Tuesday, June 27, 2006

MnOnline Chair

My one-year stint as Chair of the MnOnline Council begins July 1. Already I'm beginning to think that this is going to be a colossal mistake. My tendency is to speak frankly and try to tackle issues head-on. It is my opinion that this is not a style that is acceptable within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. Already I am hearing rumblings that certain people feel the need to squelch my expression of opinions. That is sad, but not surprising.

One of the books I'm reading now should be required reading for all higher ed adminstrators. The Cluetrain Manifesto is a brilliantly written treatise on how old-fashioned corporate-speak has no legitimate place in today's society.

Here's a quoted passage that speaks to me in my current situation of not being able to tell the truth about what is going on and instead feeling pressure to always speak the "party line." It's taken from pages 66-67 of the book:

"Companies will survive employees telling their truths, their stories in a business context, without instituting draconian controls on their ability to speak out when and to whom they please. We listen to individuals differently than we do to organizational speech. When a company publishes PR, it's trying to give us a complete message about who they are and what they do. We have to decide whether to trust or distrust the company based on a single statement. Well-written PR leaves us with few avenues for corroboration and second opinions. It's meant to be self-contained."

"On the other hand, when I converse with people inside a company, I hear stories from individuals. They're all grains of sand, their combined voices richer and more diverse than the univocal speech of corporate mouthpieces. We add up all the anecdotes we hear from individuals. We have to trust our own averaging, our own summing of stories, our own divining of truth. With more people, more stories in the mix, it's harder for one negative story to sway me. This speaks to the need to have many people in the organization talking to customers. A single 'corporate story' is a fiction in a world of free conversation."

And so, I enter this year with grave doubts about whether individual voices are allowed within the system. They clearly are not encouraged. As I like to say, I'm sure that this will become more interesting before it becomes more dull. (I'm also quite sure that I will be chastised for this particular post, which will of course make my point for me, but will also make life uncomfortable for me because I'm not supposed to form my own opinion or speak my own truth.)

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Detroit News :(

I had a bad taste in my mouth after reading an e-learning article from the Washington Post via the Detroit News by a journalist named Lois Romano. My first thought was to try to find out how big a bimbo she is and then flame her.

Instead what I found out was how the Detroit News only printed about 32% of the original article from the Post (435 out of 1430 words). Here's another link to UMassOnline just in case the first one disappears.

Interesting how the Detroit editors decided to leave out the rest of the article which was mostly quite favorable to e-learning. They started their story with a reference to student Angela Bostic, but didn't include the paragraph later in the article when she said: "I actually feel like I am learning more," said Angela Bostic, the student. "The dynamic is such that you have to learn how to effectively communicate in the written form. That is actually more of a task than speaking in class."

It is also very interesting (and telling) to compare the subtitles to the article. The Post says "As More Schools Embrace Web-Based Courses, More Students Log On to Expand Their Education While They Work" while the Detroit News (boo, hiss!!) says "Enrollment spiked to 2.35M in '04, but critics argue in-person classes offer better experience."

I was particularly disturbed by the last sentence in the Detroit story that said "Stanford University today offers online master's degrees in certain sciences, but most elite schools have looked down their noses at online degrees." Disturbed because that is simply not the truth. BTW, many people consider UMass to be an elite school, but the Detroit editors decided to leave out that part of the story.

Moral of the story: when a paper (online or otherwise) reprints from another source, it's always a good idea to check the original source to see if you got the whole story.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

D2L Webinar

Join Kenneth Chapman, Product Manager at Desire2Learn, on June 28, 2006 at 2:00pm EST (?) for an exclusive webinar event, Measure Your eLearning Success: Desire2Learn's New Teaching and Learning Tools. This webinar event will provide an overview of the tools and enhancements found in these new products. To register for this webinar click here or email them at webinars06@Desire2Learn.com.

(My note: I am seeking clarity about whether they actually mean 2:00 EST or if it should be 2:00 EDT. If we get that wrong, we'll miss it by an hour.)

