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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Fighting Intrusive Thoughts Using Podcasts: A Strategy for Effective E-Learning


(presented at INSITE, June 2006). Podcasts can be used in e-learning to combat intrusive thoughts. They can be a part of an effective self-regulatory strategy which also accommodates multiple learning styles while overcoming intrusive thoughts and the anxiety that accompanies them. As a result, academic performance can improve, while increasing self-concept and self-efficacy.

For the full article, please visit Proceedings of the INSITE Conference:

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Best Practices Gaps, Part I


Best practices and online learning benchmarks are good, but limited. They fail to identify the places where institutions are likely to fall short, and they do not provide the kind of information that one needs when all systems fail, and students, faculty, support staff, and administrators are at their wits' ends because demand has outstripped capacity, and the only way to meet commitments is to go desperately into the red (fiscally speaking), and to ignore learner outcomes, although they are now mandated by the State in which the institution makes its home. This article explores gaps. This is Part I.

Committed Institution

Overview. The learning organization must prioritize distance and flexible learning, and in doing so, must demonstrate support that is realistic, appropriate, timely, and expandable for the future.

Possible Gaps.

---Program "force-fit" to institutional mission.

In their eagerness to offer online courses and programs, institutions may force-fit the program to the institution's vision and mission. The vision and mission of a university may be grounded in face-to-face interactions, and the philosophy that underlies the instructional strategy may require an environment that the faculty and staff understand only in terms of face-to-face instruction, or in traditional bricks and mortar arrangement. This becomes problematic because it creates a culture gap within the institution.

Although there may not be open resistance, the institution could find itself confronting underground backlash, and troubled with factions, divisive camps, and a breakdown of the vision itself. In this case, the institution must remember that it is reshaping the vision, and for it to be effective, all stakeholders must have buy-in. In other words, they need to have a role in shaping it, and mapping it to their own lives and agenda.

---Revenue generation perceived as more important than the education experience provided.
Although there are few people who believe this any more, the early days of online education were typified by the academic equivalent of get-rich schemes. Later, it became clear that the initial investment of online courses can be steep, and it requires ongoing maintenance and operating expenses, as well as what can be quite steep costs for instruction and student services. When expectations are not met, there is a tendency to try to retrench and cut costs. What results is a focus on costs rather than quality. Further, it becomes tempting to outsource services and to obtain open-source content that has not be reviewed or adapted to one's own instructional and institutional goals.

Learner-Friendly Environment

Students, faculty, and other users find the services provided by the learning organization easy to use, accessible, and thorough. The learning organization provides online services such as registration, records, bursar, and library access. Technology utilized is up-to-date and appropriate for the user's actual environments and work patterns.

Possible Gaps.

---Ambiguous needs assessments. A successful online or hybrid program requires clear and realistic alignment with learner needs. In order to accomplish this objective and to attune courses and delivery with learner needs in the present (and not the past), it is important to utilize multiple methods of collecting data to gain understanding of the needs of the students. Current needs are important, as are what are projected to be important needs in the future. Focus groups, online surveys, random surveys, and interviews are effective methods and should be done on a regular basis.

---Always a half-a-beat behind the technology curve. It is false economy to have outdated technology, or to think that investing in online infrastructure is a one-time expenditure. Some of the most common ways that institutions find themselves behind the technology curve are:

-Insufficient bandwidth, and no plan to do "edge computing" to "load-share" surges in volume.

-Old, unworkable home pages and portals, with outdated java applets, javascript, etc.

-Old websites using out-of-date plugins (old versions of flash or shockwave, etc.)

-Failure to update software, holding on to old versions of learning management systems.

-Failure to hire adequate numbers of appropriately trained staff, support staff, and faculty.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Audience Analysis: A Lesson Plan

Listen to the podcast - downloadable mp3 audio file

This is one of a series devoted to composition and writing courses. The focus of this unit is audience analysis.
The goal is to make writers more aware of how to shape an argument based on who one expects to read the article, and how to persuade them.

Unit Objectives:
Upon successful completion of this unit, you will be able to

* Explain how you will gain an appreciation of your intended audience;
* Describe the thoughts and questions you will ask yourself as you prepare your paper and keep your audience in mind;
* Describe how you will shape your paper in response to your audience and their values.

