Supply vs. Demand in e-Learning

I was reading this interview with Susan Patrick, from INACOL, about trends in e-learning – which is always an interesting subject for me seeing as I’m so ingrained in it. A few interesting pieces of information came up during the ten page interview (and I despise the paging on this – I’d rather scroll more than change pages)…

On the second page the pull quote suggests that 40% of students would be interested in taking an online course, but only 10% would be able to, leading to a supply/demand problem. While I hope that the interest percentage is that high, I suspect that number may be inflated somewhat. Working on the premise that it is correct, higher education is going to have to address this need when these students, who are now in the elementary (K-12) system graduate to higher education. Otherwise, they’ll be likely to look elsewhere for their education.

The third page of the interview expands on the idea of accreditation, this time for the teachers and suggests there needs to be standards, or rather a cross-border acceptance of a teachers qualifications. How will a teacher in one part of the U.S. be “qualified” to teach elsewhere? Is a Mexican teacher of the same “quality” as a Canadian one? The answer is of course they are, but not everyone is as open-minded as you and I. This sort of international standard could be abused in a discriminatory way.

On page five, Susan begins to discuss how the U.S. is falling behind on broadband adoption and the effects of lack of broadband access for remote students is a barrier to excellent e-learning opportunities. I essentially agree with the idea, although I don’t know that broadband adoption is that important. Mobile broadband access is probably more crucial for the upcoming five years – and the fact that the U.S. is falling far behind other countries (and Canada even more behind than the U.S.). It’s a certain sign that innovation and desire to adopt new technologies is lagging in North America.

It was interesting to read about the K-12 scene because it informs me about what we’re going to see in higher education in a little bit. Sounds exciting.

Spam (spam spam spam)

I was watching the first couple of parts of the documentary about Monty Python’s Flying Circus last night,  “Almost The Truth” and  it was interesting to see how they didn’t dumb down things and it was an inspiration to continue to not dumb down things in the hopes that people will then go off and learn about Proust or Heidegger. Informal learning at it’s best.

Along the same lines it’s interesting the spam I get has this Monty Python quality; it’s almost surreal and absurd. Clearly, it’s spam, but it’s very entertaining. I almost consider publishing many of the spam comments, just to share them with you. Unfortunately, that would only encourage them.

Monetizing e-Learning

Odijoo is an attempt to provide a free e-learning development platform to deliver web-based learning. The instructor could then assign a monetary value for access to the course, or can give it away. The question I have is that with Open CourseWare courses cropping up from real educational institutions, will anyone pay for content from a private company? On top of that, people generally want a piece of paper or some accreditation for their work. Odijoo doesn’t provide this. I could see if Microsoft used the service to provide Microsoft certification, although chances are Microsoft would do that from their own site. I like the model for informal learning although when you formalize learning, it can get, well, weird.

User Experience (UX) and LMS Systems

I was actually searching for something else, but found this Prezi presentation about User Experience and LMSs in a mobile environment. While the presentation suffers from what a lot of Prezi presentations suffer from, a motion sickness induced ala Blair Witch Project, and I’m still wondering what the hell Banksy has anything to do with it, the presentation is a good one content-wise. I’m left with one of the few things about PowerPoint that I do like, annotation in the notes panel.

Either way, the presentation brings up a couple of ideas that maybe one might take into consideration when designing spaces for mobile learning. While North America as a whole, and Canada in particular is lagging far behind other countries in cellphone use and 3G networking, LMSs seem to be even slower to ensure that their spaces are mobile friendly. Desire2Learn does a good job of this, and browsing our D2L based site through my mobile browser generally works pretty well. I can’t say the same for WebCT or Blackboard CE. I don’t know how much work I’d want  to do in a mobile platform, but a quick check of some areas and I’m happy enough. Which is where the presentation falls a bit short – it seems that it expects users to act as if they are in front of a laptop or desktop computer… which to state the obvious they aren’t. I certainly suspect that while they’ll have similar habits, their experience being different will dictate that they act differently in a mobile platform. I think this is an area that needs further investigation, but I’m glad some people are at least looking into the idea.

Repeatedly the presentation suggests that scrolling is bad. One of web designs enduring myths is that of the page fold, where people won’t scroll down or past the bottom barrier of the page. There’s a couple of articles that debunk this idea, coming down to the idea that you must have compelling content to get users to scroll. By default, even sometimes despite the content that is presented, e-learning sites have content that has a built in scroll factor for users. They may not read it, or learn from it, but they will scroll.

What I Learned This Week (Part 3)

Tokbox is a new-ish online video conferencing system that doesn’t require plug-ins or downloads. There’s some interesting applications that Tokbox could have for international education, where a guest speaker could present from a distance. While it only would be a talking head, that might be useful enough for some content. This certainly could be a Skype killer. Nice that contacts can be added through a myriad of e-mails and IM providers.

In a presentation, the Pew Internet declared that Online Social Media is democratizing, meaning that the numbers and demographics are not as skewed as they were in 2005. The problem I  see is that it’s comparing Social Media use to Internet usage. As Social Media becomes more prevalent, of course more people using the Internet will be using Social Media. The real democratization will be when people start comparing online to offline and those numbers are equal. We’re still seeing overall usage skewing towards mainstream cultural groups, when a real variety of voices have access to the Internet, never mind Social Media, we’ll then be able to talk about real democratization.

