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Friday, September 28, 2012

Interview with UWINPro on ProProfs Training Maker: Case Studies in E-Learning

Online training providers are increasingly under pressure to provide quick-to-market, easy-to-implement solutions that avoid cumbersome learning management systems. At the same time, the proliferation of devices and apps has created an environment where solutions have to be simple and elegant enough to work on many devices in situations where bandwidth can be a challenge. This case study examines the experience of UWINPro, who offers training programs in SAP for companies that use SAP for database integration and management. They have been using ProProfs.com and are sharing their experience here.

1) Can you tell us briefly about your company and your relation to e-learning?
We at UWINPro  (www.uwinpro.com) are one of the leading IT Training providers in Canada. We offer Online Training programs to our globally located corporate clients in the fields of SAP, UNIX and ERP courses. We have been focusing on SAP courses like SAP CRM, SAP HANA, SAP BOBJ, SAP ECC, SAP SRM etc.



2) In what ways have you used e-learning while developing your online training programs?
We are using elearning to offering online access to training courses. Currently we are using ProProfs (http://www.ProProfs.com/training) for developing our e-learning courses. To create a comprehensive and an engaging learning experience we use different components inside the courses such as PPTs, Videos, Mind maps, Flash cards, Quizzes and Surveys. These courses can then be accessed by our learners anytime / anywhere at their own convenience.

We use multiple ProProfs products such as Training Maker, Quiz Maker, Survey Maker and Flashcards to create elearning courses.



3) Do you think that online training still has many hurdles to overcome? For instance can online assessments, which are a major part of online training, be trusted? 
Most of the online training software do not work across multiple devices, so a learner using a laptop might be able to access the training program, while someone trying to access the same training program from an iPad might not. A successful online training program must take into account that learners are geographically dispersed and use different devices.


As for online assessments, they are an integral part of online training without which you cannot test the learning of trainees. Again, online assessments need to be device compliant as well and there are a number of ways in which you can make online assessments secure. You can use privacy control features such as password, availability protection &  ID verification. You can also prevent cheating in online assessments through settings available, for example features such as timed assessments, question pooling, randomized question order, answer shuffling and more. With the help of technology, it’s possible to make online assessments completely secure.

4) What is ProProfs Training Maker?
ProProfs Training Maker is an online tool to develop e-training courses by incorporating training materials like PPTs, PDFs, Docs, Pictures, Videos, Quizzes, YouTube videos etc.
Since the Training Maker also includes the Quiz Maker, we have found it easy to create assessments and attach them to our e-courses. Besides this, there are a numbers of key features within Training Maker which you can use to create e-training courses.




5) What are the key features?
Well, our use of the features vary with the requirements of each course but on a broader scale the key features are:

Reporting & Tracking: We use this to track and capture the information of learners taking our courses. The information can be the name, email, phone as well as the data of individual course takers through which we check compliance issues and defaulters.

Embedding YouTube Videos & Web links: Since today’s learners want their classes to be more interactive, we import YouTube videos and other web content, through ProProfs platform, to enhance our training course. These training courses can be easily embedded on our website www.uwinpro.com  and added to the existing content in our website

Use Existing Material:  We like that we are able to create courses using our own existing training materials such as PDFs, PPTs, videos and documents. We also use the existing quizzes in Quiz Maker as it helps in creating assessments quickly.

Mobile Compliance: With more and more learners using smartphones to access the training programs, all of our course are accessible from any mobile device by leveraging the in built HTML5 conversion in ProProfs.





6) Can you give a few examples of successful implementation?
We have successfully developed few of our SAP training courses and Quizzes, which are also embedded on our website. Visit http://www.uwinpro.com/interactive.html and http://www.uwinpro.com/quiz.html  for more details.

7) What is the future of online training? How do you think it can be improved?
With the upsurge in smartphones and tablets, a geographically dispersed workforce prefers online training rather than the traditional brick-and-mortar classroom. Online training courses are ideal for a geographically-dispersed workforce, as they can take the training from anywhere, anytime and also saves companies the costs on transportation, lodging and trainer fees. Companies have realized this and many are rapidly adopting online training programs to train their employees.

Moreover, online training has become a better, cheaper and faster way of spreading theoretical knowledge and technical know-how for companies as well as educators. So, I think that online training will become the primary channel to teach and share knowledge in the coming years.

The improvement has to be on the interaction side – many learners are still not used to interactive online training and may have some initial learning curve with certain features like online whiteboard. In terms on improvement in Training software, we would like to incorporate advanced security features so that multiple instructors from different parts of the world can securely create courses together and collaboratively.












