Why Harvard just raised the Bar [way high] for e-learning

E-learning has just been given premier status. Sooner rather than later, online learning will no longer be viewed as sub-standard, second-rate or ‘lite’ education. The heavy hitters of higher ed, the IVY Leagues are now behind online learning, open source, MOOCs, [Massive Open Online Courses] which will have cataclysmic effects for higher ed. I’m speaking of Harvard and MIT’s announcement this past week which introduced edX, a collaborative partnership between MIT and Harvard which will offer Harvard and MIT classes online for on-campus students and anyone with access to the Internet.

The edX initiative is going to accelerate a shift to a new model for education, actually it’s going to be more like a tsunami that’s going to hit campuses which is how John L. Hennessy, president of Stanford described it, according to Ken Auletta in Get Rich U. (2012). 

Why is Harvard getting ‘in’ now?
Why has Harvard (finally) thrown its hat into the ring? It’s not just because Stanford’s doing it, as is Princeton, University of Michigan and U Penn, (all of which are doing so collaboratively through a similar initiative coursera), but because they HAVE to. It’s not optional (similar to the question many campuses faced five or so years ago, should we be on Facebook – which changed to when do we get on FB) – the time has come, either acknowledge that the education model needs to change or just close your doors and crawl under a rock. With the influence of social media, 24/7 Internet access, there’s a need to respond, adapt. Furthermore, this higher education bubble we’re in is going to burst, soon. This bubble exists due in part to the cost of higher education, which according to the National Center for Public Policy and Education has increased 440% in the past five years, nearly four times the rate of inflation (Lataif, 2011).

Enough of that, let’s look at the practical reasons why Harvard [and MIT] need to change…

1) Transform: “To enhance campus-based teaching and learning“, according the edX website, which I view as a productivity issue. As much as I dislike to apply business terminology to education, it’s a necessity, universities need to innovate and embrace technology, find new ways to conduct the ‘business’ of educating.

2) Relevancy for on-campus students: Make no mistake, MIT and Harvard recognize that learning needs to transform in order to remain relevant and provide meaningful, enriched learning for students, and we’re talking about on-campus students. EdX appears to be just as much about transforming learning for and reaching students worldwide, as it is for students in traditional face-to-face classes. Watch the two-minute YouTube video at the end of this post where leaders of both institutions share their vision for edX.

3) Education Research: It appears the plan is also to conduct research into educational practices and theory, “EdX will support Harvard and MIT faculty in conducting research on teaching and learning on campus through tools that enrich classroom and laboratory experiences“, a good thing.

What it means for Online Education
We [educators] need to step-up – the bar is high – educators now more than ever need to create and deliver courses of quality and rigor. It also means capitalizing on the value of the educational experience, and showing the student how he or she will benefit from completing for-credit courses. Audit students will become a thing of the past.

The Ivy Leagues have an International reputation that speaks for itself, there will be instant name recognition, which will be associated with ‘quality education’ (whether accurate or not).  A recent example, Stanford’s  Professor Thrun offered a free online course in Artificial Intelligence last year, that drew 160,000 students from 190 countries. Thrun found this to be a life changing experience, and started Coursera, which offers a full range of courses from Ivy League professors. Granted college credit is not earned. However, there may be something in the offing for edX, as Mitx (which has now merged Harvard edX) had  planned to offer recognition of completion (certificate after testing for content mastery) at some point. We’ll have to see what happens with edX.

L. Rafael Reif, Provost of MIT, made it clear that quality and rigor will not be compromised,

This [edX] should not to be construed as MIT Lite or Harvard Lite, the content is the same”. (YouTube video).

What are the Nay Sayers Saying?
Of course there are plenty of skeptics – and I don’t discount their concerns. I feel it’s worthwhile to consider other viewpoints. Collectively some concerns include, 1) how to motivate students that aren’t intrinsically motivated [to engage with online content], 2) how to promote cross discipline learning, 3) how to get feedback from students that have dropped out [and why], 4) how to monitor progress of students (if the case of thousands of students), to name a few. One blog post I read, was quite pessimistic, suggesting that the impetuous of these schools offering online education is motivated by profit. I respect this educator’s position, though I do not agree, as it’s all about what I’ve mentioned above.

Transforming education is about moving forward, progressing and the time has come. I’ll close with one quote made by chairman of IBM when the prototype for the personal computer was introduced. It’s rather humorous now.

