Archive for November, 2005

Fun And Games

Nov 26th, 2005

Kurt Squire asks: How can video games be used to improve online learning?

Long seen as wastes of time and even as social black sheep, video games may now add important elements to online education.

In his article " Changing the Game: What Happens When Video Games Enter the Classroom?&lrquo; Squire notes:

Over the past few years, games have gone from social pariahs to the darlings of the media, technology, and now educational industries. E-learning educators in particular stand to learn a lot about building next-generation learning environments from games.

While online courses are usually little more than "online course notes," games offer entire worlds to explore. While educators wonder if it is possible to create good online learning communities, game designers create virtual societies with their own cultures, languages, political systems, and economies.While completion rates for online courses barely reach 50%, gamers spend hundreds of hours mastering games, writing lengthy texts, and even setting up their own virtual "universities" to teach others to play games. In short, while e-learning has a reputation for being dull and ineffective, games have developed a reputation for being fun, engaging, and immersive, requiring deep thinking and complex problem solving.Yet another fascinating possibility in the world of online education.

Posted by Rhys Alexander

Class Lectures: Delivered

Nov 26th, 2005

This January, UC Irvine biology professor Adam Summers will be the first professor at the university to offer lectures in a podcast format. Summers, who also worked as a technical consultant on the hit film " Finding Nemo,&lrquo; feels that this method will give his classes-often containing as many as 350 students-better ACCESS to the course material.

The Orange County Register Reports:

" It can be hard to write down new scientific terms and try to understand what they mean while I'm talking.&lrquo;

While many are thrilled by the development, some students foresee potential problems:

Brian Sears, a UCI senior who will take Summers' class in January, said, "Some students do have trouble listening and taking notes at the same time. But I hope it doesn't become a crutch for people, because it won't be available in other classes."Posted by Rhys Alexander

From Boardroom To Classroom

Nov 23rd, 2005

Theories and strategies move from the boardroom to the classroom: business intelligence (BI) software is now being used on college campuses, for things such as boosting enrollment and funds.

This is another sign that higher education is indeed becoming a business, to the delight of some, and the chagrin of many others.

Campus Technology examines this development:

Whether it's to dramatically improve enrollment numbers and quality levels, or boost advancement dollars, the latest analytic theories and database marketing strategies are making a huge difference on college and university campuses nationwide. And although Business Intelligence (BI) software is the newest find for many US schools, many of these insightful approaches go beyond basic BI tools, which are fundamentally designed to help technologists and administrators turn masses of data into sensible reports. Instead, these newer approaches provide more targeted methods of, say, attracting prospective students or communicating with alumni who donate most frequently. These newer tactics organize business intelligence in a way that benefits users across the institution.

Posted by Rhys Alexander

Trends In Online Education

Nov 23rd, 2005

The Sloan Consortium, a leader in the research of trends in online education, is now offering a free condensed version of volume 6 in their Sloan-C series, " Elements of Quality Online Education: Engaging Communities.&lrquo;

The book offers a fascinating peek into the world of online education, and goes further to examine how online education can improve the quality of ' face-to-face' education.

Contents include working to increase online education, examining the business of education, and more.

Online education has become the leading modality for distance education, and academic leadership expects online enrollment to grow as much as 25% per year. Thus, a central challenge to the nation is how to engage communities to make education " an ordinary part of everyday life.&lrquo;

To address this challenge, leading scholars and practitioners from forty colleges, universities and organizations gathered at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation's annual invitational summer workshop in September 2004.

Workshop papers collected here in Elements of Quality Online Education: Engaging Communities, volume six in the annual Sloan-C quality series, include provocative responses to these questions: How can online pedagogy improve face-to-face pedagogy? How can asynchronous learning networks engage the core of higher education? How can the two worlds of academia and industry cooperate to contribute to a tenfold increase in online learning in the next ten years? What do we need to learn about the business of education?

It is interesting to note the use of a traditional publishing method: education will never be completely online, but will offer a variety of choice for future students.

Posted by Rhys Alexander

Online Education Check-Up

Nov 22nd, 2005

In our hectic, widespread world, it should come as no surprise that online education is growing in popularity. Some statistics may be surprising, though.

The 2005 edition of " Growing by Degrees: Online Education in the United States&lrquo; is the third annual report covering online higher education in America.

The Sloan Consortium provides highlights from this fascinating text:

Sixty-five percent of schools offering graduate face-to-face courses also offer graduate courses online. Among all schools offering face-to-face Business degree programs, 43% also offer online Business programs … Staffing for online courses does not come at the expense of core faculty. Institutions use about the same mixture of core and adjunct faculty to staff their online courses as they do for their face-to-face courses. Instead of more adjunct faculty teaching online courses, the opposite is found; overall, there is a slightly greater use of core faculty for teaching online than for face-to-face. The evidence from higher education's academic leaders suggests that there is a strong trend upwards in considering online education as part of a school's long-term strategy. While there is some diversity in response to this question, there is growth among all types of schools:

Posted by Rhys Alexander

Online Education Gets A Facelift

Nov 16th, 2005

Students and professors who complain that online education is impersonal may soon have a solution to their problem.

Researchers at Florida State University's Center for Research of Innovative Technologies for Learning (RITL) are creating " pedagogical agents&lrquo; : moving, talking characters who ' teach' courses through the computer.

Read more on this innovative development :Depending on the underlying system's intelligence, students can interact with such characters in ways similar to their interaction with a human teacher. Pedagogical agents can adapt to the student's strengths and weaknesses in a particular subject and provide emotional and cognitive feedback, which makes the computer more user-friendly and improves learning and motivation.It's nice to see Florida State being recognized for something other than being the #1 party school in America.

