Monday, January 30, 2006

Monetizing as a Service

Podcast.

Despite the fervor about "monetized" domain names that consist of little else but links to ads, don't be deceived. That's not the best way to make money with your affiliate programs. The best way, at least at this point, still involves traffic -- traffic you've generated from the quality and intrinsic value of your site. Don't alienate your hard-earned traffic by surrounding them with distracting, chaotic banners, chicklets, and text links. Instead, use the tips below to carefully craft a plan that will optimize click-throughs and conversions to commission-bearing sales.

1. Avoid cognitive overload. Don't stick up random ads and try not to overdo the ads. Don't create a forest of virtual billboards. The result is clutter and an enormous distraction, which means that all will be ignored.

2. Understand your audience and their needs. Get to know where they want to be. Provide tools (or products) to help them get there.

3. Why are they here? What do they want? Understand what motivates your visitors to browse your website in the first place. What do they expect to gain by visiting? What do they expect to take away? What are the benefits, specifically, that they expect to derive from visiting your site.

4. Life is good -- and even better with the products you recommend. Make a list of life and work-enhancing products and services that relate directly to your readers. Connect them to your own ultimate mission and vision. This will help you align your own goals with the needs and desires of your readers. It can lead to an understanding of how to develop a sustainable site.

5. Don't throw away the past. Build on it and make it work for you! Develop ways to link the present with the past. Do not throw away what you've developed. Create archives. Create easy-to-follow indices. Then, find ways to identify the best product.

6. The future is golden - tell your visitors how. Anticipate the future. Envision the future with as much specificity as you can. Prepare yourself mentally and set the stage.

7. One-of-a-kind products, offered only by YOU. Develop unique products to market on your site. Do this after you fully understand the needs of your visitors, and the kind of readers you'd like to attract. Avoid getting into products that will simply place you in competition with others offering the same product but at a lower price. Focus on value-add, and customize in order to make your product differentiatable from others.

8. Integrity, quality, trust. It matters. Ethics and core values.

9. How, then, shall we affiliate? Affiliate relationships: direct? or, via an aggregator such as google adsense? How do you decide?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Hype? Fact? Helping Online Students Evaluate Websites

Podcast.

Developing the ability to distinguish website hype from reality is a critical skill, but one that tends to be overlooked in online courses. This article models how to develop writing assignments that give students an opportunity to examine websites' claims made about products, the use of logic, and the nature of the "evidence" used to support the claims. It also gives students a chance to look at two sides of the story, and to examine evidence through lenses colored by presuppositions, assumptions, beliefs, and values.

Let's step back for a moment and take a look at importance of the issue. Can you think of highly touted product that has been promoted on the Internet as a miracle cure? Do you believe all the claims? Some of the claims? Why? Why not?

Excellent examples of website hype can be found in herbal products and remedies. An example is a natural product that comes from the bark of a South American tree called "lapacho" in Argentina and Paraguay, and "Pau D'arco" in Brazil. All sorts of claims have been made for it, including that it is effective in fighting viruses, improving circulation, and killing cancer cells.



Does the bark of the Lapacho tree (pau d'arco) cure cancer? Is this product the Amazon rain forest's natural Viagra? The lapacho tree, which is native to Paraguay, Brazil, and northern Argentina, is known for its gorgeous flowers. The descendants of the Guaranis, the indigenous peoples of the Alto Parana area, claim the inner bark has curative powers. Recently, lapacho bark has been tested as a cure for cancer, as well as a "vitality enhancing" elixir and potent aphrodisiac.

Sample instructions for a paper assigned to English composition students: Here is an example that will help you hone your critical thinking skills and your ability to evaluate information and sources. You may write your paper on the bark of the lapacho tree, or on any other item that has been hyped. (Vioxx? Certain diets? Vitamin E? Rock and crystal healing? Stem cells for curing Parkinson's?)

Whether lapacho contains active ingredients capable of bringing about the health benefits is a critical question, and a portal to a deeper issue. Do herbal remedies work? Are there "secrets of the shamans" that could be used for the good of humanity? If so, what are they? How do we test them? Some believe herbal remedies are more effective than conventional medicines, and are more affordable and accessible. Others believe that it herbal remedies are nothing more than snake oil. At best, they're not harmful. At worst, they could actually destroy one's health.