Saturday, September 15, 2012

Free Online Tutoring Platforms / Open Source Whiteboards - Webinar Platforms

Click for podcast / audio file.
Supplemental, personalized online tutoring is critical to student success in e-learning, and many institutions offer synchronous tutoring support, with programs such as Smarthinking. However, it’s not necessary to invest in an expensive package. Instead, individual instructors and tutors can easily set up online tutoring and work directly with their students.  In addition, online whiteboards are sometimes open source, and they can be used in conjunction with open source solutions for open source webinars. 

Most online tutoring platforms have a few key elements:
  • whiteboard
  • webcam capabilities
  • chat
  • file sharing
  • pointers, etc.
If you are an instructor and you would like to be able to offer online tutoring services, there are probably a few questions that come to mind:

Why can’t I just use Skype, Oovoo.com, or other webcam / chat / telephony options?
You can, but they usually do not have whiteboards, and there may be significant lag / delay if you use the video cam options.

Why not use a webinar solution? 
Omnovia, AdobeConnect, Elluminate and others have whiteboard capabilities, as well as the opportunity to fileshare, chat, and give a presentation with audio. However, they tend to be price-prohibitive for the average user. 

Why not use virtual worlds? 
This is a great option for language coaching.  The downside for virtual worlds such as Second Life (http://secondlife.com/) and There (http://www.there.com), is that there is a fairly steep learning curve, and that the bandwidth does not always suffice, meaning that there can be a pretty annoying lag time, especially when using audio with your avatars to practice conversational Mandarin or another language. 

Here are a few very easy-to-use free online tutoring platforms: 

EdoBoard
This product is described in French, with a simple, easy-to-use interface, that includes whiteboard, equation editor (solves the problem of fonts for symbols in math), function grapher, file sharing, screenshots, video cam, and more. I’m not sure how many individuals can be in a session at the same time. It’s very easy to set up and to invite participants.

Groupboard
Groupboard is a free whiteboard solution that requires little or no set-up. You don’t even have to register to use it, but if you want to invite users, you need to fill out a registration form. It is free.  Groupboard’s whiteboard solution has quite a few draw functions, but not as many built-in graphics as Edoboard. Groupboard is, to my mind, perhaps the easiest solution for tablets and smartphones.  With a stylus, Groupboard is ideal for the iPad, and would be perfect for any course requiring sketching or symbols. Math comes to mind first, of course, but engineering and design courses would be good as well. Science courses that require sketching would also be good – geology, botany, biology, and others lend themselves to tablet-based communication.

Scribblar
Scribblar is free and easy to use; it does not seem to have built-in equation editing, which is something you will need for math tutoring.

Open Sankore
It is open-source and works equally well with Mac / Windows / Linux. The advantage is that it’s open-source and is tablet-friendly for all kinds of mobile devices, and ostensibly for all tablets (now and in the future).  The flexibility of the opensource approach allows it to be used for open-source webinars as well. 

Dabbler
Dabbler lets you sketch and draw, as well as mark up photographs. You can share and embed saved images.

Classic WhiteBoard
http://www.classicwhiteboard.com/
The biggest draw (pun intended) is the “old school” images – you “draw” using three different colors of dry-erase markers (digital, of course), and delete using “erasers.” The design looks like a whiteboard, with an overall impact that is friendly and inviting. 

WizIQ
WizIQ is more of a light learning management system, and it’s not free. But, it’s low-cost and has whiteboard capabilities. If you’re looking at group tutoring, this could be a good way to go, and if there are ongoing activities or assessments, it’s also good.  Like WebEx, it’s possible to share the desktop as well. Collaboration / discussion threads are available.

Final Suggestion:  Connect Content with Whiteboard – the case of Exam Preparation

KhanAcademy-Enhanced Personal Synchronous Tutoring
Khan Academy is amazing. They have a huge repository of free online learning videos, which include test preparation. The problem with video tutorials is that learning can be passive. The problem with the quizzes and “test your knowledge” tests in many of the online test-prep sites  is that they do not really replicate the conditions of testing, and they do not allow you to get a sense of where you are lacking knowledge. 
 

A Final Thought:  Perhaps the most powerful solution to online tutoring is to connect to online videos, and useful content. Exam preparation is particularly tricky without a tutor because it is all too tempting to simply study what you know, and not what you need to know.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

"Fracking" vs. Hydraulic Fracturing: A Case of Competing Narratives


Audio / Podcast. The case of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a strange one. How can two groups be so intractably out of touch and so unable to listen to each other? And, when they do listen to each other, they do not believe what the other is saying. One group swears that hydraulic fracturing, when performed correctly, is perfectly safe for the environment. The other group claims that “fracking” will pollute aquifers and introduce toxic chemicals into the environment.

