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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Special Treat: An Animated Season's Greeting from E-Learning Queen and PetroEd

High-quality animations and immersive experience captured from virtual worlds that can be accessed on all forms of mobile devices, ranging from smartphones, tablets, laptops, as well as desktop systems, are vital education, training, and professional development on emerging science, technology, and equipment. An example of a high-quality multimedia developer is PetroEd. E-Learning Queen is delighted to partner with interactive multimedia training provider PetroEd to share an animated Season's Greeting Card. Please click the appropriate link for high bandwidth or low bandwidth.

Please contact Susan at E-Learning Queen ( if you are interested in learning more, and developing a plan for developing affordable, rapid-deployment high-quality multimedia training. Also indicate if you would like a multi-language presentation capability.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Interview with Josh Little, Bloomfire: E-Learning Innovators Series

New ways to share knowledge take advantage of innovative social networking. Welcome to an interview with Josh Little, CEO of Bloomfire.

1. What is your name and affiliation. What is your relation to e-learning?
My name is Josh Little and I'm the CEO of Bloomfire. Bloomfire is the third online learning company I've started. The first is Maestro eLearning, a creative agency focused on building engaging custom online learning experiences for major corporations and non-profits. The second is Wellness Works, an unparalleled interactive corporate wellness education system that teaches employees to live healthier, more productive lifestyles. Thousands of people all over the world engage in a learning experience from one of these three companies every day.

2. What is Bloomfire and what inspired you to develop it?
A platform that allows anyone to start a Bloomfire, which is a website geared specifically for easily sharing knowledge and the discussions that surround it. You can invite members to find and follow experts, ask questions, and share with others. Members can share and upload documents, videos, or presentations, record a video from their webcam, or create screencasts on the fly.

I developed Bloomfire out of the pain I felt along my career as a public school teacher, corporate trainer, and small business owner. In every one of these roles I felt like I was just scratching the surface of what my students, trainees, or employees needed to know to be successful. There needed to be a better way to rapidly share knowledge with people all over the world. Although traditional eLearning tools allow this, the time and cost to create content was still limiting. I knew that by using the power of the crowd, any organization could harness the the long talk of knowledge, how-to's and tricks if they had the right tool.

3. What makes Bloomfire different from wikis and other collaborative knowledge building tools?
Many people feel the same pain I did and attempt to fill the job with tools such as wikis, blogs, social networking tools, and the like. Unlike these tools, a Bloomfire is purpose built for learning with dirt-simple multimedia authoring tools, video streaming, mobile capability, and a strong set of analytics tools for managers. We can promise to forever deliver on one thing - simplicity. We work tirelessly to maintain a simple, clean, easy to use interface.

4. What are the benefits of informal and social learning?
The ability to harness the informal learning occurring in an organization, customer base, or fan club can bring several benefits. I feel the top three are engagement, reduced mistakes, and increased performance - I'll break these down.

Engagement - People love doing what they are good at and hate doing things that they are not. When I have the right information and support structure around me a stressful, risky task turns into an confidence building experience. Engagement comes when I can be successful at what I do and feel connected to the people around me.

Reduced mistakes - Information is moving at the speed of light. We are in a constant state of learning in order to stay on top of our game. In most instances, we have to figure things out on our own - even if there are other people doing the same thing we are. We are all reinventing the wheel because we have no other option. This practice is so common that it's been given names like "sink or swim" or "drinking from the fire hose." This is a rocky path riddled with pain and frustration. Collaborative learning allows others to groom the path for those that follow.

Increased performance - What if you could bottle the knowledge, skills, tips, and tricks of your top 10 performers? What if this could be shared with everyone else? What kind of difference would that make in your organization?

5. How can you be assured that social learning is accurate and not a way to disseminate misinformation or propagandistic / agenda-laden material?
This is the number #1 objection to social learning - what if someone says something bad or inaccurate? It's also the #1 myth about social learning. The fear is that by giving people tools to publish and share, they will go crazy and use the platform for public domination and destruction. This assumption is absolutely false. In fact, in the over 1000 Bloomfires that are burning today, some of our customers have reported the exact opposite. We have called this condition School Dance Syndrome (SDS) because people come in and sit along the walls watching the smaller number who contribute. And because of the very public nature of your identity in a Bloomfire, it makes for a bad place for subversion.

