Thursday, December 29, 2005

Today's Generation Y is tomorrow's Adult Learner

After reading this quick description of Generation Y, the first thing I think about is that Generation Y is the Adult Learner of the near future. This Adult Learner will be (and has been) marketed to by companies in very slick high-budget multi-media fashion (via the Internet, TV, Movies, print advertising, etc.). Their expectation for a good product is consequently very high and they have many choices to make!

Here's an example, I went to go see the movie The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe last Tuesday and I took a Generation Y member with me. When we discussed the movie afterwards, she said the story was good but the special effects could be better. Her exact quote was "it was no Lord of the Rings for special effects." This got me thinking that her expectations about special effects in fantasy-type movies are very high (I mean very!) due to her experience with the Lord of the Rings Trilogy that was released between 2001 and 2003. Had The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe come out before the Lord of the Rings Trilogy it would have been hailed, but now it is slightly inferior in special effects despite spending approximately $150M on the movie according to this website (which is a higher budget than each of the Lord of the Rings Movies... chalk it up to inflation perhaps?)

My point is that as educators we must consider the expectations of our target market (the forthcoming Generation Y people) when designing and developing courses and curriculum. They have experience and expectations that if we can strategically address then we can successfully compete for their satisfaction and their tuition dollars. They have traditionally had so many choices to make as a consumer that they can be discerning. Lets make sure they choose our institutitions because we're attractive, innovative, exciting and enjoyable. Gone are the days of the professor that reads our of the textbook. That's not going to fly anymore.

What do you think? Post a comment below.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Pause a second and think about blogging for educators

I think bogging can be a very useful practice for a practitioner because it gives an opportunity to chronicle and reflect upon your work. It's the reflection aspect that really helps us learn in my view. I think in the field of education we need to do more of this. My partner is a clinical social worker. She sees clients every day and after seeing them she write case notes into her files. These case notes are personal notes of hers as to issues surrounding the client's therapy. Invariably she is also chronicalling the strategies and approaches she is undertaking in the treatment of her clients. During this documentation process it gives her the opportunity to reflect upon her chosen approach, to look back at previous entries in the file, and to (re)consider if the chosen strategy is demonstrably effective or needs to be modified in some way. The aspect of reflection upon previous notes is the key here. So I use this blog to chronicle my activities as an Instructional Designer and Professor, and I often look back upon it for ideas, and also to get a sense of where I have been. I've been keeping this blog for almost a year and half and hopefully its value to my practice of reflection will increase as time passes.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Educational Technology Talk Show

Want to hear some interesting banter on Educational Technology? EdTechTalk is a blog that hosts a series of archived MP3 files of interesting EdTech discussions. You can even participate live in future events! Very cool! I enjoyed listening to a couple of these discussions in the background while I'm doing something else on the computer.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Incorrect information in the field!

Some of you might already know about the existence of some incorrect information in the field of education, educational technology and instructional design.

Have you ever seen a statement similar to "Students remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, 50% of what they hear and see, 70% of what the say and write and 90% of what they do"? It is most commonly associated with Dale's Cone of Experience (Example 1, Example 2, Example 3, Example 4, Example 5, Example 6, Example 7, Example 8, Example 9 and Example 10) but did you know it's a completely unfounded statement? Dale's Cone of Experience is legitimate but the associated statement with percentages is not the result of any study published in any refereed journal in the field. So it's essentially bogus!

This article from the Work Learning Research group does a great job at summarizing this particular tidbit of incorrect information. It's a real lesson learned for educators like us; go to the primary sources and make sure what you're quoting is in fact true!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Technological Changes in E-Education in the Last Two Years

From an E-Education perspective, the last two years have yielded significant technological change on three major fronts: hardware, software and network connectivity. Distance educators and administrators should take note of these changes and trends when planning new programme and course development activities in order to continue to compete successfully in this fast-changing field.

First, on the hardware front the most important technological changes relating to e-education have been the proliferations of both Flash memory drives and Apple iPods. Large capacity Flash memory drives have now become very inexpensive and most college students find themselves using this hardware to transport files easily from on location to another; thereby increasing the portability of their work (Lightbody, 2005). A high degree of portability and the ability to access their distance education anywhere at anytime have now become the expectations of the distance learner. Like Flash memory drives, Apple iPods are now becoming more and more popular. An educational spin-off of the iPod is the concept of podcasting. Where anyone can record themselves using audio files and publish their sound files to the Internet for people to download and play either on their iPod or on there computer. From a distance education perspective, podcasting allows for instructors and students to share audio, including lectures, much easier than in the past (Read, 2005). Also, some visionaries are now regularly publishing podcasts as a way to share, explore and build knowledge in the field of e-learning (For an example, see Susan Smith-Nash’s e-Learning Queen blog).

Second, on the software front the most important technological changes relating to e-education have been the proliferation of web-logs (a.k.a. blogs) as well as the rise of free beta versions of new Google services. Weblogs have exploded in popularity in the last two years. The Internet now contains thousands of blogs and a significant amount of them belong to the education category or have educational applications. They have been used in an educational setting to provide a way of sharing student work, of chronicling experiences, of journaling thoughts and feelings, and of disseminating knowledge (Dyrli, 2005; Krause, 2005; Richardson, 2005). Educators are also using blogs to communicate and share with their colleagues. So called Edubloggers form an active collection of writers on the Internet and share their practical knowledge of technology in education. In the last two years, Google has begun to transform itself into a formidable service provider that will benefit e-education initiatives. With the creation of free beta versions of its Google Scholar portal (a service which allows users to search some peer-reviewed material; I've writen about it before here), Google Booksearch portal (a service which allows users to search full text of public domain books) and most recently its Google Base service (a service which allows users to add any kind of content to the Google database), it has become increasingly useful to e-educators and students alike (Young, 2005). From a distance students can now use these Google resources to supplement their institutions library services and they can also publish new content to Google for their classmates to use.

Third, as wireless technology becomes faster and cheaper most laptop manufacturers are now including wireless cards in the standard configuration of their products and students are taking advantage of this technology to learn (Carlson, 2005; Gossey, 2005). The result is that more distance education students have laptops which they can connect to wireless networks to increase portability of their work space. Students can now connect their laptop to the Internet at various points throughout their homes as well as other semi-public places such as some workplaces, libraries and even laundromats! The increased portability will facilitate Internet access for students and will continue to help them learn anywhere at any time.

The ramification of these advances in the last two years is important to consider. As hardware, software and network technologies continue to bring new levels of portability, functionality and resource access to students at a distance, the popularity of web-enabled distance education programmes will continue to grow. Designers who design their courses to leverage new tools, services and Internet functionalities in order to better connect students with resources and with each other at a distance will be the e-education leaders. This interconnectedness is the value in distance education today; student-to-student interaction, information accessibility and content sharing are now the expectation of students at a distance. Forward thinking educators will continue to provide students with new e-education models that take advantage of the positive aspects in the fast-changing technological landscape in order to maintain and grow their market share. A century old quotation from Will Rogers still remains pertinent today: “Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.

