Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Teamwork & Web 2.0 in Instructional Development

In the past two weeks in my Indiana University Web 2.0 class we have had guest speakers - founders of multimillion dollar instructional development companies. One of the points that both made very clear was that it takes a TEAM to complete nearly all instructional design projects. At a minimum projects require an instructional designer and a programmer. Larger projects demand much larger teams. As a result one of the most important skills that an employee must possess is the ability to work effectively in a team environment. I think Indiana University does a great job at building the team skills of Instructional Systems Design students. Many classes include projects that require team collaboration. I think this is essential.

However, one of the other elements that is being utilized in much of the instruction being developed today is Web 2.0 technology. Blogs, Wikis, virtual worlds and other Web 2.o applications are becoming more common and more requested by clients. I think that it is essential that students of Instructional Systems Technology are immersed in the use and design of instruction incorporating these tools.

I believe that the success of aspiring instructional designers today will depend largely on their ability to work effectively in teams and to effectively incorporate Web 2.0 technology in their instruction.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Podcasting and Lifelogging

Everyone has an I-pod, right? Look around, about 90% of people under the age of 30 are listening to one right now. Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the explosion of portable listening devices has provided a valuable new tool in learning; the podcast. The podcast is so effective as a learning tool because it is so mobile. Nearly every college student owns a digital listening device, which makes the podcast unique because lectures can be listened to anytime anywhere; on the bus, working out, or driving a car (I think this is illegal but I know someone who did it once...). This incredible flexibility is just one more step toward ubiquitous learning.

Now, lifelogging...I find it kind of creepy, but people are doing it. Lifelogging consists of strapping on a digital recording device and capturing every moment of your life. I think it could have incredible benefits; the "I told you so" being one of the greatest in my mind. For example, your wife says, "you never told me that you were going to go out with your friends tonight"; queue the tape...."honey I'm going out with the guys tonight". Beautiful! On a more serious note, people recording every moment of their life could be very valuable; deterring crime, recording family history and helping doctors diagnose physical and mental conditions. On the flip side, every flaw and every mistake a person ever made would be on tape. Might this risk knocking respected family and historic figures off the pedestals that we place them? Some experts say that lifelogging will be commonplace in the near future...I don't' see it happening, but time will tell.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Virtual Worlds in Education

You can fly! Yes, in the future (and now in some cases) you can fly to class! How cool is that?! Soar in and drop into your desk...or into the heart of the Roman Empire, or anywhere - anytime...now that is truly impressive!

Virtual worlds allow students to experience history, business, or countless other subjects first hand; and there is no better way to learn. Ask yourself, would you learn more reading a book about Roman architecture or actually walking through the streets of ancient Rome? Virtual world learning puts the student in charge of learning and enables them to explore, interact, and learn in a realistic environment. However, this type of learning isn't automatic, it requires considerable preparation and structure from the instructor. The instructor must provide students with compelling problems that engage them, while also providing structure and guidance. That is, there should be specific goals that students seek to achieve; not merely running willy-nilly around the virtual world.

However, there is something to be said for experiencing a virtual outside the educational realm. Like may web 2.0 applications, virtual worlds allow people to interact and learn from people from all different cultures around the world. This can only serve to increase tolerance and understanding of others.

Virtual worlds are becoming more and more popular every day, and "Intellagirl", the hot pink-haired superstar from Second Life, says virtual worlds will be ingrained in education within three years. Optimistic, I think, but it could happen, and it would be great for learners all over the world!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Today anyone can have a voice to the world through blogs. Anyone can record their thoughts on anything from the daily events in their lives, to political commentary, to Web 2.0! All a person needs is a computer, an internet connection, and about two minutes to create the blog.

In addition to providing a mechanism for people to communicate with the world, blogs can be an incredibly powerful tools in the classroom. They can be used in a number of different ways. They can provide a platform for teachers to consolidate resources, links, and assignments, much like a course management system. They can serve as a forum for students to reflect on material that they've covered in class; while simultaneously allowing teachers and students to comment and offer feedback on one another's thoughts.

However, blogs don't have to be used in a classroom to be considered educational. I would argue that any blog can be educational. The mere act of informing a reader about a different perspective, culture, or subject can be considered educational. Also, anything such as blogs that get people, especially kids, to write more has educational value.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Online Groups and Communities

About a year ago when my wife was pregnant with our son, she had some unusual complications. The doctor told us that given her condition it was questionable whether she could successfully carry the baby to term. All her family and friends tried to comfort her, but what she needed at that time was to hear from women who had been afflicted with the same condition. She searched the internet and found a support group for women with the condition. The discussion and interaction with the women in this group gave her great comfort over the next several months, and thank God our son was born perfectly healthy.