If someone posts something that is just plan inaccurate, it should be praised that there is a way to flesh out problems before they occur. These are teachable moments that can mitigate risk and prevent future mistakes. How else would an organization know if someone was spreading this misinformation. An online learning community should be viewed as an extension of the classroom. If it's OK to say inaccurate things or ask silly questions in the classroom, then it should also be acceptable that this is done in the online classroom.

6. Please recommend a book you recently read and enjoyed.
While it isn't related to social learning, it is related to building no-nonsense software that people love. The book Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson is packed full of smart practices and wisdom that could benefit just about every organization on the planet. I've read it twice now.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Interview with Josh Blank, OpenSesame: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Empowering elearning instructors and designers is a key element of making education widely available. While mentoring and tutoring sites are available through virtual worlds such as SecondLife, and many webinar platforms are available. However, packaging and marketing elearning courses is a different matter, and a place of great opportunity. Further, it may offer colleges and universities, both hybrid and online, an opportunity to share courses in an effective way. Hypothetically, the developer of a course, Anglo-American Folk Music, now offered through MIT's OpenCourseWare project could develop and offer a similar course. Or, an accounting instructor could develop a course that could be adopted by a college offering online accounting courses. Welcome to an interview with Josh Blank, OpenSesame, which offers a platform for creating and distributing elearning courses.

1. What is your name and connection to elearning?
I'm Josh Blank, and I am the cofounder and General Manager of OpenSesame, a new marketplace for buying and selling elearning courses. I started my career in web design and digital communications, and I started working in elearning ten years ago. In the elearning field, I lead companies that create and distribute elearning courses that meet the needs of diverse professionals. I am deeply committed to advancing the elearning field because I believe that elearning democratizes education. We are creating new possibilities and new opportunity for millions of people to advance themselves through personal effort.

2. What is OpenSesame? What is the content? How does it work? Where can people access it?
OpenSesame is an open, web-based marketplace connecting purchasers of elearning content, such as corporate learning officers, with an extensive library of courses provided by a wide range of content creators. OpenSesame simplifies the process of implementing elearning by connecting courses purchased in our OpenSesame marketplace to any Learning Management System (LMS).

The OpenSesame marketplace connects content developers with potential buyers of elearning courses. Course developers can sell previously built or newly created content to multiple buyers while maintaining security, control, and centralized management of their intellectual property. The OpenSesame marketplace enables content developers to connect with new customers, no matter where the buyers are located or what LMS they use. Furthermore, OpenSesame’s proprietary technology ensures that buyers cannot download or re-sell courses without the developer’s permission.

Buyers and sellers can access the OpenSesame marketplace by visiting and browsing our library of courses, classified in four categories: technical, business skills, compliance and safety. We are proud to offer an always-expanding library comprising courses as varied as "How to Respond to a Bomb Threat" and "XML Schema Definition".

3. Who are you trying to reach and what are your goals?
In our ten years in the elearning industry, we have consistently believed that the industry was at a tipping point -- on the cusp of fantastic growth -- but our growth remained slow and steady. Our team finally realized that our growth was limited by the lack of communication between the buyers and sellers of elearning courses. Content developers, subject matter experts and independent instructional designers need channels to publish their content, reach new customers and understand how their courses fit in the overall marketplace. Learners at all sizes of organizations need a marketplace where they can research and find the courses they need, purchase them simply and connect them easily to any learning management system.
Our goal is to create a community where both buyers and sellers thrive and elearning is accessible, easy to implement and rewarding for everyone.

4. What is your elearning philosophy?
Our philosophy is simple. We have a vision for a world where people can advance themselves through only personal desire and access to educational opportunities. OpenSesame is a competitive marketplace for buying and selling high quality educational content, where sellers will create courses to meet market demand, and learners can evaluate courses based on their reviews and success in the marketplace.