Do you think there have been other major changes in E-Education technology in the last two years that I've missed? If so, please leave a comment with your ideas.


Carlson, S. (2005). Colleges Increase Use of Technology in Teaching, Survey Finds. Chronicle of Higher Education, 52(9), 42-42.

Dyrli, O.E. (2005). School blogs. District Administration, 41(10), 69-69.

Gossey, D. (2005). Wireless for All of Us. Edutech Report, 21(10), 4-5.

Krause, S.D. (2005). Blogs as a tool for teaching. Chronicle of Higher Education, 51(42), 33-35.

Lightbody, K. (2005). USB flash drives: Easy data transfer in education. Retrieved 02 December 2, 2005, from

Read, B. (2005). Lectures on the go. Chronicle of Higher Education, 52(10), 39-42.

Richardson, W. (2005). Blog revolution. Technology & Learning, 26(3), 48-48.

Young, J.R. (2005). 100 Colleges Sign Up With Google to Speed Access to Library Resources. Chronicle of Higher Education, 51(37), 30-30.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Open Courseware is Growing!

Together with colleagues of mine, we recently built a list of Open Courseware sites. I have mentioned some of them on this blog before (i.e. MIT and Sofia). Here's a much longer list. Definitely worth a look.
If you have any other Open Courseware websites to add to this list, please let me know.

Thank you!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Effective e-Learning Presentation: NewsU

Probably the most common application of Macromedia Flash is to create banners on websites. These Flash banners have been delighting and annoying us for several years now. We all know there are other effective ways to use Flash animations. I recently came across a lovely little Flash presentation from a training company called NewsU. They create and offer e-learning courses for journalists.

This presentation is really nice because it shows people like us that work in the e-learning community how a little bit of creativity can result in a very effective presentation with a little bit of Flash technology. My guess is that the creation of this presentation was relatively cheap too. The presentation is humorous at time, very creative, fun and compelling in the way that it sells its product. It also outlines several important features of effective e-learning courses (i.e. addressing your target market specifically, having engaging products, using puzzles, games, quizzes, problem-solving activities and giving students feedback, etc.) and it also identifies several common pitfalls of e-learning course (i.e. like avoiding the text-heavy online "page turner" or creating synchronous lectures that simply mimic the classroom environment.)

Turn on your speakers, sequester yourself for five minutes and have listen to this great pitch about e-Learning courses at NewsU.

What do you think are the most effective parts of this Flash presentation?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

4,000+ hits!

The hits on this blog keep-a-rolling at a pretty consistent rate. It took 15 weeks to move from 2,000 to 3,000 hits and 14 weeks to move from 3,000 to 4,000 hits. Will anyone predict if it will take 13 weeks to get to 5,000 hits? (*grin*)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Simulations and Problem-based Learning in Online Courses

I attended a really great two-day workshop last week in St-Jean, Quebec. It had the theme of defining the roles of the Training and Development Officer and the Educational Services workers within the framework of the Canadian Defence Academy. The topics on the second day were particularly interesting to me, specifically, the topics and workshop on e-Learning Innovation. Three proactive themes were distilled that were thought of as being alternatives to weaknesses in the current instructional design models: rapid prototyping, simulations and the creation of performance supports.

Consider simulations for a moment. When most people think of simulation they think of something rivaling a video game and that’s ok because those are indeed simulations. If you’re an instructional designer and someone comes up to you and says… “why aren’t you using simulations in your online courses?” You might cringe in fear of the work involved as well as the cost involved of designing and developing a detailed and immersive simulation. (That’s my reaction anyway HAHA!) But there are other ways to develop simulations. Problem-based Learning (PBL) comes to mind. It’s a way to emphasize the constructivist approach to learning and to promote higher-order learning in a scenario-based framework (i.e. address learning objectives into the levels 4 through 6 of Bloom’s Taxonomy for cognitive skills.)

A great article was published recently in the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Education (IRRODL) that presents a case study for using PBL in an online biotechnology course. If you’re interested in using PBL as a type of simulation in your online courses make sure you read this article. It does a great job at outlining the detailed rational needed when designing this activity. It’s not an easy job to create; it’s tougher to create a PBL learning activity than it is to create a multiple choice exam, but you don’t need high-powered graphics, animations, or predictive and interactive software to provide a simulation to your students in this case. All you need is the student’s imagination and a real world problem for them to work on.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Google Print is off the the races

Google Print has been launched at It's a search engine that allows you to view the entirety of public domain books as well as the Table of Contents of copyright protected works. For example, I was able to view the entire text of:

Before and After Socrates
by Francis M Cornford - Philosophy - 1932 - 144 pages

Note that a free Google Account is required in order to view the full-text of public domain books on the Google Print website. The utility of Google Print may be limited at this point due to the fact that only public domain books are available full-text but I wonder if in the future we will see Google negotiating rights to reproduce some of the copyrighted material. Hmmm. Maybe Google will charge a fee for this service to the end user? Hmm. Time will tell. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Research in Distance Education in Canada

Research is active in the field of distance education in Canada; especially when topics relate to the use of technology mediate distance education. An interesting paper published in the July 2005 issue of the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Education by researchers at the University of Concordia in Montreal, Canada, exemplifies this (Lobel, Neubauer and Swedburg, 2005). They conducted a thorough matched study between two sections of the same university course: AHSC/230 – Interpersonal Communication and Relationships. One section was in a traditional face-to-face format (F2F) while the other section was offered by distance education mediate by a synchronous non-turn taking virtual classroom called LBD eClassroom (limited to text and static image interaction, no audio or video). In hopes to examine if the delivery mode affected the qualitative or quantitative forms of student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction, they fixed as many variables as possible between the two sections. During one term in 2001, the same professor, facilitators, course materials, instructional strategies and assessments were used in both sections of the course. The only difference was the delivery mode: synchronous F2F versus synchronous at a distance.

Three particular findings proved very interesting. The first relates to differences in group dynamics among the sections. The course had components of large group work and of small group work. In the first class of the semester, students are assigned to one of four small working groups and are oriented in general to the course structure. Such a task was relatively simple in the F2F section and analysis of the personal learning journals of students in the first week of class showed that their session was “highly personal from the outset, with feelings of collegiality and camaraderie that appeared to deepened [sic] over time.” Conversely, the online section reported drastically different feelings largely due to the fact that they were faced with a technical learning curve in the first session that impeded their ability to communicate effectively. The analysis of their weekly learning journals showed that “most students reported being uneasy, feeling chaos, and sensing frustration – feelings which over time were replaced by a slow-growing sense of closeness.” This finding can serve as a rational for the inclusion of a pre-course synchronous orientation session in the course (i.e. a getting started activity offered the week prior to the start of the course to address all the technical difficulties in a safe atmosphere). Once the technical learning curve is surmounted by each student the barrier to communication disappears and students are free to interact with each other in a positive way. It is often said that the tone of a course is set in the first meeting of the class; therefore, taking steps to remove known barriers affecting student-to-student interaction on the first day of class can contribute towards the success of a course.

