Sunday, February 27, 2005

Online or Hybrid? "Belle" or "Disruptive Technology" Du Jour?

Play the sound file (podcast)

(This is an actual transcript) For hybrid and 100% online e-learning solutions, new technologies, learner needs, real-life situations, delivery capabilities often converge to create a succession of mildly disruptive technologies. In this environment, the technologies' disruptions occur quickly, and in succession. How does the well-intentioned instructor or program administrator keep up with this?

Play the sound file (podcast, suitable for download and play on portable devices such as iPod)

(What you’ll hear on this podcast is not an actual transcription, but a version of this. I recommend reading this, and then listening. Immerse yourself in both – if you can stand the grainy, scrunchy sound of Susan talking through a cheap headset while driving down a salty upstate New York road in her Subaru.)

Right now, what is preoccupying me is the fact that no matter how much we think we’re preparing ourselves for the latest and greatest technology quantum leap, delivery method, software, or learner needs, we’re always a little bit behind. I love everything about distance learning, and it’s fun for me to investigate the latest ideas, and to find out how and where new needs are emerging.

Nonetheless, I’m always feeling a bit behind the curve – behind the 8-ball, if you will – because I’m scrambling to imagine how on earth I can make this happen – meet the needs of the learner, given the constraints I have with technology, and achieving the “must-have’s” and “must-do’s” in terms of learning objectives.

The other day I was in a meeting and I was asked to develop a new course for distance delivery. I was feeling very “in control” with respect to learning management systems and instructional design. I had just finished some training on the latest versions of WebCT (Vista) and Blackboard 6.0, and had begun to familiarize myself with Desire2Learn.

On the instructional design side of the fence, I had just finished reading articles, books, and taking a course on learning theories as applied to hybrid and online courses. Further, the courses I had developed and were teaching were going well. I was feeling pretty on top of the world.

I think the ancient Greeks called that feeling “hubris,” and others called it “the pride that goeth before a fall.”

Granted, it wasn’t a very long fall, and, the landing didn’t hurt. But, I quickly found out that my assumptions about the needs, uses, and technology were, in fact, the absolutely reverse of what I had expected.

So, when asked to develop a course that would be delivered via pda’s or handheld computers, I immediately thought of Treo, Blackberry, and the T-Mobile Sidekick. In this case, I envisioned using the devices as a way to do "extreme interaction" using the camera function, e-mail, mobile phone, and built-in global positioning system (gps).

I started to think of the possibilities of learning activities: students could write journals that incorporated interviews with people on the street, photos and small movies, text messaging, and demographics. Or, they could do market surveys, or design a research problem that would involve taking photographs, entering data, and listing the gps location. Another idea involved natural sciences classes, and keeping a virtual field notebook.

Thinking of handheld computers as the extended functionality “palm pilots” and Blackberry devices that have become so popular, I started to get very enthusiastic about the way students and professors could interact. Students could take their results and post them on a discussion board, then share impressions and results. The professor could give guidance and post articles for students to download onto their devices, then print out and read. Then, in the face-to-face portions, students could get together and make presentations, and the professor could help guide them in creating generalizations, and develop scaffolding for meta-cognitive problem-solving skills that could be used in later classes.

But -- little did I suspect that it would be the other extreme, and the portability and size were the premium, value-added aspects, and that any wireless interactivity would be disabled due to security issues. Talk about a shift in thinking! To be honest, it was something I had not even considered, and I had to completely reverse my way of thinking.

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