5. How do you see the future of m-learning evolving? What's the next breakthrough?
I believe that the next breakthrough in mlearning will be the killer app that takes any standards-compliant content and delivers it simply to a variety of mobile devices. This kind of app will enable learners to take their courses with them: to consult their training courses easily while actually employing the skills they are learning. I believe that well-designed elearning courses delivered through mobile applications will ease the transition from learning skills and abilities in the abstract to implementing them in your daily life.

6. Please recommend 2 books (can be fiction / non-fiction / technical)
Daily Drucker for the business book and anything by Vince Flynn for my fiction addiction.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Interview with James Caras, Sapling Learning: E-Learning Innovators Series

Science education online is often a hit or miss affair, and it is difficult to develop an instructional strategy that both engages the learner and incorporates effective assessments at higher levels of difficulty. Welcome to an interview with Dr. James Caras, Sapling Learning, who focuses on science education.

1. What is your name and connection to elearning?
Dr. James Caras. I am the Founder and President of Sapling Learning. I have been developing online instructional technologies and media for higher education science for over 17 years--ever since the NCSA Mosaic Web browser first became available.

2. What is Sapling Learning? What is the content? How does it work? Where can people access it?
Sapling Learning is a leading provider of engaging and interactive online homework and assessment software. The learning software can be accessed anytime through a Web browser, and delivers question-based assignments to students, providing them with real-time tutoring when they need help in the form of hints, feedback specific to misconceptions a student has, and detailed solutions. Sapling is focused on higher education science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), but also will roll out solutions for other problem-solving disciplines such as economics. For instructors, our software provides automatic grading and detailed performance statistics, saving them time and increasing the transparency by which they can gauge their students' progress and ability.

3. Who are you trying to reach and what are your goals?
Sapling's goal is to increase the quality of STEM education through adoption of our software by higher education faculty. Besides the quality of our content and software, we are accomplishing this because we help drive down the cost of educational materials to students, and promote student engagement through rich interactivity and immediate instruction when students struggle. If this country is going to be successful and competitive in the 21st century, we need bright people to have access to tools that remove barriers to understanding STEM concepts and promote their interest in science and engineering.

4. What is your elearning philosophy?
You can't fill a closed mind. Students are open and receptive to instruction if they are engaged with a problem and therefore open to receive information on how to solve it.

5. How do you see the future of m-learning evolving? What's the next breakthrough?
Sapling Learning has spent a lot of time thinking about this. Mobile learning is actually very different than learning at a computer, if you include phones, iPods, and other single-hand-held devices as the hardware for delivery of eLearning software. I don't include the iPad in this category. Students will not do scientifically rigorous homework on a cell phone. These devices are much better suited to other forms of learning that are more "quick-click" oriented. Memorization exercises like flashcards are perfect for the phone, as are drag-and-drop diagram labeling. Multiple choice quizzing as well. Video delivery for instruction is a good use of mobile devices. But as far as working through the equations and calculations of a multi-step physics problem, tutoring a student through each of those steps, or asking a student to perform a virtual experiment, you need a much larger screen.

Breakthroughs are not the most pressing need for the evolution of m-learning--the current bottleneck is standardization. Online learning delivered through any device needs to be relevant to the discipline being studied. For STEM e-learning, there is a need for rich interactions such as drawing molecules or graphs, or performing virtual experiments. Rich interactions such as this benefit tremendously from Flash and Java, yet these are not fully supported on all mobile devices.

HTML5 is no answer because it is far from a standard, lacks easy-to-use and robust development environments, and has tremendous compatibility issues. All of these significantly drive up the costs of development and support, as well as degrade the user experience. Since student grades depend on Sapling's software being bullet-proof and widely compatible, we take these considerations very seriously.

