In the April issue of the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, Dianne Conrad of the University of New Brunswick has published her qualitative research on the reflections of novice online instructors. The research covers interviews with five new instructors, all using the WebCT platform in a university setting. The study uses Collins & Berge’s framework for facilitating interaction online.
Conrad notes that most of the instructors’ concerns were content-oriented, trying to ensure that enough content was delivered. There was little mention by the instructors on the student learning process, a hot topic amongst those using blogs in education. Conrad also notes the important role of instructors’ egos in the virtual classroom, and that online environments require a more learner-centred approach. Though not mentioned by Conrad, I find it interesting that all five instructors were men. Would the "content focus" have become more of "learner focus" with a different gender mix? How about with a different cultural mix?
One of the respondents made a comment about the limitations of the platform, in that the discussion fora were not searchable. This reinforces my opinion that any LMS/LCMS should be used in conjunction with a good CMS/Blog so that the conversation is less constrained by the technology [this open source blog is searchable, as are most others]. You need the right tool box, as well as the right pedagogical approaches.
Conrad’s study is a worthwhile read for anyone working with online instructors in an academic setting.
The University of Washington is offering a free, self-paced course in Fluency in Information Technology. According to the website, the course covers the basics, concepts and capabilities. For example – Basics: e-mail, word processing, searching for Web information; Concepts: what’s a "graphic user interface," how do networks send pictures; Capabilities: troubleshooting problems, thinking up IT solutions. There’s even a section on SQL.
A cursory review of the course shows that it is based on a published book, and requires about 150 hours of study time, which includes projects and quizzes.
What is missing from this course is interaction. I understand that a free course cannot offer mentored support or instructors, but why are there no blogs, student-generated FAQ’s or discussion boards? These would not cost much more, but would add a lot. It will be interesting to see what the uptake on this course will be.
Anyway, I commend the university for making this course available.
On Thursday, when I discussed blogs in business at the NS eLearning Summit, I was pleasantly surprised by the high level of interest. The fact that most learning is informal, and that our education and training programs only address about 20% of our learning needs, seems to be understood by many. Blogs are one way of encouraging conversation, which leads to individual knowledge creation and can result in increased business value.
Blogs are also a way of supporting more formal learning offerings. They can be used to engage potential clients through meaningful discourse. Blogs can also be used as a follow-up of a formal course or workshop, to keep the conversation going. These applications were appealing to a number of people in the audience.
There are many sources of information on how to use blogs. For the academic sector, I would recommend beginning with Weblogg-ed;, while Blog Kathleen is a good starting point for a business perspective. Other Blogs (learning, work, technology) are available on the left "Links" section of this website.
I attended the Nova Scotia eL Summit in Halifax yesterday, and it was a resounding success. Over 100 people in attendance; a number who were linked-in via the Net, thanks to Phil O’Hara of Dalhousie University. A quick review of what I learnt, with more to follow when I get home:
From Julie Kaufman of IDC – Linux developers generally prefer informal learning while MS developers generally prefer more formal learning. (It’s always important to remember who your audience is, when designing any learning intervention)
From Phil O’Hara – small incentives along the way work better than one large incentive at the end of a learning programme.
From the Education panel – the main driver for e-learning in NS schools is "equity of access".
From Joe King at Tecsult-Eduplus – you can create a sustainable e-learning business model by sharing costs and profits with your clients/channel partners.
From Jerry van Olst – has some of the most interesting clients: Nerds On Site.
Many thanks to Barry Nicolle for organising this conference.
Tomorrow I’ll be in Halifax for the Nova Scotia eLearning Summit. As a panelist during the "eLearning in the Corporate Environment" forum, I will have ten minutes to focus on weblogs and provide:
Practical, real-life examples of how companies/organizations are using elearning to strengthen their competitive position, streamline employee training and bring value to customer relationships.
This is like getting the perfect blogging elevator pitch, which is currently being sought by Judith Meskill, but unfortunately her competition isn’t over yet, so I can’t view the collective wisdom of the blogosphere.
So far I’m cobbling together ideas from Rob Paterson, Jay Cross, Robert Scoble, Kathleen Gilroy, and Lee Lefever. I’ll also tell how blogging has become an essential part of my free agent business. I’ll publish the feedback when I return.
Dave Pollard continues his discussion in A Prescription for Business Innovation Part 2 and gives us further principles of innovation strategy:
Flat, small, responsive, democratic organizations are inherently more innovative.
True innovation only occurs where there is consensus that there is an important problem to solve and a sense of urgency to solve it.
