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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Robot Madness: Science and the Literary Imagination

Podcast:

Anxieties about scientific paradigm shifts manifest themselves in the form of anthopomorphized machine-human interaction; namely the presence of robots in film and television.

Beginning with the robot in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1928), and ending with Alex Proyas’ film interpretation (2004) of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot (1939), this paper examines television series and films that feature anthropomorphized machines, either as robots or androids. Works examined include Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1928), Lost In Space (1965, the first season), Star Trek: The Next Generation, George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977), James Cameron’s Terminator series, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), Steven Spielberg’s A.I. (2001), Dr. Who (1984 season), Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle (1958), Susan Seidelman’s Making Mr. Right (1987), and others.

A comparative analysis of the works, along with texts that deal with the paradigm shifts accompanying the advent of computation, machines, and then artificial intelligence, is presented. Specific texts include Paul Thagard’s Conceptual Revolutions (1992), Computational Philosophy of Science (1988) and articles from Computational Epistemology, Daniel C. Dennett’s work “Can Robots Think” and his work in The Robot's Dilemma: The Frame Problem in Artificial Intelligence (1987), John Searle’s Minds, Brains, and Programs, and the work of Jerry A. Fodor and Fred Dretske.

A close analysis of the film and television “texts” from the perspective of paradigm shifts relating to cognition, computation, and artificial intelligence reveal not only anxieties about “intelligent machines,” but also a desire to control by anthropomorphizing machines and to reinstate politically-charged servant-master roles in a post-colonial fantasy.

The film texts listed above suggest the ways in which certain paradigm shifts are envisioned and described in a popular discourse of explanation.

Further, with robots as symbols of paradigm shifts, the multiplicity of interpretative possibilities vis-à-vis human society and one’s understanding of nature and the self are problematized.

Needless to say, at the heart of most representations are profound questions about what it means to be human, and, conversely, how technological change in society dehumanizes or bestializes humans, leaving androids as the sole owners of human dignity. (This is the abstract from a presentation made at the AGLSP conference, 2004).

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Podcast Theory Gap

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Online learners seem to prefer using audio and web-based information in ways that counter what researchers recommend.

Although instructional designers do not often like to mention this, the fact is, it is the rare learner who will sit at a computer and willingly watch a 20 or 30-minute presentation. However, the same learners are happy to listen to an audio file (podcast or book on tape). Although multimedia presentations are not intended to be used in this way, many individuals download the audio aspect separately and listen to it while doing something else, usually something routine: commuting to work, routine data entry on the computer, preparing food in the kitchen, working in the garden.

Later, they will scan through the printout they made. This will be read without the audio.

Do current ideas about working memory and cognitive processing shed any light? What are the implications for developers of online courses, knowing that learners may not be using the media in the environment it was intended?

Fight Audio with Audio: Podcasts and Audio as a Way to Combat Intrusive Thoughts. “Quiet in the library! Turn off music while you’re studying!” Librarians and mothers everywhere utter those words. According to cognitive psychologists who point to the Split Attention Principle and the Coherence Principle, moms and librarians have been right on target. However, millions of computer programmers, writers, students, and artists beg to differ. When they put on headphones and their favorite music, not only do they block out distracting noise which is externally generated, they also help block out intrusive, distracting thoughts that are internally generated. They listen to music as they are reading, as well as when they are doing work that requires intense concentration.

When Retrieving Data, Use Folksonomies and Taxonomies. Why bother to put anything into short-term memory except the most basic of cues or mnemonic tags? Furl, google, and taxonomies will take care of the rest. Right? Many individuals do not even try to organize knowledge in a hierarchical way. Instead, they focus on a connectivist approach, which relies on linking and computer-aided search functions. The Living Taxonomy Project explores some of these implications (http://www.livingtaxonomy.org/), as do e-storage utility programs such as Looksmart’s FURL (http://www.furl.net/index.jsp) and deli.cio.us (http://del.icio.us/), which utilize “social bookmarks.”

