Friday, November 30, 2007

The Power of Personal Experience in E-Learning: A U.S. Marine’s Memoir

Eugene Jackson’s recently published memoir, How Fear Moves, can be used in online courses that deal with creative non-fiction, literature, and film, as well as courses in sociology and psychology. Based on Jackson’s experiences rising from a harsh environment of abuse and urban poverty near Dallas, Texas, to success in the U.S Marine Corps, the memoir provides a rare and authentic view of a side of life many avoid. Used in conjunction with web resources that provide other examples of memoirs, rhetorics of autobiography, theories that explain how people come to understand people, human relations, and society, Jackson’s memoir can be used to encourage learners to make connections with the text, share experiences, and to develop a framework for future work.



The Journey Begins with Form and Function
Understanding the literary tradition of creative non-fiction, and the form and function of the memoir can help the reader start making connections between the works that he/she has read, and the impact they had on her life. In addition, the reader can begin to see how his own journal writing starts one on a great heuristic, and can be an effective method of self-discovery. As far as Augustine’s Confessions, http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/3296, the memoir or confession has been a way in which literary texts reinforce a deep sense of shared humanity and spiritual, physical, and emotional vulnerability.

Learning Activity:
What type of memoir is How Fear Moves?
Investigate and post ideas and explanations in a discussion forum.

Approach:
One good way to start is to begin with the definition of creative non-fiction, and then to different forms. One can argue that Jackson’s work is essentially a bildungsroman.

Creative non-fiction: Definition from the Web English Teacher: http://www.webenglishteacher.com/cnf.html

Bildungsroman definition from Victorian Web: http://www.victorianweb.org/genre/hader1.html


The Narrative Begins: Excerpts and Dialogical Evocation of Other Memoirs

Jackson’s text is available in book form, as well as via excerpts in the web and audio posts. The reader is likely to find in Jackson’s work a deep resonance with his or own life, as well as other authors.

In doing so, an inner dialogue is established, even as one becomes aware of the presence of a narrative dialogical presence, something that Mikhail Bakhtin referred to as the “dialogic imagination” at google books here.

Excerpts of How Fear Moves (available via amazon.com here) are also available through Jackon’s blog: http://skywater.blogspot.com

Jackson’s narrative starts in Como, Texas, and his narrative is a blend of episodes from his childhood, childhood imagination, and a kind of mystical dream-narrative. An example can be found in an audio of “Boxes” http://x.imeem.com/6hSgFKkd_z/?d=1

In another example, his dream of his grandmother Estella, shows an archetypal power:
http://skywaterjournal.blogspot.com/2007/02/balance.html

The narrative includes boyhood pranks and adventures. In many ways, it evokes the work of

Mark Twain: Life on the Mississippi
etext: http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=245

Richard Wright: Biography: http://www.math.buffalo.edu/~sww/wright/wright0.html
Native Son: google books edition
Black Boy: View of the author and his work: http://www.itvs.org/RichardWright/

Despite adversity, Jackson pursues an education. His quest to read, write, and to excel in his studies and in his physical self-discipline often reminds one of Frederick Douglass:

Frederick Douglass:
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: e-text: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/23
PBS Guide to Frederick Douglass http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p1539.html

Unfortunately, Jackson’s younger years are marked by abuse, and by watching adults struggle not only with poverty, but also addiction. No matter how difficult his situation, Jackson realizes that there are ways out. His world of the imagination gives him relief from pain, as well as his unwillingness to give up the fight for a better life, a better world.

He deals with the poverty and difficulties with humor:
http://skywaterjournal.blogspot.com/2007/06/gullible_28.html
http://skywaterjournal.blogspot.com/2007/04/crocodile-tears.html

The narrative does not stop at the end of childhood, but continues to Jackson’s experience in the Marines.
http://skywaterjournal.blogspot.com/2007/04/sticks-and-stones.html

Other Marine memoirs include Wesley Fox’s Marine Rifleman, which also includes scenes and vignettes that illustrate how the bond between individuals in their units is forged.