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
– Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

Further Reading
Universities on the Brink, Louis Lataif, Forbes.com
Edx: A platform for MOOCS, and an opportunity for more Research about Teaching and Learning Online, Audrey Watters, Inside Higher Ed
About edX, edxonline.org
What’s the difference between a MOOC and the University of Phoenix, More or less Bunk

Photo Credit: Terrible Tsumami, FrankBonilla.tv , Flickr, Creative Commons

Extreme LMS Makeover – Unconventional Approaches…

“Leaving the LMS: Checking out of Hotel California”
Campus Technology Forum 2012, Session T07, May 1

Do you ever wonder what it would be like to have a seamless, intuitive learning management platform that  does what you tell it? Starting your course fresh with a new system? Yet the barriers appear steep and deep. Well two universities did just that – one, Western University shared their story (title above) in a session at Campus Technology’s Forum 2012 that wrapped up today in Long Beach, CA, and the other, Temple University, in “Making Education Social: the FoxMIS Community Site”.

Both sessions were relevant and timely for those that work with traditional LMS platforms such as Moodle, or Blackboard. Front line educators from both institutions shared their stories of doing the unthinkable — ditched the LMS, fired them, dropped them, whatever you want to call it. And, the school didn’t fall apart, or implode, in fact,  the instigators of the program volunteered their time to tell other like-mined educators how they did it.

Temple University logo (no text, "T"...

1) FoxMIS Community Platform, Fox School of Business, Temple University, created jointly by Dr. David Schuff and Dr. Munir Mandviwalla.

The Problem
Schuff and Mandviwalla identified several ‘problems’ with courses in their LMS before making the change: 1) operating like silos (sounds familiar), 2) not connected with the larger community, 3) students had little ownership in the learning process, 4) challenges in creating communities around ideas. It didn’t stop there….the  students, who are spontaneous, often work ad-hoc, are event based, collaborative, social, and digital consumers. These mismatched needs led to the development of this model….

The Solution: WordPress and BuddyPress
The concept of Socialize the Enterprise emerged, where the goal was to integrate the learning, teaching, professional development, socialization all while building a community. How did they do it?

  • Image representing BuddyPress as depicted in C...Built a platform with WordPress.org (open source blogging software) and BuddyPress (open source software for self-hosted WordPress social network)
  • Added custom plug-ins for Grade book and e-portfolio
  • Developed custom themes and functions for e-portfolios and courses

I encourage you to visit the site – it’s impressive, the developers managed to create a community ‘feel’, yet the site functions practically as a tool for faculty, staff, administrators, prospective students and  employers.

2)  Leaving the LMS: Check out of the Hotel California, Western University of Health Sciences, Dr. Gerald Thrush, (Assistant Dean, Pre-clinical education) and Dr. Matt Curtan (Technical Support Supervisor).

Western University was using a Learning Management Platform that they found non-responsive, clunky and heavy with features and tools they did not need or use. To complicate matters, there are over eight different schools within the University.

The Problem:
The school had three primary needs, 1) Content sharing – the need for high storage capacity and ease of file transfer, 2) Score recording and reporting (including historical data to be pulled from ALL testing, advisor notes, records etc. 3) Low stakes quizzing capabilities.  Faculty and administrators were not interested in the bells and whistles, what they called ‘feature creep’.

The Solution: Microsoft’s SharePoint
Dr. Curtan and Dr. Thrush started with a backwards approach, with the end in mind.  After exploring several options, SharePoint, had all the features they needed, which included:

  • Unlimited space
  • Intuitive interface
    • Web browser
    • Windows Explorer
  • Active Directory Built in
  • Academic Progress Portal: APP
  • Web-based data warehouse

Though they did experience significant challenges, and not all colleges have adopted the program (though many now are looking to change to SharePoint), the new system was implemented in five weeks in two of the colleges.  Impressive? Absolutely. Is this for everyone, definitely not.

I’m not suggesting that we all abandon our LMS platforms tomorrow, but I hope to plant a seed. Change is possible – solutions to an unmet need may even be within your own LMS. But, I believe it begins by identifying what is needed to best meet the needs of your instruction, students and content.

Other Resources:
Re-imagining the role of technology in higher education

Fox MIS Community Project
Ideapressa WordPress as a LMS

Providing relevant learning online…outside the [LMS] Bubble

Let’s face it – the learning management platforms (i.e. Moodle, Blackboard) as they exist today, are restrictive, limiting for both the learner and online educator. The flexibility, value and learning potential available with Web 2.0 tools far exceed the teaching limitations that exist within the LMS platform. CT’s s recent article, Rebuilding the LMS for the 21st Century reaffirmed what I’ve written about before – working within an LMS platform feels as if I’m trying to communicate (from the student perspective) and teach (educators’ perspective) through a brick wall – I said A BRICK WALL – can you hear me? Sorry for the big caps, but that is how it one feels inside an LMS – the need to shout.