The second finding which they describe involves a quantitative measure of interactivity. Detailed analyses of matched classroom sessions showed that the overall percentage of participation differed. Generally they reported that all students in the online class participated in some form during the session (i.e. 100% participation). Conversely, this was not the case in the F2F class. The percentage of students participating ranged from a high of 82%, during discussion-based classroom activities, to a low of 10%, in lecture-based classroom activities. Clearly there is a marked difference in how students behaved under these two course delivery methods. The implications of this finding can be profound to the instructor cadre. If one wants to foster an environment with a high degree of participation from each student then the synchronous online classroom may be better at doing so than traditional F2F classrooms especially in the absence of formal incentives that might artificially induce student participation, such as grades.

The third finding that they present in their research study related to discussion time. In a F2F classroom where group discussion is taking place, the predominant form of student-to-student interaction is a turn-taking form of communication. For example, one person speaks while the others listen and then the next speaker speaks. In a non-turn taking online classroom however, student-to-student interaction can take place simultaneously in different threads. For example, a student can be participating in several text-based discussion topics simultaneously. To support this notion, the researchers determined that in the same 30-minute real-time interactive phase, online students communicated enough written information between themselves to account for a total effective time of communication of 76 minutes (i.e. based on a conversion factor that 15 written words is equivalent to six seconds of speech). This observed hyper-communication effect has the potential to create interactions with are richer, deeper and more vibrant than similarly structured F2F sessions. Distance course developers will be interested in this finding and they can leverage this observation to effectively dilate time giving them more opportunity to meet learning objectives reaching into the highest cognitive levels.

These three major findings could prove very significant to the future of distance learning. In the past, significant energies have been invested investigating the idea that there is either no significant difference between online and F2F education, or that distance education is inferior (van Schaik, Barker, Beckstrand, 2003; Warren & Holloman, 2005; Wyatt, 2005). However, one could hypothesize that if the findings in this research article were distilled into best practices for synchronous online learning and then applied and effectively leveraged within an appropriate course design, that the resulting course might potentially foster a more effective learning environment for students. Further research into how students quantitatively and qualitatively interact online will undoubtedly provide the next generation of online learners with enhanced educational opportunities.


Lobel, M., Neubauer, M. and Swedburg, R. (2005). Selected Topics from A Matched Study between a Face-to-face Section and a Real-Time Online Section of a University Course. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, Retrieved October 22, 2005, from

van Schaik, P., Barker, P., and Beckstrand, S. (2003). A Comparison of On-Campus and Online Course Delivery Methods in Southern Nevada. Innovations in Education & Teaching International, 40(1), p 5-16.

Warren, L. L. and Holloman, H. L. (2005). On-line Instruction: Are the Outcomes the Same? Journal of Instructional Psychology, 32(2), p 148-151.

Wyatt, G. (2005). Satisfaction, Academic Rigor and Interaction: Perceptions Of Online Instruction. Education, 125(3), p 460-468.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

WebCT + BlackBoard = Holy Crow!

Today WebCT and Blackboard announced a merger and the new company promisses a new product that contains the best of both platforms. My two word reply is: Holy Crow! If Desire2Learn was a publicly traded company I would be rushing to invest in it right about now!!! In my dealings with the training and product development staff they seem to be a company that is far more customer focussed than WebCT or Blackboard and in the end it is the customer that rules. I'm predicting that the new combined WebCT/Blackboard product will be a rigid behemoth that will take days to upgrade current licensees and that in the final analysis many customers will take this opportunity to make the switch to another LMS. (Not to open source products as some people predict. In-house development and maintenance of open source LMSs is too daunting for most.) I will make the bold prediction that Desire2Learn will surpass WebCT/Blackboard as the leading LMS producer within the next two to three years! This will be a very interesting item to watch.

What do you think? Click comment below.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Have you seen Google Scholar?

It's in beta version at but it's a Google search engine that searches "specifically for scholarly literature, including peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts and technical reports from all broad areas of research." For example, I did a search on "andragody" and it returned 2,000+ hits. No big surprise really. The main search engine of Google returned even more: 90,000+. But what's different about Google Scholar is that it also returns back some hits as "books" and ranks the return results differently. For example, here's the first hit on the Google Scholar result list:

[BOOK] The modern practice of adult education: from pedagogy to andragogy
MS Knowles - 1980 - Wilton, Conn.: Chicago: Association Press; Follett Pub.

Cited by 261 - Web Search - Library Search

Notice it returns Malcolm Knowles' important work from 1980 and states that this "book" has been cited by 261 other sources found in this 2,000+ hit list. You can actually click the "Cited by 261" text to receive the list of 261 source articles. Very interesting. It actually ranks the search results using this citation number. Documents that are cited more frequently appear at the top of the list.

Now The modern practice of adult education: from pedagogy to andragogy is not yet available electronically (Note: this may change soon as Google makes plans to digitize library voumes through there Google Print service! WOW!) but Google Scholar at least points you to its existance as a seminal document in the field. So at that point you switch gears and do a little leg work at your local library to find the volume.

This search engine could be very useful especially to junior university and college students who are new to a specific field.

Friday, August 26, 2005


A new searchable database of free stock photos is now available at This is very useful!

New Blogs added to the blogroll

Today I'm adding five new blogs to the blogroll:

1. E-learning Circuits - An e-Learning Blog maintained by a team of individuals. Due to the collaborative nature of this blog, it is quite active and updated frequently. There is always something intersting to read.

2. e-Learn Space - George Siemens, an instructor at Red River College (RRC) in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada presents some juicy tidbits on his elearning experience.

3. e-learnopedia - A blog maintained by the Academic ADL Co-Lab that features regularly updated links to useful e-learning and distance learning puplications and resources.

4. Auricle - A collaborative blog with "short articles, reflections, observations, or references on what we've found interesting, useful, challenging, and sometimes frustrating in the e-learning world." By the e-learning team at the University of bath in England.

5. JBlawg - Jason Rothstein view of e-learning. He's a Chicago-based consultant, project manager, and content developer for web and e-learning projects.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Weblog Ethics

I've been involved in blogs for a while now. First with Radio Userland and now with Blogspot and frankly, I like it a lot. it's a place to write down your thoughts; a kind of archive. It's very useful for me because as I get older I feel my memory slipping so archiving my thoughts in a blog means I don't accidentally do things twice (HAHA).

For weblog writers, it's important to be aware that we belong to a larger community and with this membership comes some degree of responsibility. Rebecca Blood has a wonderful posting on the Six major themes in Weblog Ethics.

1. Publish as fact only that which you believe to be true.

This first one is a no brainer. You don't want to be spreading rumours as facts. There's a perception, and rightfully so in the past, that a great deal of information on the Internet is faulty in some way; however, by following this first tenet you can make a contribution towards continuing to reverse this trend.

2. If material exists online, link to it when you reference it.

This is critical. What's the difference between a book and the Internet? The links! So link, cross-link and chain-link. It's all good!