Learning Activity:
Identify formative events in Jackson's life. Discuss how he views their impact on his sense of self. Discuss his response to stress and pressure.

Compare and contrast Jackson's narrative with that of others.

Approach:
Respond with a journal entry and share with fellow learners, open discussion board posts, sharing video clips.

Contexts and Global Views, Including African American / Sociological Perspectives:

One can analyze Jackson’s narrative from many points of view. Because his life and life’s purpose are forged from the difficult environment of Como, Texas, and he so clearly describes life in that community, it is very useful to relate his narrative to what sociologists and ethnographers have written.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has expanded the field of African-American studies and has promoted an appreciation of the contribution of African Americans. He also addresses current issues help the public gain an understanding how, why, and when African Americans are perceived in certain ways. http://www.galegroup.com/free_resources/bhm/bio/gates_h.htm


Franz Fanon: Overview of his thoughts about post-colonialism, which includes notions about the internalization of oppression, and colonization of the imagination. Black Skins, White Masks is one of his most influential books. Here is an overview: http://www.english.emory.edu/Bahri/Fanon.html

Cornel West: Race Matters and other influential works have helped raise awareness of the role of African Americans in the 20th century and beyond. http://www.pragmatism.org/library/west/

Never Forget a Journey of Revelations (discussion of hip-hop) – reaction to “ice age” and indifference to suffering of fellow human beings:

Part I: http://youtube.com/watch?v=XIMLT78iMKg
Part II: http://youtube.com/watch?v=3CM4vNVFM-4&feature=related



bell hooks: Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2838/is_n3_v31/ai_20418562



bell hooks has written provocative, fascinating, and insightful critiques of culture, gender relations, and representations of race, gender, and religion. Her memoir of her childhood brings to mind Maya Angelou's work, and it also discusses how a sense of self and an interpretation of one's place in society are formed in childhood.

Bell Hooks on Madonna:
bell hooks deconstructs American myths, and the construction of self and celebrity.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=i3CBUm7GrNI


Bell Hooks and Henry Louis Gates:
Slide show with music and captions

http://youtube.com/watch?v=8X_En_da9PE



Learning Activities:
List key ideas of the theorists presented in the readings above.

Discuss the ideas and how they relate to the memoirs linked above and referred to in this lesson.

Discuss the ideas of theorists and how they relate to specific ideas, descriptions, statements, or scenes in Jackson's memoir.

Approach:
Discussion
Essay / short answer with feedback
Sharing links and posts / videos
Sharing films and movies / pop culture ideas

The Stories We Tell: Constructing Worlds:

Finally, an effective approach to Jackson’s narrative it to look at the narrative structure and to understand how his story constructs a world. The values, the dynamics, and the way meaning is structured and interpreted shed light on the way our own culture programs us to think, and it makes us more aware of the processes we use to start to create order from chaos, a narrative (with some predictive value) of the events of our lives, and an explanation for the people we know and their behaviors.

Dan McAdams: The Stories We Live By (google books link)

Blog response to McAdams – Dare to Dream: http://daretodream.typepad.com/weblog/stories_we_live_by/index.html

Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann (1966):
Social Construction of Reality (google books link)

Response: http://brainwashed.com/h3o/Dislocation/reality.html

Archetypes: A Way to Tell Ourselves We Understand the People We Meet, and What they Represent

Heroes:
In many ways, Jackson’s bildungsroman is a quest for heroes, and in his quest to find a hero, he himself becomes a kind of heroic presence as he overcomes adversity and develops a mental mindset that allows self-overcoming.