Discussion Board Question: Please list your favorite urban legend, alien abduction tale, or ghost story. Did you think it was real? Do you think there may be some truth to the story?

Required Writing:
500 words -- Please choose a new topic & or expand the topic you selected for your invention assignment. As you write, think about the audience you're expecting to read it. Who is your intended audience? Read the notes below and think about them as you write.

Who is your audience? Who, specifically, are they?
As you prepare to write, you need to have a good idea of your audience. This will probably involve more than one stage of contemplation. Of course, you know who your primary audience is likely to be, particularly if it is an instructor or an editor. But who are the secondary audiences likely to be? Why?

Demographics of the audience
As you define your audience, you need to have an idea of their basic characteristics. Where do they live? What gender are they? How old are they? What is their income level? What is their education level? What are the demographics that specifically apply to your topic? That will influence the questions you ask yourself as you try to obtain an accurate idea of the dominant characteristics of your audience. For example, if your paper is on gun control, it is useful to know if your audience is likely to be comprised of gun owners, or members of the NRA.

How will they receive your message? What is the medium? Printed or written discourse? Internet? Graphics? Film? Television?
The medium of the message has a definite impact on audience impact. For example, if they read your article in a newspaper, they will respond to it in a different manner than if they read it on typed pages. If your message is on the Internet, you need to keep in mind such factors as design, color, accessibility, loading speed, etc. If your message includes graphics, how are they printed on the page? In color? Black and white? If the medium is film or television, what are the production values? What are other factors, such as music, set design, mise-en-scene, direction, camera angles, etc.? All these are non-narrative elements that have an impact on your audience because each element carries with it meaning. The mind makes meaning from each of the elements, and, like it or not, it will impact the spoken or written part of the discursive package.

What are the core values of your audience? How can you affirm those while making your point?
What are the core values of your audience? Of course, you will probably never know all of them, but if you understand a bit about the religious, ethnic, group, and/or demographic background of your audience, you may have a fairly good idea about how the audience members respond to certain issues. What do they believe is the appropriate role of government and the state? Is the human being inherently good, bad, or neutral? Is the human psyche malleable or rigidly programmed? The key is to identify the core values that pertain to your primary thesis and the topics in your paper. If you affirm your audience's core beliefs, you can help convince your audience of your credibility and they will be more likely to pay attention.

When do the attitudes and values of your audience shift? This is a key opportunity, but why? What are your audience's situational attitudes?
This is an often overlooked and underestimated element in audience analysis. And yet, it is precisely this area that holds the most promise because these are the points where you may actually be able to wield influence. When the attitudes and values of your audience begin to shift due to a changing situation, or a different speaker, then you know you have an opportunity to create a more effective argument, and one which actually has a chance of working. This is not to be overlooked.

Why will your audience read your document? What's in it for them?
In constructing your paper, you need to keep in mind that your audience is not likely to read past the first line unless they perceive that there is some benefit or utility in continuing to read. With that in mind, you need to structure your paper so that you "positively program or condition" your audience by making the paper readable, relevant, reliable, and rewarding.

What are audience expectations? Narrative expectations? Generic expectations?
Because of the nature of narrative and form, your audience will begin to develop the expectation that your paper will follow along these lines. You must analyze your paper very carefully and decide what basic narrative form it is following. If it is a story, is it a Cinderella story? Romeo and Juliet? A revenge story? If it is a report, is it a sales pitch? An expose? A recommendation? A informational review? Does it take a position and argue a point? Generic expectations have to do with the genre or type of paper that it is. If it is a paper that takes a position, you would hardly expect it to read like an instruction manual. Thus, you need to keep in mind how your audience will typecast your paper and just accordingly.

What are your audience's preconceptions about your topic? The "major players" in your topic?
Is your audience likely to have preconceptions about your audience? If they do, you need to address them. If you do not acknowledge the preconceptions, your audience will think that you are not very well informed. In addition, it is important to determine who the "major players" are and that they manifest themselves as subtopics, statistics, case studies, images, or individual characters.

Who do you consider yourself to be? Who are you, and, more importantly, where are you in relation to your audience? What are the power hierarchies? Who and where is the "Other" in relation to you and your audience, and how does it change the way they approach you, each other, the text?

