Friday, August 31, 2007

Designing Reference Hybrids vs. Online courses

A good post here from Tony Karrer on his elearningtech blog. I'm in the midst of designing a course these days, and have been challenged with what to leave out! I've got gobs of material, but know that no one really cares or can make any real use of the material if it's spewed out all at once. Karrer writes about trends toward creating "Reference Hybrids" vs. creating "courses". The trend is toward shorter modules or nuggets vs. whole online courses. I like, and buy into the concept, but don't yet have many good models in mind.

I don't know if it's my own training in the old model, or if it's the university systems (or both) that seem to push against this approach--A proper online course should at least be equivalent in "rigor" (read seat time, amount of content) to a F2F course.

This idea of small portions of learning has been in the literature for years (job aids, just in time learning), but somehow now it seems to be really taking hold in higher education--at least in my own design efforts. Read Karrer's full post.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

When Flexible loses its Flexibility

An interesting opinion letter to a campus paper. The student complains that so many of his courses are now online, that he's losing the campus experience. I also wonder about what a campus gains if most of their courses are online? What do the students gain? Simply changing the venue (classroom to online) doesn't necessarily increase student options or flexibility.
I could have gone to the University of Phoenix - Opinions

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

When "Best of Breed" maybe isn't best...

My latest thinking has been about what the current web2.0, best-of-breed, approach to learning technologies may mean for future learning systems--technically speaking.
When evaluating a new LMS or any large-system, vendors are keen to repeatedly point out how their open architecture will allow our system admins to plug-in, extend, add-on, and integrate any number of "best-of-breed" applications. (This can be code for "we don't have that service, don't plan on developing it, and rely on (hope that) others will build system extensions with your desired functionality.)

As attractive as so many of these nifty, browser-based, Ajax apps and web2.0 widgets are, what does it mean to have VLE or LMS systems that are so customizeable, personalizable and decentralized--read dependent on others' services?!?. Currently my Facebook, iGoogle, Firefox and similar pages or apps already come up now and then with unreachable services, or unavailable extensions. These can become especially problematic when any component piece is upgraded.

Companies like Blackboard have had what it calls "building blocks" for some time now, Facebook has created an api, now chuck full of more privacy-hemorrhaging gotta-haves than I even care or have time to explore. Moodle has numerous plugins and modules. Angel doesn't yet, but seems to be headed that direction. In the web2.0 world, there are seemingly endless tools (many in alpha, beta, gold) that have relevance to learning and digital expression. Mashable published a great list of 400+ tools for photographers, videobloggers, podcasters and musicians. Similar resources can be found and

Say you identify the best of breed apps for your course needs and want to integrate even just a tiny handful of these--and you just might after you try some of them--integrating the services, dealing with uptime, maintenance, server space, buy-outs, loss of venture capital, authentication, privacy could be a nightmare--especially if you are:

  • An instructor who has built their learning activities and assignments around the provided functionality
  • A student whose grade or portfolio relies on having stable services and storage for your assignments
  • The one tasked to provide simultaneously innovative, flexible and reliable services to the college or university
I plan on using some of these in an upcoming course I teach, but the what-if's are starting to worry me a touch. Still, as a designer and educator I want to use/explore many of these tools, and I think I want our systems people to facilitate it...but the more un-integrated 3rd party accounts I sign up for, the less I'm sure about it's positive effects on the overall and long-term learning experience. There's something to be said for tight integration , vs. Best of Breed (think Mac vs. PC). Does integration itself at some point make the whole system best of breed?

I'm not sure where its all headed, but those affiliated closely with Educause are concerned and write/speak on the topic. Feel free to share some good posts/articles you've see related to this post.
-Joel G.
(image source: soldierant)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Internet Users Talking Less and Reading More?!?

I came across this short article describing an Online Publishers Association (OPA) report that claims that todays Internet users--compared with 4 years ago--are reading more and talking less. I should have dug into the cited report, but haven't yet. The idea seems to fly in the face of the the popularity of web2.0 apps. Digital expression appears to be on the rise in all areas from blogging, to video sharing, slideshows, to photos, to playlists, voip, and audio blogging and podcasting.