Joseph Campbell: Campbell takes Jung and the idea of myth, psyche, and symbol and applies it to the creation of the hero. The series built around Campbell’s writings, Mythos, can be found on YouTube: http://youtube.com/watch?v=h2JnNXnB62I

Carl G. Jung: Jung’s psychology bases around the notion of archetypes.
Google Books: Four Archetypes: Mother, Rebirth, Spirit, Trickster

Here is a student’s response to Jung and Dawkins (memes), which is thought-provoking, especially because some may not agree.
http://youtube.com/watch?v=-Hy2_hwT2_k

Learning Activities - Stories and Archetypes

List archetypes and their functions
Discuss the dreams in Jackson's memoirs and how they relate to archetypes
Describe one scene and explain how the story helps build an identity

Approach
Depending upon the learners' access to high-speed connections and their ability to work with some of the web applications that are available, ask students to post their own video on google video or youtube and to connect to their own sites (MySpace, FaceBook, Ning, Tumblr, etc.).

Encourage them to share their own stories and scenes from their lives, and encourage them to list the memoirs / autobiographies that have shaped their lives.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Articles of Note: Corgi Catches, Nov. 27, 2007

We dig through databases, online journals, an e-learning magazines for online learning articles of interest. In this series, we present a few articles that you might find useful, thought-provoking, or simply interesting. Instead of giving you only the citation, we'll give you more. We'll provide a brief overview and synopsis of the article.

We hope you find this to be helpful!

An article that caught the Corgi’s eye this week:

Herberger, J. A.; Murray, A.; Rioux, K. (2007). Examining information exchange and virtual communities: an emergent framework. Online Information Review Vol. 31 No. 2, 2007 pp. 135-147

This paper presents a new conceptual framework for examining virtual communities. The goal is to look at different ways of evaluating the communities, and to present a four-tiered pyramid approach.

The base of the pyramid consists of membership, and suggests that the primary motivator for individuals to join a virtual community is become members and to have their needs met by means of emotional connections. The second tier has to do with information networks, the third tier includes informational exchange, and the fourth has to do with the process of acquiring and sharing information.

In many ways, the conceptual framework presented in this article shares much with McMillan and Chavis’s (1986) analysis of traditional communities. McMillan & Chavis found the following basic building blocks of community: membership, influence, integration and fulfillment of needs, and shared emotional connections. Somewhere in the formation of a community, the boundaries and limits that define who belongs and does not belong are forged, and the attendant rights of membership are clarified. A community has certain attributes: safety, sense of belonging and identification, personal investment, and a common symbol system which includes community myths, symbols, rituals, rites, and ceremonies.

The authors conclude that people acquire and share information based on a mix of cognitive, affective, procedural and motivational needs. In conclusion, the emergent framework for evaluating virtual communities can be used in the following ways:

1. to help troubleshoot and diagnose problems with communications.

2. to quantify the importance in the community of satisfaction and dissatisfaction or other affective states.

3. to understand why and how information sharing in communities works, and what people perceive themselves to be doing (giving a gift? Showing they “fit” in the community?)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Finalist in Best of E-Learning / Corporate Education Edublog Awards

It is an incredible honor to be a Finalist in the EduBlog Awards in the category of Best E-Learning / Corporate Education. As you can see by the co-finalists, we're in amazingly good company, and that in itself is an honor.

I would like to invite you to visit each of the blogs listed below, and to be sure to vote. Here is the link to the voting page:

Clive on Learning
E-Learning Queen
eLearning Technology
In the Middle of the Curve
Mohamed Amine Chatti’s ongoing research on Technology Enhanced Learning

Many thanks to the EduBlog awards for promoting blogging on elearning. They are doing a great service create and sustain a wonderfully supportive learning community.

Moodle Teaching Techniques Meets Numerous Needs

Packt Publishing’s Moodle Teaching Techniques (2007) by William H. Rice, IV, is a welcome addition to any instructor, course developer or administrator’s personal library. Although the text is geared toward the Moodle open source learning management system platform, the ideas and techniques contained in this book are universally applicable for any learning management system, and, more universally, to any e-learning program. What sets this book apart from other texts that discuss ways to develop courses and to teach effectively online is the fact that it has a heavy Web 2.0 orientation, which means that it incorporates interactive web applications and encourages sharing and interaction, which in turn accommodates multiple learning styles and also facilitates the development of a robust, active learning community.