Essay: Sample Structure

The Vivid Vision (Paragraph 1): A scene that depicts an array of herbal medicines (perhaps a scene from a health food store), perhaps an individual taking an herbal remedy.

Background and Definitions (Paragraph 2): What is the lapacho tree? Where is it found? Why is it considered medicinal? What part? Who used it? When? Why? The key is to brainstorm with appropriate questions, to help bring into focus the topic.

Who says so? Why? (Paragraph 3): This is a series of questions that are made to test the assumptions, beliefs, prejudices, and possible motives of the individuals who are saying things about the product.

What have people experienced? Testimonials. (Paragraphs 4 and 5). Are testimonials believable? Are they always legitimate? Find two or more and analyze them. Look for flaws in their arguments, or incomplete information.

What do you think? (Paragraph 6). Would you give lapacho bark a try? When? Where? Why? What do you think? What did you base your decision on? Please provide examples or personal testimonials.

Conclusion (Paragraph 7). Not completely necessary, if it has been covered earlier.

Useful Web Resources

Rain Forest Information: http://www.rain-tree.com/

Clinical Trials for Lapacho (Pau d'Arco)
http://www.rain-tree.com/clinic/clinicp.htm#PAU

Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
: Lapacho http://www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/11571.cfm?recordid=399

Purple Lapacho: Ancient Herb, Modern Miracle? http://www.oralchelation.com/taheebo/lapacho1.htm

Drug Digest: Lapacho. http://www.drugdigest.org/DD/DVH/HerbsWho/0,3923,552793%7CLapacho,00.html

What Is Lapacho Used For Today
? http://www.womenandinfants.com/body.cfm?id=388&chunkiid=21797

Pau d'arco http://www.genhealth.com/pau_darco.htm

About Lapacho http://www.cantron.com/html/nutraceuticals/lapacho.html
Questions About Herbal Remedies

Quackwatch
: Your Guide to Quackery, Health Fraud, and Intelligent Decisions. http://www.quackwatch.org/

Lies and Deceipt in Alternative Medicine: http://www.valleyskeptic.com/altmed.htm

For that Healthy Glow, Drink Radiation!
Popular Science.

Heavy Metals in Ayurvedic Herbal Medicines. ScienceWeek. http://scienceweek.com/2005/sc050204-6.htm

Snake Oil -- The Wikipedia Entry. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snake_oil

Monday, January 16, 2006

Business Trends and E-Learning: Affiliates, Monetizing, Direct navigation

Podcast.

What does it take to achieve solid, fast-paced growth in an e-learning organization? It's not just about building courses, recruiting students, or containing costs. It's also about generating new revenue streams, which may include establishing affiliate relationships, monetizing websites through advertising and reciprocal relationships, and acquiring "valuable real estate" (domains) in order to monetize them, then sell as "type-in" direct navigation domains. Needless to say, it's important to be perceived as maintaining academic excellence as you build student and revenue bases. Nevertheless, there are exciting new ways that have been newly legitimized by investment banking firms for organizations (including e-learning organizations) to establish relationships and to market and promote products, services, and approaches.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate software has evolved tremendously since 2001, and during the last year, new programs and Internet capabilities have emerged that allow smaller institutions to harness the power of a whole new level of the Internet.

While the massive programs (Google Adsense, Yahoo Commission Junction, Amazon) still make sense, it's becoming easier to affiliate with small, independent, yet high-traffic sites. The end result is that the owners of medium and low-traffic weblogs, websites, and podcasts promote programs for a small fee based on clicks, leads, or commissions. Or, alternatively, there are new opportunities to affiliate with providers of the services your clients want and need and to receive commissions - all in a completely seamless manner.

Some individuals at educational institutions may cringe and say that this approach is really crass and tacky. However, they fail to keep in mind that state and private colleges and universities have been doing this for years, but in a way that is not usually acknowledged.

For example, stroll through the student union of an average college campus, look around you and observe what there is to purchase. You will see florists, travel agencies, fast food, copy centers, class rings, cell phone providers, credit card company sign-up tables, book stores, and branded clothing or gift items. The college will receive a percentage of sales from virtually ever transaction done. It is not viewed as selling out. Instead, this is a viable partnership.

What has not been perfected is how these commercial relationships and partnerships function best for online institutions. I would venture to say that it is different for each institution, and that it is important to not seek a generic solution, but to take the time to identify needs, constituencies, and products to align them in the most appropriate way.