Political Aspects of Community

In the same interview that Howard Rheingold did, that I wrote about in my last post, he also touched on some ideas of the political ramifications of online communities. They aren’t new ideas, in fact they’re old ideas. It’s what attracted me to the Internet, and the World Wide Web  in the first place. The idea of communication, finding like minds and working together (collaboration). The interesting part to me is collaboration – with collaboration you have an element of taking responsibility and control of what you’re working on. That level of personal responsibility has always been something that interested me since I see it as a keystone of civilization. As things move progressively more fractional, and large governments continue to become more and more unable to operate efficiently, we’ll see a return to local government and more personal responsibility for what we do.

Which is exactly like what we have online – what I say and publish online I will stand behind. The fact that most people who are online stand behind what they say is encouraging for a future where we have more individual responsibility. The follies that celebrities encounter online hopefully will subside as celebrities learn how to manager their identity and communities form around them to attempt to mitigate some of the damage done.

Maybe too the online community will lead us to smaller nation-states which are manageable and where people feel that their vote matters. Maybe, just maybe that means we won’t blow each other up so often as we start to collaborate with others across the world. Maybe that might grow some  empathy for tragedies that occur elsewhere, and incur rage at repression in other places (and at home).

Aesthetics and Community

So to continue this train of thought, I was watching this digital rough cut of an interview with Howard Rheingold. In it Howard makes a few statements about digital communities, groups and nation-states that appeal to me. Particularly this statement:

In fact when I first started travelling about this was erm during a brief period when I worked for Wired Magazine, I had a little wired hat on.  It didn’t matter whether they spoke English or not, there were people who identified more with me than with they’re neighbours, with they’re parents, with they’re peers, erm even though we may not have even spoken the same language, they knew UNIX, they knew Photo Shop, they knew communicating on line.

That resonated with me for a bit. Earlier Howard mentioned his sense of dress as well, and how it can be offputting for some people. Now I don’t want this to come off as a love letter for Howard, I would think that his dress is what made me interested in him. He was confident in himself enough to put himself out there, and that confidence and uniqueness speaks to me as a person. In the same way that Howard’s way of dressing (through his Wired hat or colorful jackets) made an impression on people and acted as an attractor or repellent, the aesthetics of online spaces will do the same thing. So is it important that online spaces be as aesthetically neutral as possible?

No. There is no neutral. Think about color for a moment. White background color has a different context depending on culture – your actions will be unable to alter those cultural reaction. So you have to rely on your own aesthetic choices and make sure they reflect you as much as possible. I think the individual need to express this is what will begin to differentiate institutions from one another. We’re already seeing this in higher education where certain lecturers are the “top free agents”. I’m sure sometime in the future, as online learning becomes more prevalent, we will begin to see the better learning designers, and by that I mean aesthetically and pedagogically, become more important.

Howard makes some mention of what makes a community later on, and in my interpretation it comes down to a like-minded group – some sort of connection occurs between all the parties. It could be worldview, it could be musical tastes. In web design, we recognized that a certain consumer expects a certain level of design. For instance, an opera house website would be rejected if it wasn’t sufficiently “high class”. You wouldn’t see a graffiti font on the opera house website. These groups have an aesthetic identifier as well, it’s an external clue, part of that first impression decision making process.

So thank you Howard for helping me make the connections from this video!

Corporate IT Policies and their Relation to Teachers and Students

Slate recently published an article that was brought to my attention by Harold Jarche on Twitter – the article blasted the monolithic IT policies that exist in the corporate world. After reading it, it was amazing drawing the parallels to how some teachers treat their students in the classroom. Where corporate IT policies restrict people to browse what they want, some teachers want to cut off the Internet entirely from their students. I understand that idea in a testing situation, but otherwise, if someone has paid money to sit in your class, I think it’s your job to convince them to pay attention to you. Whether that’s through logical reasoning, or providing interesting, captivating commentary on issues, or engaging activities. If they’re surfing while you’re talking, clearly what you’re talking about isn’t demanding their attention.

So you have to get them to pay attention. Make the connections to relevance. Much like how in the article the first paragraph contains an example of why using Firefox is better, you need to give your students why this subject is relevant. A lot of professors forget this – they know why recursion is important to a programming example or why the subject and verb need to agree in a sentence. Your student, on the other hand, may not. If you’re not giving them this relevance, they might just be checking on the Internet to find out why. Or, more likely, they don’t see the relevance, and give up and go do something that matters. Instructors, teachers, professors, whatever you call them have to recognize that the Internet isn’t going away, it’s going to become more pervasive. You can shut off their desktop’s access to the Internet, but not the laptop grabbing a wireless connection nor a phone or another device…

Why not turn it into a game? Tell your class in groups to find out how to do stuff and teach it to the rest in mini-sessions. You can guide them easily, and the knowledge is out there. You can then fill in the blanks, if they miss bits. And that strategy works for every skill, idea, course and concept. Need to teach Word? It works. Need to teach thermodynamics? Still works. Connectivism? Yep.