As you read your paper, think about how you would respond to your audience if you were meeting them face-to-face, then explaining the topic to them. How do you envision them assessing you? Your response to this is a key indicator of how you perceive yourself, and whether or not you believe yourself to be speaking to a group of peers, or to a group of individuals or an individual with more or significantly less power than you. It's absolutely indicative of the post-colonial (and post-feminist, if one discusses the phenomenology of oppression) mindset, and it indicates how you know your own reality, and how you prioritize your perceptions. If you can manage to think in an "Other"-centric way, you will have achieved what Kenneth Burke referred to as "consubstantiality," or the ability to "get under the skin" of your audience.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Change, Disruptive Technologies, e-Learning

Play the podcast -- downloadable sound file.

We want students to succeed with technology. We also have no choice but to help them succeed. In order to retain students, they have to be able to use the technology.

However, what happens when disruptive technologies occur at ever-increasing frequencies? The technologies will evolve – some will disrupt our lives, and others will sustain further innovation. Either way, it represents change. We have to jump on board, or else, be left behind.

In hybrid courses and e-learning, disruptive technology occurs in the following forms:

Technology changes – miniaturization and wireless: Portability and access are accomplished in many different ways. What we’re seeing more than ever is the way that individuals don’t want to be chained to their desktop computer and a high-speed modem in order to do their distance courses. They’d like to be able to bring their work with them, to work on courses whenever and wherever they can.

Nature of people’s lives: Not everyone is ready, willing, or able to move to a university town and take up lodging in a college dorm for four years. If it’s a graduate degree, the situation is even more pronounced. How many people want to relocate to the university where one has been accepted, move into grad-student housing (or lease a place in a Victorian house converted into off-campus rentals), to try to make it by on a graduate student stipend? While this option is still appealing to many, it’s just not possible for others. Students come from all walks of life, and in all geographic locations. They are mobile, career-focused, and interested in being able to take their education as far as they can, with resources available at one’s fingertips.

With online and hybrid education’s focus on planning, review, and instructional strategy, face-to-face instruction is feeling the heat. For some instructors – the highly performative ones – face to face is still a student favorite. But, we’re starting to be able to see the rips and tears in the fabric, and it’s clear that face-to-face instruction is difficult to standardize or make uniformly high-quality.

Changing ideas about the role and nature of education: Do you remember when you expected a college professor to be a “sage on the stage” and you went to class prepared to take as many notes as possible so you could regurgitate the wisdom back on a test? Do you remember when you thought less about what you were getting out of a class, and more about just getting through it, so you could “check the box” and make progress toward the degree? A college experience used to be as much a rite of passage and a way to network as a place to gain useful knowledge about one’s chosen career.

Now, a college education signifies that, and much more. Students are often life-long learners. They have choices that they never had before. Without going as far as to say that a student is a customer, it’s possible to say that students can and will complain when their needs are not satisfied. Good relations are critical.

What do students expect of a high-quality education? Certainly, they expect flexibility with respect to delivery. They want to be able to take a class in a way that corresponds to their real-life situations – with work, family, and personal issues.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

"Listening" to Students in an Online Course

"Listening" is vital in an online environment because it establishes "real" responsiveness - not the coerciveness or ego-crush of an automated response generated through artificial intelligence.

Play the Podcast.

Now, granted, if you're listening to me speak in an audio file, you're truly "listening." But the listening I'm talking about is something else. It is, in a nutshell, the moment in which real communication is reached - when the circuit boards light up because the electricity is flowing.

You can show that you're listening by

a) making substantive comments to the student's paper or discussion board comments. Don't just say"very good" - explain what it was that made you think a particular passage was effective;

b) respond to questions by answering them in a timely fashion and provide the information needed;

c) keeping your comments brief, but meaningful. If you write a page-long comment, the student will stop "listening' and start trying to defend herself.

How do you make sure that the learner is "listening?"

a) Set a good tone - start each communication with an affirmation;

b) Avoid "humor" - (it can come across as sarcasm);

c) Ask questions and connect issues to something in your own life and be willing to reveal something about yourself;

d) Avoid inflammatory or judgmental words. Imagine how you would react if you received an e-mail, or saw something posted in the discussion board;

e) Keep as neutral as possible in the discussion boards - encourage and react to students, but be careful not to exclude some, or target others.

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