What can we make of these habits? How do they relate to current ideas about working memory and principles used in instructional design, such as the “Split Attention Principle” and the “Coherence Principle”?

According to A. D. Baddeley (1986), working memory involves a multi-phase interaction with cognition, so that humans process information from their immediate environment, store data about their past experience, and develop and organizing framework that will support the acquisition of new knowledge.

The implications for the use of audio in e-learning are multiple. First, the audio information should make connections to what is happening in the immediate environment in a way that reinforces an organizing framework that is being developed. Second, the content should help establish connections between past, present, and potential (or future) information so that when new knowledge is acquired, it is organized in a retrievable way. In short, the audio should be classifiable into categories, and of sufficient flexibility to allow cognitive processes to store, retrieve, and organize information.

According to Baddeley, short-term working memory is limited. The way the brain process information has to do with the fact that it has limited capacity in two channels that gather and process information: the auditory and visual. The “Split Attention Principle” suggests that one should not overload either one of the channels, and that the two channels should reinforce each other.

To put it another way, one should avoid cognitive overload, and audio information should contain clear signals to connect it to the verbal and visual information. Extraneous or distracting auditory information should be avoided, and one should not require the user to require the full text script along with the audio.

This is not to say that it is not useful to have a full-text script available. However, in a presentation, it is better to keep the verbal and visual elements organized in complementary components.

R. E. Mayer and R. Moreno (1999) conducted research that reinforced the idea that cognitive overload is a barrier to learning. According to their findings, an ideal learning environment minimizes or eliminates irrelevant sound / audio. They pointed to the “Split Attention Principle,” which states that “students learn better when the instructional material does not require them to split their attention between multiple sources of mutually referring information” (Moreno and Mayer, 2003). Further, all audio should be carefully designed so that it reinforces the message being presented via other media.

The “Coherence Principle” (Moreno and Mayer, 2003), similarly reinforces the importance of avoiding extraneous and/or irrelevant audio. They also discuss the importance of verbal cues and signs.

It bears pointing out that although the findings by cognitive psychologists incorporate models of the brain and brain function that have been recently developed due to new technologies and techniques, they reinforce notions that have been in circulation since Roman times.

Classical rhetoric and oratory contains the same basic concepts as the principles discussed above, and it proposes structure and technique for doing so. Horace (Ars Poetica) applies the concepts to written discourse that would also be presented in oratory. Later, the elocutionary movement in England, which was deeply influenced by classical Greek and Roman texts brought together notions about how the mind makes meaning (deductive and inductive reasoning), and presentation. George Campbell and Richard Whately were noted in this field. Whately’s Elements of Rhetoric (1828) and George Campbell’s The Philosophy of Rhetoric (1841) both deal with how to organize a speech, presentation, or written argument. Their focus on logic privileges ideas about how the mind makes meaning, and where, why, and when the mind latches onto (recognizes), then organizes and processes information.

REFERENCES

Baddeley, A.D. (1986) Working memory. Oxford, England. Oxford University Press.

Campbell, George. (1841). The Philosophy of Rhetoric.

Cicero. Partitiones Oratoriae. http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/2005/2005-04-18.html

Chandler, P. & Sweller, J. (1992). The split-attention effect as a factor in the design of instruction. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 62, 233-246.

Craig, C. P. (1985). The Structural Pedigree of Cicero's Speeches Pro Archia, Pro Milone and Pro Quinctio, CP 80: 136-37.

Horace. Ars Poetica. (The Art of Poetry). http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/horace/arspoet.shtml

Mayer, R. E. (1997). Multimedia learning: Are we asking the right questions? Educational Psychologist, 32, 1-19.

Mayer, R. E. & Anderson, R. B. (1991). Animations need narrations: An experimental test of a dual-coding hypothesis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 83, 484-490.

Mayer, R. E. & Anderson, R. B. (1992). The instructive animation: Helping students build connections between words and pictures in multimedia learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 84, 444-452.

