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