Examples include the following:

Personal Affiliate Manager (PAM), developed by George Cain. (shareware)

http://www.sharewareconnection.com/personal-affiliate-manager.htm (from the website: Personal Affiliate Manager is all you need to organize, manage and report on all of your personal affiliate site subscriptions. Keep all of the your various affiliate site logins, URL link codes, commissions and profits all within one simple program.)

Affiliate Network Solution, developed by Pilot Group. Net. (shareware)
http://www.sharewareconnection.com/affiliate-network-solution.htm
PilotGroup.Net: http://www.pilotgroup.net/index.php
(from the website: The most effective marketing tool to earn money on-line. Simple and easy-to-set-up program. The design can be easily changed to suit you. Thousands of products, partners, and ads. A full-service advertising network. Affiliates can check their statistics and get ads through a special page. Includes detailed sales and click-through statistics. Fixed and non-fixed price products. Both automatic and manual sales approval. Powerful payout control. Comprise Owner Admin Area with many features. HTML Code Generator for affiliate setup. Powerful organization tool and business manager for your online business.)

Stats Remote, developed by Network 24/7 (shareware)
http://www.sharewareconnection.com/statsremote.htm
Statsremote home: http://www.statsremote.com/
This program has a "FOUR COWS" rating at 2cows.com, and is a 2004 XBiz Award winner. (from the website: StatsRemote is automatic stats-checking software for affiliates and pay-per-click search-engine webmasters. It checks the statistics of your affiliate programs and pay-per-click search engines automatically, with no need to manually log in to each stats area, as the software does it all for you. StatsRemote reads and displays your hits, sales, and money directly from the stats areas of the affiliate programs and PPC search engines, so you have all the numbers right in front of you. In addition, you can add custom income and expenses (server bills and traffic purchases, for example). StatsRemote can check your stats as often as every 15 minutes and displays all your numbers and a forecast for the current month, or daily, previous, or year-to-date stats, in one interface.)

Website Monetization.

I've also been investigating the opportunities that exist with monetizing websites, and domain sponsoring, in order to untangle hype from reality.

To be honest, I find the concept of filling a webpage with links to advertisers (without any real content) to be sort of repugnant. I know that I do not like landing on domain names filled with links when I misspell a domain name. For example, check out http://www.yahho.com/ and you'll see what I'm talking about.

One of the software solutions that helps individuals with domain sponsor businesses build links is Alstrasoft.com http://www.alstrasoft.com/domains.htm

Companies such as Chitika will help a person develop a monetized website for a share of the ad revenues. In this case, it is 60%. They also have a product, e-minimalls, which can help drive ad and referral revenue. Billed as the "leader in impulse marketing," chitika.com has (I am assuming) spent a great deal of time figuring out what makes people click. I think they have my number. https://chitika.com/index.php Actually, I know they have my number.

I personally question how often content-less sites get picked up by search engines, primarily google. On the other hand, generating traffic is a multi-dimensional art, which is all the more complicated by blogs, podcasts, and other syndicated content. I have seen blogs (particularly celebrity-based blogs) that seem to be little more than placeholders for affiliate-program ad links. I suppose it is a matter of degree. It could be viewed as a service to provide links to related products (I certainly have discovered new products and have purchased items this way). On the other hand, no one wants to be adrift on a sea of fluff and google adsense.

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article in November 2005, in which they described some of the big players in the domain name monetization business. Domain aggregators have assembled venture capital to purchase domain names - to the tune of $250 million!

Along with the new surge in investment and ad revenue, a shift in attitudes has occurred:
"The business model has shifted," said Matt Bentley, chief executive of domain broker Sedo.com LLC, which managed the sale of website.com for $750,000 this year. "The fact that it is moving from individuals to larger corporations … represents a legitimization of the domain-name industry." For years, the industry had a less-than-rosy reputation because many domain owners dealt in "cyber-squatting," registering names associated with famous brands in hopes of selling them to a big company at a hefty price, which fueled legal squabbles. (Thanks to Web Ads, Some Find New Money in Domain Names, WSJ, 17 Nov. 2005)

The shift was a hot topic at a recent ICANN meeting, where the debate about parked domains continues. Joi Ito wrote an interesting post in in CircleID.com in December 2005 about the practice and some of the issues:
http://www.circleid.com/posts/the_parked_domain_monetization_business/
According to him, the "Parked Domain Monetization Business" is making it easier for squatters to operate, and more difficult for individuals and businesses to purchase the domain name they want. The analogy used these days is real estate. Hot "type-in" type domain names are viewed as valuable virtual real estate.