Schools, not-for-profits, training institutes, and corporations that are turning to Moodle to host their online learning. They have gone to Moodle because they like the fact that it is open-source and very customizable. Many people are finding that if they use a hosting service like Site Ground (http://www.siteground.com) the hosting service is very helpful in getting the user started with exciting user applications.

If one does not have the time an energy to configure Moodle for their server, one can also use a service such as Moodle Rooms (http://www.moodlerooms.org), which exists to help individuals and organizations put together Moodle sites.

Here are the specific areas addressed in Packt Publishing's book. Please bear in mind that what appears below is not a table of contents, and the actual content in the book is arranged in a different way. I’ve simply categorized the content along instructional lines.

The book does an outstanding job of connecting the ways to teach with specific instructions of how to do the activities in Moodle. Screenshots and captures help the reader follow what is happening.

Learning Community Activities:

Moodle Forums

Moodle Chat

Content Mastery Activities:

Quiz set-ups, solutions, and deployment

Proctored, Timed tests from Secure Locations

Content Presentation:

Lessons Settings

Lesson Instructional Materials

Sequence of Activities

Wiki: Interactive content

Supplemental Activities:

Glossaries

Moodle Teaching Techniques



While the organization and presentation of the instructions is very clear, concise and easy to use, it is possible that the reader will be left asking “why” to a number of the suggestions and guidelines. For example, in the section entitled, Need for Sequential Activities, the book states: “We don’t want our students to ‘meander’ or wander through course items. We want to enforce a specific order of resources and activities” (Rice, 2007, 88). My immediate question was, “Why? What’s wrong with meandering?” Such questions would be well answered if the author provided a rationale, and at least two underpinnings from learning theory – one pro and one con- to help the reader gain a sense why decisions are made, and how learning is enhanced.

The book is quite technical, which is good. However, it would have been very nice to discuss other issues, such as motivation, in an online course. I realize that there was perhaps not enough space in the book, and, perhaps it would be better to have a separate book – one that deals exclusively with learning theories as they apply to distributed education (whether online, or via mobile device).

A key question that the reader is likely to have at this point is, “Must I be using Moodle to use this book?”

Moodle Teaching Techniques bridges all learning platforms and addresses the deeper issues of how to really take advantage of what the Web has to offer in terms of e-learning effectiveness. So, the answer to that question is that you don’t really have to be using Moodle, but this text certainly makes it easier to take advantage of open source solutions.

In the past, colleges and universities have shied away from Moodle because they have feared that their online registration services, their grade databases, and financial services databases will not easily integrate with Moodle. While this can definitely be true, there are new solutions that will place a student in a course (and in the Moodle room) as soon as they’ve paid for the class. It is not necessary to manually enroll every student. As for entering grades in the final gradebook, many colleges and universities still use programs such as DataTel for their grades and transcript management. It may be necessary for instructors to manually enter grades in the DataTel system, rather than relying on a program to integrate the Moodle database and DataTel.

I only mention the mechanics because I want to show that it is not necessary for the large users to shy away from Moodle. One popular misconception is that Moodle is only good for the newbies to online education, or the small user, and as soon as one gets a bit of experience under one’s belt, one graduates to Angel, Blackboard, D2L, or another even pricier (and ultimately unreliable) solution.

The nice thing about Moodle is that it is likely to be stable for quite awhile, and the twice yearly version changes that have made Blackboard and WebCT administrators’ lives a nightmare can be avoided in Moodle. In Moodle, you don’t have to wait for the program to provide all the applications, features and functionality you desire. You can easily import them and integrate them into the platform.

This book helps course developers, instructors, and administrators put together very effective Moodle-based courses that include asynchronous as well as synchronous activities.