The point of this story is that online collaboration in the form of groups and online communities has something to offer anyone, whether it be comfort or support from people in a similar situation, people to share and collaborate ideas with, or just people with similar interests to socialize with.

From an education standpoint, groups can be used by teachers and students to share resources and ideas, and to learn about other cultures and from other people from around the world. Participation in online communities can also help to foster communication, collaboration, and teamwork skills; skills which are vital to success in today's professional environment. In addition, the sharing and challenging of ideas with people of similar interests can act as a catalyst, encouraging cognitive growth and allowing participants to reach conclusions and intellectual heights not possible by ones self.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Wikipedia, Wikibooks, and all of the other Wiki products available online are the epitomize the collaborative nature of Web 2.0. Together authors draft informative articles, books and definitions available to all who have an internet connection for free. Also, unlike discussion boards or other prominent communication tools on the web, wiki's promote cooperation and consensus. People are encouraged and to discuss and work out differences, eventually reaching a consensus.

There are some skeptics of wikipedia with regard to its accuracy and scholarly integrity. I have personally witnessed this skepticism when completing my undergrad degree a few years ago. When I cited wikipedia as a source of information in one of my papers, the professor cried foul, saying that it wasn't a legitimate source. The fact is that the accuracy of Wikipedia has been studied, and it has been found to be as accurate as other sources. In fact, in the article Studying Cooperation and Conflict between Authors with history flow Visualizations (2004) the authors determined that vulgar material and mass deletions of information are corrected in less than three minutes on average. I would also argue that wiki resources are better than traditional reference materials because they are flexible. If new information comes out, the wiki's are easily corrected, where an outdated encyclopedia lives forever (until someone throws it away).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

YouTube, Videos, and Instruction

"A picture is worth a thousand words". No truer words than than this have ever been spoken with regard to education, specifically with the availability of YouTube and other free video sources on the web. With millions of educational videos available on demand, teachers can easily integrate powerful videos into their instruction to enhance the depth of learning. The vivid depictions in videos offer an experience for the learner that isn't possible through reading or lecture; "a picture is worth a thousand words".

In his article, YouTube Anchors and Enders: The Use of Shared Online Video as a Macrocontext for Learning, Dr. Curt Bonk discusses the effectiveness of videos and a number of potential instructional strategies associated with video clips. These strategies include instructor based uses, as well as student centered activities. Most commonly, videos can be used as an instructional primer, to act as an anchor for instructional material, or as an ender to reinforce what was taught in a lesson. Students can also be assigned to show relevant videos. This serves two-fold, to facilitate discussion as well as empowering students to take charge of their own learning.

Overall, YouTube and other sources of video available on the internet are, and will continue to facilitate student's interest in learning, while enhancing the depth and effectiveness of education.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Open Education Resources

The availability of Open Educational Resources (OER) has exploded recently. MIT has made its entire curriculum available to the public and many other universities have followed suit. David Wiley of Utah State has created an interactive course called "Introduction to Open Education" and made it available to any who want to participate, with students from all across the world signing up. The explosion of OER isn't just a phenomenon in the United States, as many other countries across the globe have also made strides in this endeavor, including China, Japan, Vietnam, as well as countries throughout Europe and Latin America.

A few questions remain in my mind; however, with regard to the use of OER in the classroom setting. First and foremost of which is, are teachers aware of and do they know how to use the vast resources now available? Although I haven't been in a K-12 classroom in many years, I suspect that much of the same sort of teacher centered instruction remains, with little collaboration and use of OER. I think that teachers need to be made more aware of OER resources and their possible uses in the classroom. This may be a tall task considering the slow rate at which educational institutions seem to embrace change. The key may be to include considerable OER training throughout the schooling of new teachers entering the field of education. I also believe that it would be very helpful if OER experts and instructional systems technology staff were hired at each school, or even each school district to train and assist teachers.

I realize that resistant teachers aren't the only roadblock to the use of OER in classrooms. There needs to be better systems of cataloguing and organizing OER so that teachers can easily find material that suits their needs and share material that they've created. In conjunction with this, Open Courseware needs to be made more flexible, that is, designed in modules versus courses, and educators can use various modules to supplement, not replace, their curriculum.

