I'm Camping! Yeehhaa. I'm looking forward to it!

Test a third time

A third test of the email to blog posting deauture.

Hi Folks

A blog is born! Yeah!