6. Please recommend 2 books (can be fiction / non-fiction / technical)
I recently read two books that I enjoyed a great deal. For fiction, Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. For non-fiction, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Innovators in E-Learning: eStudies Weekly

Welcome to an interview with Ed Rickers, founder of Studies Weekly, and is interested in the format because the tight, condensed format is a good way to help students (and teachers) develop schemata for organizing what can often be an overwhelming amount of material. Their format also incorporates appropriate graphics and media which further help forge classification /organization schemes in the learner's mind. They take advantage of semiotic epistemological considerations (signs / symbols, etc), as well as text / audio / language-based ones. In addition to developing schemata for cognitive systems to help with data retrieval, the format can, when used within a solid instructional strategy, be used to optimize working memory. In the meantime, it's useful to note that the publication's stated design and information presentation objectives engage and create positive conditions for learning.

1. What is your name and your relation to e-learning?
We are Studies Weekly Publications with our electronic equivalent There are more than 1.5 million K-6 students per week that receive curriculum content fro Studies Weekly publications. eStudiesWeekly is the electronic version of those publications. Students with a subscription to Studies Weekly may login and take advantage of augmented learning opportunities available online.

2. What is eStudiesWeekly?
eStudiesWeekly is the online version of the print publications published by Studies Weekly. These are primarily science and social studies publications that cover the state standards at each grade level. Students can take assessments online, read all the content, search the content topically, take advantage of speed reading, or fluency, tools, point and click for on demand vocabulary and pronunciation. Developing readers can even have eStudiesWeekly read the content to them as the words light up on the screen.

3. What motivated you to put together the project?
Teachers have expressed a need for powerful online components that do more than deliver a PDF version of the print media. We've developed eStudiesWeekly to help teachers use time saving tools that help them have more time for their students. If a teacher can spend 15 minutes one-on-one with a student that she would have had to spend grading assessments, then we feel we've accomplished one of our goals.

4. Who is the targeted audience? Who will benefit and how?
The target audience of eStudiesWeekly are the print subscribers to our publications. There are 1.5 million students in grades K-6 that use Studies Weekly on a weekly basic to learn required learning objectives.

eStudiesWeekly is an augmentation of all the Studies Weekly content. We realize that it may not be in the next 2 years, but eventually more and more of educational content will be accessed online. We're building eStudies in preparation for that day and we're off to a good start.

Eventually, we think the day will come when we will deliver all or most of our content exclusively online. When that day comes, we'll be competing not only with other online systems, but with teachers themselves. Due to the capabilities inherent in multimedia platforms, economic factors may foster the necessity to transfer more and more of the responsibility of teaching required learning standards to the medium itself. In the future, online system that incorporate video presentations of master educators combined with media of all other forms, will be the most efficient way to transfer required knowledge to students.

However, one of the biggest challenges will be to develop systems that adapt to the individual aptitudes and capabilities of students. Currently, only teachers are intelligent enough to do this, but their ability to do this varies greatly. With computer-based systems this may be accomplished by providing a multitude of choices at each learning juncture by which the learner will self navigate to fulfill their utmost potential, yet still accomplish the goals set forth in the frameworks mandated by the state. The pace and depth of learning will finally be determined exclusively by the learner. Without computer-based individualized instruction that is scalable to accommodate an unlimited number of students we will not move forward in our effectiveness in educating our society to fulfill its highest potential.

This is not to say that computers will replace educators. This is to say that computers will enable society to extend the reach and influence of our greatest educators. Computers will give these great teachers access to unlimited teaching resources to teach an unlimited student audience.

Like all potentially good things there is an opposite negative potential. If this model is brought to maturity and offered to the public by a small number of providers—presumably large corporations and/or government agencies—there is an enormous potential for large scale bias transfer. Instead of our current system that relies on the collective goodwill and sensibilities of millions of educators, the future computer-based system would be controlled exclusively by relatively few people. This group that would choose tomorrow's educators and learning systems may have more direct influence on the minds of young people then any group in history. If this happens it may be said at some future point, "Never have so many been influenced, for good or for ill, by so few." That is the risk.

However, if competition is maintained among providers the dynamics of the free market system will as always safeguard the best interest of our common welfare.

With all this we're talking about what might happen in the future. Since this is the present, we believe that magazines with textbook content that is updated only as needed is the most efficient curriculum delivery system available. The magazines cover the standards; for the same cost as one textbook you can subscribe for 12 years; they are more fun; they don't require user names or passwords; you don't need the latest download of Flash in order to run them; no hard disk is required; no screen is needed; and they're available right now for an affordable subscription rate.