On the other hand, there are a number of nuances, and I still think that it is possible that monetization without content may go away sometime in the future, particularly if google and other search engines do not acknowledge pages that consist only of ads and links.

Direct Navigation

The other issue, the concept of "direct navigation" is very problematic to me. I suppose there is something to it, but my preliminary research into the subject is at odds with what the apologists claim. They describe direct navigation in the following way: "Simply put, Direct Navigation is finding the information you're looking for without using a search engine, a directory of sites, or clicking on a link from another site." http://www.directnavigationmarket.com/ According to the website, "type in traffic" is natural traffic, because there is an affinity to the product. To rely on search engines and search engine-driven traffic is ultimately futile, because conditions always change.

The implications for the e-learning organization are multiple. First, it means that there is more competition for sites you may wish to purchase. It also means that your bookstore will be competing with millions of other sites that will offer the same products, but possibly at a lower price. Eventually, courses and software could be sold in this way (not only products). Certainly many colleges (not just the University of Phoenix) have aggressively embraced affiliate marketing, which means, indirectly, they are participating in the direct navigation market and the parked domain monetization business, since their ads may show up there.

The issues are complex and worth exploring. For now, I'm content to explore and try to keep up with the trends.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Prestige and the Online Institution, Part II - The Digital Gold Standard

Podcast, Part 2
Podcast, Part 3

This is Part 2 of a two-part article which explores attributes and characteristics of prestigious universities, and evaluates how, when, and where the online institution is gaining cultural status and prestige ... and where the opportunities lie. (You might be surprised.)

Link to Part 1 of this article -- the article (not the podcast)

Here is where the paradox begins, in my opinion. After all, the idea of access presupposes a democratic ideal; the voices of all can be heard, their e-mails read. And yet, prestige often associates itself with exclusivity, to the point of secrecy. Could one have a Skull and Bones Club online? Instead of rituals and secret gatherings, the digital elite represent the "gold standard," the ideal to which others aspire. To continue from Part I, here are a few elements that characterize an elite college or university, and here is how they translate into the "digital gold standard."

*Collections of Rare Digital Resources
The university that enjoys prestige and high cultural status must have something unique that sets it apart from other colleges, universities, institutes, and think tanks. It should have at least one major collection of digital resources in which it exercises exclusive control and management. Obviously, there would be extensive sharing of the repository, and/or individuals would be able to subscribe. Examples could be an extensive collection of unique nature photos, scanned documents from a rare book collection, scanned images of historical manuscripts and journals, rare data collected from research, etc. The digital resources could also consist of software and cutting-edge programs.

Will sharing the resources detract from their status, and the belief that they are of high quality? Clearly, in some cases sharing, or making things available via open-source software actually enhances the status. Cases include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's OpenCourseWare project (http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html) and Stanford's LOCKSS (Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe) program, which is a distributed digital archiving system http://www.diglib.org/preserve/stanfordfinal.html.

The common denominator is philanthropy, and the desire to be a leader in funding and implementing initiatives that provide access to educational technology and digital resources to at-risk populations. There are a few echoes of noblesse oblige, and this is, without a doubt, the digital equivalent of volunteerism and the "charity work" of the past. To state the obvious is not to be judgmental, simply to say that if it is not an update of a tried and true formula, the attempt probably will not work.

*Partnerships with solid, well-rounded organizations with depth and breadth
The online institution that aspires to achieve the level of "prestige" is cognizant of the fact that it cannot be done alone. Resource requirements are too steep. Further, to attempt to rise by means of solitary efforts is ultimately futile because success requires partners, not only in terms of resources but also in areas of expertise and technical know-how. Partnering also allows the sharing of infrastructure and informational resources.

*Endowments and scholarship funds
The university that enjoys prestige, status, and high cultural value is notable for the way that it inspires individuals to contribute to the shared vision, and to support the making of a better world via a unique education. Prestigious universities are distinguished by their devotees - passionate alumni and true believers who are willing to endow scholarships, research, travel for students as well as for faculty.

In addition to private university grants and endowments used to support distance education endeavors, the American Distance Education Consortium (ADEC) (http://www.adec.edu/) provides resources to support online program initiatives. Further, they publish lists of grantmakers, both federal and private, where competition is quite keen, and only high-quality proposals are awarded funding.

