Thursday, April 16, 2009

Distance Education Thoughts

From industrial education to transactional distance to Second Life! The world of distance education that we were thrown into has been a fun and stretching learning experience. I have enjoyed it and really never imagined it could be as complex as it is. And yet, I have seen just a small piece of the research, tools, principles, theories and application of all of these to attempt to help learners in a distance setting.

If I were to summarize a few key points and things I want to continue to learn about they would be:
1) What type of content and learners do best in distance education? I think distance learning requires active self-learning, students taking responsibility for the learning and outcomes. You have to do a lot more than in a normal class. I also think that more and more content areas are effectively learned in a distributed setting because of the technology advances. Despite that it seems that it is easier to create distance courses that require less collaboration (e.g. Norm’s accounting class, independent study, and other similar things have existed for quite some time and have done well).

2) Theories. There are quite a few theories out there yet I felt like the researchers constantly said that the framework for distance education research and principles was lacking due to lack of good theories that describe distance education. Some of the main theories that seem to be consistently coming up in the research were transactional distance and types of interaction (Moore and others), communities of practice and communities of inquiry, theories for technology use, conversational theory and others.

3) Practical knowledge. Being a newbie to the program I loved the hands on practical things we learned. They were also very helpful in other settings. Some of them were doing a class at a distance, creating surveys, open coding, seeing the independent study, learning about copyright, line item analysis, using some of the available tools in class (Breeze, SL, Skype, shared docs, blogs, and any mixture of this list to make it work J), and there are probably others that I am forgetting.

I feel like there is a lot to learn in distance education and I see no slowing down in the discipline. Some of the things that still boggle my mind are how to use the right amount and effectively facilitate collaboration, how to help institutions get “on board” and accept distance education as a legit learning medium (and how to reduce low-quality programs so this can happen), how to balance and use both asynchronous and synchronous tools effectively to just name a few.

Surveys- Qualtrics

I really enjoyed our class on surveys and using Qualtrics. Props to whoever said Larry Seawright could help out with some customizations, I think that was Peter. I called Larry and asked him to create a template with the MTC logo and he was all for it. Anyway, since I found out about it I have started 2 surveys and completed one. It will eventually evolve to be a survey we’ll use at work with the international MTCs (I have posted a few of the questions at the end of this post). For me the significance of this tool is fairly large since we can quickly gather information and feedback from MTC teachers and managers from all over the world.
With the advent of many free and inexpensive survey tools surveys seem to have spring up all over. If you Google surveys your first sites will deal with MySpace, Survey Monkey and advertisements for fun surveys. I think “fun surveys” that are appearing in online networks and advertising could be better leveraged for education. I think that every survey I have ever taken for school has been a post class survey. One application that comes to mind is that a professor or teacher could survey the students before the class starts to find out expectations, get to know them, and also by nature of the survey communicate some expectations of the class. Just knowing expectations would help a teacher know how to go about teaching the course a little differently or how to express their expectations. This may help change students perception of the class before they even get into it. This could be particularly helpful in a blended or distance class where there is more opportunity to cater the class to different students due to the increased on-on-one interaction. By referring to fun surveys I simply mean that the surveys don’t have to be boring. I saw one professor share with his students some comments from surveys which had me laughing my head off. “Is your mustache the source of your knowledge, if it is don’t set so difficult questions because most of us don’t have mustache.“ “He combs his mustache but not his hair.” “No grass on the busy road, no hair on the clever head.” “The world is peaceful when you stop talking.” You could tell he loved interacting with the students and had a way of connecting with them. Some interesting or even humorous questions that students could see some results to or the final summary could help a class begin to feel a small connection to the classmates and the teacher that they haven’t met yet.
How much time has the manager of training and operations dedicated to training activities this month? (¿Cuánto tiempo ha dedicado el gerente a asuntos de capacitación este mes?)
Less than 50% (menos de 50%)
Si menos de 50% ¿porqué
How many hours of formal training from the manager have the teachers received this month? (¿Cuántas horas de capacitación formal han recibido los maestros de parte del gerente este mes?)
Mas que 4
For each session indicate the topic and duration. If you had less than 5 sessions (which is likely) leave the others blank. For example, if you had 2 sessions fill out the first two rows and leave the rest blank. (Para cada sesión indique el tema (o los temas) y la duración. Hay espacio para cinco sesiones pero no es necesario llenarlos todos. Por ejemplo si solo tuvo 2 sesiones llenen los primeras dos filas y dejen los otros blanco.)

Column Options
Column Options
1° session 1 hora2 horas3 horas4 horas5 horas
2° session 1 hora2 horas3 horas4 horas5 horas
3° session 1 hora2 horas3 horas4 horas5 horas
4° session 1 hora2 horas3 horas4 horas5 horas
5° u otra sesión 1 hora2 horas3 horas4 horas5 horas

Indique el tema para cada sesión

Please rate the manager in the following categories. (Por favor asigne un valor al gerente para cada categoria a continuación.)
Slider scale garphic with rating scale of 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
Energía y entusiasmo
Abilidad de captar atención
Menos uso de texto en PowerPoint

Education in Second Life

Previous to our class in Second Life I knew what it was but had only seen it once and that was on The Office when Dwight was flying around hilariously looking like himself, check it out Anyway, maybe because of my lack of experience it was interesting to have a class in there. Though I think there are a lot of moral implications I have no intention of getting into that here because I think if you wanted to find a virtual world that could be used for education and controlled to keep out unwanted things I think you could. Just from an education perspective I think that education in virtual worlds is a mixed bag.