All in all I believe that OER will become more widely used in schools as teachers become more aware and more familiar with its use, and as a result education will imrove.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Free and Open Source Sofware/Courseware

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) has transformed the software industry. The collaboration of passionate "hackers" has resulted in the availability of high quality software applications for all. The benefits of FOSS include free or reduced cost, no user restrictions, and a consistency with the academic values of openness and sharing. However, as it relates to free and open source courseware, the greatest benefit is providing a successful model capable of harnessing IT to improve learning.

One of the keys to the success of many FOSS projects is that they are embedded within a community that supports the project, one another, and continually improves the product. Similarly, for free and open source courseware to improve it must be supported by an active community to collaborate, help one another, improve the products, and to spread the word about courseware applications. This community must include teachers, students, administrators and instructional developers. Robert Stevenson, a community manager for curriki.org, believes that for open course communities to thrive they must:

-Achieve active community collaboration and participation.
-Include students in the communities.
-Have the ability to modify and improve resources.
-Incorporate assessment to drive improvement.
-Provide easy ways for communities to make contributions.

When all of these are accomplished, communities supporting open course software will become stronger, and it will transform education, much like FOSS is transforming the software industry.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Libraries and Researchers of the Future?

With the rapidly increasing dissemination of e-books, online journal articles, and basically any information that you could ever dream of wanting to know on the internet, are our libraries becoming a thing of the past? How has library use changed since the rapid expansion of online information? How has Google and other search engines changed the way that people conduct research? These are some of the questions that were addressed by a British study conducted in January, 2008; "a ciber briefing paper. Information behaviour of the researcher of the future".

Many of the studies findings regarding library use were consistent with what any student would likely tell you; most notably that we use search engines rather than libraries because they are easier and more intuitive. Students are intimidated by libraries. It is much more within our comfort zone, and a whole lot easier to Google something than to physically go to the library or try to navigate their complicated online databases. We also tend to search horizontally; that is to briefly and incompletely view a lot of different information sources rather than reading entire articles. We "squirrel" away many interesting articles reading for possible future use.

Surprisingly, the study also revealed that young people may not be the expert searchers that many believe; often having difficulty developing effective search strategies. It surmised that students must be taught library skills early, before they enter college, in order to become effective researchers.

The conclusion of the study was that the availability of information on the internet has minimized the need for libraries and librarians as intermediaries, and the shift away from libraries will likely become increasingly rapid as more e-books and other information is made available on the web. The bottom line is that libraries need to adapt or they may become a thing of the past.

Now what do libraries need to do if they don't want to become a thing of the past? Well, address those issues; become more user friendly, shifting from a content oriented to a more user focused perspective. With their limited budgets, they may need to integrate their services more with popular internet search engines to take advantage of their deep pockets. But most of all they need to study their users and base their future strategies on their research habits.

In my opinion I think libraries are here to stay for a while. However, I believe that they will be more seamlessly integrated with other web search engines in order to become more user friendly. And as for the physical library itself, I think it will become more of a social place like the bookstores of today, a place to drink coffee, read magazines, and relax. In the end as long as there are people that like the smell and feeling of reading an actual book, libraries will be with us.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Digital Literacy

According to dictionary.com the definition of literacy is "the ability to read or write". Today this definition seems as outdated as the factory-like education that our schools provide. Although literacy in it's tradational form, the ability to read and write, is obviously important, there is much more to being literate in today's technological world. This new literacy is referred to as digital literacy. Digital literacy refers to a persons ability to use technology effectively and efficiently. This not only includes the physical functions of using technological hardware and software, but the ability to locate information, sort through it, exercise critical thinking, and synthesize and make sense out of the vast troves of information.

One of the difficulties that have arisen with the rapid development of Web 2.0 educational technologies is that many teachers are not digitally literate themselves. As Barbara Jones Kavalier states in her article Connecting the Digitial Dots: Literacy of the 21st Century, "linear thinking instructors" are trying to use outdated methods to teach digitally literate students. The question is, is there any effort ongoing to train these teachers, and if not are our students missing out on the newest educational tools available via Web 2.0 as a result? It seems an easy solution would be to make IST professionals available to all teachers to "bring the teachers up to speed". Whether this will ever happen or not, who knows, but in reality the situation faced by many teachers who technologically challenged is not a new one. I'm sure a few decades ago educators were struggling with how to turn on the overhead projector, but it seems today there is a lot more at stake, as students are missing out on a lot more learning tools and opportunities associated with Web 2.0.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Learning Opportunities on "The Web of Knowledge"

