Sunday, November 7, 2010

Trends in Distance Education

In some ways, reading the Moore and Kearsley chapter and the Horizon Report can seem surreal. Technological developments including Artificial Intelligence and holographs are posed as coming into common use. How will organizations evolve to deal with the rapidity of resultant educational change? How will teaching and learning evolve? For the blog post for Block 5, please consider the questions sets from the Instructor Notes and post your comments to the issues noted below.

Mobile Learning
Will mobile learning become a delivery method for distance education? If not mobile learning, what delivery method do you think may become commonplace? What types of authentic learning and collaborative activities can be devised for these new environments? How does learning change? What are the benefits? The drawbacks?

Education and Commercialization
What do you think about the integration of corporate business practices and decision-making with post secondary learning? Are our learners really 'customers' for social networking corporations? What role should education play? What are the implications for learners? Teachers? The future?

Preparing for the Future
How can you prepare or expand your instructional skills to integrate emerging technologies? How do we help instructors prepare?

Open Topics Section
Here is where you can post your thoughts and reflections on topics that are of concern and interest to you that don’t fit in the topics above.


  1. As technology is rapidly changing, it only makes sense that the delivery of DE changes with it. Moore and Kearsley (2005) refer to these changes as being both dramatic and disappointing. I agree with this argument about how technology is changing DE classes. It is amazing and astounding how quickly technology is changing and the opportunities these changes have created. Connections between instructors and participants in a course can be instantaneous and meaningful. With simply a few clicks we can connect to individuals all over the world face-to-face video conversations. Students can observe demonstrations, ask questions and receive instant feedback. As the capabilities of technology expand, there will be even greater implications for DE. For example 3D and holographic technology could work to remove spatial barriers that can exist DE instruction today.

    I also see the disappointing aspect that Moore and Kearsley are referring to. They reflect that technology is not being used to its full potential and that the learning experience could be so much richer for students than it is. They also connect the disappointment to the production of current DE courses. As technology becomes more widely available, the quantity of DE courses is increasing, but the quality in some cases is decreasing. There has been a shift away from courses that are mass-produced with the support of a production team. This leads to a need for organizational change. Instead of several institutions each creating similar courses, one course could be produced and shared amongst several institutions. Moore and Kearsley express concern over the current state of DE by stating that there is a “multiplicity of courses and course material and services that are delivered by thousands of independent providers at the national level. These courses are usually very similar, but because of underinvestment they often fall short of the highest quality” (p. 295).

    I believe that this multiplicity of courses will need to be addressed as more and more K-12 institutions adopt DE models. Many school divisions in our province are creating OL courses. As this trend continues, it may be determined that a meaningful approach to DE may be too much for any one division. A large scale, provincial virtual school would probably be more a fiscally sound approach. This would allow for a pooling of resources and specialization.

    Mobile learning will play a significant role in DE in the very near future. The 2010 Horizon Report gives the statistics that 4 billion people worldwide have access to a mobile. 1 billion phones are being produced each year and the majority are smartphones. With statistics like this, it only would make sense that DE would use this medium of delivery. One of the greatest advantages is the flexibility that mobiles provide. Being able to access course material anytime anywhere is a very attractive feature. Since many who participate in DE courses are working around busy family and work schedules this would be perfect mode of delivery.

    Mobiles also can bring a new level of collaboration as they allow quick access to social networks and other sites that allow classmates to share their thoughts. However, there are issues connected with the use of some social networks in education. Freisen (2010) in his article, Education and the Social Web. Connective Learning and the Commercial Imperative, reflects on these issues. He expresses concerns about the increased commercialization of the Internet, in particular social networks, and the impact on education. Targeted advertising and commercialization may not bother us when we use these sites for personal use, but we need to be concerned about these issues when networking sites are used in education. It is important that we address these issues of commercialization with students so they can be informed and educated users of technology. Technology is not only a medium to present information, teachers must teach students to be smart users of technology.

  2. I want to add to my previous comment by focusing on mobile technology in k-12 education. I was formulating my thoughts sitting in my van waiting to pick my daughter up from school and started to wish that my mobile phone had web access so I could get some work done. I grabbed my pen and paper and started to jot done some thoughts.