Mayer, R. E. & Moreno, R. (1998). A split-attention effect in multimedia learning: Evidence for dual processing systems in working memory. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90, 312-320.

Mayer, R. E., Moreno, R., Boire M., & Vagge S. (1999). Maximizing constructivist learning from multimedia communications by minimizing cognitive load. Journal of Educational Psychology , 91, 638-643.

Moreno, R. & Mayer, R. E. (2000). A coherence effect in multimedia learning: The case for minimizing irrelevant sounds in the design of multimedia instructional messages. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97, 117-125.

Moreno, R. & Mayer, R. E. (1999). Cognitive principles of multimedia learning: The role of modality and contiguity. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91, 358-368.

Moreno, R. & Mayer, R. E. (2003). A Learner-Centered Approach to Multimedia Explanations: Deriving Instructional Design Principles from Cognitive Theory. http://imej.wfu.edu/articles/2000/2/05/index.asp

Mousavi, S.Y., Low, R., & Sweller, J. (1995). Reducing cognitive load by mixing auditory and visual presentation modes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 87, 319-334.

Paivio, A. (1986). Mental representation: A dual coding approach. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Sweller, J. (1988). Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning. Cognitive Science, 12, 257-285.

Sweller, J., Chandler, P. (1994). Why some material is difficult to learn. Cognition and Instruction, 12, 185-233.

Whately, R. (1928). Elements of Rhetoric.

****

This article appeared in a slightly different form on xplanazine (http://www.xplanazine.com). This is the podcast version.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Taxonomies of Practice

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The College of Ste. Justine had decided to develop its own learning object repository (LOR) for faculty members across the campus. The idea sounded good, but geology professor Horst Charendon was annoyed. The proposed classification system, or taxonomy, was completely irrelevant to his purposes, he argued. Debbie Virtue, Ste. Justine's LOR project director, tried to maintain her patience.

"We are using google desktop search capabilities. Taxonomies are obsolete. Just type in a search term," Virtue said.

"Well, maybe that's okay for some learning objects, but it doesn't work at all where the discipline utilizes alternative classification schemes. Using google search will result in incomplete results. Some data will be invisible," retorted Charendon.

"That's impossible," said Virtue. She truly believed in the power of google.

"I understand where you're coming from, but as we tag the objects, or have information attached to them, if they are in one classification system, they may not be in the others," said Charendon.

"Igneous petrology is a case in point," he said. "We use three different classification schemes to describe igneous rocks."

"Each rock has three different names? I don't believe it. Wouldn't that lead to chaos?" asked Virtue.

Charendon described igneous classification schemes, or taxonomies.

Taxonomy / Classification Scheme 1. Igneous rock Color-Texture.

Taxonomy / Classification Scheme 2: Igneous rock Modal classification classifies igneous rocks on the relative abundance of five minerals they may contain.

Taxonomy / Classification Scheme 3. The Normative classification arranges igneous rocks into suites, each suite characterized by a particular chemistry.

Another similar challenge is with sedimentary rocks; in particular, carbonates, including limestone and dolomite.

"As much as we would like to use a different approach, or consolidate everything into a single taxonomy, we are prisoners of practice," he said. "It is not just something that happens at Ste. Justine. It happens everywhere."

"Do you think the same thing might apply to other areas of endeavor?" asked Virtue.

"Quite possibly. It is definitely the case with carbonate rocks," said Charendon.

"I still maintain that a google-type site LOR search will work," maintained Virtue, perversely.

"No. It won't. You will just get incomplete coverage. Or, just one term instead of all three for the same rock," said Charendon.

Horst Charendon and Debbie Virtue left the room. The atmosphere was definitely frosty.

A week went by. Virtue asked the Ste. Justine LOR committee to start investigating taxonomies, partly in an attempt to one-up Charendon.

In doing so, she made a discovery: The Living Taxonomy Project. http://www.livingtaxonomy.org

Forgetting her desire to humiliate him, Virtue called up Charendon. She was excited about her "find."