Competition is now dysfunctional, a vestige of earlier times of resource scarcity, and cooperation is now essential to effective innovation.
The customer is now king and needs only better decision making tools to become the sole driver of economic activity, rendering obsolete the need for marketing, branding, and other producer-driven mechanisms of influencing customer actions.
… organizational structures, processes and behaviours more commonly associated with businesses run by women are gaining traction in the New Economy, and that bodes well for innovation.
This is a current interest of mine, as I’m moderating a community of practice around elearning R&D in the region. The central issue is how to get a disparate group of companies, united by geography, to collaborate on innovation in the form of a problem, project or issue. As Dave Pollard writes:
Perhaps this is a universal trait that we need to consider when designing innovation programs: Everyone loves to engage in social activities that are fun, challenging and unthreatening, but when the social activity impinges on individual ‘territory’ or property, or on scarce resources, social and collaborative behaviour ceases and confrontational, competitive behaviour takes over.
I believe that the key to this community of practice will be to find that fine balance between collaboration and confrontation, but also holds peoples’ interest.
A complete how-to Word document from Will Richardson. This is an essential step by step guide for those wanting to introduce blogs and RSS into their teaching. An excellent local example of school blogging is from northern New Brunswick’s Haut-Madawaska learning centre (in French).
Seek and ye shall find. In response to my question, the Otter Group’s Kathleen explains some of her current business-related blog & RSS projects.
I believe blogs are ideal peer-to-peer learning and communications channels. Because they are so inexpensive to produce and maintain, they can be cost-effectively used for small groups and small projects.
It seems that the participation levels are higher with blogs. This was an issue that we had a few years back with a community-building project using a hefty document management system (think expensive) – it was just too cumbersome. This post is much more practical than what was reported in the NY Times on BloggerCon II and blogs for business, via Weblogg-ed.
From the University of Prince Edward Island, Mark Hemphill’s end of course notes from "Networking, Knowledge & the Digital Age", discussing eBusiness, enterprise software and the social and commercial forces of the Internet. Some of Mark’s observations:
Web-like Internetworking provides us with a new freedom, and allows us to grow faster than we ever could when we were fettered by the hierarchical classification systems into which we bound ourselves.
Networking offers an opportunity to reclaim our real voices and restore real human relationships.
We are hurtling through an era of unprecedented change – a transformation of unimaginable scale and proportion. Much of the existing complex has been undermined and is slowing crumbling around us. Legal, ethical, and social institutions are lagging far behind our technological evolution.
Great technological shifts of the past, such as the advent of speech, fire, writing, and the printing press, can help us to understand our current transformation.
Lots of food for thought. Worth the read, and worth some reflection. It’s great to see this use of social networking software in our region’s universities. Keep up the good work Mark.
Dave Pollard in A Prescription for Business Innovation Part 1 cites six basic principles of the innovation process:
Need Drives Innovation
Innovation starts with the Customer
Innovation Drives Technology
Innovations are Interconnected
Stories Transfer Knowledge
Innovation Requires Discipline & Patience
Having just completed an analysis of the learning industry in New Brunswick, I had the opportunity to reflect on global issues relating to the industry and make suggestions on how the industry could better position itself. Using Dave Pollard’s principles, what could the industry infer?
Since need drives innovation, a solid understanding of customers is essential. Build it and they will come, will not work. Neither will products that are developed because they have new features. Learning companies have to fill a real need ?ï¿½ï¿½Ç¨ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ and there are lots of learning needs; just listen to the customers.
If innovation drives technology, then your competitive advantage is the ideas you can generate, not your technology, with its ever shortening half-life. Not only are creative people necessary, but they need a creative environment. Too many learning companies are still structured around the industrial command and control model.
The interconnectness of innovations means that you have to be looking outside your industry, your discipline and yourself, in order to see the connections. Perhaps magazines like the Utne Reader should become required bathroom reading.
If stories transfer knowledge, why do most companies (including learning companies) insist on PowerPoint slides with lists of bullets that are read out loud. Having survived another ?ï¿½ï¿½Ç¨?ï¿½death by PPT?ï¿½ï¿½Ç¨ï¿½ï¿½ presentation last night, it seems to be obvious to everyone, except the presenter, that no one is interested in reading a bunch of bullets. Tell a story. Tell your story. Share your stories. Remember that "markets are conversations". For example, all learning companies should be encouraging blogging so that they can look outside the region, sharing their stories and learning. Get the conversations going.
Like blogging, innovation requires discipline and patience. As Ms. Rice says, there is no silver bullet.