Reference:

Rice, W. H. (2007). Moodle teaching techniques: Creative ways to use Moodle for constructing online learning solutions. Birmingham and Mumbai: Packt Publishing.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Kindle: A Publisher’s Experience

I caught the Kindle fever and decided to make a novel, Ophelia's Gold, available via Kindle. I'm excited about Kindle because what makes Amazon's Kindle reader unique is that you don't have to go to a special kiosk or go online to download the e-content. The Kindle reader comes with a wireless connection that's good just for downloading books in the Kindle-compatible format from Amazon. The cost of downloading via Amazon's Whispernet is included in the cost of the book.

This was done through the publisher’s Amazon Advantage account. The process is, in actuality, quite easy to do. All you have to do is to fill out forms and upload the pdf, as well as cover graphics. You also have to provide banking and taxpayer identification information. Since the publisher of the book already had a bookseller account through Amazon Advantage, it was a smooth process, nothing was too surprising to me. I assumed that the publisher had access to the Kindle digital program because they had been accepted as an Advantage affiliate as a publisher.

I quickly found that is not necessarily the case. In fact, anyone who has an amazon account can upload a pdf, convert it, and sell a book through amazon. There are various disclaimer checkboxes to click through, but I have to wonder what is stopping someone from, say, bundling up public domain material, converting it to a pdf, and then selling it through Kindle (once converted to the Kindle format)?



According to the news reports I read, books will cost $9.99. That, as well as other information I found on Kindle, turned out to be not really the case. In point of fact, you, the publisher, can set your own price. I noticed that many books are being offered for between $5.00 and $7.00. The price for the Kindle-compatible download of my book, Ophelia's Gold, is very low – at $1.95, almost giveaway. My reasoning? An introductory special. I can always raise the price later. The book is a novel, and seems to be ideal for Kindle, which has an easy-to-read screen and adjustable print size. Kindle: Amazon's New Wireless Reading Device

Keep in mind that most of the books that are available are trade books. What that means in operational terms is that Kindle is not going to be very effective as a portable device used in elearning. Certainly one can read books that are available in Kindle format. However, people expect elearning e-texts to have expanded functionality and interactivity. So, they expect a multimedia experience in the instructional materials and activities. They also expect to be able to interact with people (fellow students and instructors).



To be honest, I just don’t see an individual being willing to drag around a bag of devices everywhere they go, which would include cellphone, mp3 player, pda, Kindle reader, and laptop. In my opinion, the future user will want a laptop and a smartphone, which will be something like an enhanced iPhone that will allow one to capture, download, and share text, video, audio, and images.

In the case of my book, it’s currently available through amazon.com in paper format, as well as digitally via Google Books. An audio version is available through Learning Portal. To have it available for Kindle users seemed quite interesting, especially since, at the current time, there are only 80,000 titles available in Kindle format. Now, if Amazon does not make more Kindle readers available soon, I would say that the size of the market will be pretty limited. As a publisher, that is a serious disincentive. If only 5,000 people have Kindle reading devices, even if every single person bought a copy of my book, which is, I have to admit, staggeringly unlikely, that’s only 5,000 unit sales.

On the other hand, if readers do respond, the publisher, Texture Press, is thinking about making collections of short prose -- a new anthology of contemporary Slovenian prose, From the Heart of Europe, available.


In their review of Kindle, MotleyFool.com suggested that for Kindle to succeed, both the price of the reader and the price of the content will need to go down in price. It looks like that is already happening, at least on the content front. As for the reader itself, it’s sold out. I wanted to order one, even though at $399, it’s pricey and doesn’t do the one thing I really want an ebook reader to be able to do, which is to read pdfs I’ve downloaded or generated.

As soon as the Kindle readers are available, I will definitely order one. However, I’m not really looking forward to the work-arounds offered via mobi-ebooks, etc. that will be required to be able to convert an e-book to Kindle-compatible formats. If I could send a wish list to amazon, I’d say that for Kindle to generate some real magic, they need to incorporate email, include audio. The other stuff can come later.