    I am sure that mobile tech will play a role in k-12 DE. Many youth, and adults, are attached to mobile tech. It is not uncommon to observe a group of youth all listening to music and text messaging the person next to them. The reading from last block, State of E-learning in Canada (2009), refers to these individuals as being differently social, not anti-social.

    I have questions and concerns about the role of mobile learning in a blended classroom environment. I see the benefits to incorporating mobile learning. The 2010 Horizon Report provides several examples of how mobiles can be incorporated in a meaningful way. I also have concerns. The first is the potential misuse of the technology. There could be privacy issues surrounding video capabilities and the technology could potentially be a distraction, but some could argue that these distractions are Net Gens' version of passing notes. I could also see issues surrounding those who can afford the technology and those who cannot.

    I wanted to see what research was out there and found a great source of information. Early in the course we discussed the impact that Sesame Street had on DE. I found a report on Mobile Learning that was developed through The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. Authored by Carly Shuler, Pockets of Potential: Using Mobile Technologies to Promote Children's Learning addresses using mobile technology in the classroom. I have skimmed through the report and have gathered that the report touches on both the positives and the drawbacks of mobile technology. It also addresses why mobile learning is an important topic in education today. If you are interested in more information, there is also a radioblog where Carly Shuler is interviewed on a show called Cells Phones in Learning, where one of the hosts is Liz Kolb, author of Toys to Tools:Connecting Student Cell Phones to Learning.

  3. In my own practice we do a lot of thinking about emerging technologies and how to best integrate them into our teaching. I am constantly tempted by the newest camera technology or editing software and I catch myself looking for ways to both justify the cost and decide how I could justify using new (expensive) technology in my teaching.

    So I like that Moore and Kearsley (2005) reference my favorite media guru McLuhan and his four Laws of Media - through Liz Burge (2001). Burge converts the Laws into questions and asks what a new technology intensifies, enhances (or renders obsolete…)?

    Burge suggests that when a new technology does not create drastic changes in learning and teaching then one must rely on an understanding of good basic principles to help find a fit for the technology. So I suppose that while I might not be able to immediately imagine useful ways to incorporate "Smelly TV" or AI in Distance Education, some combination of learner and teaching practice could make use of them.

    I agree with Amy's points about using (or not) technology to it's full potential in DE and the idea of a larger scale virtual school and I agree that having too many options or online courses can be a problem. The International Baccalaureate Organization is perhaps a good example of a world-wide system that is developing a large scale online course with a unified sense of curriculum design and technology integration.

    On another note - I thoroughly enjoyed Nicholas Carr's musing on Google (Carr, 2008) and the amorality of Web 2.0 (Carr, 2005). Carr is a funny and insightful writer and I particularly liked how he traced the ideas of "intellectual technologies" and the effect they have (and/or people were afraid they would have) on our cognitive abilities.

    The idea of spreading ourselves thin, as suggested by Carr, in order to reach out as far as possible into the Network and losing the quiet spaces in other parts of our lives is frightening to me. This also relates to the idea that technology has no morality and so it makes it even more important for us as teachers to be involved, not to be a moral compass online necessarily, but to be human and to stay connected with our students as "humanly" as the technology permits.

  4. In pondering an obvious but oft overlooked reality addressed by Moore and Kearsley – most textual information is “born digital” – I wondered at my own inadequate methods of stylus and paper note taking for this block’s readings, recalling the harried attempts to organize the scrawlings I’d made on the backs of articles, my inability to decipher the words amid the coffee cup stains and dog eared edges derived from numerous transports in my purse or laptop case. Where was that blog post I printed? Where are my point form notes and outline? Ah, yes, my summary of the Horizon report was done while waiting for my daughter to finish piano lessons (sound familiar Amy?). Here they are, neatly stored on my Black Berry, hmmmm. Many of my teachers complain students never have pens, papers, binders or texts with them in class. I have made a career out of documenting locker violations for binders and texts carelessly tossed aside in our school’s commons – days go by before students reclaim, and I wonder now if our rage and frustration and more importantly our perception of the “violation” has been misplaced? Do students ever leave their iPods or cel phones “laying around’ – most teachers wish they would arrive without them but that is certainly not the case! So back to the statement that most information is born digitally, if we are truly attempting to create authentic learning environments in face to face instruction why would we ignore how technology has changed the access to , and generation of information? Would we expect students to use chalk slates when they could use paper, or quills and ink when they can use ball point pens? Weren’t these emerging technologies? Were they met with as much opposition and suspicion?
    The reasons for the skepticism, I think, are twofold: fear and applicability. How can we be sure that literacy skills for example can be served by digital communication? Nicholas Carr makes a great point highlighted by Jay in his post, is Google making us dumber? What about deep reading comprehension and the value of silence to promote critical reflection? The internet is hardly silent – pop up windows stating “You’re a winner!” or links to the next great product illustrate all too well his point about the amorality of the web and Norm Friesen’s assessment that social networks are less about knowledge and more about connecting users to advertisers. In K-12 education where we act in loci parentis can we expose our students to these risks? In our attempt to meet the challenge outlined in the Horizon Report of adapting teaching and learning to meet the needs of the letters, can we afford not to embrace the potential of Web 2, mobile technologies, and gesture based computing, can we afford not to?

