Innovation in distance education
August 2, 2007 1:19 AM   Subscribe

What methods, software, stuff will create an exciting and cutting edge distanced education program?

I am part of a team that is converting an internal graduate diploma to external mode. This program turns graduates from different areas into teachers in one year (two semesters). It does have practicum in schools. The university requires the use of Blackboard.

The academics in charge of this program want an innovative distance education program but they don't know what it looks like. They're thinking mabye podcasts, maybe streaming video, maybe teleconferences. I'd like to bring them a kick-arse list of ideas from people who know technology.

If you were going to teach “teaching” externally, what things would you like to do? What are some limits (eg students on dialup, accessability issues)? As a student, what did you hate the most with your distance ed course that should be avoided at all costs? What was on your wish list?

Bonus points for tying the technology to a purpose eg "Encourage students to share lesson plans via a diploma-wide wiki"

Yes I would also love links to organisations who are modelling best practices, to product sites, to articles. I am still looking myself, but I'm finding hard to narrow down the search criteria to get useful resources.
posted by b33j to Education (7 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The first thing that comes to mind is reliability. The distance education program I was in had many good points, but what stuck with us, as students, were the times that the software had a problem right near our deadlines or exams. Believe me: if you've been up all night to finish a paper, only to find out you can't hand it in because you can't reach the teachers through anything else than the software that is not functioning, you're not happy...

Also, there are many levels of interactivity (between students and professors, between students amongst themselves) possible. Two way communication might be more challenging, but was definitely always on my wish list. University is not just gathering information (you could read a book if it was just about that), but also grasping complex concepts, discussion, etcetera. This is hard to do without professors and teachers that are both facilitated and motivated to help students do this.

YMMV, I'm not all that sure I was a typical student!
posted by Ms. Next at 4:01 AM on August 2, 2007

You could explore Moodle as an option. I've not got direct experience of using it but I understand it's well-regarded as a way to serve up interactive coursework and get students interacting with each other and with tutors.

You would, of course need other technologies to generate the content that the Moodle framework dishes up, but it has all you might want for both students and tutors to interact.
posted by dowcrag at 4:44 AM on August 2, 2007

The #1 rule for running online education is for instructors/teachers/tutors to have an online presence themselves during the course - teachers must, as Ms Next says, participate in all exchanges. Else, it's all just an online book. I've been in several online courses where the instructor just vanished, and the course petered out into nothingness.

For some ideas on how distance learning is used, read the following:

Bruce Nightingale's blog
LSE's elearning centre
Higher Education Insight
Seb Schmoller's Fortnightly Mailing probably the worst-named blog of all time, but contains lots of useful links
The learning circuits blog

These blogs cover much of the "approach" and pedagogy of online education (amongst other things). One or two of them often link off to reports on technology in learning, with emphasis on elearning.

For technology, there is a matrix of various
Content Management Systems products , and a similar Comparison matrix of Learning Management Systems. The LMSs are probably what you would use, but I include the CMSs here just for completeness.

Here is another site that compares various LMSs.

Moodle usually gets good reviews.
posted by flutable at 5:38 AM on August 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

I did this course on Online Learning and Education! 1999. No doubt it has changed a bit since then - it might be a useful starting point for you.

There's nothing quite like doing an online education course online!
posted by flutable at 5:41 AM on August 2, 2007

I don't think she can use Moodle or compare other LMSs if Blackboard is already required. My recommendation is to keep the instruction centered around a week. It's a good unit to chunk things into for assignments and deadlines. I also find it helpful if the instructor uploads a video each week explaining what the course will be doing that week. This also creates a human link that addresses what flutable says above about the teacher often just disappearing.
posted by mattbucher at 10:31 AM on August 2, 2007

Before you get caught up in streaming video and the like, realize that you can do a lot with HTML. College classes are usually based around the lecture, and lectures translate very nicely into HTML. As I transitioned from teaching face-to-face to teaching online (using Blackboard, though I'm not a fan of it), I've expanded what had been my lecture notes into self-contained text-based lectures.

Most students who prefer online education don't want to (or can't) be at their computers at a particular time regularly. Requiring synchronous elements (e.g. live chats and the like) will cut down on the number of students who can participate in your course. That isn't to say you can't use them (I chat with students when we both happen to be online). But making them required would be, I think, a bad idea.

Podcast lectures are a very good idea. Going forward, I will be creating mp3 versions of most or all of my lectures. You can even partner with Apple/iTunes to host and deliver them.

I find that it's better to arrange things by weeks, rather than virtual "classes" (especially since my class is asynchronous). Each week means new reading requirements, which are listed on the syllabus, new lectures, which are posted to the online class, new quizzes, and occasional announcements. Blackboard has tools for all of these things.

If you can make the forums the main vector for support--even by requiring a certain number of posts per week as part of a participation grade or something--that can go a long way toward getting students talking to you, in public, and to one another. I find that online class interaction requires some prodding. But, one it takes off, it can be very useful.

I like mattbucher's idea about a weekly video--even a short one--to keep a human face on it. I may try that for the fall. But all this media production takes time and resources. If you're currently teaching the same class face to face, you might want to consider recording those lectures (as audio or video) and use those as the basis for your class.
posted by wheat at 11:27 AM on August 2, 2007

Blackboard, like Moodle, is an online learning tool that supports social constructivist learning theory. What that means is that the students themselves can be the creators of a lot of the content.

From my experience (I completed a masters in distributed learning online), the best approach to online learning is the use of an online learning community. With the community approach, students learn through online discussions and groups projects.

The use of fancy technology (animations, flash) often does not add to the pedagogy, rather it inflates the cost of course creation. Podcasts could be used in moderation to provide small snip-its of theory (not more than say 20 minutes in length), but the core of the learning should come from students interacting with the content (usually readings), that is, discussions.

My advise is to pick up a copy of:
"Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace, effective strategies for the online classroom" by Palloff and Pratt
"E-Moderating, the key to teaching and learning online" by Salmon

Learning communities also help with retention. Students are more likely to complete the course, and complete it on-time, if they have fellow learners sharing the experience with them.

On a side note, one of my biggest pet-peeves about online courses is when they promote the ability to learn anytime, but the course facilitators are only available 9-5 Monday to Friday. Most professionals do their course work in the evenings and weekends, so that is when the facilitators should be available!
posted by rhogue at 5:59 PM on August 5, 2007

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