5. Is eStudiesWeekly mobile-friendly?
eStudiesWeekly is designed to be used on a classroom or home computer. However, we're just getting started. Later we hope to develop lots of other games and content that may be used on mobile devices, Kindles, iPads, etc.

Additional bio details:
Ed Rickers is a self-taught publisher / entrepreneur who started the business in his basement based on a publishing concept that was proven by his father-in-law a retired educator of 32 years. Paul Thompson (father-in-law) published Utah Studies Weekly, the first Studies Weekly publication, from 1984 to 1998. In 1998, Ed Rickers got involved and started hiring teachers, writers, and artists to create textbook substitutes in newspaper format that would teach state history to fourth grade students. Eventually this model was expanded to K-6 social studies and science. There were other relatives of Paul Thompson that also started publishing on the same concept at the same time. Eventually, Rickers' company acquired the other Studies Weekly publishing companies from the other relatives and has been building the Studies Weekly brand nationwide under one banner now since 2007.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mobile Learning: Is It Doing What It’s Supposed To?

Is mobile learning really doing what it’s supposed to be doing? The core allure of mobile learning is that you can engage in substantive, meaningful learning any time and any place. Ideally, mobile content and instructional strategies effectively create conditions for learning – you’re engaged, the content is relevant, you’re able to connect it to applications and real-life settings that mean something to you, and the activities prepare you to succeed in any outcomes assessment you might have to do. Interactivity, functionality, convenience, and just-in-time are key watchwords. Colleges and universities are using mobile applications for their online MBA programs, sustainability studies programs and project management, literature courses, and more.

I’d like to take a moment to suggest that mobile learning has yet to live up to its potential. Yes, it’s true that instructional materials are increasingly available, and that one can view presentations, listen to audio, read text, review maps and diagrams, and watch video. But, how often are the activities guided? Where does the material lead?

To ensure you maximize the benefits of m-learning projects, think about incorporating data collection, field work, location-based activities with team-members, sharing information with team members while working in a distributed field-based manner (in multiple locations).

It’s also true that there are any number of programs that provide flash cards, multiple-choice questions, and quizzes that you can take using your handheld. It used to be complicated to do so – it required awkward downloads and frustrating implementation. Now, it’s largely web-based, so all you have to do is access a URL that is mobile-friendly. It’s easy to do, but are the materials any more useful than ones you might access from your laptop? Again, it’s all in the instructional strategy. How are you supposed to interact? How do you keep from being either distracted by the materials, or simply passive?

Smartphones and other handheld devices are much more powerful and more flexible than ever. There are still some significant barriers, though. Let’s look at a few:

---iPhone and iPad do not accommodate Flash.
---BlackBerry apps are limited.

---Some screens are small and when you zoom it gets too pixelly for clarity.

---Incompatible text forms (not all eReaders will accommodate pdfs)

Interactivity is valuable. Finding the best way to interact means understanding the conditions and circumstances of your students and their environment.

Finally, the learning community building aspects of mobile learning are most definitely valuable. However, being social networking, simulations, and augmented reality activities need to be designed with care as they can quickly devolve into unfocused activities that do not contribute to achieving learning goals.

The key is to have a very robust instructional strategy and to make sure that the instructional content and the technology are aligned with what you want to accomplish.

OutStart Hot Lava Mobile -- Productivity Software

ProProfs Free flashcards maker

Moodle for Mobile

Quiz Creator by Wondershare


Hot Potatoes (version 6)

Articulate QuizMaker 09
Form-based editing with form view
Free-form editing with slide view
Demo: Think Like a Manager

Lessonbuilder for e-learning -- can be used within an LMS and also web-based (friendly for mobile devices)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Death and the Elderly: Caregiving, End-of-Life Issues, Family Challenges Research Paper Flowchart

Health care programs are important, quickly developing and evolving in colleges and universities. Nursing, health care administration, medical coding, nurse practitioners, physician assistant programs, medical billing, urgent care administrators, nursing home administration, and more are growing.