The following is a quote taken from the Desire2Learn Community:

Desire2Learn is honored by the opportunity to contribute to teaching and learning at your institution. Through your feedback and ongoing collaboration, we are able to deliver eLearning solutions that lead the market in innovation. Desire2Learn is proud to present the release of Learning Environment 8.1 & Learning Repository 3.5 & LiveRoom 4.0. As client-driven products, these new releases will exceed your expectations with extensive tool enhancements and the introduction of new features including:

  • Competency Engine and Reporting of Learning Outcomes
  • Rubrics
  • Reporting and Data Warehousing
  • Blogging and Support for RSS
  • Advances to Email, Surveys, Self-Assessment, Quizzing, and Other Tools
  • Federated Searching (for MERLOT)

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Sally Johnstone at MnOnline

Sally Johnstone of WCET (soon of Winona State University) was a key presenter on the topic of: Issues and Trends in American E-Learning. Some of her points were:

  • Over 90% of public institutions offer online courses.
  • The online for-profits spend 15-20% of revenue on student recruitment.
  • The Budget Reconciliation Act (12/05) recognizes organizations that grant degrees based on assessments as higher education institutions. This will likely lead to the creation of new educational companies.
  • Over the next three years we expect an 8% increase in high school grads nationwide, but they will not be evenly distributed across the country. Some states win big and others lose big.
  • The Higher Ed Reauthorization Act may still include language that requires us to have processes to assure student identities in distance learning courses. This is an issue that I have been talking about for most of the past year after having an extended conversation with Steve Crow (Higher Learning Commission) at the WCET annual conference. His best guess (and he stressed that it was only a guess) was that the most common way of doing this would be through some sort of required proctoring of exams or other assessments.
  • She talked about the importance of sharing (see my earlier rants). Seems like everyone is talking about it but not so keen about doing it.
  • Check out the Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative for openly available and free online courses and course materials in many areas including Biology, Chemistry, Economics, Statistics, and French.
  • Two hours after I posted about the importance of Creative Commons licensing, Sally talked about it as part of her presentation. Hooray!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

MnOnline Summer Conference

About 100 people from across MnSCU gathered today at Bemidji State University for the third annual summer conference of Minnesota Online. The first session I attended was a roundtable discussion about assessment of student learning outcomes in online courses and programs. This is an outgrowth from the Academic Services Workgroup of the MnOnline Council and is just a starting point for gathering information about the assessment projects that are happening in the system. For the most part there haven’t been very many assessment projects completed that specifically collect information about online student achievement of learning outcomes or college-wide outcomes, although LSC has completed three such college-wide projects.

The second session that I attended was about the regional consortium in northwest Minnesota comprised of Alexandria Technical College, Minnesota State Community and Technical College, Northland Community and Technical College, and Northwest Technical College-Bemidji. They are a few years down the road already with sharing seats and faculty for their online courses. This gives them some flexibility in being able to offer more courses to their students but not needing to fill all the seats in a course by themselves. This is exactly the model that I have been trying to implement for the past two years with other schools in Minnesota Online. I constantly get frustrated with the lack of willingness of other schools to try something new, and the lack of willingness to share with other schools within the same system. We specifically have tried to partner in courses that have a smaller audience and would be in danger of being canceled due to low enrollment unless we can draw students from several colleges and share the delivery costs accordingly. One of my biggest frustrations with Minnesota Online in general is that it appears to be a “consortium” of cooperating colleges, but it in reality it seems to be a bunch of independent institutions who want to do their own thing. The rest of the system can learn a lot from the cooperation shown by these colleges in the northwest.

Monday, June 12, 2006

China E-Learning

We visited several universities during our ten-day trip through China. Although I'm having problems locating all of my notes, some of the e-learning numbers were staggering. At Shaanxi Normal University in Xi'an they have only been offering e-learning opportunities to students for the past four years, however they have already grown to 30,000 enrollments in the most recent year. Their largest group of enrollments is in Chinese language and literature, followed by (2) technology and computers, (3) law, and (4) math and physics.

East China Normal University in Shanghai actually has a Distance Education College (DEC). The picture below is of the Director of the DEC showing us the IMS that he built for their e-learning courses. They have over 13,000 enrollments per year in e-learning. One thing that struck me about their e-learning is that they don't seem to be concerned about providing interactivity for the learners. My impression was that these courses are largely what I would call electronic correspondence courses or "EIS" (electronic independent study).

Monday, June 05, 2006

E-Learning in China

I was surprised to hear about how many students at Chinese universities take online classes. I was unable to post from there during my trip since Blogger and Wordpress are still blocked by the Chinese government. I'll put together a post or two in the next couple of days (unless the jet lag finally catches me) about some of the e-learning discoveries during our trip there.