3. Publicly correct any misinformation.

This ties back in to the first item. If you can do your part to publicly correct any misinformation you see that is relevant to your blog posting then by all means take the opportunity to do the right thing.

4. Write each entry as if it could not be changed; add to, but do not rewrite or delete, any entry.

This is one I would have never thought of but it makes sense. The second item in this list talks about linking which is all good until links break or information is displaced. So no deleting stuff! That way the original linking page will continue to link to the relevant information forever thereby strengthening the utility and the credibility of an ever-expanding Internet.

5. Disclose any conflict of interest.

This fifth item is probably the most interesting one. There's a lot of money making schemes on the net and some people have very creative ways to influence others. Similarly, blogging can be used to influence others. Sell software, products, movies even! So in cases like this if you still want to write about your business endeavours then the ethical thing to do is to disclose your conflict of interest.

6. Note questionable and biased sources.

Rebecca caps off her ethics for weblogs by including a sixth item that ties in beautifully with the others. In order to keep your information credible ensure the information you are citing is credible as well. You're only as strong as the weakest link!

What do you think? Is there a place for ethics in blog writing? Click "comment" and let us know.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

3000+ hits!

Special thanks to all the visitors who together pushed the hit counter on this website over 3000 hits today! Yeah! That's about 1,000 hits in the last 100 days; 10 hits per day. Very cool. Keep the hits coming! Remember that you can comment on any of these blog postings by hitting the "comment" word below.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Benchmarks for Courseware Authoring Programmes

I was recently asked "In your opinion, should researchers compare courseware authoring programs to traditional education techniques?"

This is a slippery question! I believe that in the early stages of any technology, or innovation, human beings naturally compare it to existing technologies because that is the most convenient reference point. However, as a technology matures and people obtain more and more experience with how it works, the benchmark used to evaluate the technology starts to change. No longer do we compare it to the old fashion technology, we more typically compare its utility and functionality to earlier generations of the same product. By doing this comparison to an earlier generation of the same product we begin to develop criteria for evaluating a technology which are unique to the technology itself instead of being related to the traditional method of doing things prior to the innovation in question.

For example, when personal computers first came out, people evaluated them by saying things like “computers allow you to use Word-processing programmes so that when you type your manuscripts you can move words around and spell-check sentences; a marked enhancement over the typewriter!” In this case, people are comparing the new technological innovation (computers) with the traditional technology (typewriters). However, today when Intel announced its most recent production-ready microprocessor, the Intel Pentium Processor Extreme Edition, no one reviewing this microprocessor writes words like “this microprocessor gives computers a marked improvement over typewriters!” (Well, at least I hope no one does! *grin*) Instead they use expression that compare this chip to existing technologies in the same family, like a previously released Intel’s chip such as the Pentium 4 Processor. For example, today they might say something like “Boy the clock speed on the new Intel Pentium Processor Extreme is faster than the first Pentium 4’s that were released by Intel.” However, they would have never exclaimed similar words in 1983: “Boy the clock speed on my new IBM PC 8088 is way faster than my IBM Typewriter!” The point I am trying to make here is that the benchmark for how to describe a computer’s performance has clearly changed as the technology has matured, over 20 years.

In keeping with this idea, I believe it is natural for educators to evaluate courseware while using traditional education techniques as a benchmark until such time as the technology matures. In my opinion, we are on the cusp of the courseware maturation phase. The best practices in courseware design are not yet set in stone but we are seeing them gel slowly with the passing of each courseware development project. I believe in the near future the literature will show more and more exploration by the field into defining models for the evaluation of courseware materials. Once practitioners gain experience using these unique evaluation models, the practice of using traditional education techniques as a benchmark when evaluating courseware will become archaic, just like the typewriter (*grin*).

What do you think? Click the "comments" word below to leave a comment.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Factors when designing good intructional strategies

I was recently asked the question "In your opinion, what factors need to be considered when designing good instructional strategies in a courseware program?"

Four things came off the top of my head that need to be considered when designing good instructional strategies for courseware.

  1. Never lose sight of your target market. It sounds obvious, but I’ve seen it happen. Here’s one example, a short self-paced open-access voluntary training course was designed for the Canadian Forces their spouses and civilian members of the Canadian Dept. of National Defence. Subject matter experts, designers and developers jumped right in and created some wonderful HTML-based courseware. However, they lost sight of their target market a little bit because they intended to deploy this HTML on the Internet but created it in such a way that it does not meet the Common Look and Feel Guidelines of the Treasury Board of Canada, so now it cannot be posted on any publicly available Government of Canada server. They now have a significant hurdle to overcome. How will their target market access this web material? So a tiny bit of lack of upfront planning with respect to the target market has now put them in a position where they may have to deploy the training using alternative means instead of on a publicly available Government of Canada web server.

  2. Ensure learning activities can be completed in a manageable time. At my university students are given a benchmark of 9 hours per week of work for an undergraduate course. When designing courseware learning activities the tendency by some instructors is to take the normal classroom assignments and learning activities and just augment them with additional web-based activities. This can result in courses with very heavy workloads (i.e. well above 9 hours per week). So, I try to keep the time in mind when I am designing courseware-enabled courses.

  3. Use stable courseware/technology with supporting documentation for novices. Two years ago I fell into this trap where I designed a first year computer course that needed to have an associated bit of technology: a Java programme compiler. The professor recommended one. It was free. I was happy. However, in the inaugural offering of the course, the technology proved very hard to master by novice students. The instructor spent a lot of time on the phone helping students install and work the compiler in the first few weeks. What the instructor had neglected to tell me, and what I had neglected to consider, was that he was successfully using this compiler on-site in classroom-based computer labs where he was continuously available to help students with software issues. As a dedicated tutor he effectively served as a support mechanism to classroom students. In the distance course that we were now delivering we had not planned for this "dedicated tutor" function. So the questions, which arose from students around the intricacies of the Java-compiler, where now being fielded at a distance by the instructor and it consumed his time and resulted in some frustrated students. In the second offering of the course, we beefed up the documentation around how to install the compiler and how to use it. So it went much better the second time around.

  4. Focus on Interactivity. Whether it’s student-to-student, student-to-instructor or student-to-content, consider trying to infuse as much interactivity as possible into a course. Some courseware-enabled courses that we offer at my University that were designed 5+ years ago lack interactivity on all fronts. They are basically electronic “page turners”. Students hate it. Their expectations are much higher today for courseware than they were in the past, so plan carefully for a significant level of interactivity in your course.

           What do you think? Post a comment by clicking the word "comment" below.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Ed. Tech. Professional Associations

Ed. Tech. Professional Associations

If you're looking for a handy updated list of Professional Associations in the field of Educational Technology, Jason Rhode has done a good job at creating this one.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Macromedia Flash

Here's a summary of my view of the strengths and weaknesses of Macromedia Flash. Macromedia Flash is a powerful piece of software that allows designers to create animations and interactive interfaces.



