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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tomorrow's Cell Phone Campus: New Instructional Material, Learning Communities, Enhanced Access

Since Virginia Tech, cell phones have become even more integral to the relationship that a student has with his or her college, whether the student is taking courses in a traditional face-to-face setting, hybrid, or online. In fact, it has become part of each university's standard procedure to email alerts to stduents or to text-message them on their phones in case of security issues, weather, closures, construction, fundraisers, sports rallies, and more.


In addition to obtaining information on student services, students are also downloading instructional materials, including lectures and short videos, either through their data transfer plan on their cell phone, or directly from the Internet via services such as iTunes.

The move toward high-functionality cell phones had already been in place with PDA and handhelds, but the pace accelerated dramatically with the arrival of the iPhone and new technology that made web access and data transfer quick and fairly inexpensive on an entire range of products from BlackBerry to other phones. Students use their phones to

* Make phone calls
* Text-message individuals and groups
* Create and send images, videos, audio
* Download and view images and videos (YouTube, etc.)
* Download and listen to mp3 files
* Post to websites

However, there have been problems because not every phone shares the same format, download speed, or technology. Not every cell phone owner has a good data transfer plan, and numbers are not always in a central database.

Solution: A Cell Phone With Data Transfer Plan Issued to Every Student
In many ways, this solution would be similar to that of the laptop colleges of the late 1990s, except that it is much less expensive and has more functionality. Every individual would be issued a cell phone and a plan. Programs such as Y! Go, GPS and other items would be loaded on the cell phone selected by the university, which would negotiate a partnership arrangement with the cell phone and service provider.

Opportunities: Enhanced Learning, Interaction, Academic Success

Software packages such as those provided by Hot Lava ( can help universities create content that is deliverable via mobile phone. Primary characteristics:

* Dynamic
* Interactive

Types of interactive content include:

* Textbook assets that are bundled with the physical textbook (interactive forms and reviews)
* Quizzes
* Flash cards
* Questionnaires
* Surveys and polls
* Field trip information gathering
* Lab result recording

Twitter (, Meebo ( and other instant messages / texting services can help develop dynamic learning communities:

* Study buddies
* Information sharing
* Announcements
* Directions
* Blog posts
* Discussion boards and forums

Textbook and Course-Centered Podcasts and YouTube-type video:

* mp3 files that correspond to textbook chapters and which provide content review can help those who are auditory learners. Audio can be hosted and downloaded from repositories such as iTunes, or it can be kept in places with players, such as Odeo ( or gcast (
* video that corresponds to instructional content and goals can be downloaded, stored, and played on flash players. YouTube, Google Video, and Neulio ( are hosting services that provide video in cellphone-friendly flash format.

Conclusion: Low Cost, Ubiquitous Access, Success (with proper planning)

Online, face-to-face, and hybrid academic programs can benefit from cell phone and mobile phone content delivery and student interaction. In order to assure uniformity of content and to avoid inequities when it comes to access, it is recommended that universities partner with cell phone service, software companies, textbook companies, and other instructional content providers to develop a package that allows students to access content and also increase interaction.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Building Powerful and Robust Websites with Drupal 6: Review

Building Powerful and Robust Websites with Drupal 6, authored by David Mercer and published by Packt Publishing ( is a welcome addition to the literature on open-source software.

Drupal is an open-source content management system. It helps one create, manage, modify, delete information such as objects (images / documents / files).

The code is available for free at According to many programmers, Drupal code is excellent. It's easy to set up, intuitive, flexible, and scalable.

This book guides users and helps them create

1. Community portal sites
2. Intranet sites
3. Directories
4. Share/discuss pages
5. Social networking
6. Educational learning communities

The book leads the reader through a step-by-step process of setting oneself to be the administrator of the content management system. The process is perhaps a bit daunting for the novice, but an experienced network or server administrator will probably not have any problems in installing server-side software (Apache2Triad).

The book goes through Drupal's functionality: modules, blocks, links: how to manage modules and workflow.