  5. When we try to prepare for the future of K-12 education and distance learning, I believe there are several challenges to consider, and contrary to popular belief, teacher preparation is probably at the bottom of the list! Teachers by nature are independent learners, valuing learning for the sake of learning. They are also creative and innovative. As budgets continue to decline, I have no doubt that teachers will rely more heavily on Web 2.0 tools as instructional resources which will be enthusiastically supported by school divisions understanding the benefits: cost-effectiveness in terms of software and technical support, convenience, and cultural trendiness! Blended instruction is not only the way of the future, but it will become the norm in both K-12 and Higher Learning institutions with Distance Learning continuing to be the pioneer of media innovation, and moving into the mainstream as the primary adult educational forum.
    However, the greater challenge for education may very well be student preparation! As education relies more on technology, economically disadvantaged students who do not have access to mobile devices or even personal computers will be even further behind. For those who do have access, the question will be how we prepare them for the challenge of deconstructing digital text in terms of the quality of information, both accessed and generated. It used to be that seeing was believing - students read it on the internet, so it must be so. Educators responded by explicit instruction in critical analysis skills – teaching students to authenticate sources, evaluate the message, determine who sponsored the study, determine bias, etc. However, a more dangerous trend observed by myself and colleagues recently is inherent cynicism! Students know that just because some “guy tweeted” it doesn’t make it so, thus, there is a reluctance to accept anything that they read as valuable, relevant, or even factual! They conjure up “grassy knoll” conspiracy theories over the most irrefutable bits of essential knowledge, questioning why is the square of three nine, are we sure? Is the grass really green? Granted, this is fairly typical for teenagers, but has instant access to information contributed to their skepticism? Has the ability to easily research or investigate anything via the “University of Google” made them blasé about the power of inquiry, the thrill of fact finding? One wonders from where the drive for innovative and critical thinking will come in this new generation of learners who can easily consume twelve years of curriculum based facts within days. Will more exciting technological innovations such as gesture based computing or simple augmented reality reinstate their wonder in learning and critical thinking or make them more apathetic? I think education’s biggest challenge is not implementing technology innovations into learning in exciting ways, but learning how to excite students about innovation! We need to teach them to question the right things and seek and discover their own creative innovations to advance society’s collective knowledge for the future.

  6. Regarding Education and Commercialization:

    It is true that more and more education institutes are partnering with corporate businesses today, just like Pearson and eCollege did a couple of years ago. People like Matthew Leavy believe that learners will benefit from the integration because it expands learners’ access to education, especially the integration between Web2.0, social networking tool and e-learning. However, a critical comment from Norm Friesen argues that

    "commercial social networks are much less about circulating knowledge than they are about connecting users ('eyeballs') with advertisers; it is not the autonomous individual learner, but collective corporate interests that occupy the centre of these networks."

    For myself, I think we should try to be more objective about it. It seems strange that when I am thinking about online education and commercialization, the word “fast food restaurant” jumped into my mind naturally. Yes, I want to metaphase online education as “fast food” in education. This is not only because the online courses vendors are mainly focus on working adults who need the convenience of online courses, try to reduce the barriers such as physical location limitation and schedule confliction, but also because it can satisfy the needs to empower their knowledge and skills flexibly.