  • The Macromedia Flash Authoring Software isn't free. It costs money. Visit for more information. They do have Educational pricing structures however.

  • It takes awhile to learn Flash. It uses a combination of object-oriented design with ActionScripting to offer a wide range of possibilities. Many experienced Flash developers claim that anything can be done with Flash because it is so flexible but it’s this same flexibility that makes it a complex product to master. I've taken about 20 weeks of part-time instruction on the software and it was well worth the investment. Without structured instruction, I do not think I would have been able to learn as much as I did.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Technology if necessary, but not necessarily technology!

In 1942 during WWII, the Prime Minister of Canada, Mackenzie King, launched a plebiscite to Canadians asking them if they wanted to support mandatory military service overseas: conscription. He led the campaign using the now famous motto: "conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription."

A colleague of mine (Thanks Louise!) showed me that a derivative of this quote rings true today in the DE context. When I think about technology in higher education settings and about LMSs in particular, the software and product choices number in the dozens!!! Which do you choose??? Well, how about this motto: "technology if necessary, but not necessarily technology." What I mean by this is that Curriculum Developers cannot just adopt the policy of "choosing" an LCMS and then being boxed into applying the features of that product to the courses they are designing. That's a shortsighted practice: using the technology just because the technology is there to be used.

Instead Curriculum Developers should first thoroughly assess the type of course that is in question and subsequently choose the right mixture of tools that meets the course needs. For example, if I have a course which is largely pitched at the junior level with learning objectives at the Level 1 (Knowledge) and Level 2 (Comprehension) levels, it doesn't make sense for me to build into such a course synchronous video-enabled group work activity. It's over-kill!!! The technical/physical constraints and the required competencies required of students to interact in such a rich collaborative environment do not match the cognitive level of the learning objectives: Level 1 and Level 2. Those interactive and collaborative activities are better suited to higher level cognitive objectives. So just because my University might have an LCMS with all kinds of bells and whistles does not mean I *should* or *must* integrate these bells and whistles into my course.

Educational soundness of the course is attained when you line up the cognitive difficulty levels of the Learning Objectives, the Learning Activities and the Assessments. If you misalign these things you can really throw the learning for a loop! For example, if the Learning Objective is "State Newton's Three Laws" (Level 1: Knowledge) and I design a Learning Activity like "Do some synchronous group work using video conferencing to debate the validity Newton's Three Laws" (Level 5&6: Synthesize & Evaluate), and then I test learners with a question on a final exam like "Apply Newton's three Laws to solve these real life problems" (Level 3: Application), no one in this fictitious, and wildly torturous, class would pass this exam question. Wouldn't you agree? (*OUCH*)

So I always try to focus my work on analyzing the learners and their learning path within the course and I try to align everything on the same level. Only after that do I move to selecting the appropriate tool in an LCMS, or otherwise, to *support* my learning activity.

Technology is clearly secondary in my process: "technology if necessary, but not necessarily technology."

What do you think? Post a comment.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Understanding colour contrast in web pages

Take a look at this practical article about creating effective colour contrast by Dr. Aries Arditi of the Arlene R. Gordon Rsearch Institute. It definitely has some good guidelines.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Is Open Source LCMS really the way to go?

On the surface, don't open source LCMSs sound like a great idea? They have three major advantages that make them very attractive, especially for budget conscious smaller schools that are considering deploying LCMS software for the first time:

   Advantage #1: The code is FREE!
   Advantage #2: The code is FREE!
   Advantage #3: The code is FREE!

However, despite these three undeniably amazing advantages (*grin*), remember that the technical labor required to deploy, customize and manage the LCMS must be located within the school and is costly. In my view, you need about twice as much in-house technical and development support to an Open Source LCMS than you need for a commercially available LCMS. While theoretically, Moodle is customizable to meet any specific needs of the school, the customization process is conducted in-house by individuals on the school's payroll and that costs money! In a recent round table meeting of five Universities that I attended in Ottawa on the subject of LCMSs, all five Universities had decided to continue pursuing commercially available LCMSs instead of Open Source products like Moodle or SAKAI because they had judged it to be more cost effective in the medium and long term. Placing experienced technical development personnel on the payroll is not cheap, and investing similar amounts of money into the licensing of a commercially available LCMS was judged to be a safer and more stable choice.

Interesting. If you have an opinion on this, leave a comment.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

2000+ hits!

The hit counter on this site rolled over the 2000 mark today. Yeah! Thanks to everyone who reads these postings. Feel free to comment on any of them at anytime by clicking the "comment" word at the bottom of each posting.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Images Canada

A large database of images that are Canadian-based. A large number of them can be used in an educational setting with a simple credit line acknowledging the source.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Student-to-Student interaction in Online Science Courses

Asynchronous student-to-student interaction for science courses at the higher education level can be classified into the six types (Modified from Iverson, M. (2005). E-Learning Games: Interactive Learning Strategies for Digital Delivery. Pearson: Upper Saddle River.) Some examples of activities for the six types are listed below.

1. Course Openers

  • Introductions/Bio

  • Ice Breakers

2. Scenario Learning Activities

  • Case Study analysis in small groups

  • Problem Based learning in small groups

3. Peer Learning

  • Peer review of assignment work

  • Several times during the course, each student posts an online resource on the topic to a discussion board.

4. Content Review and Practice

  • Pair Annotated Bibliography (Student 1 finds a suitable article on the web and Student 2 writes a short summary of the article.)

  • A pair, or small group, of students write a research proposal

  • A pair, or small group, prepare a PowerPoint presentation

5. Group Discussion

  • Instructor assigns discussion questions that students must research individually. A component of the grade is attributed to follow up postings.

6. Course Closers

  • Students post a summary of the most important things they learned in the course

Friday, April 01, 2005

Study: Alliance for Higher Education Competitiveness

The Alliance for Higher Education Competitiveness released their Internet Supported Learning study that examines factors influencing success achievement in Internet-Supported Learning in Higher Education. Take a look at the Executive Summary. It's a quick read and boils down the very interesting findings.

Each of the eight summary findings are excellent; however, two in particular interest me:

Summary Finding Three
"Successful institutions measure themselves in a variety of ways depending on what is important to them; quality is at least or more important than growth."

So, course quality before quantity is the important idea here!

Summary Finding Five
"The “secret sauce” of achieving success in Internet-supported learning varies from institution to institution, however, a “programmatic approach” with a commitment to fully online programs seems to be most critical"

So, institutions should discontinue the practice of developing an online course just because a certain professor or SME with expertise happens to be available at the time. Instead, they should focus on programme based course development so that students have a clear path to obtaining academic credentials entirely online.

My experience with Synchronous Communication in Distance Education

I have never designed or delivered a course that required of students synchronous interaction at a distance. It's a philosophical point really. I believe that a large majority of students choose distance education courses for the flexibility in scheduling their work and by placing scheduled synchronous activities into the course, their satisfaction can be decreased.