I’m hoping that Kindle is a hit. It will be interesting to see how it, and the products, evolve.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Shmapplet: Maps, Visuals, Text for a Great Virtual Tour Mashup

Schmapplets.com’s map-text-image mashup is quickly becoming my favorite mashup, because it gives me the chance to create a virtual tour that’s visually attractive, easy to follow, and easy to use. The only downside is that the detailed maps (from google maps) are only available for a limited number of places, and so it’s hard to take a tour outside the boundaries of the pre-made map. Nevertheless, I highly recommend schmapplets, and encourage you to see my little first attempt, located here: Shmapplet: http://www.schmapplets.com/beyondutopia/1267



For example, I wanted to do a tour of Oklahoma oil and gas exploration and production, but was not able to go outside the boundaries of Oklahoma City. What I did was to wander around Oklahoma City and then ask individuals to contemplate places far from where they were physically located.

I guess that’s a different kind of virtual tour (!)


Schmapplet has a number of prepackaged features, which are really attractive. They have virtual tours of many cities, and the directories have already put together map location, address, and detail of the type of establishment it might be.

It’s a great interactive travel guide. A word of caution, though – the experience is only as good as the data that underlies the experience.

Out-of-date and incorrect information render a tour guide pretty useless. This could be a problem for Schmapplets – they need to have a dynamic database rather than a static one. I am hoping that’s what they have.

Here’s my schmapplet, Oil and Gas Exploration in Oklahoma, located here: http://www.schmapplets.com/beyondutopia/1267


As much as I love schmapplet.com, here are a few things that I’d love to see incorporated:

1---Larger maps. I would like to be able to incorporate stops in a map of the state, or map of a country. I don’t like being confined to a single city.

2---Ability to embed scripts in the html text. For example, I’d like to be able to embed YouTube videos and also music. I wanted to have Felix da Housecat’s “Now That the Love Is Gone” playing in a loop for either “The Petroleum Club,” or “Tulsa, World Oil Capital.”

3—Clearer information about how to enter author information and contact info. It seems to be missing.




That said, I love Schmapplets and am eager to start sharing my little 9-stop virtual tour of Oklahoma Oil and Gas, which includes secondary recovery, waterfloods, shale gas, and innovative methods, as well as history and personal memories of oil and gas exploration.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Top Gadgets That Can Change E-Learning

PopSci.com has released its annual “The Best of What’s New” list and, not surprisingly, many of the gadgets have the capacity to change how we approach e-learning, especially mobile learning. Below are a three of the top choices, with applications to e-learning. If you’re interested in the direct link, here it is: http://www.popsci.com/popsci/flat/bown/2007/

Apple iPhone 2.0

The touchscreen is great. While the old handhelds (Dell Axim and Palm) always had the touchscreen, it’s nice to have it in a cell phone. It makes browsing the web much easier. It also opens the door for better mobile learning – m-learning that includes interactive graphics, quizzes, maps, along with mp3 files – all downloadable on the go, and on demand.




This is not to say that the good old handheld computers could not do that – what makes this different is that the Apple iPhone 2.0 solution is integrated, and has cellphone capabilities as well as enhanced graphics, on-demand graphics, and remarkable range and efficiency in terms of data access.

Social networking capabilities are also enhanced, with a built-in YouTube interface, a movie player, and iTunes downloads.

The enhanced interactivity may push learning management system providers to rethink the way they lock content up in a virtual box.

Verizon Wireless V-Cast Mobile TV

For the most part, e-learning experts have long abandoned the notion that webcasts of lectures are effective instructional modalities. The experience is too passive, and it lends itself to “talking heads.” However, for years, distance learning consisted almost exclusively of broadcasts – does anyone remember the original “talk back television” or the Open University offerings?



The best part of “talk back television” was the fact that it was live. Mobile video has been pretty much unwatchable because of delays and blockiness. Now, with Qualcomm’s FLO TV technology and a single digital signal that does not degrade as bandwidth is shared, the ability to watch a high-quality video is I one’s hand.

Try training and interacting with a live video signal. Mobile learning will never be the same.