*Library
A robust digital library is an obvious requisite. It is important to possess not only subscriptions to databases, e-journals and indices, and other information products, but also digitized versions of rare books and statistical archives which can be used in research. Effective data-mining tools need to be in place as well, to help students and researchers effectively utilize the materials. Joining library and digital repository consortia when the materials truly enhance one's collection is an effective strategy. Working with government collections and having compatible systems is important, as is having well-trained staff who understand the nature of classification, intellectual property rights, etc. Learning object repositories are often useful components, but this area should be regarded with caution, since it is fairly easy to develop a repository of unusable, unmanageable, and unshareable digital objects without realizing it.

In addition to privately held digital repositories, or subscriptions to e-journals and databases, online programs may partner with independent virtual libraries such as Questia (http://www.questia.com/) and Highbeam (http://www.highbeam.com/). Such partnerships give the institution a distinct advantage over ones that do not have the same level of access to digital information.

*Foreign Dignitaries and Captains of Industry Faculty
The faculty who teach are experts in their fields. The highly prestigious university prides itself on offering courses taught by renowned luminaries in the field. In the past, teaching online was seen as lacking in status, and research by O'Quinn and Corry (2002) listed that as the main detractor. In 2006, perceptions have changed, and the ability to teach individuals who are distributed across the world is considered a way to gain prestige, as well as to share one's life experience with others (Universal Class, 2006).

For example, Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States, Ahmad Kamal, teaches "The United Nations and International Corporations" through DePaul University's School for New Learning (2005) (http://www.snl.info/index.asp). Conducted via video conferencing from the United Nations, the course features video conferencing and asynchronous interaction via e-mail.

*Self-Supporting Financially Viable Business Model
An online university that has achieved prestige within its social group does not have to rely on state support. It will have established profitable online enterprises that will be used to help support some of its programs.

*Program Design
Flexibility, multiple delivery modes, high levels of interaction and support (with faculty, administration, and fellow students), and high quality, up-to-date curriculum and instructional materials form a part of the program design. What differentiates a run-of-the-mill distance program from a prestige program has a great deal to do with the design. The program should be designed in a way that creates conditions in which students learn to think in new ways, apply their knowledge to demonstrate both competence and a deeper understanding by being able to synthesize, problem-solve, innovate, and develop clear, well-written papers. The program and the design are continually analyzed, reviewed, and updated.

*Committed Faculty and Faculty Support
Even online programs that use only adjunct, part-time faculty must eventually face the fact that in order to achieve and maintain high quality, it is important to have continuity. If this is achieved by means of a core governing faculty board, then it is necessary to meet more than once a year. Ideally, the governing faculty would have activities that keep them engaged with the institution on an ongoing basis. Contact should be made at least once a month, in the form of updates, e-mails, and action items. Discussion board areas should be available for posting ideas, discussing issues, proposing changes, and resolving conflicts.

*Residency options / flexible approach
The prestige distance education institution of the future may have a bricks and mortar component, although the buildings will be not necessarily be in a single place. Face-to-face residential instructional opportunities will take place throughout the world. Relations will be forged with the ministries of various countries so that, for example, a group could take a class from the prestige online institution on Mongolian yurts and horse culture. The Mongolian Ministry of the Exterior would host a reception and the course would be taken under the auspices of the joint venture - the prestige university and the government. Online components and resources would be offered before, during, and after the face-to-face elements.
*High-quality writingAn online university writing center with extensive resources is available for students. Individuals use it in order to become better writers and to obtain one-on-one mentoring, often available at a very reasonable price, since the writing tutors could be located overseas. In addition, remedial services are also be available.

*Career Placement Services
The prestige university partners with strong, brand-recognized employment search and mentoring firms. For example, the institution could partner with Monster.com and develop a unique, powerful partnership that would also provide career experience, job openings, and loyal, enthusiastic alumni.

*Internship opportunities
Virtual internships are available where needed. Payment to interns is made as needed, and students receive college credit for their work. The prestige university guides the internship endeavor, and maintains a mindset of partnership and collaboration with the companies and organizations it works with.