Now more than ever as LMS platforms merge into one (Blackboard recently acquired Moodlerooms)* educators need to be independent for lack of a better word, move beyond the walls of the LMS, explore and embrace the multiplicity of tools available to teach, instruct and foster learning online. The agility of  innovative software developers to provide new tools and  applications for collaboration far outpaces what traditional LMS providers can offer, in fact this says it better than I could,

 “Web 2.0 enables and accelerates the transition to a more connected world in which open, user-centered and self-organising networks create value, including public [educational] value. That’s the Web 2.0 proposition with which…people …around the world are experimenting to see ….eGovernment Resource Centre

Why use Web 2.0 tools in Online Teaching?
Just as in the classroom, utilizing a multiplicity of tools and methods is part of instruction though with online there are additional reasons, relevancy, and learning through collaboration with peers. A blog reader, a professor of communications class, shared her approach, “I believe they [students] should be using web applications and not be inside the LMS silos … learning how to make use of the possibilities offered on the web.joanvinallcox.ca. Exactly – an illustration of relevant learning.

This clever illustration below uses Bloom’s Taxonomy with its levels of cognitive learning domains presented in the familiar pyramid image, but inserts applicable web 2.0 applications into each, which illustrates Web 2.0 tools that support instruction. I would like to reiterate here, that it is only through a sound instructional design strategy that instruction is effective, with appropriate tools chosen to support learning objectives (my model of choice: Dick, Carey and Carey).

Bloom's Taxonomy and Web 2.0 Applications, by Samantha Penney

The other reason, emerging research suggests students learn better when there is a visual representation of course content to work with, [beyond the text] either through knowledge maps, or graphs with text within boxes [used in context of the visual mapping] (Suthers et. al., 2006). Though the research focuses on collaborative learning and interactions with knowledge maps, this is an interesting concept to consider.  What it does suggest is that online learning needs to move beyond the threaded discussions in the LMS platform.

Where to start…
There are a plethora of tools available and I will admit it will take some legwork to find relevant and applicable tools to meet the needs of the course objectives – I will provide just a few examples below to get you started. Also consider revisiting the instructional strategy, reviewing the learning objectives, the course content, and select learning activities that will support student learning. Next, I like to identify the appropriate level within Bloom’s Taxonomy, which helps with my choice of appropriate tool. Using the verbs associated with the learning level are also helpful – for example, analyze, synthesize will require different learning activities than verbs such as identifying or describing.

  • A collaborative mapping tool, MindMesister
  • Mindamo, Online Mind Mapping Software, available in Google Apps
  • Collaborative Data spreadsheet tool (think Excel), EditGrid
  • 35 Best Web 2.0 tools for Teachers, Edudemic

Keep Learning 🙂

Related Post: The LMS Divide
* Correction to my original post which incorrectly stated that Blackboard had acquired Moodle, it should have read Moodlerooms.  Moodlerooms is a support provider to Moodle, an open source platform.

Suthers, D.D., Vatrapu , R., Medina, R., Joseph, S., & Nathan Dwyer. (2008, May). Beyond threaded discussion: Representational guidance in asynchronous collaborative learning environments. Computers & Education. Volume 50, Issue 4, pp 1103-1127

The LMS Divide – Social Presence in Online Learning

Social Presence and Community of Inquiry Model
The Community of Inquiry model, developed by Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000) presents the social dimension along with cognitive and teaching presence as essential for effective learning in the online community. I’ve experienced the robust and rich learning that takes place when all three do intersect, and the void when they don’t. The social dimension in this framework, involves several components beyond the scope of this post, but globally include group collaboration where  emotions and opinions are exchanged, group work that requires focused collaboration and builds participation and acceptance.

Why Online Classrooms need Social Presence
Let’s get to the point here, social presence is needed for effective learning, and its needed to take online learning to the next level. Learning has become learner centric,  students want an active role in the learning process. Though common sense tells us that students are more likely to engage in learning when they feel connected, research supports this premise. One report below states,

“Students who perceived high social presence in the online discussions also believed they learned more from it than did students perceiving low social presence.”  Swan, K. & Shih, L-F. (2005).