"Horst, you'll never believe what I found! Stacy Zemke, who is the founder of the Living Taxonomy Project, is developing a revolutionary way to accommodate competing classification schemes, without having to resort to a site search for key words," she said. Horst listened quietly, rather in shock about her change in attitude.

"How is this different from what Rory McGreal has described in his work on ontologies and taxonomies (www.downes.ca/files/CEN.doc) It is being hosted on
Stephen Downes' website (http://www.downes.ca)?" asked Charendon.

"I consider what the Living Taxonomy Project is doing to be a "taxonomy of practice" rather than a definitive retrieval system," said Virtue.

She went on to describe the possibilities of classification. A classification system could be descriptive. Alternatively, it could focus on function (rather than form), or, it could be about origin or provenance. All depended on the practice.

"Words are inherently slippery. Think about what post-structuralists and deconstructivists have maintained - Lakoff, Derrida, etc. They claim that the word itself creates the meaning, and that taxonomies are simply agreed-upon conventions," Dean Pantagruel was eavesdropping and could not resist chiming in.

"That makes my head swim," said Virtue.

"Well, it should," said Dean Pantagruel. "The multiplicity of interpretative possibility has been around since St. Augustine and Poetics."

"What does Alan Levine of cogdogblog (http://jade.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu) have to say? I really respect his work," said Dean Pantagruel.

"According to Levine, it's a very contentious issue. (http://jade.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/cdb/2005/01/25/what-were/)," said Virtue.

"And, speaking of Contentious (http://blog.contentious.com/) , what does Amy Gahran have to say?" continued Pantagruel.

"She tends to be inclusive rather than exclusive. I would say that her taxonomies are referential and built on allusions or links," said Virtue.

"Cognitive dissonance!" barked Dean Pantagruel. "The more voices, the better. And, speaking of Cognitive Dissonance, I like what Nate Lowell has to say (http://durandus.com/blog/)"

Dusk was falling on the College of Ste. Justine. The ivy-covered clock tower loomed over the shadowed campus. As the campus sank into darkness, a full moon rose and the bare branches of trees clawed the impotent sky. From the bowels of the brick and cornice building that housed the computer center and the new server dedicated to Learn-O-Rama, Ste. Justine's proprietary learning management system, a piercing female shriek rent the skies.

"Peccatores, Ut nobis parcas, Ut nobis indulgeas, Ut ad veram paenitentiam nos perducere digneris." There was a long pause and then a howl. "Through our taxonomies we know our deeds and we seek forgiveness!!"

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Communities of Practice: The Role of Classification Schemes and Taxonomies

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It had been a hard day in the e-learning trenches, and online English composition faculty member Immaculata Deleuze (please see the Fictions of Deleuze and Guattari, highly recommended) was looking for some place to share her pain. She logged into the College of Ste. Justine English Department's page, and perused the discussion boards and links. It was a remarkably jejune experience. There was the same 3-week-old discussion thread about exam procedures, and a set of links to software she did not have time to learn. One thread led her, unexpectedly, to a set of audio files for the Da Vinci Code. She listened while clicking on the links to the various textbook websites and an online grammar review. This was more like it, she thought. Unfortunately, there were only four links to e-learning content, activities, or objects, none which tied directly to her courses.

It occurred to Dr. Deleuze that there may be a community of users out there who had developed resources she could use in her English classes. Was there an up-to-date MERLOT? Something with objects she could use with Learn-O-Rama, the new learning management system that Ste. Justine’s information technology team developed, would be ideal. Despite the IT team’s enthusiasm, and platform’s accolades at e-LearnTech’s national convention, the faculty and staff of Ste. Justine insisted that Learn-O-Rama was not very friendly. One issue that made it unfriendly was that it required rigid SCORM compliancy. Jill sighed. She loved “Grammar Bytes” at http://www.chompchomp.com/, but because all objects had to be hosted on the Ste. Justine server, she could not use it.

