Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Quality education and learning

In a discussion today at work about quality processes I remembered the model of education which has been successful for Athabasca university in Canada. Their enrolments have increased many fold because people can enrol for gap courses to complete qualifications they are taking at other universities etc.

Also students can enrol any time and at any stage of a course. To enable this flexible learning, Athabasca has a well resourced production team which goes through a strict quality control process to create high quality learning resources for distance students. The team comprises designers - educational and graphic, technical staff, editors, content experts, a project manager and others.

Once courses are developed for flexible/online modes, student support is well sychronised and tutors are employed to teach the courses which academics had a hand in developing as content experts. The academic staff merely oversee their courses and spend their time conducting research which increases the reputation of the university. Plus they are spreading the word and helping others to produce quality online learning.

For example, several staff have written a book on the Theory and Practice of Online Learning and it is freely available under a Creative Commons licence at: The book is edited by Terry Anderson and Fathi Elloumi (2003).

It provides an overview of educational theory, strategic approaches and infrastructure, technologies, development of courses, team projects, copyright, teaching, support for discussions and learners, library support, quality.

I guess this model gauges quality by the enrolment rates and the reputation of the university. Academic staff become well known because their ideas and research is of a high standard and they get time to undertake research and present and write scholarly articles. This means they are up to date with current trends and in turn this raises the reputation of the university which then attracts students.

The research reputation of an institution does influence the status of institutions in the international arena and I guess this is what has happened with places such as Harvard, Cambridge, Stanford and Oxford. All you need is a few high status researchers and the place goes up in lights...and of course the ability to attract the rich and famous.

Sunday, May 21, 2006



I found a really interesting podcast by Graham Attwell describing and discussing the idea of personal learning environments (PLEs) where students can build up their own online learning tools using the Internet e.g. Wikipedia, blogs, discussions, online journals to create their own learning landscape. They have come about to get away from controlling learning for students, something a f2f classroom and Learning Management System tend to do. PLEs rely on providing a learner-controlled environment rather than a teacher-controlled environment.

This aligns with what is known as web 2.0 where learners search for and use Internet technologies and pick and mix so they set up their own networked system e.g. My spaces, Google, Flickr, ourmedia, MSN etc. depending on their needs. See the diagram of the future online learning environment on Derek Wenmouth's blog Blackboard and other Learning Management Systems belong in web 1.0 systems where software is provided for the learner and learning is very controlled rather than learner-centred. There are some projects underway (ELGG and JISC) to create PLE systems - a contradiction in terms really - see below.

More places to look to find out more:

I wonder is the idea of personal learning environments realistic? Even if we take on more of a facilitation role aren't we still controlling the environment to some extent by guiding students to the content we want them to learn and by assessing them on it?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

web 2.0

I found this very informative article by O'Reilly about web 2.0 technology. It covers the differences between web 1.0 and web 2.0 and made the concept much clearer for me.
Web 2.0 is fascinating and is about making the Internet work for us as when and how we need it. For example, the home page is static compared to a blog Oh yes you can argue that a home page can have all the features such as a blog and wiki, but why not just start with a wiki.

The worry for those of us new to all this open sharing of information is whether others will come along and change what we have I understand that if someone does this, it may well give another perspective or many. It is hard to change people's view of information as we are so used to having words fed to us rather than being able to interact with the words.

Imagine if newspapers provided news in the form of a wiki to which the citizens for whom it is written actually got a chance to contribute. Then we might get much more factual and interesting stories instead o the stories going through several people - the journalist, the interviewee, the editor, etc. remember the concept of the chinese whisper a story changes when passed from one person to another. The root of rumours!

"But what if just any old person got into the wiki and wrote absolute garbage?" What's new I ask?

And how amazing would it be to be able to write a book with others...yes truly write it with real people taking on the roles of each character. someone must be doing this already. Then we could write the type of stories we would truly like to read. This would probably do publishers out of a job, but then how great if the authors made most of the profit and we could take charge of our own stories.... people would still want to buy print books. Case in point, computers have not done away with the paperless office, they have created even more paper.

I have a lot to learn and the next goal is to start podcasting and to set up a wiki for the family geneology so we can all write it together.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

How to enrol in Blackboard

Below is a movie to show you how to enrol yourself or others in a Blackboard course. Give the video time to stream in - press pause and let it load before playing.

If you can't see the movie, please right click this link and download it to your computer.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Flexible design course

The session today got us a bit further with planning. I like the idea of a personal learning plan, and this will be a dynamic work in action and help people to focus on the areas they are interested in. The trick will be to ensure people are well supported as they are taken out of their comfort zones...even modelling new ways of teaching and learning can frighten people. we will need to introduce the idea of the personal plans at the first workshop and follow them up pretty quickly after that to get draft plans operating.

we have plenty of actions and have made a start on the Blackboard shell. I am not that keen on putting dates on the buttons and using the what, how, why, when labels might throw a lot of people...more thought needed on this.

An idea has come to me as I write this. I believe we need to pin them down to the type of plan they envisage right at the start of the may only be the name of a course they teach in but it will ground them in something real. and I think we need to extend the initial discussion about flexible learning to include the plan...what they hope to end up with. smetimes for the holistic learners they need to see the big picture first - where they are heading.

the personal learning plans will help them with the what, how and why they will get there. I would like to use a self-questioning matrix to help them plan, monitor and evaluate their activities - we can start them off with some sample questions which can be used in the f2f consultation about the plan, and then get them to start doing this sort of reflective process themselves as they go. some may prefer to use concept mapping to plan how they go about their activities.

flexible learning committee

T and I have just been brought on to the flexible learning committee and although there was good discussion about flexible learning issues most did not seem to have a clear idea of where the committee was heading re the information gathering for developing the strategy. Probably cos most people were relatively inexperienced with flex learning per se and were coming to terms with the whole concept. Now of course T and I have the job of coming up with the ideas/survey etc. to gather info on which to base the strategy...such is life and the challenge...and swallowing the "I told you so" feeling. It would have been a lot easier if we had been there from the start.

M of course is being roped in to our working group. Plus I will be involving L who is bringing us in to the 21st century although he isn't on the committee - yet. Good to have K as an ally on the same wave length and speaking the lingo.