What will bridge the LMS divide?
This is an interesting topic and much discussed among educators, which I’m sure many readers of this blog are part of. Here’s one group actively engaged in the discussion, Beyond the LMS: Selection, Ownership and Implementation Issues, and the role of the LMS in the broader academic technology ecosystem. Also worthy of note, is an upcoming LMS Unconference, though there is an agenda, the conference outcomes will be dependent upon each individual’s reasons for participating in the sessions as they relate to learning management platforms.

Based on these groups and conversations, it appears the scope of online learning is going beyond the traditional LMS. Social presence is just one dimension of online learning, and its up to us as educators to make sure the focus is kept on the student, not just the content.  We’ve seen many advancements in enhancing content, e-books learning objects and more being offered by textbook publishers. Let’s see if we can harness the energy and enthusiasm that’s created a plethora of social platforms, that millions are part of, including Facebook,  Pinterest, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google +, etc all which involve interaction and sharing. These platforms give a compelling argument for the value in establishing authentic ‘presence’.

What Online Learning Needs
Seamless integration of tools, for students and instructors:

  • Enhanced collaboration tools for students that incorporate both synchronous and asynchronous tools for students and instructors. Collaborative tools like Google Docs, Skpe, VoiceThread or Google + Hangouts (Hangouts have tremendous potential for online learning).
  • Instructor tools that provide opportunity for giving enhanced feedback to students, such as pod casts, screen casts and video messages.
  • Profile building that makes learning personal –  allowing students to add pictures, icons, profiles, ‘likes’, interests and previous experiences.
  • Discussion boards where students can seamlessly include content and media from other sources on the web, and even from other classes.
  • Social tools and sharing that allow and encourage students to bookmark content related to course:  videos, web sites, e-books, photos or more.

* In this post, when I refer to LMS platforms, I’m referring to the most dominant platforms used by higher education institutions, those with the most market share.


Online Learning: Social Interaction and the Creation of a Sense of Community
The Evolving LMS Market, Part I, Blog Post

Will Digital Learning Tools be the ‘Next Generation’ in Online Learning?

How will students experience the ‘next generation’ of online credit courses? What will push online learning to the next level – change the minds of reticent students – prompt some of the 70% of college students who’ve yet to take an online course? [According to a 2010 report by Sloan Consortium, 30% of college students have taken at least one course online].

Mind Tap at Cengage.com/mindtap

The noise about e-textbooks this past week after Apple launched iTextbooks is significant for good reason, yet it is digital learning objects [aka digital instructional resources] within higher-ed publishers ‘vaults’ that (potentially) will bring the online learning experience to the next level. What we’re talking about here are instructional tools – academic content available to educators in ‘modulette’ form, using the latest  technological applications to create a student experience that is interactive and engaging. Think of the digital learning tool as a worksheet, study guide or homework assignment; but in a different format – interactive, colorful, even 3D, accessed through a device of the student’s choice – iPad, tablet, PC or laptop.

Watch the Demo of Pearson’s Course Connect:

Digital tools are designed to integrate with Learning Management Platforms

Digital Tools: Potentially powerful
Pearson’s Course Connect,  MH Campus and Cengage’s MindTap offer digital tools in the form of: power point slides, interactive lessons, quizzes with feedback, animations and learning videos. Each publisher customized applications to adapt to iPad and/or tablets, handheld mobile devices for MindTap and all for PC’s and Macs. Most importantly all integrate into virtually any Learning Management Platform. However – caution…

Warning…tread carefully my fellow educators
Let us tread carefully however – at least one of the publishers promotes the tools as a way to enhance [agreed] and customize [red flag!]  the student’s learning experience, even create a personal learning environment. There is a risk to the personalized, student center approach in this context – we can’t lose site that it is the instructor that guides the student, creates the environment and structure for learning, essential in the online courses. Digital tools used haphazardly and for ‘edutainment’, won’t work. These should not be considered stand alone courses, but as learning tools (just as the traditional paper study guide or review page are).

The potential problem(s)…
I see tremendous potential for using these digital applications in online learning courses. I stress potential, because I see barriers to successful integration. Professors, instructors and curriculum designers may have challenges sourcing and implementing, and using these applications for a number of reasons.  Why?