That being said, I have personally participated in a great many synchronous activities as both an instructor (when they were optional activities) and as an audience member in a presentation. My personal feeling is that I absolutely love synchronous activities when I am an audience member at a presentation. I find it a great joy that I can interact with people around the world from my little office. I try to attend as many as possible. In case you are ever interested in trying some of these free synchronous seminars yourself, here's a short list of a few groups who regularly host them (in many cases, you can also find archives of previous presentations their for your viewing pleasure):

In fact, a great talk is shaping up from next Friday (April 8th, 2005) at the CIDER sessions entitled: Content analysis of online discussions . So if you want to talk about issues surrounding the evaluation of online discussions activities in a DE format, this is a must attend presentation!

I have used synchronous chat as an optional activity in a few of my courses. I've used it most frequently as a type of "Online Office Hours" where I just chill in the chat room for an hour waiting for people to come and ask me questions or just visit with me. It works well. Typically, I get three to five people who drop by to say hello, ask a question or just be social. I don't discourage them from using the Online Office Hours as a social outlet in the DE course. I think some social learners need this ingredient in their learning environments in order to bring them success. So pretty much anything goes in the Online Office Hours. I have also organized one-hour optional chat activities on a specific class topic. I've done it twice. Both times were well attended.... five people once and seven the second time. It's a fast and frantic chat and my experience is that very little learning occurs because you're too busy typing and thinking up the next thing you're going to say (quickly I might add because the messages are scrolling by like mad and the topic you might be wanting to contribute to can be long gone if you don't type it fast enough!). There's a bit too much performance anxiety in this environment for my liking. I would find it difficult to examine a chat transcript and grade it afterwards with good conscience. I would be constantly asking myself if a student's lack of performance was due to performance anxiety with the media or what?

So, there are a few of my ideas and experiences around synchronous interaction. I like it, but not as a requirement for students and I don't like using it as a graded activity either.

Ideas on asynchronous pull technologies in course design

When I design courses I focus on pull-technologies. Technologies where students must investigate or seek out information. I choose to do it this way because most of the time I design courses for other Instructors, and I cannot gauge their personal commitment to push-technologies that they must initiate. It is too risky for me to design a course loaded with push-technology, only to have the instructor be a neophyte in the student-to-instructor interaction domain and the students will suffer greatly as a result. So, I have never designed a learning activity around email. I have designed a great many learning activities around asynchronous use of the discussion forum, interactive programming as well as asynchronous use of web-based presentation documents; however, because I have only worked for schools who are supported by an LCMS, I have never had to resort to using asynchronous newsgroups. I will outline a few examples of the activities that I have designed:

  • Classical discussion forum activities like the one we have here at UoP with DQ's and corresponding requirements for replies

  • Discussion forum activities where one student is elected moderator for the week, and must post a critical review to an important required reading. Other classmates are graded on a required number of intelligent postings for the week's discussion.

  • Case study activities in the discussion forum where a dozen case studies are presented by the instructor, students must choose five of them over a three week period and post a message to the discussion forum with their analysis of each. There is also a requirement for students to comment on the analyses of others and foster discussion during the week.

  • Web-page creation activities where students had to create a web-page with a Java-applet embedded, they are then required to post the web-page to the student homepage area of the course (so that the entire class can view it). The other students are required to highlight the best features and the worst features of their classmates webpages (all the while being polite of course!)

  • Entire course creation activities, and then students are required to visit all the other student's course sites and pick the one they liked best and then support their choice with reasons why the course can be characterized as "good".

  • Activities such as students are required to view a selected set of short video clips on the web, and then they must formulate a critique in the discussion forum of one of the video-clips for other students to comment upon.

  • As for presentation documents, I have designed a great many. Situations where PowerPoint slides have been available to complement PDF files containing lesson material, or HTML files etc. I have also selected video-clips and other media (audio and graphic) for students to view as part of the course notes. Web-based content is an integral part of every course I design.

So the permutations and combinations of asynchronous learning activities and resource presentations are almost endless. Some work better than others. Simple designs work best and up-front grading rubrics guide the DE students in a clear fashion.

Many books exist on the subject as well. Two of my favorite books in my library with lots of ideas like this are listed below. The first is more for classroom-based learning activities but with a little creativity you can parallel many of the ideas to a DE format, the second is a short book that's loaded with goodies perfectly suited to technologically enhanced DE courses.

Taylor, K., Marienau, C. and Fiddler, M. (2000). Developing Adult Learners: Strategies for Teachers and Trainers. San-Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Iverson, K. (2005). E-Learning Games: Interactive Learning Strategies for Digital Delivery. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

SITE 2005 Pre-Conferenced Workshops

I attended two workshops today at the SITE conference today. The first was a very practical workshop from Patrick Iglehart of St. Edwards University in Austin Texas that described the role of a Media Services department at a University and challenged the group to think of ways of integrating media into learning activities in courses. A few of the interesting ideas were:

1) digital storyboards in creative writing where students take digital pictures and then write a group story around the photo.

2) in a teacher education setting at the prior to the start of the school year, challenging teachers to find images on the internet, or to create their own that evoked a feeling that a student might have on the first day of class. Here’s an example. This way it would bring back to the forefront of the minds of both new, and seasoned, teachers the issues and feelings that students have on the first day of class. Exploring the power of an image to evoke feeling.

3) Critically analyzing video in a marketing class. Those beautiful Superbowl commercials can be examined with a critical eye and marketing themes can be extracted from them. Another neat extension of this was to also examine websites for the product showcased in the video. Question of congruency between marketing strategies in the video and the website could be addressed. Are the strategies similar or different? Complimentary or conflicting? Neat questions. More resopurces can be found at this link.

The second workshop was on ePortfolios. I must admit I have never explored the concept much so I was green going into this 3 hour session. But I learned a lot from the speakers, Drs. Helen Barrett and Joanne Carney, about the different kinds of ePortfolios: learning, employment, and assessment etc. It was also stressed in the process that reflection is the key item to a good ePortfolio exercise. It was argued that without reflection, the Portfolio is only a website, presentation, electronic resume, or scrapbook. The purpose is the difference: website=information while Portfolio=persuasion. They talked about blogs and wikis that could be used as part of ePortfolios. I really like this. I’m trying to design a learning activity for my Fundamentals of Teaching Adults course that might incorporate online journaling with a sharing and analysis/reflection component so this discussion was useful to me personally.

So the content should include evidence, reflection and validation. The purpose should be clear: assessment, employment or learning etc. The process should include tools, sequencing, rules, evaluation and collaboration. An overarching goal of this is also to try to get learners to own the material so they continue it throughout a programme of after a programme. Ownership was important because it intrinsically motivated the learner to produce better products. Be sure to check our Helen’s resources website where she has her “My Adventure with ePortfolios” link. She test drives 17+ products to create the same ePortfolio. Neat.

Another interesting side bar to Helen’s talk was the concept of Digital Storytelling or Narrative Inquiry (…whichever you prefer). Still photos with voice overs and music; the goal is to impart a feeling with these short pieces of work. This was a really neat way to unleash a student’s creativity. I think I might try to do one of these myself someday. I’ll have to find some cheap software to try. MovieMaker II, PhotoStory, Adobe Premiere Elements and Pinacle Studio were suggested for the PC platform.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Bloggers beware!