The "web of knowledge" offers incredible learning opportunities for anyone with a computer and an internet connection...which is becoming more and more common as cell phone and satellite internet access help to bridge the "digital divide" around the world and the $100 laptop has become a reality. The web allows students (or anyone who has a desire to learn about anything) in urban or remote settings to engage in incredibly rich learning environments that were not possible even a few years ago. How amazing is it that people around the world can read the diary (old school blog) of Samuel Pepys, a man who lived in the 1600's - complete with links to read about other relevant topics of his day! I can't think of a more indelible way to learn about everyday life in 17th century London. Of course this is just one of many examples of how the web of knowledge is able provide a depth of understanding on an endless range topics previously unavailable to the masses.

In addition to providing unprecidented learning resources to people, the web also allows them to easily create networks with people whom they have common interests. Whether obscure or popular, there is almost certainly a community of people on the web that shares your interests, and with with whom you can communicate and collaborate. This is huge opportunity for learning because discussion and collaboration often act as a catalyst for creativity and development of new ideas.

I've only presented a couple of examples, but the bottom line is that they serve to reinforce that the learning opportunities and possibilities available on the web of knowledge seem endless, yet they continue to multiply at astronomical speed.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The World is Getting Smaller...

Web 2.0 applications have enabled people to post anything on the internet to be viewed by anyone around the word. In the past it would have been nearly unheard of to reach so many so scattered around the earth. Even world renound authors probably couldn't have pulled that off even a few decades ago. As a result of Web 2.0 applications we are now able to to communicate our ideas and information to potentially millions of others. From the United States to the far east, and all across all the continents of the earth people will read this blog...or not....but the point is... they could! The bottom line is, the personal communication technologies associated with Web 2.0 allow people to share ideas with others of similar interests, collaborate with others with similar goals, and learn from others with different perspectives and from different cultures. In the end Web 2.0 technology has brough us all much closer and the world has seemingly gotten much smaller.

However, one concern that I have about the ease of posting anything to the web for anyone to view as it relates to education is that it is often difficult to determine the credentials or expertise that the sources of information possess. This may not be as much of an issue for an advanced student who has developed critical thinking skills, but for younger students or less educated people who tend to believe everything they read on a fancy web page, it may raise some concerns. This has really created a dichotomy, the great thing about Web 2.0 technology is that anyone can publish anything on the net, but the bad thing about Web 2.0 technology is that anyone can publish anything on the net. However, in the end I think that future generations will become increasingly familiar with Web 2.0 applications, more exposed to numerous sources of information, and as a result, much better critical thinkers. This will enable them to sort and synthesize information at a much younger age.

Yes, Web 2.0 has connected the people of the world like never before, and it will continue to do so at an increasingly accelerated rate until the geography of the world is no longer a boundary between people's ideas.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Week One - Blended Learning

8/30/2008 (Week One): Our first class met before the semester actually started because of the lost day due to Labor Day this year (to ensure we got our money's worth)! The readings and lecture centered on "blended learning". Although there are several definitions of blended learning, in today's context it can be defined as a mix of online and face to face learning. Blended learning can vary greatly in its ratio of online and in person instruction; from utilizing small amounts of web based applications to supplement a traditional class (enhanced blend), to the opposite, supplementing primarily web based instruction with face to face instruction. Learning can be also be blended at various levels; activity, course, program, and institutional, depending on the goals of the institution.

Blended learning has exploded over the past several years for a number of reasons. Technology has improved rapidly and prices have come down, allowing more people access to the internet and other technological gadgets. Also blended learning is useful in bringing educational opportunities to people who might otherwise not have the chance, such as people located remotely or in large populations that may not otherwise have the infrastructure to support face to face instruction for all potential students. Finally, blended learning is cost effective and convenient for students; often providing them the freedom to participate from home, work, or wherever they may be, whenever they have the time. This convenience is one of the primary reasons for the explosion of blended learning; that is, it has really opened up educational opportunities to adult learners who also have family and job responsibilities.

Blended learning also comes with its challenges, such as providing realism in instruction, teamwork and collaborative skills, etc. Luckily Dr. Kurt Bonk has published a book (of which I can't remember the name right now) describing a number of these potential problems and their solutions. Generally the internet and its applications are vast and powerful enough to solve these problems. For example to add realism students might be assigned to participate in computer simulations, and to facilitate teamwork they might be assigned to do so in groups.

In the near future blended learning will be a term of the past. Remote and face to face learning will be so integrated and so common, it will all just be called learning.