*Research - focus on innovation / virtual teams
The prestige university prides itself in high quality instruction, academic counseling and guidance. However, it realizes that the world is not a static place and it endeavors to adapt with the times. By encouraging research and creating the conditions that allow significant innovation to emerge, the run-of-the-mill institution, or, more pointedly, the institution that has been scrambling just to keep its head above waters of change, will pull ahead of the competition. The institution transforms itself into a leading-edge prestige university that is recognized the world over for its innovation, quality, and capacity for far-reaching, inclusive change.

*And finally, FOOTBALL.
It is my fondest hope that some day, the University of Phoenix buys the NFL team, the Arizona Cardinals, and then changes their name back -- no, not to the St. Louis Cardinals, but to the Phoenix Cardinals.

Imagine the possibilities. To associate a college with a pro team immediately connotes professionalism, focus, and success. "We're not amateurs doing this, we're pro's." Granted, one would be giving up the return to innocence on football Saturday, and the autumnal opportunity to revisit one's coming of age, which softens with nostalgia each time one takes that tailgate-weighted stroll down memory lane.

On the other hand, every jersey, every helmet, and every cut to the scoreboard would be a golden opportunity to burn the University of Phoenix's logo (accompanied by theme song or jingle) into the consciousness of a million viewers at a pop. With HDTV and satellite control, one could even be paid as an affiliate to run advertising on your television at home. Looking for a way to subsidize the chips and salsa for the guests? Run a few 15- and 30-second spots during commercial breaks. It's Google Adsense for television.

If the Phoenix Cardinals make it to the Super Bowl, imagine the pay-off for the University of Phoenix. That alone could be worth the price of the team.

anyway -- I'm interested in your thoughts.



Works Cited
Aboud, S. R. (2005). "Online Education Gets Accolades" Back to College. http://www.back2college.com/distancelearning.htm Accessed Jan 6, 2006.

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2004). Sizing the Opportunity: The Quality and Extent of Online Education in the United States, 2002 and 2003. Sloan Consortium. http://www.sloan-c.org/resources/sizing_opportunity.pdf accessed Jan 6, 2006.

American Distance Education Consortium (ADEC). (2005). http://www.adec.edu/ Accessed Jan 3, 2006.

Cornell University. (2005). eCornell. http://www.ecornell.com/ Accessed Jan 5, 2006.

DePaul University School for New Learning. (2005). "The United Nations and International Corporations, Ambassador Kamal." http://www.snl.info/kamal/snl/snlkamal.asp Accessed Jan 5, 2006.

Highbeam.com (2005). Highbeam Library Research. http://www.highbeam.com/Library/ Accessed Jan 6, 2006.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2005). MIT Open Courseware Project. http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html Accessed Jan 3, 2006.

O'Quinn, L. & Corry, M. (2004) "Factors the Deter Faculty from Participating in Distance Education" Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume V, NumberIV, Winter 2002. http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/winter54/Quinn54.htm Accessed Jan. 6, 2006.

Questia.com. (2005). Resources. http://home.universalclass.com/myinterests/teachonline.htm Accessed Jan. 6, 2006.

Sloan Consortium. (2005). Growing by Degrees: Online Education in the United States, 2005. http://www.sloan-c.org/resources/growing_by_degrees.pdf. Accessed Jan 6, 2006.

Stanford University. (2005). LOCKKS Program.
http://www.diglib.org/preserve/stanfordfinal.html Accessed Jan. 4, 2006.

Thunderbird Garvin School of International Management. (2005). Master's Degree in International Management. http://www.thunderbird.edu/students/degree_prog/mbaim/ Accessed Jan 6, 2006.

UniversalClass. (2006). "How Do I Teach Online?" UniversalClass.com. http://home.universalclass.com/myinterests/teachonline.htm Accessed Jan. 6, 2006.

Webber, T. (2005). "http://www.chronicle.duke.edu/vnews/display.v/ART/2005/04/07/425512a814398 Accessed Jan 4, 2006.

Upward Mobility in the Distance Institution: Factors Influencing Prestige and Status in Online Programs

Podcast.

The college degree earned either partially or fully online has ascended in stature to solid respectability, as college administrators have come to believe that online courses as well as online master's programs can be more rigorous than face-to-face. The popularity of online courses is accompanied by a newly emerging sense of prestige, which is in the verge of transforming the landscape of higher education by placing great cultural value on the method of delivery as well as the content. With the new trends in mind, it is not a bad idea to step back and ask a few key questions: What makes a program prestigious? Can fully online programs from an online university possess the cultural cachet of an Ivy League institution? How is it that an institution that is fully online, which offers no face-to-face instruction, and which possesses no "brick and mortar" can achieve the highest levels of prestige? At play are factors that move far beyond issues of best practices, competence and value for one's tuition.

