Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hubris 2.0: OERs, Publishers, and Federal Money

This version doesn't have text. The version wi...Image via WikipediaIn "Publishers Criticize Federal Investment in Open Education Resources" a nice little article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed this week, Blackboard lets us know that the sky is falling because of government funding of open education resources (OER) and open textbooks. You know you are doing something right when Blackboard crawls out of its shell to look around, blink, and then accuse the U.S. govt. of stiffling innovation in education by funding OER. The federal government is investing 2 billion dollars over 4 years in OER and companies like MacGraw-Hill are worried about what we will find out - that the costs of textbooks are over-inflated and a major contributor to the runaway cost of education which is rising faster than inflation and the cost of healthcare. Kevin Wiggen, the chief technology officer at Blackboard Xythos is quoted as saying "I fear when big bucks from government is put into certain places, it actually stops pushing people to innovate." For those of you who have been watching Blackboard buy and sue its way to mediocrity, this may comes as the biggest laugh from them in a while. Nothing encourages innovation more than being sued out of existence or being broken up into unsupported bits (WebCT). I know from direct experience at College of the Redwoods that home-grown textbooks, customized for the local student population by local professors are enormously successful.

If Blackboard or McGraw-Hill wants to see the future and innovative business models, they should look to Flatworld Knowledge. These new business models are the future of education. For myself, textbooks, teaching and learning materials are better when they come from the learning community. If you have to have a commercial textbook, FWK is the next best thing.

I personally like it when the government takes my hard earned tax-payer dollars and uses them to broaden access to education, lower the costs of education, and get people to work together. It is so much cheaper than invading other countries and funding the things I don't like about the world to the tune of trillions of dollars.

If you are interested in open textbooks or want to know more about what dangerous things we are doing with some of that federal money at the College of the Redwoods, leave a comment here or email me at
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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How I Survived the End of the World

The Revelation of St John: 4. The Four Riders ...Image via WikipediaI thought I had seen it all. I survived "The Late Great Planet Earth" by Hal Lindsey. He was sure the Soviet Union and other countries that no longer exist were going to invade Israel in the 70s (or 80s, or 90s...). I survived the 5th Horseman of the Apocalypse, that was the Y2K bug. I survived the last Second Coming that Harold Camping predicted in 1994. And once again, I survived the second Second Coming of Harold Camping's second coming predictions. (He has since claimed that it has been post-poned until October: maybe the 3rd time is the charm.) It is all fine and good to have a bit of a laugh over this, but when someone tells me that American schools are doing just fine, I hit the pause button on my VHS copy of "Left Behind" and wonder where we went wrong. How is it that in the modern world we still have people who will follow people like Harold Camping? Why would they send him money for his advertising campaign? But anyone with a sense of history would know where this was going. And most people do. There is a long history of the world ending. And this is where we run into trouble. World history is seen as some kind of elective and the spiritual history of the west as essentially a basket weaving course of no practical value.

A sense of history...
I think that if people had broader educations in history, we would be spared much of this. Sure, there are home-schooled religious cult followers that will successfully evade reason (and many better and well-educated home-schooled children that won't). If some of these followers of Camping had confidence in their own reading of the Bible, and knowledge of what happened, for instance, in the year 1000 CE when people panicked about the end of the world, and knowledge of the history of religion in America in general, there would be less attention paid to these potentially dangerous people. But we don't seem to be interested in that. Our schools are focused on job creation (for teachers and students) and not so interested in knowledge for its own sake which may turn out, in the end, to be the most practical knowledge of all.
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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tegrity: The future of distance learning is just learning.

The Marxist school of economic thought comes f...Image via WikipediaI was asked recently about the future of distance learning. Because of my experiences here at College of the Redwoods, I thought immediately of Lenin's analysis of Marx's stateless communism: the "withering away of the state." That is the idea that the very concept of a state, and the process that creates a state, contains its own dissolution. Whether or not we agree with that, lecture capture technology like Tegrity is doing something similar with the idea of "distance learning." The future of distance learning is that the technology will one day eliminate the distance in distance learning. At a couple of colleges I have worked at, we struggled with the definitions of "eLearning"; full-online, hybrid, web-enhanced, etc. These definitions were important in bringing classes through various committees and communicating to the students exactly what is involved in taking a particular class. Each course delivery modality has its own set of tools and pedagogy - strategies for making the delivery mode work. Meanwhile, the research is telling us that there is no significant difference in student success, completion rates and retention between face-to-face and distance learning modes. So the question then becomes how do we teach that way? Or even, why don't we teach that way? One of the reasons is that until recently, there was not much of a choice. The idea behind multimodal delivery is that a student could take a class online or face-to-face and get the same experience, almost literally, as any other student. The way that would happen is if the lecture capture technology allows students to participate live from home, and captures the video, audio, computer screen, and whiteboard of the instructor, as well as the student's interactions with the teacher and one another. We looked at this technology in the past. Typically, we would go with the open source solution, in this case that would be Matterhorn. But we did not have the staff or the technical infrastructure to support it. After looking at services and costs, we chose Tegrity. The training and support from Tegrity has been excellent. They not only facilitated the training, but they passed the training materials on to us afterwards so we could use them with new faculty or for later faculty review. The feedback from the teachers and students has been very enthusiastic. Tegrity is being used by nursing instructors and some of their students said that they would not have passed the class without being able to review the course materials later. In Tegrity, students are able to book mark lectures they are viewing live and go back and find those moments in the recorded archive. The students can also interact with other students viewing the archive and ask questions and share information.