Posted by Rhys Alexander

Online Courses Offer Convenience, Hope

Nov 14th, 2005

Always appreciated for their flexibility, online classes now do so much more: provide opportunities for victims of Hurricane Rita.

Months later, people everywhere are still feeling the fallout of the hurricane, even in the classroom.

All Headline News reports:

A new trend in academic education is online courses. These courses, taken by college students seeking freedom and flexibility, now prove a lifesaver for students in the battered gulf coast.

Thirty-one-year-old Polita Ebanks was taking her final semester of nursing pre-requisite courses at Nunez Community College when she fled Hurricane Katrina with her husband and three children. Though her family safely evacuated, her home was destroyed.

"At first I thought my plans, my hopes and my dreams were gone," said Ebanks. "But a wonderful family from a local church here in Memphis, where we have been living since evacuating, gave me a computer and I just took my first quiz online."


Several of my colleagues have this article taped to their office walls. Technology doesn't just offer oohs and ahs: it offers hope.

Posted by Rhys alexander

No Need To Fear Merger

Nov 14th, 2005

The two powerhouses of learning management system software are merging, to the delight, and the disgust, of online teachers and administrators everywhere.

From eSchool News:

The top two providers of learning management system (LMS) software and services for higher education, Blackboard Inc. and WebCT Inc., have announced an agreement to merge. The merger would leave the combined entity with more than 80 percent of the LMS market share in higher education, which includes the software platforms that drive online learning. The impending deal has a price tag reported to be approximately $180 million.

Blackboard says the transaction will combine two academic eLearning organizations into a single company with the client base, resources, and expertise to meet the rapidly evolving needs of educators around the world. But the deal also has the potential to squeeze out other LMS providers and reduce competition, some observers fear.


Many teachers, feeling they have just tackled the intricacies of one or the other, are not looking forward to learning a new system.

Campus Technology offers some transition tips:

Use the merger news to heighten awareness of the growing nature of eLearning as critical institutional infrastructure. Attention is the scarcest resource in any social system. Use this interest to your maximum advantage–for about one month folks might listen.

De-couple, to the extent you are able, the pieces of course creation, ACCESS and delivery. Research content management systems that can be called from any course management system, place a campus level authentication system in front of the CMS authentication system. What a great opportunity to begin developing a solid single-sign-on approach to campus authentication–unplug one service, plug-in the next.

Posted by Rhys Alexander

Product Spotlight: The SMART Board 600

Nov 14th, 2005

Many online courses employ a 'mixed' format; that is, students are required to attend one or several 'real life' classroom sessions in addition to the online elements. Instructors used to the ease of technology are often anxious to enjoy the same benefits in a traditional classroom, which is the subject of this review.

Every teacher wants one: the SMART board. At least the teachers at my school do; each semester sees a desperate fight to snag the classroom equipped with one of these wonders.


SMART Technologies provides the highlights and offers a virtual tour:

Write, erase and perform mouse functions with your finger, a pen or an eraser – you need no proprietary tools.

Pick up a pen or the eraser, and the pen tray automatically detects which tool you've selected. Buttons activate the On-Screen Keyboard, right-click and help function.

Capture your work to SMART Board software as a screen shot that you can edit, or save your notes directly into several software applications, including Windows versions of Microsoft PowerPoint, Word and Excel, or into AutoCAD software.

Bonuses go beyond technology. I quizzed my fellow instructors and they invariably mentioned two advantages: It allows for ease of instruction as it is much easier for students to see and follow, and it allows students to come to the front of the classroom and share their own work, thus improving classroom interaction.

It's definitely not your mother's chalkboard.

Posted by Rhys Alexander

Teaching Online: A Delicate Balance

Nov 14th, 2005

I was finally settling into my first semester of teaching online classes, smoothing out the technological problems, learning to place names without faces. Though the forum was no substitute for live, vivid classroom discussion, it provided a nice place for students to post their thoughts and debate issues.

One of my students, Josh, had contacted me several times through e-mail regarding health issues. I had him make an appointment to stop by my office and see me, so we could decide whether to let Josh attempt some make-up assignments, or whether he should drop the course and try again next semester.

He came by the following week exactly at his appointment time. A thin, friendly looking young man, he smiled when he saw me. "Is Professor alexander here?"

"That's me."

"What?" he frowned, then his face cleared. "Professor Rhys Alexander. Are you his wife?"

I was confused for a moment, then remembered that I had mentioned in my online biography that my husband also taught at the same school.

"No, I'm Rhys. You're Josh, right? Theories of Literature?"

"But …" He shook his head. "I thought you were a guy."

"Nope." My name is androgynous, but I hadn't considering the possibility of that mistake happening.

His expression changed from confusion to anger. "But I told you things. Personal things."

His health problems had been gender-related, though I hadn't been at all shocked by them. After working with students for so long, I'd heard just about everything.

"I can't believe you didn't tell me you were a woman."

"It doesn't matter. Josh–"

"Never mind." He walked away. The next day, he dropped the class.

He was the first student who'd ever dropped one of my courses, and it stung. It had never occurred to me to mention my gender online …true, we were anonymous to each other in an online course, but I never thought it would matter.

Which really got me thinking: how much are we responsible for revealing about ourselves in an anonymous classroom environment? Had I failed Josh in some way? Where do we strike a balance, between the faceless online classroom and the personal connection every student needs?

A whole lot of us–the teachers and the students– are still trying to figure it out.


Posted by Rhys Alexander
(Photo Source: Art of the Mix)