In distance education I think collaboration, environment and social presence are difficult things that some people would like to improve. The avatar issue is complex but may help some of these things in an educational setting. I found a little article that described interaction in distance education. The researcher wrote a commentary on their findings aside from the paper and said that, “Verbal immediacy behaviors can lessen the psychological distance between communicators online; overall sense of social presence is linked to learning (”

It seems that with an avatar you could potentially increase the sense of social presence and there could be an increase in verbal immediacy. The question is if the avatar can facilitate those things better than a real life web cam call or video conference? I have little experience with avatars but I think there is something to seeing how people portray themselves which would add to the social presence aspect. I think immediacy is a tossup.

As I researched some links related to the readings I came across a blogger who focuses on the business aspect of second life. He felt the avatars and the perspectives in virtual worlds could help people have more thought out conversations.

“As it turns out meeting with someone in a virtual space to have a conversation makes things quite a bit easier from another perspective: it lets you “take a step back” from the issue, think about it logically, and then contribute with something far more sane and sober than you might have otherwise.

This theory has actually been borne out among therapists who have been using virtual spaces for PTSD and conflict resolution with great success. Being somewhere and speaking to someone is one thing, but taking a step back and seeing yourself with someone having a conversation is something different altogether”

I suppose if someone views the virtual conversation how they will say it and thinks about it long enough to “give themselves feedback” they might adjust what they would add to the conversation. I don’t know how many people would do that but there might be something to it. Anyway, avatars aside I think in some ways we are taking a step back in technology use as we hop into second life. This may be pure ignorance of what can be done in virtual worlds but in a video conference training I can have tons of resources at my fingertips including video, audio, PowerPoint, white boards etc. When you step into a virtual world you seem to lose all that technology. That sounds a little ironic since the fact you can have a virtual space is pretty amazing but it limits the kinds of interactions you can have around content.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Test Blueprints and Instruction/Assessment Alignment

I had some thoughts in my class notes from our lectures with Scott and wanted to get some of them out on the blog. Here they are:

Test blueprints help align instruction with tests. During class Scott mentioned that hardly anyone uses them. In fact it seems that he mentioned that those who mainly use test blueprints are involved in the development of state, national and professional assessments. I wondered why when it seemed like such a no brainer to align instruction with assessments. And then I looked at some sample test blueprints. It became very clear why faculty doesn’t use them. How they are done varies greatly. In most cases they probably seem unnecessarily complex and they are not the most intuitive tools to use. I doubt most faculty have the time to just figure it out and I can’t imagine a faculty member in the math department, or any other, sits there thinking, “ah man I need to get my test blueprint done.” Without support how could we expect them to do so. Also, depending on the type of blueprint you may finish one and then wonder what the next step is or how it will really translate into the actual assessment(s).

I think an interesting project would be to create a self-guided online or at least computer guided test-blueprint tool. It could walk professors through the steps of the blueprint creation and provide practical suggestions for the course instruction, assessment plan, and tests. All based on what the professor indicated were the objectives and desired outcomes.

I am sure creating such a tool would be a complex issue but I think it could be done. Having a blueprint would help the faculty be one step closer to aligning instruction and assessment. However, not only is it necessary to align assessment and instruction but there is an ever growing need to align the delivery method of instruction with the delivery of assessments. This does not seem to be addressed in the blueprints I saw nor do I think the online blueprint creation tool could ensure that. That alignment becomes not only a design issue but a resource and environment issue. I’ll leave that discussion for people much smarter than myself

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Before our copyright class I knew very little about the process, rights, and fair use. With that disclaimer to my ignorance it seems to me that the TEACH act restricts user rights in a distance ed context.

The second issue is that I think that it is more restrictive than the more general fair use act. Part of the benefits of distance education is that it can be very different from the learning that happens F2F yet the TEACH act seems to assume that a distance ed course should use resources like they would be used F2F.

There are also many restrictions. Here are a couple of examples:

Many things that are NOT DONE in a F2F setting are also being required such as:
*Provide accurate copyright information and promote copyright compliance
*Provide notice to students that course materials may be protected by copyright
*Perhaps this is necessary but if we don't do it F2F why require it online?

Another thing required that does not seem to be enforced at all are the following:
*Retention of the work in accessible form by students for longer than the class session; and
*Unauthorized further dissemination of the work in accessible form by such recipients to others.


It seems that one of the benefits of distance ed is that you could access previous materials that were helpful. I know that has been the case for me with some classes that have posted the class syllabus with links and references on an open site.

I agree with Clark that the TEACH act didn't help us a whole lot. In fact it may not have been all that necessary. It seems to me that the general guidelines in the fair use act covered all the uses with exception of one or two that could have been easily clarified rather than creating a new act and revising a whole section of code 110 (2).

If I knew more I may not have this view but from what I know this is how I see it.

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