We have courses here that are similar experiences for the students. We have math courses that use the old ITV model (instructional television): the courses are broadcast on television, streamed on the web, archived, and include a  telephone link for the home viewing students to call in questions. I think that Tegrity will one day replace these courses. As technology begins to allow students to not only view course materials but to actually interact with one another, the idea of delivery mode and the so-called differences will begin to wither away.

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Friday, May 06, 2011

You've Got Mail: Old models of learning are new again

Isaac PitmanImage via WikipediaDespite the growth of broad-band internet and the increases of online learning, the correspondence model of distance education is still going. According to Wikipedia, distance education dates to around 1728 when an advertisement in the Boston Gazette announced that "Caleb Philips, Teacher of the new method of Short Hand" would offer weekly lessons through the mail. The University of London claims to be the first university to offers degrees via correspondence through its External Programme in 1858. Shorthand was widely used for hundreds of years before recording technologies like the dictaphone took over. We are looking at the correspondence model of education now because we are looking at ways to deliver learning to deployed military, students who live in areas with little technological infrastructure, and prisons. We know the correspondence model works because there are many colleges that use the method and many of us have taken courses that relied on the mail before the internet came along. CSU, Dominguez Hills for instance, had most of its course in their external humanities degree as correspondence until very recently. According to the Bi-Annual Report on Distance Learning, teleconferencing make up 1% of all DE courses in California and correspondence is 2%. Palo Verde College, Lassen College, and Feather River College all still use the correspondence model (mostly for prisoners). Sacramento State University, Montana State University, the University of Florida, and Michigan State all have water management programs that are still available via the correspondence model.

And there is no reason why the courses shouldn't work. At their best, correspondence courses can be just as effective as face-to-face tutorials with a professor. A search at No Significant Difference shows that their earliest citations are studies that show that there was no significant difference in test scores between face-to-face and correspondence students (search "correspondence" at the site).

My questions though are along these lines: is it possible to introduce a group project in the correspondence model? What about a correspondence-hybrid model where the students use a Google Voice number to create a weekly conference call? This would not require access to the internet except to set up the initial phone number. In California, the community college instructors have free access to the state-licensed Elluminate Live which would allow them to set up an on-going conference call for the semester. This would not work for students in some prison settings, but there has to be a way to write these questions so they could be used by individuals or small groups. An individual with no access to a phone can write out answers to questions and an instructor could collate the collective answers of the class and distribute them back. It is possible that students in the same prison could start a "reading group" for the course. Each one of these scenarios would require a particular set of questions.

If you or your institution has used or is using the correspondence model, leave a comment below or email me - I would love to talk to you about your courses.
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Sunday, May 01, 2011

Peru: Access to the internet is a fundamental human right

The Macchu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Sit...Image via Wikipedia
This is what we should really be talking about when we are still addressing issues of "digital divide." The full Peruvian House approved a bill that declares as a fundamental right and free unrestricted access to the services of Internet . The same proposal provides for the massification of broadband service, especially in rural areas and places of preferential social interest.
APRA lawmaker Mauricio Mulder was the one who drove in the last minute of the debate that network access is unrestricted and free, and stated that this proposal was endorsed by the Executive.
Therefore, the chairman of the Committee on Transport, Yaneth Cajahuanca (Nationalist Party ), considered as approved will not be noticed, but adopted by the Executive. Freely interpreted it would mean that people stop paying rates, but will not solve the infrastructure for broadband.
He explained that the main purpose of the adopted is to increase coverage of telecommunication backbone networks, high-capacity nationwide and encourage investment in fiber optic networks and service delivery of broadband communications.
According to the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MTC), there is a 3% penetration of broadband connections, a rate that leaves us far behind in comparison with neighboring countries.
At the request of Congressman Yonhy Lescano (AP) 28900 Act was amended the Investment in Telecom (Fitel), in order that the resources of that body come from, among others, 1% of revenue billed and reported by telecommunications operating companies. The current standard builds on revenue billed and collected, which is a lower amount.
Cajahuanca lawmaker said in that 1% is also included billing for cable television, not before contemplated.
He noted that the Fitel will no longer be an administrative body, it will become a sectoral technical body, so to replace Pro Investment concessions delivery of broadband to expedite the process.

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