As our health care system changes, and the population ages, it is very important for all health care professionals to understand the inter-relationships between institutions, communities, and families.

Here is an effective flow chart / guide for structuring a research paper on topics dealing with caring for the elderly and end-of-life issues.

1. What is the research problem / social issue? Identify and define clearly.

You may wish to brainstorm and develop bullet points, and even do mind-mapping in order to arrive at a primary thesis / main topic. Here is an example / description of mindmaps and mind mapping:

It is often effective to look at the core primary problem and to find an article that contains a very thorough literature review:

Ethics: Ethical Challenges in the Care of Elderly Persons
Ludwick, R., Silva, M. (December 19, 2003). Ethics Column: "Ethical Challenges in the Care of Elderly Persons". Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. Vol. 9 No. 1. Available:

2. What has been written about the problem in the past? What are the core issues?

It is often good to research and read an array of articles. This is a good opportunity to review articles in a repository.

National Institute of Health: Bioethics Resources
End of Life / Palliative Care

May extend to related issues. In this case, it is useful to look at ethical issues with respect to end-of-life issues, and it has to do with younger individuals
Boy On Life Support Stirs Debate On Faith, End-Of-Life Care

3. What are the facts? What do we know about the extent of the problem? Studies? Govt statistics? Describe.

Hospitals Ordered to Follow End-of-Life Wishes (with podcast)

4. What can we find in the following areas? (scroll down and click on the link to the search function)

also: investigative journalism? look up documentaries / investigative journalism, etc.

5. What have people done to address the issue? What are the various perspectives / solutions? Describe.

Caring for the Elderly and the Disabled Is a Family Affair

What to Do the Next Time Dad's Heart Stops (article, with podcast)

Ethics policies on euthanasia in nursing homes: a survey in Flanders, Belgium.

6. Case studies / examples / the human face...

Can search for examples, and also use statistics

Caregiving in the U.S. 2009

7. Your analysis -- what do the facts tell you? What are things that can be done? What is being tried? Is it working? Is it not? Why not?

This is a good place to list the key concerns and considerations that relate to the primary thesis.

For example, you could discuss the different approaches to health care, including home health care, nursing homes, and evaluate which ones work and which ones do not. You could then start to formulate recommendations.

Another example could be that you discuss new trends and issues with family dynamics, work issues, and financial considerations when it comes to the elderly.

Evaluating different responses to caregiver burnout and the psychological dimensions of having elderly family members could be discussed.

8. Conclusions and recommendations.

Your final paragraph should be substantive and it should have an in-depth discussion. Make sure that you use APA style, since this paper deals with social and psychological topics.

You may find a very helpful bibliography-making software program at ( For APA style questions, check out


APAStyle at

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Assistive Technologies for Online Learning

For many -- not just those with special needs -- participating in an online course is very difficult without assistive technologies. Augmentive and alternative communication products can help students with disabilities. It is useful, however, to look at some assistive technologies as effective for learners who have specific learning preferences and who may benefit from being able to access content in more than one format.

Take a look at the different assistive technologies that are available. You may be surprised how affordable they are, and how helpful they might be for you, especially with respect to keyboards, touchscreens, screen-readers (and "talking books"), and speech recognition.

BAUM Retec AG: Products and services for the visually impaired (Germany)

Claro Software: speech technology, image technology and touch technology.

Dolphin screen-reader with Braille and speech support:

Provides large cursors

Dolphin Oceanic Ltd.: .Magnifies the screen or allows users to listen with screen readers and experience refreshable Braille. Dolphin software also creates altformat reading materials for people with vision impairments or dyslexia - Braille, large print, DAISY talking books or MP3s.