Carry-On Satellite TV

In-field training with live updates and feeds is now possible. It is also possible to transport your full satellite television system from office to office in your briefcase (albeit a heavy one!). Sat-Go trades a bulky concave dish for a compact flat-panel with hundreds of small antennas. Each catches a piece of the signal, and an amplifier joins them into a coherent video stream that you can watch on the 17-inch screen.

No-Hard Drive Laptop: Dell Latitute ATG D630

It sounds impossible, doesn’t it – an entire laptop with flash drive memory rather than a traditional hard drive that spins (and crashes). With flash drive, there are no moving parts. It’s not necessary to worry about jostling the hard drive. Don't worry about destroying your archives. You no long have to carry around a fistful of USB flashdrives. Still, it’s not too advisable to drop your laptop – there is always the screen to worry about. Notable Edu-Blog Posts:

Karl Kapp - Teaching and Training Across Generations - November 16, 2007

Christopher D. Sessums - Teaching, Learning, Recreating Iconic Moments - November 2, 2007

Stephen Downes - "How the Net Works" - October 18, 2007


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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Interview with Burks Oakley (Life in the E-Learning Organization Series)

This week's interview is with Burks Oakley, trailblazer in online learning programs, who has received numerous awards and accolades, including ones received from the Sloan Consortium. This interview is a part of Life in the E-Learning Organization, a series of interviews with e-learning and distance professionals.

What is your name, and what is your involvement with e-learning?

My name is Burks Oakley. I have been involved in the e-learning field since the late 1980’s. I currently am a Visiting Research Professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield, and in this capacity, I teach an online class and I am involved in research about online education. I also work as a consultant in the field of online learning, and give a number of faculty development presentations and workshops on college campuses throughout the country. I’m technically a Professor Emeritus of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which is a nice way of saying that I am a retired engineering professor.

How did you get interested in distance education?

I actually was an award-winning classroom teacher in a former life (a long time ago). When students began to have access to PC’s in the late 1980’s, I developed some stand-alone software to help improve student learning in my on-campus class on electric circuit analysis (I worked as an electrical engineering professor at that time). The success of this software led me to develop a networked version, where the students could submit homework over the Internet (using FTP) and get instant feedback on how well they understood the concepts. In the Spring 1994 semester, I added asynchronous computer conferencing to this, so that students could contact TA’s or other students online and ask questions if they were having difficulties. All of this experience helped land me a position in the office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Illinois, and when the Vice President started a university-wide initiative in the area of online education (what you are calling distance education), she asked me to direct it. And I worked as the Director of the University of Illinois Online initiative for the next ten years, assisting the three campuses of the University of Illinois (Chicago, Springfield, Urbana-Champaign) develop their online programs. So you can see that I sort of got into this field in a round-about manner.

What is your favorite new trend in distance education?

Without a doubt, my favorite new trend is Web 2.0 and all of the Web 2.0 technologies that we can use to improve student learning. For example, I have my students post their introductions in a class wiki, I have asked them each to start a blog where they can reflect on their learning, and I produce weekly podcasts for the class, in which I summarize our discussions and highlight important points.

What is your favorite technology?

Wow, that is a tough question. Do I have to pick a favorite? I assume that you mean among all of the many technologies that are used in the e-learning field. I’ll re-phrase your question – what is the one Internet technology I wouldn’t want to do without? OK, Susan, if that is what you want to know, my answer would have to be Google. I use Google multiple times each day – and more and more, it isn’t just the search feature of Google, but it is the personalized Google page at iGoogle, having my calendar in Google Calendar, blogging using Blogger, creating web pages with Google Page Creator, collaboratively authoring documents in Google Documents, reading and sending e-mail using my Gmail account – well, I could go on and on. Why didn’t I buy Google stock when it was only $100 per share?!!!!!!

What kinds of instructional materials do you use in elearning?