  1. Sourcing the appropriate digital content is a challenge. Each publisher mentioned above, has several different websites, different names for numerous products that each sounds similar – it’s just plain confusing – here’s an example using Pearson: Pearson Learning SolutionsPearson Higher Ed,  Pearson Success.net and Course Connect (the course connect is the one for the digital learning tools).  The first site Pearson Learning Solutions (provider of Course Connect) does not even mention or link to Course Connect! This is a serious disconnect!
  2. Registering to gain access to one of these sites (if you can find the right one), even as a faculty member is challenging – though  McGraw Hill has launched a ‘free’ program for faculty from any institution using any LMS to access MH Campus with a single sign-on, streamlined registration process.
  3. Accessing content outside of the LMS may be challenge for students  – they will need to buy access through either their e-textbook or by buying a ‘single license’ for access. Some content may be open source, this is yet to be determined.
  4. Implementing the digital learning application appropriately using sound curriculum design principles needs to happen in order that learning outcomes are met. My fear is that, these applications are viewed as the built-in curriculum design – again they are a tool not the solution!

Let me finish with on a positive note. I am very enthusiastic about these digital tools, I look forward to implementing these digital objects in the online courses at my workplace. I often use OER resources to effectively support or reinforce a concept in an online course. Often times there are open resources linked to a given textbook via a web link address [usually] provided in the [print] textbook. The student can gain access without a code or having to register. :).  I’ll write on how to find appropriate OER in a future post.

I’ll leave with with a YouTube video about MindTap, which impressed me the most. Keep Learning 🙂

‘Being There’ in Online Learning with Elluminate Live!

Engage. Empower. Enlighten. After participating in my first Elluminate Live! synchronous (in real-time) lecture two nights ago, I concur with  Blackboard Collaborates’ website (partner company) description of Elluminate Live! as engaging, empowering and enlightening.  In context of previous posts on presence in the online classroom, I definitely felt ‘there’ with 23 classmates and our professor in an Education Statistics course – right at my kitchen table. Collectively we wrote on the white board, asked questions using the ‘raise hand’ icon, and ‘chatted’, even while the prof was talking (whoops).  Sound familiar?  This live lecture experience, across three different times zones, from Canada to Florida was recorded, another worthy feature (lectures can be recorded or even pre-recorded for later viewing and/or archiving).

A screenshot of the Elluminate Live program
Image via Wikipedia

How it Works
Elluminate Live!, by definition a web conferencing tool, is similar to products such as Adobe Connect, or GoToMeeting, yet with its unique interactivity features it’s the best tool I’ve seen for lecture delivery for educational purposes. My favorite tool is the interactive whiteboard. Students can write, draw and highlight text, include pictures on the board, as can the moderator, and is visible to the class.  What if a student writes something inappropriate? The moderator has complete control over all actions and can erase content on the board, and/or freeze participation from one or more students. A handy feature. The audio capabilities are a spiffy feature as well – surprisingly the quality was very good. Instructor and Social presence, is virtually inherent.

YouTube clip which describes this amazing tool in one minute:

What’s the catch?
What are the ‘cons’? Cost came to my mind as the primary barrier – though academic licensing depends upon number of moderators and users. Not much different from any other specialty software used by educational institutions, in other words not cost prohibitive. Elluminate Live website has further details. There is also an option to try it out free for 30 days and even a free version, though this is limited to three users.

Elluminate Live!

Instructor: What’s the Learning Curve?
No user left behind, is the mantra of Elluminate Live! – meaning it’s meant to be easy to use, easy to navigate and user-friendly. I would have to agree, from a user’s perspective at least. Our prof walked us through how to use the tools and in about 10 minutes I got the gist of it. Realistically, I’m sure the learning curve for the moderator is somewhat longer,  but it seems quite intuitive.  There are many resources for learning to use Elluminate Live!, including several quick reference guides, mini sessions on Black Board Collaborate and on YouTube (just type in Elluminate Live). Given the long list of higher ed and K-12 institutions using the tool, I’d imagine the average instructor even somewhat familiar with power point, and with limited tech skills can learn to use it pretty quickly.

Integration with LMS Platforms
According to Blackboard Collaborate, this lecture tool integrates with the majority of Learning Management platforms, Blackboard (of course), Moodle, Desire2Learn and Pearson’s Learning platform. The website has further details.

Final thoughts
Elluminate Live! is an innovative tool that can enhance the online learning class environment. I want to emphasize that it is a tool that can be a tremendous vehicle to build presence, engagement and support authentic learning. Often with the introduction of new technological applications, educators put the tool first, then the learning is designed to fit the tool. We need to remember to start with the learning then select and customize the tool appropriate to the learning needs.  If interested in building further instructor presence in your course, Elluminate Live! may just be what you are looking for! Visit Elluminate Live! for details, and to view demonstrations of pre-recorded sessions.

Keep Learning 🙂