(This cartoon is posted here with permission of the artist. Contact for more info.)

CDA Distance Education Workshop

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.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Copyright Matters!

The 2nd Edition of Copyright Matters has been released. It's an excellent overview of Canadian copyright issues in education.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Impatica OnCue Demo

I've been playing around with the recently released version 3 of Impatica OnCue. Basically it's a software package that starts with a PowerPoint presentation and a matching audio/video track, and then compresses it all into a Java object that plays on any Java-enabled web-browser.

The beauty of Impatica OnCue, like their other software Impatica for PowerPoint, is its efficient proprietary compression algorithm. In general, it compresses resources to about 10% their size. That’s very nice!!!

In addition to the compression solution, in order to deal with users with different bandwidth, OnCue actually publishes different versions of your presentation tuned specifically for different bandwidths and network overheads. Typically you can publish to four different output streams: 256k, 128kpbs, 64 kbps and still picture (still picture with audio stream only). Users with LAN or Cable connections can use the 256 kbps stream, while users with dial-up connections can use the 65 kps or still stream. Users can select their stream at the beginning of the presentation. That’s a nice feature.

I created a short demo presentation to prove to myself that it works. I caution everyone who watches it that it is NO FRILLS! There is no editing of the audio/video (I just talked it out in one contiguous block) so I have a few “um’s” and “err’s” that you’ll have to suffer through for the sake of illustration. (*grin*)


  1. Starting with a PowerPoint presentation. PowerPoint is the industry standard presentation software. The fact that Impatica works with this type of file as a source is very convenient!

  2. The end user does not need PowerPoint on their machine to view the presentation! A simple Java-enabled browser is all that is required.

  3. Different streams for different bandwidth and an excellent compression algorithm.

  4. Complete control of the synchronization of all PowerPoint animations and synching with the associated audio/video was simple from within OnCue.

  5. The fully editable running text transcript on the page is excellent for users with the inability to hear the audio track. (You’ll note that my transcript in this demo is not perfectly word for word. My apologies.)

  6. Reasonably priced!!! Contact the Impatica Sales people at Impatica website for pricing options but they quoted me $1,500 Canadian for a single user educational license and that includes one license of Impatica for PowerPoint (that's worth $300 Canadian in itself). The price quote is reduced 33% if two OnCue licenses are purchased simultaneously ($1,000 CDN each).


  1. No integrated video capture software in OnCue. I had to record the video on tape and then digitally capture it using Adobe Premiere Pro (special thanks to Mike Lortie for his help with the video capture). It would be nice to have the option to record video that is directly captured by OnCue. Then you could easily re-record the audio/video for one slide at a time if you like. As it stands right now, all video production, editing and digital capture has to be done with third party software.

  2. The look and feel of the end-user interface is only customizable by Impatica Staff manually. They will make changes for you, but you cannot make them yourself.

I definitely like this tool. It can be used successfully in distance courses as a way to introduce the instructor or to deliver short lecture segments to students. The degree of post-production can vary as the instructor/producer sees fit. It also might be really interesting to video capture a guest speaker doing a live onsite presentation and then synch the video to the PowerPoint slides to create an archived presentation for later use.

To access my Demo presentation click this link. As a Username and password please use the following: EricGuest. It is case sensitive. Make sure to turn on your speakers too!

Your comments are appreciated!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Copyright Code of Ethics in e-Learning

With the rapid expansion of the field of e-learning in the last ten years educational institutions are faced with a major ethical dilemma: how to adapt current copyright legislation to fit the new e-learning phenomenon. Digital rights management is a field that is not legislatively mature and in Canada, like most other jurisdictions, copyright laws pertaining to printed works are adapted when assessing copyright restrictions of digital works; however, the practical aspects of how to implement this adaptation has proven to be challenging.

Ethics is the study of morals and moral interaction between people involves positive, constructive and respectful communication and interchange (Jones, 2001). In the field of electronic publishing this moral interaction must be upheld despite the absence of suitable supporting legislation. The maturation of the Internet has challenged these morals. Hundreds of thousands of web pages are updated daily, and a significant number of them infringe upon the digital rights of others. The simple borrowing of an image, plagiarism of a paragraph or reproduction of an idea without citation is thought by some to be acceptable practise on the Internet. Phrases like “if it’s online, it’s free for me to download and use,” and “if I cite the author I can reproduce her work entirely on my website” are not uncommon statements when discussions arise about this topic. In addition, compounding the confusion in the field of e-learning is the belief by some practitioners that since they operate in the educational sphere they are exempt from considering any copyright issues because of the lack of any personal financial gain (Alfino, 1996). Although many educational uses of media do fall under the “fair use” category, the extreme view that no consideration is necessary is a common myth (Coggins, n.d.a.). Also, with the recent advent of universally accessible personal publishing technology on the Internet in the form of web logs, or blogs, the digital rights management envelope continues to be pushed further. Most “bloggers” do not hesitate to “deep link” into other blog posts or into web pages on commercial websites even though proper practice necessitates requesting the permission of the original author for this (Coggins, n.d.b.; “Website Permissions”, n.d.). The belief by some that explicitly requesting such permissions impedes the natural and public nature of the integrated publishing system of the World Wide Web is very real.

As members of the e-learning community, what are our responsibilities towards the ethics of digital rights management? The following “Code of Ethics” can be useful:
  1. Consult in-house first. When faced with a situation you have never encountered, consult with others at your institution. Whether it is the digitization of an image from a textbook, a deep link to a specific web page or the repurposing of an author’s work for your classroom website, ask someone on your staff for their opinion first.

  2. Consult with the experts. In Canada, consult with commercial copyright clearing houses like Access Copyright, or their license holders, when faced with any new, complicated or confusing copyright issues. Their expert knowledge can be very useful despite the lack of comprehensive digital rights legislation and the consultation is usually free of charge.

  3. Work with textbook publishers if you can. Publishers have been dealing with requests to reproduce their materials for decades and as demands for the digitization and repurposing of their resources into e-learning content become more and more frequent, they have adapted accordingly. They can often directly grant permission to repurpose figures and diagrams from their textbooks for integration into custom electronic courseware at reasonable costs.

  4. Start early! In order to avoid the temptation to “cut corners” due to looming deadlines for your project, plan ahead and complete the copyright research early in your e-learning development.

  5. Actively dispel the copyright myths. Share your experiences and your knowledge gained with other staff at your institution. Many of these situations are reproducible, and it is very likely that others will need to clear copyright obstacles in similar ways. By sharing your knowledge you build efficiency, effectiveness and ethical responsibility in your organization.
Instructional designers, subject matter experts, editors, graphic designers, courseware developers and desktop publishers are all faced with similar issues regarding the ethics of digital rights management when developing e-learning products. It is the moral responsibility of each of these professionals to respect the original creator’s rights at all times and until digital copyright legislation matures, the dialogue must continue to be fostered between all those concerned in order attain this goal.