    I agree that learners are customers for social networking corporations and education institutes to a certain degree. The only difference is that networking corporations are strongly driven by interests while education institutes still have the responsibility of circulate knowledge and skills. Fast food is necessary and welcomed in our life, while we also need to watch for the side effects and try to maintain a healthy food habits. There is no doubt the customer – eater is the one who should responsible for their health. The same answer fits for the question in education. However, education institutes should help learners to make a clever decision. In the integration between web tools and online education, education institutes should think about how to balance the different driven factors so that we still can reach education goals at last.

    Education must play a leader role in the integration. Networking tool is only a method used for connecting learners. It will enhance attraction of online education if we can use it wisely. In future, I see networking tool as a great assistant in distance education.

    Therefore, I think the biggest challenge that educators are facing today is not only need to consider course content and course design, they also need to learn how to use web tools sensibly and how to instruct their students to take the advantages while watch for the side-effects.

  7. Regarding future DE:

    It is a reality that technology is not being used to its full potential in DE, just as what Moore and Kearsley point out. I also agree with what Amy and Jay mentioned above that we should use technology to a higher potential level to rich students’ learning experience. However, I am pretty doubt the feasibility of establishing a larger scale virtual school, for example a national wide system in Canada, not mention a world-wide DE system. I think the biggest barrier to do so is not lies in technology factor but in education system itself for a single country, and country system in international system.

    In the article A Snapshop state of the nation: K-12 online learning in Canada, Dr. Michael Barbour and Robin Stewart pointed out that education is a provincial jurisdiction and there is no federal department has the responsibility to conduct development and research of K-12 online learning in Canada. This situation directly lead to the result that several institutions each creating similar courses, which is a low level duplication behaviour. The shortage of federal guidelines or standards leads to DE programmes at different quality levels among provinces and territories.

    Yes. Education system is facing challenges and must make changes to keep up with the development of technology. This is not only limited in content sharing, collaborative among education divisions. We might need to reconsider the whole education system and establish a new set of standards and evaluation system.

  8. Regarding mobile learning

    There is significant growth in the use of mobile technology by people around the world. A result with this phenomenon is that mobile learning has growing visibility and significance in education. Mobile learning allows anyone to access information and learning materials from anywhere and at anytime, through the use of wireless mobile technology. It is especially helpful to reach people who live in remote locations where there are no schools, teachers, or libraries.

    However, what is mobile learning exactly? What mobile learning means to individual?
    It is really difficult to find a clear definition for mobile learning in the literature. The most obviously definition of mobile education I can find define it purely in terms of its technologies and its hardware, namely that mobile learning is “learning delivered or supported solely or mainly by handheld and mobile technologies such as personal digital assistants (PDAs), smart phones or wireless laptop PCs” (Ally. M. 2009. p13). Compare to using mobile telephones devices, mobile learning using handheld computers is obviously relatively immature in terms of both its technologies and its pedagogies, although it is developing rapidly.

    Mobile learning is essentially personal, contextual, and situated, which is problematic both for definition and for evaluation. For each learner, mobile learning may mean learning whilst traveling, driving, sitting, or walking (just like Amy); it may be hands-free learning or eyes-free learning. To me, it sounds more sensible to posit mobile learning within informal learning, rather than formal learning. This is a reason that I think mobile learning may have no chance of sustained, wide-scale institutional deployment in formal education in the foreseeable future, at a distance or on site.

    Another reason is that in order to use mobile learning in formal education, educators and trainers must design learning materials for delivery on different types of mobile devices. The design of learning materials for mobile devices must follow good learning theories and proper instructional design for the learning to be effective. This is still a relatively immature field which still in trial and pilot stage. No matter mention the limitations within the devices such as large battery requirements, small screen, and limited memory card. Also the cost to purchase and operate mobile devices might be an extra burden for some students.
    Furthermore, implementing wireless and mobile learning within formal education must address social, cultural, and organizational factors. These issues can not be addresses in short period either. However, I see mobile learning has a huge potential space for using in workspace in-time, on-demand training.

