Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Distance Education and Reauthorization

The Committee on Education and Labor in the U.S. House of Representatives passed the "College Opportunity and Affordability Act" (H.R. 4137) on November 15, 2007. This means we are nearing the end of the long road leading to reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA). The House committee bill now joins the bill passed by the U.S. Senate (S.1642) in July 2007.

House link: H.R. 4137, go to part H, section 496-A
Senate link: S. 1642, go to part G, section 491 (formerly 496)

At some point the language differences between the House and Senate will need to be hammered out. However, with regard to accreditation concerns for distance education, the House committee bill is identical to the Senate bill. The current language would allow college and university accrediting agencies to address the quality of a school’s distance education offerings without the need to create separate standards, procedures or policies related to distance education (for a while this looked to be the direction that they were going).

However, the most troubling language included in both bills is that accreditors must require that colleges take some steps (undefined as to which steps) to establish that the student who registers for a distance education course or program is the same student who participates in the course or program, who completes the course or program, and who receives the academic credit for that completion.

Lastly, institutions will be required to report to the Secretary of Education (apparently) on their distance learning offerings and enrollments. Why? Well that's not entirely clear.

The Instructional Technology Council (full disclosure: I'm on the board) would like to work through the American Association of Community Colleges to try to influence this legislation before it is finalized and sent to the President for his signature. In particular we are concerned about the language relating to authentication of distance students.

  • We believe that this language assumes that there is a problem (fictitious students) when we have no clear evidence that a problem exists.
  • We believe that this language assumes that colleges are not already taking steps to assure that credit is only being granted to real students who do real work.
  • We believe that this language is not a clear directive as to how we should deal with this (nonexistent) problem.
  • We believe that the legislators crafting this language have no idea what we distance educators have been dealing with for the past 10-15 years while striving for quality offerings through online delivery and other methods.
  • We believe that this language will create far more problems than any that might currently exist (the phrase "mountain out of a mole hill" comes to mind).
  • We believe that distance education is being unfairly singled out when the same questions can just as reasonably be applied to "traditional" face-to-face learning (which we maintain is also NOT reasonable, but it is JUST AS reasonable).
Finally, I admit that maybe this isn't necessarily what "WE" believe, but it is what I believe. What do you believe?

Monday, November 26, 2007

e-learning is g-learning

What do you think? Is e-learning part of the answer to our climate problems? Is e-learning green-learning (or g-learning)?

This is not something that I have spent much time contemplating, but at the ITC Board Meeting a couple of weeks ago this topic came up and I found myself somewhat intrigued by it. Board member David Hutto from North Carolina has done some research about this. What I heard him say is the following (paraphrased slightly): if 1,000 commuter students per state moved to e-learning (rather than driving to campus for F2F classes) we would save $5.4 million in energy costs (gasoline) per year.

I wonder if he was basing these calculations on the current price of over $3.00 per gallon or some earlier, lower amount. Either way, I think there is probably some potential for the idea of leveraging e-learning for gasoline savings, reducing dependence on foreign oil, and reducing carbon emissions. Of course, I don't think that anyone else actually cares, but at least David and I do.

(CC photo by Thiru Murugan)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Upcoming ITC Audioconferences

The ITC Audioconferences keep getting better and better. These are the next 5 topics:

  1. Dec. 4, 2007 - iTunes U: Podcasting Made Easy
  2. Dec. 11, 2007 - Building Quality: Using QM Standards in Online Course Development
  3. Jan. 8, 2008 - Ten Ways to Improve your Faculty Online Training Course
  4. Jan. 15, 2008 - A Collaborative Approach to Online Student Support Services
  5. Jan. 22, 2008 - Moodle - an Online Course Management System
These are one-hour audioconferences and cost $25 per connection ($50 for non-members), although you can have as many people listening to that one connection as you choose. Check out the link above for more info.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Desire2Pod Cast 15: Fantasy VLE

In this short (under 12 minutes) recording, I share some thoughts about the possible future development of virtual learning environments (VLE) and how they could be more like current Web 2.0 tools, more open to the public (where appropriate), and probably a lot more engaging and productive places to get your work done. Since I'm not playing fantasy football this year, I thought I would try my hand at fantasy e-learning.

powered by ODEO

I admit that this is not the deepest of thinking. Just some thoughts that have been rolling around in my head, plus an effort to jump start the Desire2Pod series that has been dormant for several months.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

E-Learning Mythbusters #4

This post begins with a definition of terms. One problem in e-learning is that we have so many terms that are used interchangeably which leads to the confusion of many.