Frustrated, she typed a quick e-mail to the chair of the department, Dr. Pantagruel. It was an exercise in futility. Dr. Pantagruel was in complete agreement, but they were a choir of two. Was there any way to reach across the entire campus and solve some of the pressing problems that Learn-O-Rama presented? Was there any way to share objects and e-tivities?

Logging onto bloglines (http://www.bloglines.com/), she read the latest feeds, then clicked on the links to her favorite blogs. Glancing over some promising headlines, she clicked on “Projects and Collaborations” link to Stephen Downes http://www.downes.ca/projects.htm. She read a few items on the topic of collaborative learning, then posted what she considered a brilliantly ironic remark about tangential communication, then went on to the next link.

That was the main problem with all these collaborations, Jill thought. There was a lack of direct communication. Sure, sometimes people actually answered a question, but more often, the responses were tangential.

Community through groups and discussion boards.

She thought of the google.groups she had joined. Although they were bulky, they were a great improvement over the old “usenet” and alt.net discussion groups. Immaculata had recently joined the “Historical Romance Book Group.” It wasn’t that she knew anything about historical romances. The concrete topic – a virtual book club – seemed to be one of the few places she had ever found a group of people who stayed on topic.

There were a few elements she did not like, however. One was the idea of a moderator. Despite the claims of researchers such as Salmon (2002), who claimed that the key to successful e-learning and teaching was moderating the discussion board, Jill felt annoyed by the moderator. She felt inhibited, and tended to self-censor, even though she knew one reason for that was because of “comment-spamming.” No one needed Viagra ads in a Historical Romance group discussion. Moderators also tended to over-control and micro-manage, which put the back in the dreaded “sage on the stage” role. In an article she read by DiRamio (2005), Immaculata read that research demonstrated that instructors should not inhibit collaborations by micro-managing, nor should they control the information to be disseminated.

Storing and retrieving information: The importance of taxonomies

What frustrated her most were elements that had to do with retrieval. Even if she had an idea to share, it was hard to know where to post it on a campus-wide discussion board. A clear taxonomy needed to be developed. Jill clicked on the Living Taxonomy Project (LPT) and read the mission statement developed by its visionary founder, Stacy Zemke:

The Living Taxonomy Project is a collaborative effort aimed at creating a global set of open source, standards-based taxonomies for education. The purpose of these taxonomies will be to provide a free cataloging structure for the collection and sharing of education materials around the world. We will be appending new taxonomies on a regular basis and invite our users to add edit these taxonomies as well as suggest or create new ones.

In this case, a taxonomy referred to a classification system. Certain assumptions and questions had to be worked out, and collaboration / discussion was the best way to do it. For example, are taxonomies developed around an alphabetized list that is designed to be all-inclusive? Or, do the taxonomies and the sub-divisions emerge from causal relationships, or families?

Stacy Zemke had addressed many of those questions. She also challenged people to think about issues in a new way. Jill was most intrigued by the film genre taxonomy, as well as math taxonomies. Could this approach work?

Taxonomies are best worked out in the natural sciences -- Immaculata thought of mineralogy as a good example. Igneous rocks are classified by texture, normative (suite-- this has to do with the way the minerals were formed), and modal (depends on the relative amounts of certain rock-forming minerals). Taxonomies could be confusing and conflicting. Yet, they were a great way to get to understand a thing in an in-depth way and from multiple perspectives.

Threaded discussions (topics not clearly spelled out – need taxonomy). How would she go about classifying the topics? DiRamio (2005) suggested that the way that information is shared should be user-driven. Students should be able to assume leadership roles in collaborations. Likewise, faculty and staff should be able to organize information. It should not be technology or interface driven. Instead, the technology should work for the users.

All text, no objects. Immaculata knew that her courses could be much better if she had more learning objects, and “e-tivities.” They should encourage engagement. But, she had no way to obtain or share.

Perhaps she would approach Dean Bataille about developing a shared e-space where individuals could organize objects. Would these ideas work in a university setting? Could they develop a place where they could share objects, and activities?