  9. The future of technology use in DE seems to be almost unlimited. With mobile technology and open content being on the near horizon and in the distance electronic books and gesture-based computing, it will be interesting to see where technology goes over the course of the next 5 years, especially in relation to DE.
    How often do we observe students using their mobile device for some form of communicating? It is unbelievable how reliant people are becoming on their cell phone (myself included). I also have to agree with Kelley on her comment about students continually forgetting their pens, pencils, binders, textbooks, etc as they step into a classroom and so we choose to fight with them to remember those items, while we also choose to fight with them to leave their cell phones in their lockers, or at the very least in their pockets. Why do we continue to fight this battle? I also remember hearing a story from a fellow grad student about one of their students who got caught with his phone in class. When the teacher took it away and gave it to the principal, the student was called down to the office to discuss using the cell phone in class. When the student came down and the principal began to talk about the rules regarding cell phones in the school, the student told the principal that the phone didn’t work; he had found the phone and the battery was busted but he or his parents couldn’t afford to get him a phone so he carried this one around with him to look “cool”. Mobile technology is running rampant among our students…
    A logical step, then, would be to begin to utilize this technology in a classroom, distance or traditional. With the ability to receive data and communicate with classmates and instructors, mobile technology could allow students the opportunity to be logged into the classroom at all times from anywhere. However, I do have some reservations, one being the affordability of cell phones to everyone. If a class is only offered via mobile technology, in a K-12 setting all students would need to have access to a mobile technology, and this is not the case. Another big concern is around those students who may not be intrinsically motivated to do a class via mobile technology, or their learning style is not suited to mobile technology. I realize learning style differences could be argues no matter what the teaching style, but it is still one of my concerns. Finally, (I have to get my rural argument in!…) cell service in rural Saskatchewan is getting better, but there are still many locations that do not have service, making mobile technology useless. In my school, I have to be in my office standing on my head with the cell phone sitting at a 76o angle in order to get service (I am kidding, but only moderately!). This is another issue with mobile technology being used as a form of distance education.
    With all of the advancement in technology, ensuring teachers are able to use the technology is going to be extremely important. Providing professional development opportunities for teachers to learn how to use future technologies will become the jobs of school divisions and universities. In today’s K-12 schools, there are already teachers who individually implement different technologies as they learn about them. This is how I forsee further development within technology in the K-12 schools. Teachers already feel that their plates are overflowing with initiatives, and to add onto it new technology initiatives without dropping other things will not be a successful way to implement any new technologies.

  10. I am pretty sure that I don’t even know where to start with this discussion. I was lost this morning searching through the sessions available at the upcoming Global Education Conference. I will soon have to quit my full time job so I can have time to learn all of the things that I would like to be able to.

    I was wondering, as I was doing the reading for this block, how we avoid getting caught up in the excitement of new trends, but rather stay focused on learning. To quote Moore and Kearsley (2005) “Often good teaching materials and methods have been pushed aside in the rush of enthusiasm for something new, the attraction being merely the novelty, not the usefulness” (p.295). How do we keep up with what is authentic learning for our students, both in the classroom and at a distance, but not go overboard jumping on new trends with no end in mind?

    I found much of Nicolas Carr’s thoughts to be interesting. Is Google making us stupid? I have been caught up in this debate a number of times when discussing the struggle with leaving our content driven pedagogies to move on to student driven learning with various colleagues. I wonder sometimes if Google is making me helpless, not stupid. I was helping my son with a mapping assignment a few weeks ago and our internet was down. Apparently that rendered me helpless! I wrote a note back to the teacher that we had found all of the countries except for one, and we could not find it without the internet...Sorry. She wrote back to me to remind me that there was a map in the back of the very student agenda book I was writing in. In some ways I guess it is making us less fact knowledgeable, although I don’t remember too many of those facts I memorized in high school anyway.

    Nicholas Carr stated in his post titled, Amorality of web 2.0, “We’re all bodiless symbols speaking to symbols in symbols”. This made me think of how the web as given a voice to voiceless people. All of a sudden we can all publish and speak about topics at our free will. I have to wonder, does this create a false sense of security, especially in our students?

