Tools for distributed learning research

Article from The Guardian about new research done on an MA level distance program and how some specific technology tools were incorporated into the program. Specifically, e-readers, Second Life and audio. Interesting that Second Life was being used as an asynchronous resource instead of a synchronous meeting space, which is how I usually read about Second Life being used. I also liked that students enjoyed & appreciated the audio feedback from other students & their tutor and appeared to pay more attention to comments received via audio than text. There is something appealing to me in the linear presentation of audio feedback that might make learners less likely to skim through feedback.

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Research carried out recently among a group of students enrolled on a distance MA Tesol course at Leicester University offers a glimpse into a not-too-distant future when learners distributed around the world but linked via the internet will be able to enhance their learning experience with the use of some simple and low-cost digital tools.

with a simple voice recording program and headphone-and-mic sets it is possible for students to add audio clips to these message board postings
as part of the trial students and teachers were encouraged to post feedback about their work and exchange messages.

“It was incredibly successful,” Witthaus said. “Audio feedback gives the students the sense of their tutor as a real human being.”

She says tutors began to create a more effective, time-saving combination of text and audio. “They found they could write quick little annotations on students’ essays and then elaborate more in the audio feedback.”

The research also revealed that students appeared more willing to listen to feedback via audio than to commit time to reading written comments.

One other interesting result of the research was how communication could still be effective when it was asynchronous, particularly for study groups spread across different times zones.

This was most apparent with the use of Second Life. Instead of attempting to get student to congregate, in their avatar personas, in some part of the vast virtual world at the same time, the teaching staff identified where language learning was going on in SL and instructed students to carry out observations of what was happening in these virtual classrooms.

“The e-readers fitted into their lives. They didn’t necessarily replace print or their laptops or smartphones, it just fitted in. They used them in contexts where it worked for them.”




What Do Students Learn Through Discussion?

I went through asynch discussion burnout during my Masters. 5 courses back to back where the main tool of interaction with classmates was an asynchronous discussion board. Some tips that I appreciated as a student – faculty limiting us to postings of no more than 200 words, and breaking us into smaller groups to keep the conversation more manageable. I also appreciated having those groups mixed up during the course to keep it fresh and to introduce new ideas and ways of thinking into our discussion.

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What Do Students Learn Through Discussion?

Using a qualitative design, researchers identified four different ways students reported they were using discussion to promote learning.

  • To challenge ideas – both their own and others with the goal of arriving at a more complete understanding
  • To develop ideas – using the ideas of others to improve their own thinking
  • To acquire ideas – using discussion as a way of collecting ideas
  • To check ideas – making sure that their ideas were the right ones; that they were learning the right things

The researchers identify the first two approaches as deep learning methods and the last two as more typical of surface learning approaches.

The researchers also point out that students don’t always see the potential for learning through discussion—it’s just another one of those things some teachers have them do. You think the reason for having discussions is obvious to students? I’d encourage you to test that assumption. Next time you’ve had a discussion, ask students why you had them discuss the topic rather than simply lecturing on it or have them read about it in the text. If I had to guess, I’d say that question will first be met with silence, followed by some glib answers, “You didn’t have time to prepare a lecture,” followed by other answers, none still very insightful, “It’s a way to keep us awake.”




Why SCORM is bad for elearning

This post is in regards to the recent $2 billion dollars that the US gov’t has set aside for the creation of Open Educational Resources. A significant shot in the arm for OER’s, except for on small glitch – the content has to be developed to be SCORM compliant. This post rips apart how that little gotcha puts the whole idea of resuability at risk. A good trashing of the SCORM standard. It should be noted that the trashing is being done by a person who is involved in creating a competing standard, but these remain valid concerns with SCORM. But really, what about just developing to web standards and be done with it?

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1. SCORM is severely outdated and narrow in scope. The model upon which it is based is 15 years old and very focused on one specific need: self-paced computer-based training (CBT). It is also old in terms of the technology used to implement it. It is not web friendly. It was even kind of outdated when it first came into the market. Now it is ancient.
. SCORM does not provide reliable interoperability or reuse. SCORM is very complex and notorious for providing inconsistent interoperability even among products achieving the SCORM certification.
3. SCORM was not designed for and has NOT typically been used for cohort-based educational courses with teacher and professors involved.
4. SCORM is especially bad for customizing and remixing by regular teachers and professors. SCORM objects are generally a “black box.” They require complex authoring tools to create and edit SCORM content. Therefore, remixing and republishing by the users is extremely complex
5. SCORM has no concept of or support for assessment. At best SCORM can be set up to provide short quizzes or individual questions that are a black box.
6. SCORM has no concept of protecting access to content with license codes or any other protection mechanism.
7. SCORM has no concept of or support for existing in a wider Information Technology (IT) infrastructure in which there are administrative student systems. This means that SCORM does not think through how access to various content and resources is restricted to certain individuals, including cohorts of students for collaborative activities and courses, or how data gathered from the learning is reported to administrative systems
it is very difficult to find even a single higher education course that has been reused as a result of SCORM
So, why is SCORM a poor fit for education? SCORM may be part of the solution, but at best it only addresses 10% of the requirements, and unfortunately based on very outdated technology.
Social learning, collaborative learning? These were never even contemplated with SCORM.