Even more importantly, the faculty and staff could be given guidance in how to use the objects through effective training and online guides. What constitutes an effective instructional strategy? Immaculata thought back to when she first started developing websites. Her first one had a lot in common with Angelfire’s “The World’s Worst Website” - http://www.angelfire.com/super/badwebs/

Immaculata hoped that she did not commit the same errors when she used online learning objects. She knew that she should keep the outcome in mind, but it was important to let others take a leadership role so that both the outcome and the way to achieve the outcome, were fluid, flexible, and meaningful.

Bibliography


DiRamio, D.. (2005). Measuring online community. Online Classroom. June 2005. 2-4.

Gorard, S. & Selwyn, N. (1999). Switching on the learning society? -- Questioning the role of technology in widening participation in lifelong learning. Journal of Education Policy. 14. 523-534.

Govindasamy, T. (2002). Successful implementation of e-Learning. Pedagogical considerations. ScienceDirect-The Internet and Higher Education, 4, 287-299.

Living Taxonomy Project. http://www.livingtaxonomy.org/

Orrill, C. H. (2002). Supporting online PBL: design considerations for supporting distributed problem solving. Distance Education, 23, 42-57.

Pavey, J., Garland, S. W. (2004). The integration and implementation of a range of ‘e-tivities’ to enhance students’ interaction and learning. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 41, 305-315.

Salmon, G. (2002). E-Moderating: the key to teaching and learning online. London: Kogan Page.

What If You Had To Choose? Three Necessities for Blended and Distance Learning

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Let's imagine that there exist just three “pivotal conditions," and let's consider how those conditions might fit into the goal of determining how to make effective learning environments (face-to-face, online, blended, and my new favorite -- “pod-blended"). Face-to-face instruction refers to traditional classroom delivery and online refers to 100% Internet or web-based delivery. Blended learning indicates a hybrid mix – part face-to-face, and part web-based, while “pod-blended” indicates a multi-delivery mode mix, of portable data devices (iPods, pdas), multimedia, online, and face-to-face. There is no prescribed ratio or distribution of delivery modes.

1--- Flexible environment that allows the facilitator to respond to learner needs.
Face-to-face: The syllabus creates a structure, with an emphasis on learning outcomes, rather than a rigid obsession with marching through content. This allows the facilitator to conduct ongoing needs assessments in an informal manner, and adjust accordingly, to assure relevance of discussions and content. Group work expedites the process of discovering the needs of the learners, as well as the best configurations for collaborative work.

Online: Because learners develop what could be thought of as “ambiguity anxiety” when they are working online, it is very important to have a clearly defined structure. However, it is important that the structure is not too rigid. The online environment is flexible when the facilitator is able to clarify, add discussion questions, encourage collaborative activities, and post illuminating and relevant articles. It is also flexible when students are able to post and upload items in order to share in a meaningful way, tapping into the energy of weblogs, collaborative space (comments, etc.), and wikis.

Useful article: Carol Twigg’s “Innovations in Online Learning: Moving Beyond No Significant Difference,” published in the Pew Symposia in Learning and Technology, held December 8-9, 2000, in Phoenix, AZ, and published in 2001 by the Center for Academic Transformation at Rennselaer Polytechnic (Troy, NY), contains a number of interesting and relevant insights with respect to flexibility and a learner-centered approach. In the section entitled “Improving the Quality of Student Learning,” it is pointed out that “a fundamental premise of the symposium is that greater quality means greater individualization of the learning experiences for students” (9).

While this is still undoubtedly true in 2005, the burden is not so much in the facilitator-student interaction, but in the constellation of learning activities that can be modified to achieve desired (and clearly identified) learning outcomes.