(This is Part I in a two-part series. Click here for Part II.)

In order to achieve prestige as an online institution of higher education, one must understand the inner workings of status production in a society, and what constitutes cultural value. Social class determinations must be kept in mind, as well as the reasons for social stratification, and beliefs about upward mobility. Having a clear understanding the relationship between education and social class has helped distance programs groom themselves to achieve higher levels of status. At the most basic level, however, the online program must contain a solid foundation of programs, as well as a coherent vision.

*A Vision That Begins and Ends with "Legacy"
Most institutions of higher learning have a vision statement that focuses principally on the here and now: what kind of classes, services, and experiences will the students have, and how will they prepare them for a useful working life within a respectable community?

In contrast, the institution of higher learning that has achieved high status and prestige in society will tend to spend more time envisioning the distant future, clearly implying that individuals who have earned degrees from their institution are imbued with sufficient power and influence to bring about tangible change in the world. Without the proper context, the assumptions and articulated views will seem unrealistic, even narcissistic.

However, when one realizes that a number of the graduating class will be influential policymakers and stakeholders within a specific social group, the underlying attitudes and assumptions seem less grandiose.

For the traditional high-prestige university, the academic year begins with a moment dedicated to envisioning the future: who will receive honorary doctorates, and who will be the perfect commencement speaker - one to communicate, almost as though by osmosis, that this is an institution that not only prepares its students for a successful future, but also for powerful friends and influential connections.

What does the culminating moment look like for an online institution that has gained prestige and cultural status? The graduation ceremony should be seen for what it is: a rite of passage, a "launching" of graduates into the world. The influential speaker is the embodiment of achievement, influence, and deeply cherished values. For Thunderbird Garvin School of International Management, the MBA in International Management (http://www.thunderbird.edu/students/degree_prog/mbaim/) is a degree program that prides itself in continuing relations. Even as the graduates are launched, they are encouraged to keep in touch and to open doors for each other. Before the advent of the Internet, Thunderbird graduates were well-received throughout the world. Their online program reinforces the notion that their perspective is truly global. The legacy is assumed to be a Thunderbird philosophy, an imprint on international business practices and policies, and a story of successful graduates.

For an online institution, the challenge is to communicate the same values and beliefs, but to do it in a visual manner. Careful attention must be paid to the visual details, with an eye to the semiotics - the coded non-verbal visual messages that convey complex messages.

*Tradition
While online programs have not existed for enough time to say that they are a part of a long tradition in and of themselves, it can be said that they are part of a continuum, and that the only difference is that of delivery method. For example, the University of Oklahoma has not offered an online graduate degree in museum studies for more than three or four years. On the other hand, two of the Southwest's largest and most prestigious museums -- the Sam Noble Natural History Museum and the Fred Jones Memorial Art Museum - have been mainstays of the university for decades. Thus, one can legitimately say that the online museum studies program is a part of a tradition. The fact that the courses are taught by University of Oklahoma curators and faculty also supports the case.

*Curriculum PLUS
In the new online universities, the curriculum is not only equivalent to traditional face-to-face programs, it exceeds it in terms of rigorous and regular review, and adherence to best practices. Online institutions take advantage of the distributed nature of course development and subject matter expertise, and bring together a collaboratively-created curriculum which incorporates elements from many sources, from many places. There is clear alignment with learner needs and desired outcomes.

The Sloan Consortium's report, Growing By Degrees, published in 2005 contains data that supports the growing perception that online education can be more rigorous and can contain more quality controls than face-to-face instruction. Despite the fact that most administrators believe that the quality of online instruction is more difficult to evaluate than face-to-face (2005), institutions continue to incorporate online instruction in their strategic plans. In 2005, fully 56% of responding institutions reported that online education was a critical component of their overall strategy (2005).

In the case of Cornell University, a decision was made to focus on professional and executive development certificate programs through a new arm, eCornell. The University leveraged its reputation to bolster the credibility of the online programs. After successful launches of the program, several large, nationally known entities such as YMCA of the USA and Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts selected eCornell for employee development. (http://www.ecornell.com/) Further, the programs have received national awards and commendations. Now it could even be said that the traditional part of Cornell University is benefiting from the reputation of eCornell.