Example: Digital Natives (not a fan), Millennials, Net Generation, NeXt Generation, iGen, Gen Y, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah until you wanna puke. Let's end this stupidity and all decide to use the following term when referring to the newest crop of college-bound students - "Native Net-gennials." Please enunciate carefully - notice that there is a "t" in the first word, a "t" in the second word, but no"t" in the third word.

e-Learning Myth #4: Native Net-gennials are well prepared for e-Learning

Ummmh, no, they aren't!! Do not pass go, do not collect $200. The native net-gennials don't get the technology used in e-Learning. They get MySpace and FaceBook. They get IM and text messaging. However, they have very few technology skills that we expect them to use in e-Learning. Is that their problem, or ours?

Do academics need to bend a little and start using some of the tools that the net-gennials are accustomed to, or do the NNGs need to learn how to save an MS Word as an RTF file and upload that file into a drop-box even though they'll never again see something quite like that? Almost nothing in their technology-laden worlds are as structured, as inflexible, as "old-fashioned" as the current virtual learning environments into which we expect them to immerse themselves.

Let me repeat. Is this their problem, or ours?

(NOTE: Don't forget the new term:)

CC Flickr photo By D'Arcy Norman

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Web 2.0 Inside D2L - ProtoPage Widgets

This video shows the use of Protopage inside Desire2Learn. Protopage is an easy to manage widget-driven website. Near the end of this less-than-5-minute video I state that using ProtoPage inside a VLE (virtual learning environment) might be a little glimpse of the future. It seems to me that any VLE would be more flexible, more customizable, more personable (think PLE or personal learning environment) with a widget-driven structure. Of course I could be wrong.

You can load your own background graphic, which I have done on the Protopage used for this particular D2L embed. You can change the color scheme. You can make it private, semi-private, or public. Anyone can move the widgets around but only someone logged in with editing rights can make permanent changes.

Here is the link to the video in (full-screen option available).

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Online Tutoring Update

There was an increased usage of the SMARTHINKING online tutoring service at LSC as reported previously (two posts below). It turns out that about half of the increase (46 hours) comes from natural causes (due to the lack of a better phrase), and the other half of the increase (a little more actually) comes from two particular students who used a total of 58 hours between them (in one month!!).

Online Tutoring Hours - LSC -

In the first three of years of offering this service we imposed a limit of 10 hours per student per semester. There were only a few times when students reached that limit and tried to exceed it. In the fourth year we decided that the limit wasn't necessary since few people reached it, and it didn't seem like a big deal if they needed a few extra hours of tutoring help.

Obviously we didn't anticipate the situation where one student would use 39.5 hours of tutoring in a single month. Now we're taking steps to make sure that doesn't happen again. Live and learn.

Monday, November 05, 2007

e-Learning 2008 Schedule is Out

Here's my next pitch about the ITC annual conference. e-Learning 2008 will be held in St. Pete Beach (small town, next to the big city of St. Petersburg) on February 16-19, 2008. No word yet on whether the wi-fi will extend all the way to the actual beach. However, they are promising a sunset every night.

ITC e-learning 2008 Conference Program

The schedule looks great. Compared to many other conferences that I go to, I've found the quality of the concurrent sessions at the ITC conferences to be better, pound-for-pound. There are 7 sessions to choose from at each time slot, not 30-35. Movers and shakers from most of the top PUBLIC e-learning schools are there and making presentations. I'm not saying that the private providers and the for-profit providers are not there at all, but this conference has a heavy dose of influence from state colleges and universities. That works for me.

CC photo by porkfork

Friday, November 02, 2007

Online Tutoring Usage

I'm a bit baffled about why our student usage of online tutoring hours has gone through the roof. This is our fifth year of providing free online tutoring services to students at Lake Superior College. I'm going to look at the usage to ensure that only LSC students are accessing the hours. As long as that is true, then apparently many more faculty members are encouraging the use of the SMARTHINKING service than in previous years. Sounds like a survey topic to me.

Online Tutoring Hours Used - LSC -