    So, what does this all have to do with distance education? I find it difficult to separate face-face education and distance education, because I feel that the same issues are being discussed with both. How do we find the right fit in the changing technological trends? We can have all the technology we want, but if teachers are not comfortable with using it in authentic ways, then having it available has little affect on what happens in either type of classroom. Moore and Kearsley state “Courses delivered on the Internet are very similar in content to what is taught by the same teachers in their conventional classrooms and teachers in conventional classrooms persist in projecting classroom practice as the norm” (p.298). A change in our thinking about pedagogy is necessary across the scope of education before we can really consider how all this technology plays a role. To go back to Nicholas Carr is his discussion on open source software, he states “peer production is a means of refining old rather than inventing new”. Maybe that sums in up right there. Do we get too concerned with everything new that we want to wipe our slate clean and start over with each new trend? Maybe what we already have isn’t so bad, and we just need to build on it rather than throwing it out to jump on a new technological band-wagon.

  11. I have to agree with Kelley's comment about the fight we have with students to come to class with their supplies and yet, at the same time we fight to keep them away from organizational tools (cell phone, I-pod) that could help them. I think that part of the responsibility goes deeper than students and teachers though. There is much education and change that is needed at the school division level and probably more at the department level. My personal experience is that some things that I would like to be able to do with the students in my classrooms are banned by school division rules and it requires a lot of work to be allowed to cross those lines that are drawn in the technological sand. Yes, we all know we have endless technology available. Yes, we all know that our students are using the mobile devices they all have in their pockets and are motivated by using them. Yes, we all know that teachers would like to try an integrate them, but feel overwhelmed and under confident to do so in a lot of cases. What I am not so sure that I know, at this point, is whether or not I have division decision makers behind me and the infrastructure available to support some of the things I would like to do with my students. What I think I need is system support. Is it possible the problem is not at the school level at all?

  12. The Horizon report discusses the relevance for teaching with regards to "mobile computing" - smart phones et al - and the Edinburgh "walking Through Time" application (page 11). This strikes me as the perfect combination of curriculum, technology, and action (curriculum in action) and could certainly work in a DE history course.

    Michelle's comment about lines in the "technological sand" is right on the mark. Sometimes those lines are economical and sometimes they are political and yes, perhaps the problem is beyond the school level - perhaps there are more overshadowing societal pressures or prejudices towards the use of these tools. Maybe more time and practical demonstrations (like the Edinburgh College of Art mapping project) are needed before budgeting for classroom mobile devices and acceptance of mobile learning can gain general acceptance.

    And when Ryan is not standing on his head in his office to make a phone call he makes an important point about affordability of mobile technology and PD opportunities to initiate teachers into best practices for same. I know I have to see practical evidence of any technologies usefulness and I would be frustrated with distance learning based on someone's "pet" technology that required a steep learning curve to activate.

    Maybe that brings us back to the logic of incorporating mobile devices that are already in our students' hands - I have a very savvy 11 year old here at home who is happy to demonstrate all sorts of useful apps.

  13. Coming in later to the conversation I have had the chance to read many great thoughts. Here are just a few of the thoughts that I have put together from all the readings.

    Amy made a great point about provincial housing of online courses. I had a discussion with a friend of mine from another school division and we both agree that there needs to be one local place housing the best of the best resources. Why is it that school divisions are making great products and others cannot take advantage of the resource? Perhaps it is the fact that the online classes can be a huge moneymaker in a time of declining budgets. I know Saskatoon has many students registered from out of division at $500 a student. Why is there not a bank of resources for all teachers to access in Regina? Why is there not more collaborative work done?

    Kelley mentioned cell phones and ipods. I would argue that they still do lose them! I have a 13 year old that can prove that. I do agree that this is a technology that the students prize and will use. We as teachers likely fear the technology and consider that we are giving in if we allow students to use them in class. My concern is that there is such an inequality among learners in the province. Take for example in Regina, there can be two schools that are 20 blocks apart with two different cultures. The kids that have and the kids that do not. Yes we need to engage kids with the technologies of the day, but we cannot forget there are many that do not have the technology of the day. Moore and Kearsley mentioned that cost could lead to a severe underclass of the already illiterate. What will happen to the high number of students that do not have technology other than in schools?

    It was also mentioned that there is a false security with online work and the Internet. I would look at it from the other point of view. I think there are kids out there that would be more willing and feel safe to share legitimate thoughts. I have had many kids that would be scared to give thoughts in a discussion, but as soon as I had them journal the sharing would begin. I think technology allows students to take risks, share thoughts and perhaps not feel judged. Just some thoughts.