Sure I find myself reading far more online as well, but I'm definitely communicating and producing/sharing more online as well. Do I chat/IM as much as I did 4 years ago? No, I think that my IMing has actually diminished. Email is probably about the same (although I get far more email than I did 4 years ago--so much for spam filter progress!

Anyway, the article caused me to think, and wonder/question what their metrics and methods were. In this case, I believe my own observations over those of the least with the population on my radar screen these days--US university students.
The larger population may indeed reflect the findings of the study as well the Pew study
full pdf here:
(image source:

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Jing & Springdoo: a couple helpful little tools.

Ok, so I bookmarked these tools (Jing and Springdoo) some time ago, with the intent of looking into them more closely down the road when I had more time (as I am prone to do) . The last couple days I actually got around to investigating them more closely...and now am wondering how I lasted so long without them. This is definitely NOT a case of the-tool-creating-the-need. These are simple, low threshold capabilities/services/tools that I have wanted and been looking for... for ages--speaking in terms of I-time (Internet time).

Jing is a screen capture tool (picture or video, with or without audio). I can't count the times that I've wanted to be able to SHOW my students how to do something, or solve a problem, but have not had a SIMPLE way of facilitating this form of communication. Screencapture tools of various flavors have been around forever, but have often been tied to specific media players or platforms, and were cumbersome to create, share and view. My classes have always attracted mac and PC users, and making a single file to make everyone happy was usually more work than it was worth. Jing simplifies this process tremendously for me. Now when students have a question...I can either record a quick response rather than spending my time on the phone describing the solution, or on IM/email typing out the answers in text and attaching screen grabs. When the next student comes along with the same question, I can gently direct them to the same screencapute viewable online (hosted on Again, nothing new here technologically speaking, but it is the EASE with which I can now record, narrate and share a screencast that is unparalleled and has solved a long-standing challenge I've struggled with.

Springdoo is a service/application that allows you to EASILY record audio (or video) from a cell phone or webpage, giving you embed tags or links to put the audio in your blog, email, webpage, IM etc. The output, like many services out there, is also flash media. I like their service (SpringBlog) because compared to others I found it easier to use, and the player, when embedded, was less annoying or ad-driven than some of the others can be. Interestingly, the also have a pocasting feature (SpringCast) and embeddable code to host your podcast and allow audio/video replies to your original post. Posts (and the replies) can be easily subscribed to and also sent to phones (UK only right now) and iTunes or other podcast managers. I was a bit disappointed to see that the replies lacked linkage back to the sender's profile--and did not include the senders profile pic. I was however, pleased to see the audio thread embed so nicely in my LMS or VLE.
Note, like many sites, free hosting space is limited, so if you're going to get into this heavily, consider paying for the pro accounts, or be sure you can delete a semesters work (to free up space) before you start over for your next class...and yes, these sites require yet another login.

For a couple similar and promising tools for more threaded audio/video discussions, consider Chinswing or Viddler (i.e. think language instruction) or even VoiceThread (i.e. think portfolio and project review)--each takes a different approach to creating media-rich discussion in the online environment.

Let me know how you think you might use these tools.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Alternatives to Second Life

An interesting article on alternatives to Second Life. I'm disturbed somewhat about the divide(s) within SL. I'm not sure what it all means for education and if stuff-based identity is all so bad, but the SL system, and the SL culture seems to push such distinctions (I have wings, hair, clothes etc. that you don't) that don't seem to further healthy education from a larger perspective. SL certainly encourages exploration, but it seems so geared toward acquiring stuff--not just so you have it, but so you have stuff others don't. Again, no one has to participate in these activities, but SL IMHO seems built around stuff-gathering. I haven't tried or investigated all the alternatives listed in the article, but more open-source alternatives appear toward the bottom.

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