*Instructional Materials in Multiple Formats
Instructional materials reflect the underlying values and defining vision of the institution. Instead of being dependent on the skill and passion of the face-to-face professor, the online institution dedicates resources to a team of developers who integrate content, vision, and values. The developers then adapt the material so that it can be delivered in a number of ways, which include text, audio, multimedia, and blended approaches.

To most effectively distribute the materials, the online program staff seek innovative ways to take advantage of the flexibility of the Internet, and develop materials that are deliverable at any time and at any place, using methods respected and recognized by others for their innovation. For example, online institutions can take advantage of mobile computing and have materials playable on portable mp3 players or video players, as well as readable on small devices including laptops, palms, handhelds, and enhanced phones. Delivery options should keep actual user needs in the forefront.

An example is Duke University, and its use of mobile computing and iPods to deliver content for students. While the iPods are used on campus and in hybrid settings where face-to-face instruction is blended with distance delivery, the audio files are also accessible for students in their online courses. The iPods are used to listen to lectures and to record shareable content. A Description can be found here.

Continue to Part II

Friday, January 06, 2006

Pit Bull Brainstorming: A Writing and Research Activity

Podcast.

Brainstorming is an invention strategy for composition that can take many forms. While some find it useful to use diagrams, outlines, decision trees, and clusters, those tactics tend to focus on the "what" instead of the "how" and the "why." In order to approach deeper issues, and to trigger chains of thoughts, a very powerful technique is to develop series of questions. The brainstorming revolves around questions that trigger questions. It is a chain of questions, or, one could say a "great concatenation of questions."

This approach is extremely useful for causal essays, as well as basic argumentation. One topic that certainly helps illustrate the technique is that of the pit bull, which can encompass a number of breeds, including the American Pit Bull Terrier. It seems that attacks by pit bulls just keep increasing.

Cities such as Denver are banning them. Neighboring towns are fearful that they will become "pit bull dumping grounds" (which leads to all kinds of rather bizarre mental images, back yards packed shoulder-to-shoulder with pit bulls). Why is the pit bull phenomenon happening? What are we doing about it? Are some dog breeds being labeled "bad breeds"?



Audio: I listened to an interesting report on National Public Radio entitled, "Targeting Aggressive Dog Breeds in California." I accessed it through the National Public Radio website located here:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5012365

I was able to listen to the show using Real Player, which I had downloaded for free from the Internet. Alternatively, I could have listened to it using Windows Media Player.

Questions immediately came to mind. I thought about the general questions, and I found my questions were helping me narrow my topic.

The perplexing questions first:
Why do pit pulls attack people, and how can such a tiny dog be so dangerous?
Who says they're bad? Why are they saying it?
What do some people want to do? Where? Why?

History and background thoughts:
Why are pit bulls aggressive? Were they bred that way?
What is a pit bull, and what makes it so dangerous?
Who uses the ultra-aggressive pit bulls?
Who might need such an aggressive dog?


The other side of the coin:
What is good about a pit bull?
Why do some people say the breed is very loving?
Can pit bulls be friendly, happy dogs?

Let's get personal:

What do you think about the idea that people create hyper-aggressive dogs as a fashion statement, or to be "cool"?

What would I do if I had a pit bull?
Training, conditioning, behavior modification
Are there any business opportunities here?
Dog chow for ultra aggressive dogs (make them more aggressive) -- is there an ethical issue here?
Pacifying dog chow (calm down and tranquilize the dogs)
"Pit Bull Friendly" town (a business opportunity for small communities near Denver and other urban areas where the breed is banned)

Useful Websites for Information

Woman dies in Pontotoc County after being mauled by local dogs (not pit bulls)

http://newsok.com/article/3148404/1192504930

Towns Gird Against Influx of Pit Bulls. Denver Post, January 5, 2006
http://www.denverpost.com/ci_3372494?source=rss

Pit Bull Primer: There are two sides to the pit bull banning debate
San Francisco Chronicle, October 30, 2005

Pit Bull Attack Places Breed Ban in the Spotlight
Suburban Chicago News, November 20, 2005
http://www.suburbanchicagonews.com/couriernews

Pit Bull Apologists, Wake Up. San Francisco Chronicle, July 6, 2004.

Elmhurst Woman Mauled by Pit Bull, New York Daily News, November 23, 2005. http://nydailynews.com/front/story/368399p-313288c.html

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