Sunday, September 28, 2008

Technologies Transforming the Delivery of Learning

Increasingly, we are finding students - both traditional and non-traditional - are choosing online and blended delivery of learning materials. Technologies have become integral to our lives - computers, cell phones, and associated technologies are the tools of commerce, entertainment, and business. The chart linked in the title of the posting (each posting in this presentation will link examples or resources) graphically demonstrates the shift at UIS.

Education is no different.

Online and blended learning at UIS has increased at a steady rate:

And UIS is not alone - online learning is growing much faster than higher education as a whole:

The shift is fueled in part by increasing costs for gasoline:

Web 2.0 Changing the Way We Live (and learn)

Web 2.0 technologies are changing the way we live... and learn. These technologies are enabling both synchronous and asynchronous communication in an ever-expanding and amazing ways. The linked video is nearly two years old, but it gives a good sense of the ways the Web is making a difference in our lives.

If some of those technologies seem a bit complex, know that technology transparency is coming to the Web. A good example is Firefox's Ubiquity:

Reaching around the World around the Clock

The Web never sleeps. If we search for online learning in Google, we get more than 50 million hits. Among the top few returns among those millions is a blog (web-log) that is published in a tiny town in the cornfields of Illinois. The Online Learning Upate has been published continuously since 2000.

A look at the location of those visiting the blog on the web over the past day:

And, yet the number of those visiting the blog directly is dwarfed by those visiting via RSS:

Micro-blogging is an emerging tool - you can tweet with twitter! Reviews of 10 tools.

Blogs are used by many to deliver learning materials. I am researching the use of RSS to continue to deliver learning materials to students after they complete the course, after they graduate; facilitating the professor-student relationship for years after the semester has ended.

Wiki - Another Way to Collaborate

Wiki - a term meaning "quick" in Hawaiian - is one of the long-standing online collaborative tools. Many versions are available - hosted, proprietary, free, etc. But, one feature is consistent, they all enable one to see the prior versions of the document.

Recall when you have assigned a group project. Have you ever had students suggest that "I did all of the work" - or "Ray didn't do anything to contribute to the project!" A wiki enables you to see exactly what each student contributed to the final report.

Google Documents, Spreadsheets, Presentations

Imagine having many of the office applications you use daily on your computer available online; all of your documents can be shared with collaborators around the world, day or night. Co-authoring papers or reports are much easier in this format than shipping Word documents with "track changes" in multiple colors and layers.

Documents can be uploaded or saved back to your desktop in .doc, .xls, .pdf, and .ppt formats!

Students pursuing guided independent study projects can do their work online, giving permission to faculty members to review the evolving project at any time, any stage, and make comments and recommend changes.

Other office suites are available online, such as .

Another of the many useful Google tools is Google Scholar: This tool not only filters returns for scholarly articles, but also digs out citations for those returns so those papers that cite the one selected can be reviewed.

Give Your Learning a Second Life

Perhaps the most energy in emerging teaching/learning technologies today is being put into creating virtual learning environments. The medical community is among those those creating simulations - enabling students to practice responses to life and death situations on avatars. Avatars are those animated characters that can take almost any shape or form and - in many virtual worlds - can talk and interact with other avatars. There is a kind of immersion in the learning environment that takes place in virtual worlds.

UIS is currently collaborating with the Illinois Department of Public Health in the Brothers and Sisters United Against AIDS / HIV project. We have certified more than 1,000 mentors to provide inner-city Chicago youth with advice and basic counseling on safe sex practices. This year we are using Second Life - one of the largest virtual learning environments - to provide our continuing education:

A great look ahead in virtual learning environments:

An incomplete list of colleges and universities who are using SL:

Second Life is not the only virtual environment:

Even Google has gotten into the virtual environment game:

Social Networking on Ning! - My Space beyond Facebook

Social networking is a mystery to many who have not used MySpace (mostly youth) or Facebook (mostly college students). The tools at social networking sites enable one to post messages, blog, create wikis, share contact information, and much more.

A group of continuing education learners might well create a Ning to enable communication and collaboration. It is a bright new online location that is free of charge.