It also discusses site configuration, with directory structure, in order to maximize the unique attributes of Drupal and its power to effectively manage, manipulate, and deploy content. Drupal can accommodate a wide range of content types, including blog entry, book page, forum topic, page, poll, and story (which could be short-lived announcements or other kinds of ephemera).

In addition to delving into how best to manage basic content as well as advanced content, Building Powerful and Robust Websites with Drupal 6 explores image and aesthetics. It also works with the management of backups.

This book is indispensable for anyone who needs an open-source content management system and is willing to invest in creating one from the ground up. Nevertheless, not everyone will have the time to devote, and would benefit from a small library of pre-prepared solutions. If the book came bundled with a few templates, or an access code for downloads on the web, many of the barriers and obstacles that face programmers as they weigh open-source vs. commercial solutions would be overcome.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Interview with Valerie Fox, Ph.D., Drexel University

We are delighted to have the opportunity to interview Valerie Fox, who has developed online courses in writing and poetry. In addition to teaching and writing, Valerie has taught in Japan and has edited award-winning literary publications. Her innovative poetry and writing in poetics have been widely published.

What is your name, and what is your involvement with e-learning?
|Valerie Fox. I've been teaching online courses for about five years. I teach writing and poetry at Drexel University, and writing and research for Excelsior College.

Valerie Fox, Ph.D.

How did you get interested in distance education?
I was asked a few years ago to teach and help to develop blended freshman writing courses at Drexel. Our students take a lot of credits, and they appreciate being able to take part in e-learning. The transition to teaching fully online (including distance) courses was a natural one.

What is your favorite new trend in distance education?
This may sound vague...but I just notice a willingness to "go with" the technology and the possibilities--at departmental level, but also higher levels. I can't speak to the institutional (or overall educational) reasons behind this; I suspect they vary considerably, depending on discipline, institution, etc.

What is your favorite technology?
I don't really have a favorite. I like including lots of various audio and video sources as suggested if not required offerings. Specifically, I've had some good success asking small groups to create websites. This isn't anything new--it's really just adding a creative or creative writing element to an assignment. The visual learners, as one would expect, do a terrific job with this. It builds their confidence.

What kinds of instructional materials do you use in elearning?
Creating materials is something I enjoy, so the flexibility of being able to combine various sources and media definitely is a plus. I guess (like everybody) for a while I was using youtube a lot, and I make a point to combine the easily accessible sources/links with those requiring the use of library databases. A librarian recently told me about and I've been using/recommending it a lot.

How do you use textbooks in e-learning?
Having a textbook can help ground the learners that might be new to this, so I think at least one book should usually be required. Teaching English and writing, it isn't hard to work required readings into writings/discussions that can be efficiently read and graded. Blackboard Vista Media Library is an excellent tool also, making it possible to easily add suggested readings, videos etc. to a course. Students can be allowed to add to the Media Libraries and sometimes I give extra credit if students add items of interest.

What are your favorite social networks? How do you view them in e-learning?
I participate in various forums and writing groups. Because I enjoy this, I simply try to recreate what I think are their best features in my course websites. It isn't always possible, but often it is. I hear more and more about students using non-official means to communicate about class work and activity. This helps to replicate the before-and-after-class information sharing that students sometimes miss from a face-to-face class. I acknowledge this but don't interfere with their bonding, with their assisting of each other.

What is your favorite quote? or, what's a book that caught your eye recently?
Recently I read Malcolm Gladwell's Blink and thought it was terrific.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Using video prompts and responses in online creative writing courses

Podcast. One of the most effective approaches to elearning is to provide guided questions that bring together student experiences and the course content. In a creative writing class, the value of using prompts is to keep students focused on a specific technique, and making clear connections to personal experience.

An example is a series of video clips and "mini-lessons" that can be used as prompts in writing what I call "The Heart Journal."

What is the goal of the "Heart Journal"? To find a new way to connect to our "lost" selves, and to understand the hearts we have so assiduously avoided (and / or encased in scar tissue).