Alfino, M. (1996). Intellectual Property and Copyright Ethics. In R. A. Larmer (Ed.), Ethics in the Workplace: Selected Readings in Business Ethics. (pp. 278-294). St. Paul: West Publishing Company.

Coggins, S. A. M. (n.d.a). 4 Basic Questions About Copyright and Weblogs. Retrieved January 31, 2004, from

Coggins, S. A. M. (n.d.b). 14 Copyright Tips for Bloggers. Retrieved January 31, 2004, from

Jones, J. R. (2001). Everyday Ethics: For Career and Personal Development. Toronto: Pearson.

Website Permissions. (n.d.). In Copyright & Fair Use Overview (Chap. 6). Retrieved January 31, 2004, from chapter6/index.html

Thursday, January 27, 2005

What is Wikipedia!

Have you ever taken a look at Wikipedia? I have over the last couple years. In the beginning I thought it was a big joke. I thought the premise was noble but that it would never work in a practical sense.

For those that are unfamiliar with Wikipedia, it’s basically an encyclopedia but with one major feature that makes it different than any other encyclopedia you have ever seen: YOU can write for it! Yes, that was not a typo… you (*Eric points directly at you through the screen*) can write and edit any entry in the encyclopedia. You don’t need permission, you don’t need approval, you don’t need to have a PHD, and all you need to have is a keyboard.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve written in it a few times… just for kicks. I’ve tweaked a few entries to include something interesting that I know about, or to make a linkage between two entries. For example, I’m a big music buff so on the entry for my city (Kingston, Ontario, Canada), last year I added a couple of sentences listing a few of the good music bands that have grown out of my city.

Another neat feature is that you can examine the edits that people make to any particular page. The entire history of the changes is kept! Very cool!

What is created from this is a “public good” type of information repository: a place where no one polices except the users themselves. However, when I think of other “public goods,” like the air around us for example, everyone thinks it’s great for breathing and for diluting pollutants in, but no one wants to be responsible for cleaning it up and keeping it in a high quality state. I thought the same would apply for the Wikipedia: it’s a nice place to visit but it’s likely to be vandalized seriously and populated with loads and loads of inaccurate or irrelevant content. Boy was my gut feeling wrong. Check out the Wikipedia and let me know what you think.

Before you do that, check out this nice Flash movie with audio commentary created by Jon Udell that documents the changes in one particular entry in the Wikipedia over the past couple years. It’s great.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Storyboarding Resources

I came across some lovely storyboarding resources hosted at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) that were created by Lorraine Stanton and Sam Eneman (from UNCC), and Stephen Rehberg and Jeanne McQuillan (from Georgia State University). They have a detailed worksheet for building your online course, storyboard examples and an associated PowerPoint Presentation.

How to Begin Storyboarding your Course:
(If you are prompted for a password, click Cancel.)

Creating a Storyboard: Multiple Methods:

Course/Storyboard Master Worksheet:

The section I think is most valuable is Section III of the worksheet: Matching the Tool to the Task. It has great stuff in it relating to communication tools, content presentation tools, student presentation tools, and assessment tools. One by one it lists Internet tools/features and then outlines their uses and advantages as well as the associated good teaching principles. I really like this list. The information is really good and is useful for the instructional design process.

Effective Flash Objects

I've been playing around with Flash for a short time, since last September, and I have a lot to learn. One of the ways to learn is to look at what other people are doing. I thought I would bring forward one particular example that I found interesting to examine.

Check out the Excess All Areas flash object hosted by the BBC.

The target audience is likely young teenagers and therefore, I found this object made very effective use of integrated video and sound. The mouse rollovers were nice and the action escalated as I progressed through the object, and that naturally pulled me through the navigation of all parts of the object. This is excellent.

I also liked the splash screen which gave good explanations of the icons and the functions available to the user throughout the navigation.

One tiny thing that was missing was a universally accessible Quit button.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Podcasting and pull technologies

I have seen some buzz in recent weeks and months about Podcasting... so I figured I better read one or two blog posts about it to get myself up to date. This is how I see it. Podcasting is the production and syndication of audio clips that are listened to either on an MP3 player, like Apple's iPod (hence the name Pod-casting I think!)or even on your simple desktop computer). Much the same way that blog posts can be syndicated. (If you'd like a more comprehensive treatment of this definition see this link in the Wikipedia.) It's neat because you get to "hear" the presenter; however, I don't think it's better than blog postings. Blog postings can have hyperlinks in them or pictures in them and they can have the comment feature enabled where visitors can contribute to a discussion around the posting. What I love about this is the reader-to-content interaction (i.e. text, hyperlinks and pictures) and the reader-to-reader or reader-to-author interaction (i.e. adding comments to blog posts). I really love the interactivity here. It's a multi-layered pull technology where visitors construct their learning. They decide to read text, click links for other related info and write comments to share their ideas.

Now switch your brain back to the podcasting idea. The reader ... or rather listener... listens to the audio. If that's all it is, then it is a simple, and unidimensional, pull technology. Now don't get me wrong here ... there is lots of value in hearing someone speak. You can learn from someone's thoughtful insight even if it's unidimensional audio. (Unfortunately, can can't easily search audio for specific terms in the same way as you can search for specific text.)

All that being said... a better way to use podcasting would be to integrate it into a framework of a blog. This way people could still have the multi-layered pull technology where audio is simply another layer in addition to the text, hyperlinks and picture information.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Sofia Open Courseware Project

In the same vein as the MIT Open Content initiative, the recently released Sofia initiative (by Foothill College's Distance & Mediated Learning program in California) is now publishing open content courses. Under a Creative Commons License, other institutions may re-purpose the work published by the Sophia project for non-commercial use.

This type of "content sharing" is an interesting and noble idea in my opinion. The most important aspect to me is that it offers a glimpse into how other people design online courses (or onsite classroom courses). It gives people ideas on how to design, develop and deploy online courses that may differ significantly from the way in which online courses are presented at their institutions. With this field still rapidly evolving, the process of examination of other people's work is a very valuable tool in the online curriculum development process.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

WebCT Compile Demo: Now audio enabled!

I spent 20 minutes this morning putting audio on top of the WebCT Compile Tool Demo that was made with Macromedia Captivate. (See the Dec 15th posting below). I ran out of hosting space on my Queen's server so I have hosted this new audio-enabled Flash movie on the RMC password protected WebCT server. Use EricGuest as both the userid and password at the login screen. (Note the userid and password are case sensitive.) Also, remember to turn on your speakers or plug-in your headphones(*grin*).

Ok, the techies will be glad to note that the output file size only grew 82 kb with the addition of audio (from 303 kb to 385 kb ... only a 27.1% increase). That's amazingly reasonable after audio was added!!! The larger audio-enabled Flash movie is still reasonably short to download even at slow speeds (55 sec @56Kbps and 2 sec @cable).