The example linked to the title is for the consortium I founded among Cal State Eastbay(Hayward), U of Southern Oregon, U of Southern Maine, Oakland U (Rochester Hills, Michigan), Chicacgo State U, and Louisiana Tech U. We have more than 100 faculty members collaborating and communicating at the site. Note that we have an upcoming online session on forms of assessment in online learning - entitled Testing the Waters - How Do You Know They Know:

And, that leads us to the next posting about sychronous distant learning!

Synchronous Learning - Web Conferencing

With broadband nearly ubiquitous via 3G phones, DSL, cable and satellite technologies, more and more educators are using Web conferencing technologies to communicate real-time with students. There are even (limited) versions that are available at no cost - see the vRoom linked in the header.

The many providers of these technologies comprise a competitive field - Wimba, Elluminate, WebX, and DimDim to name a few - compete to keep the prices low. They all provide recording capability, so when students miss a session or want to review a session, it is just a click away.

Video Brings Online Learning to Life

YouTube has brought a new dimension to the Web - video. Hundreds of lectures are put online through YouTube. Many great speeches and more are also available on YouTube. People with multiple languages and cultures post videos online.

Until recently, there has not been an inexpensive and simple way to record and upload video. But, a new generation of video cameras are now available at costs as low as $100. These "SSD" - solid state drive video cams store an hour or more video designed for web release. The Flip camera - see the link from the post title - has built-in software to upload videos through a "flip-out" USB connector that works with most any computer.

Here's an example of an impromptu video, my colleague and I put on YouTube:

Imagine attending a conference, pulling out your Flip camera and recording interviews with colleagues and other national figures in your field. They become instant "virtual guest speakers" in your classes.

The intimacy of video both to and from students enables a kind of one-on-one connection with distant students.

Podcasting - iTunesU

Podcasting is an RSS-syndicated technology. Podcasts of the traditional audio sort are MP3 files. Garrison Keeler has one:

Such podcasts can be played on any computer linked to the 'net and containing the free iTunes software. iTunes searches for updates on RSS feeds every time you connect to the net (or less often if you choose).

iTunes U provides many higher education materials online. Many universities use iTunes U to disseminate materials to both students enrolled at the university (behind password) and to the public at large:

Quality and Collaboration in Online Learning

The Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C) is an association of some 1,500 colleges, universities, and other educational institutions committed to quality, scale and breadth in online teaching and learning. The organization publishes the highly-regarded Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks. Sloan-C hosts national conferences, maintains a database of effective practices, offers workshops conducted by leading professionals in the field, and publishes periodic research reports on blended and online learning.

On the Horizon.....

Each year the New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE jointly publish a look a the technologies on the horizon - both near and far. A new report is due out in just a few months.

But, the most recent report still holds some great examples of new and emerging technologies worth watching.

Beyond the Horizon: Extending Moore's Law and the Technological Singularity

This year we surpassed one billion computers on the planet with two billion predicted by 2015.

Moore's Law, like the Energizer Bunny, just keeps going and going and going. Its demise has been predicted half a dozen times, but just in time a new technology is developed to keep the pace going. Simply stated, the law is that the capability of integrated circuits, the building block of computing capacity, increases at an exponential rate - doubling every two years (at an equal or lower cost). Here's a logarithmic chart:

The technological singularity is described as a time when the power of artificial intelligence on single computer will eclipse the capability of a human brain. Promoted by futurist Ray Kurzweil this is calculated to be achieved in the coming decade or two.

A Final Thought or Two

As we look at the technologies that are changing the way in which we teach, learn, communicate, and collaborate, we can become overwhelmed. There is a tendency for people to either ignore the advancements and keep doing things as they always have, or to jump on a new technology and cling to it for years at a time.

Instead, we might be better served by coming to an understanding that technology is changing; it is changing at an accelerating, not a linear, rate. We can use technology to track technology. We can carefully choose what is useful and what is not.

And we can remember that - until the point of technological singularity - we are the ones who are doing the teaching and learning. Technology is not an end in itself; rather, it is a tool to enable and facilitate quality, efficiency, and accessibility in teaching and learning.

Contact Information

Ray Schroeder
Professor Emeritus and Director
Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning
University of Illinois at Springfield
Springfield, IL 62703