Why? Because living with a skinless, raw heart is fun. Think of a peeled grape. That is your heart, after confronting memories and mental images stored in the locked repositories of your mind.

Perhaps you've protected yourself so diligently that you can no longer feel spontaneous feelings. Instead, you process the thoughts, intellectualize your feelings, and then invent an emotional response that seems appropriate.

Perhaps that little survival tactic has served you well. It is probably the reason you're still alive and are gainfully employed (by a non-relative). At the same time, though, your communications with your loved ones are undoubtedly fraught with confusion and misunderstanding. You're missing the messages.

Get the message. Get your heart back.

The procedure is simple. Watch the videos, respond in a journal, and then share.

Students can share via discussion board. Best approach? Create a blogring on

Purpose, Goals, and Motivations 1:

Purpose, Goals, and Motivations 2:



Benefits of video prompts, and video peer responses:

1. Humanizes the learning space;

2. Opens one's mind to new ways of seeing and thinking about things;

3. Provides a sense of a real audience;

4. Engages learner in a more immediate and emotional "dialogue" between learner and facilitator;

5. Makes the writer more responsive to constructive comments by introducing the person;

6. Creates a desire to continue to act / react, and to make an emotional impact.

7. Constructs a feeling of the "real."

8. Makes connection between acting, being, speaking and the creative act of writing.

Typically, the prompts are provided in class. The student takes them home and produces writing to share with the instructor and with fellow writers, who then respond with their own reactions. They share their responses.

Pitfalls to avoid:

1. Follows the model or sample writing too closely;

2. Does not engage the imagination;

3. Seeks cheap laughs or sensation with audience (is that bad?);

4. Avoids some of the deeper issues about human nature and the human condition;

5. Stays on the surface; stays superficial.

E-Learning Success in the Sandwich Generation "Cluttered Nest"

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Interview with Jeff Kissinger, Florida Community College, Jacksonville

Today's interview is with Jeff Kissinger, Director Distance Learning Emergent Design at Florida Community College at Jacksonville. Jeff has been a vital and innovative force at FCCJ, charged with creating mobile learning solutions for military applications and more.

One of Jeff''s passions is music and Garageband. We have interspersed photos of Jeff with his drums and computers throughout the interview.

1. What do you see as the most exciting technology trend (or trends) that will affect elearning in the next two years or so?

Not sure this is a technology, but I feel faculty professional development is going to increasingly become more critical and valued at institutions.

We are beginning to ask so much more of our faculty than ever before. Blackboard, pod-casts, teaching online, developing and integrating instructional media, and even developing full-blown online courses are now creeping into the most traditional of educational contexts.

Tools and trainings need to be focused on faculty, their needs, and be appropriately aligned with instructional outcomes. We need to help develop an environment that allows for faculty to grow and fulfill their aims and dreams, and this must be done in a supported and thoughtful fashion. The ideal outcome will be faculty that undergo transformational learning experiences that are then reflected in their work with students.

So, getting back to the question of technology, we have already seen the simplification and streamlining of technology that just a few years ago required dedicated developers, designers, and videographers to create. The time and resources needed to develop an instructional video clip, animation, or learning object was often difficult or unattainable for many faculty. You-tube, garage-band, Sketchup, Google Docs, Second Life, Garage Games, Captivate, CrazyTalk, Raptivity, and the almost infinite list of other cool tools and technologies now brings us closer to fulfilling our wildest teaching and learning desires.

This trend will continue at an ever increasing rate. It will increasingly become more simplified and user friendly and will ultimately put the power into the hands of individual faculty to act on their own creative instructional inspiration.

2. When you think of Web 2.0 and e-learning, what are the top three things that come to mind? Copyright/Fair Use/Teach Act, open learning, faculty-generated media/content

3. What is your favorite new gadget? iPhone with google docs, Vintage 1984 Simmons Electronic Drum Kit [Think Duran Duran or Flock of Seagulls]

4. List three mashups or widgets that you know and love. Slideshare, google docs/sites, Media and Flickr streams into Second Life, Sloodle

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