What can one make of the inflammatory rhetoric? What should you believe? What should you dismiss?

The answer may be in the narratives themselves. 

It is worthwhile to analyze the narratives that surround media responses to hydraulic fracturing, and proposes explanations for the way in which the depictions of hydraulic fracturing are framed. Hydraulic fracturing, which can be considered a "Black Swan" event -- an event of extreme impact on society and ways of looking at the world, which was not expected, but, when reviewed in retrospect, seemed predictable, even unavoidable. An excellent way to understand the often highly emotional reactions is to use discourse analysis to identify different types and genres of narratives, and the kinds of purposes they serve, and how they contribute to the meaning-making process.



As a "Black Swan" event, hydraulic fracturing is essentially a paradigm shifter, and the new technologies that make hydraulic fracturing possible are game-changing. Like many paradigm shifting game-changers, the first response is one of adoption, to be followed by narratives of resistance. For Americans, the responses accompanying hydraulic fracturing should be nothing new; after all, they are part of a long tradition of responses to new technologies, and they reflect anxieties about the essential dual nature of technology. While technology can be used for the good, there is also the potential for misuse and harm, along with unexpected consequences of the technology itself. These anxieties about technology have been described in many works of American art, literature, and philosophy. 



[click image to enlarge]
For some, technology is ultimately nihilistic, and foregrounds the ultimate uselessness of human artifice, or it leads to the destruction of an idyllic vision of nature. In the case of the U.S., there is the notion of the Edenic paradise of the American West, and the concept of self-reification and infinite promise represented by a boundless frontier. This narrative was heightened by the discovery of gold at the western edge of the North American Continent's rainbow (California's gold fields), and the dark side introduced stark depictions of machines and dangerous mining, manufacturing, and transportation technology in the 19th century. The anxieties and duality persist throughout the 20th century, reflected by any number of writers, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Upton Sinclair, John Steinbeck, Robert M. Pirsig, Philip K. Dick, Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, David Foster Wallace, and more.



In the case of hydraulic fracturing, narrative can be classified in the following ways:

Apocalyptic narrative:  largely fear driven, focusing on the end of the world due to the iniquity of humanity. There is usually a charismatic leader who promises safety and security to the "true believers" who often have to make sacrifices and show their loyalty (often to the death).



Archetypal narratives:  Jung, Neumann, Campbell, and other psychologists can be viewed from the point of view of the fact that archetypal narratives exert a deterministic force on the meaning-making process. One who looks at Jung might suggest that the media employs archetypes such as the trickster (the oil company) and the hero (the activist) to portray the cast of characters involved in hydraulic fracturing.



Deconstructive philosophy:  Foucault, Derrida and other philosophers suggest that reality is a not an absolute, but is determined by collective forces. For the deconstructivists, social norms and rules are constructed by society and enforced formally and informally by the people in charge and the "powers" in society.

Gamer thinking:  Jane McGonigal, a video game designer and professor at Stanford suggests that to "game" rather than stay in reality, in order to create a sense of involvement, urgency, and to imbue one's life with "epic meaning" as they move toward the next level and potentially an "epic win." 

Heuristics and Biases:  One problem with strong leaders and their followers is that they can often suffer from delusions.  The inability to see past one's biases can be very difficult to overcome. Daniel Kahnemann has explored the phenomenon extensively in his Nobel prize-wining work and he suggests that one of the best ways to de-bias oneself is to obtain an outside view or perspective.

The problem with narratives in hydraulic fracturing is that they often dominate the discourse and perception.



As a result, individuals may be caught in "narrative crossfire" as the media largely unconsciously attempts to cast individuals and events into a predetermined narrative trajectory, which can have the unfortunate effect of blocking the pursuit of objective reality and reasonable discussion. A case in point is that of Dr. Chip Groat, the associate director of the University of Texas's Energy Institute, which released a 411-page report on the impact of hydraulic fracturing and water quality. It determined that hydraulic fracturing, when done properly, does not result in damage to water supplies. However, the fact that the director, Dr. Groat, received more than $400,000 to be on the board of directors of Plains Resources, a company involved in drilling and hydraulic fracturing, raised the spectre of conflict of interest. 

In all cases, the narrative itself exercises a deterministic effect on the way that the world is perceived, and the way that meaning(s) can be created. 

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