I guess that I am fairly traditional here. I use webpages for handouts (and I still author them in Netscape Composer, version 4.8 from 2002), PDF files (see more below – a great replacement for textbooks), and I use Blackboard for the weekly discussions in my online class. As I just mentioned, I also am podcasting for my online class, and I use a blog to distribute the RSS feed for this podcast series. Oh, I guess I also produce some short PowerPoint presentations with audio, and I use Impatica for this purpose. One other thing that I do in my online class that is somewhat unique – I attach a thumbnail photo to each and every one of my postings in Blackboard, so that the students see me as a “real” person, rather than an anonymous instructor in cyberspace. I have a small digital camera, and take photos of myself everywhere – at a conference in Florida, on the golf course, in my home office, and so on. So they get to see me in my everyday life, which I think helps build our learning community, something that is so very important in any online class.




How do you use textbooks in e-learning?

Susan – I actually don’t use any texts in the online classes that I have taught. For example, this semester I am teaching a course called “Internet and American Life”. In this class, we are exploring the many ways that the Internet is impacting our lives in the United States today, and the laws and public policies that are related to the use of the Internet. The course is based primarily on publications from the Pew Internet and American Life Project (see: http://www.pewinternet.org/). And we supplement this material with current articles from various online sources – ranging from the NY Times and the Washington Post to blogs written by Internet experts. The nice thing about this course is that it is so relevant to the lives of the students – so we use the principles of social constructivism – and the students do a lot of searching on their own to find relevant articles.

What is your favorite quote? Or, what book that caught your eye recently?

One of my favorite quotes is from Larry Ecton, of Summit Electric Supply in Albuquerque, NM. He said “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” For more of my favorite quotes, visit my website at:

http://www.burksoakley.com/quotes.html

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Articles of Note: Corgi Catches, Nov. 4, 2007

We dig through databases, online journals, an e-learning magazines for online learning articles of interest. In this weekly series, we present a few articles that you might find useful, thought-provoking, or simply interesting. Instead of giving you only the citation, we'll give you more. We'll provide a brief overview and synopsis of the article.

We hope you find this to be helpful!

Articles that caught the Corgi’s eye this week:


Woodward, D. (2007) Work-life balancing strategies used by women managers in British "modern" universities. Equal Opportunities International. 26:1, pp. 6-17.

This article takes a look at how women managers of university programs balance work and their outside life. Although this article looks exclusively at women in British “modern” universities, the findings may apply to many other situations, and can give insight into the challenges and commitments faced by women working outside the home, which can include time with family, raising children, professional development, and education. In this study, it is clear that women are faced with a variety of time-consuming obligations and it is important to establish priorities and manage their time. How they make the decisions to prioritize and why certain choices are made depends on the urgency of the demands, and how critical they are to one’s primary survival. It is assumed that women managers need the work, and, on some fundamental level, they like it. Thus, women are willing to sacrifice time to it.

Woodward uncovered several findings that could be useful to individuals. First, in this study, all the participants reported unmanageably large workloads, with some seasonal variability. This seems to be a universal in programs and with women managers. The main problem reported by women is that unanticipated urgent items would arise and would interrupt the normal flow. Lunch breaks were a rarity. Many women arrive early and stay late. They did so to avoid rush-hour traffic and to give themselves some quiet time before the majority of workers arrived. All the women interviewed worked in excess of contracted hours, and usually ended up with 50 to 60-hour weeks. Few women took all their annual leave, and when they did take leave, it was often used for childcare purposes. Women had different attitudes about work, which ranged from finding work enjoyable to seeing work as an all-consuming malign force. Recreation, well-being, travel, and continuing education were challenging issues for women as they were often required to take work home. Because of the workload issues, boundaries between work and home were often fuzzy. Flex-time and work-from-home schemes would not necessarily solve the problem except in cases when it might help with childcare issues. For Wodward, the most useful finding was in organizational culture with respect to gender. Women are expected to be workaholics, concludes Woodward. For women to be able to dedicate time to family and continuing education, organizations must find ways to discourage negative work habits and workaholism. A woman who is mired in a culture that requires 60-hour work weeks just to manage the work flow is not given the opportunity to keep current with skills or knowledge, and will start to lose currency.

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