2--- Content developed with a view to providing theoretical underpinnings.
Face-to-face: Although classroom activities result in discussions that focus on specific readings, issues, or problems, they are most productive when all are mindful of the theoretical groundings and the principles that support the “learning by doing” or the “situated learning.” Such an approach allows students to create generalizations and universal applications to specific experiences. It also creates the common thread that gives learners an ability to communicate with each other and learn from similar experiences. Improved self-efficacy and self-concept are natural outgrowths of this constructivist approach.

Online: Translating a dynamic, “learn-by-doing” experience-based-learning environment into an online learning space is not easy. Often one finds that there are “disconnects” between the collaborative activities or the experience-based discussions and tasks, and the instruments used to assess learner mastery of the content and skills. How does one bridge the gap? How does a multiple choice test fail to assess the broad spectrum of general and specific knowledge gained in a “situated learning” based environment?

One strategy is to tap into the rich semiotic environment of the e-learning space and to utilize icons, graphics, and visual representations. A theoretical framework is often most effective when it is laid out graphically, in a way that makes the connections between activities and underlying theory extremely transparent.

Although the facilitator will guide students to an ability to work with the organizing principles that underpin the readings, discussions, and learning activities, the student should have a conceptual framework clearly in mind. This is often most effective in the online / distributed environment when diagrams, lists, and tables provide a graphical representation of the information, and a well-organized bibliography anchors it.

Even though we may be conditioned to think of online learning as something that occurs when seated at a laptop, with the learning looking into the monitor, it is important to recognize that the paradigm is shifting away from that. More content is being accessed through pdas that have web access, but which can also store data through pdf files (Palm, Treo, Blackberry). Individuals are now downloading audio content and playing them on portable audio players, most frequently iPods.

With that in mind, it is important to make connections between content, concepts, and illustrative points or vignettes. For example, it may be important to present information to learners in the form of concepts / news bites, followed by a story / vignette, and then a question-and-answer session. Radio programming that comes to mind that would illustrate this would be National Public Radio’s All Things Considered (http://www.npr.org/ ), with vignettes reminiscent of This American Life (http://www.thislife.org/ ). Finally, engaging question and answer sessions can be presented in the manner of Calling All Pets (http://www.wpr.org/pets/ ).

It is very exciting to think of the ways that distance learning is evolving, and the directions that mean that the costs of access could fall dramatically, or at least result in more efficient use of resources, with extreme portability.

Useful article: Nada Dabbagh’s “Distance Learning: Emerging Pedagogical Issues and Learning Designs” Quarterly Review of Distance Education 51 (1), 2004, pp 37-49, contains an invaluable table which maps instructional strategies to pedagogical models and learning technologies (47).

3--- Communication and interaction-friendly environment
Face-to-face: Although traditional face-to-face learning environments have long been characterized by a pedantic “sage on the stage” who “holds forth” in a lecture mode, for the last 20 years, the reality has been quite different. Even where there are large lecture presentations, this constitutes only a small part of the classroom activity. Much is done in small labs or in discussion groups, containing 8 – 15 individuals and a facilitator. The perceived authority of the facilitator is mediated in this environment, and there is more of a focus on the discovery and presentation of outside information.

Online: Making sure that communications are purposeful and learning outcome-focused is the responsibility of the facilitator. In addition to guiding students so that they respond to certain questions pertaining to the content being discussed, facilitators help individuals find strategies to overcome the limitations of the sometimes rigid and/or overly deterministic semiotic realm of the discussion board.

Effective communication builds student self-efficacy, and helps students learn by doing, and master skills on their own (situated learning).

As students interact, the effective facilitator should be able to identify and intervene to repair holes in scaffolding and do it for learners in an individual manner.

Useful article: M. J. Hannifin, etal, discuss the way that students learn to develop strategies for organizing, interpreting, and internalizing knowledge when they engage in interactions via technology, and via interactive multimedia. What is perhaps most interesting about this article is the way it anticipates the emerging trend to expand “hybrid” to include not just face-to-face and site-based multimedia (a television or a computer), but also portable devices. Their article is entitled “Student-centered learning and interactive multimedia: Status, issues, and implication” in Contemporary Education 68(2), 94-99.

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