Enabling Technologies, Inc.: Braille embossers / printers

Extra Corporation (Japanese): Jaws for Windows in Japanese

Freedom Scientific Products

Freedom Scientific Products for Blindness
JAWS® screen reading software
PAC Mate Omni™ accessible Pocket PC
MAGic® screen magnification software
PEARL® portable reading solution
OpenBook® scanning and reading software
SARA™ scanning and reading appliance
PAC Mate™ Portable Braille Displays
Focus Braille Displays
Focus 40 Blue Wireless Bluetooth Braille Display
FSReader DAISY player
StreetTalk™ VIP GPS solution
ScanTalker® talking barcode reader solution
FSTTY deaf-blind telephone communications
FaceToFace™ deaf-blind personal communications

Freedom Scientific Products for Low Vision

TOPAZ® desktop video magnifier
TOPAZ® Connectivity Pack
ONYX® Portable Video Magnifiers
PEARL™ portable reading solution
SAPPHIRE® Handheld Video Magnifier
RUBY® Handheld Video Magnifier
SARA™ scanning and reading appliance
MAGic® screen magnification software

GW Micro: Window-Eyes, Notetakers, DAISY Readers, Braille Displays, Low Vision


Close-captioning software

Speech Recognition and Assistive Writing

Speech recognition is often considered as an assistive writing tool for people with learning disabilities such as:

Dyslexia-- a disability in which a person has trouble reading words, sentences, or paragraphs.

Dysgraphia-- a writing disability in which a person finds it hard to form letters correctly or write within a defined space.

Acapela Group: Text to speech solutions

Dexterity and Mobility

Applied Human Factors: screen keyboard computer access

Madentec Ltd.: New keyboards and joysticks

Origin Instruments: The HeadMouse Extreme replaces the standard computer mouse for people who cannot use or have limited use of their hands.

Tobii Technology: Tobii Technology specializes in eye tracking and eye control. This technology makes it possible for computers to know exactly where users are looking.


Metroplex Voice Computing, Inc.: Speech-recognition mathematics

Browsealoud is designed to improve website accessibility for those who struggle to read content online. It works by reading website content aloud in a high quality, human-sounding voice at no cost to the end user and zero implementation for the web owner.

Language and Communication

ZYGO: The Optimist-MMX is usable like a laptop from the keyboard. It can easily convert to a touch-screen tablet. It's durable, drop and spill resistent, and will withstand the demands of every day use.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Capstone / Research Paper Guide: Sustainable Business

New degree and certificate programs that focus on sustainability and sustainable business continue to gain traction in the economy, particularly as there continues to be a need for energy efficiency, cost-savings, and positive public relations.

Many schools require capstone projects and extensive research papers. For example, Anaheim University offers a graduate diploma in sustainable management, and has a choice of two capstone projects. Dominican University requires either a service-learning practicum, which can be either an internship or a capstone project. The University of Denver's master's degree in Environmental Policy and Management offers an emphasis in Energy and Sustainability.

Planning your capstone / research project:

Primary thesis: start with a clear statement, and then narrow it down. Make sure your thesis gives an indication of the possibilities contained in the project.

Introductory paragraph: Include your thesis statement, and be sure to provide details and a general overview of the scope of your research paper.

Engaging Opening: Start with a clear statement of why this matters, and show it with an illustrative scene or reference to a core or controversial paper.

Definition: What is sustainability today? Why does it matter? Definition section.

Your focus: Your sustainability focus. Describe your focus and goals in an in-depth way.

Background and contexts. Provide give sufficient background, details, and history of the particular issues you're exploring. Sources can include statistics, journal articles, government documents, news sources, reliable websites.

Literature review / history of the idea: who has written on your topic? what have they said? Sources: refereed journals, You can use blogs and opinions, but it is important to discuss their agendas and bias.

**Importance / Priorities / Issues that come to the surface
**Conflicts / controversies

Case Study Analysis?

Elements to Include:
**Sustainability Project Goals / Vision / Core Mission
**Project Overview
**Review of the Project Elements
**Sequence / Timing / Project planning

Conclusion and Recommendations: What makes your capstone or research project valuable is a combination of the following items: a) thorough investigation of your primary thesis; b) solid research in multiple databases and sources; c) reliable, credible sources; d) insightful analysis; e) creative, innovative conclusion and recommendations.

Monday, July 05, 2010

New Directions in Certificates and Degree Programs

College degrees and certificate programs are constantly evolving to meet the ongoing and emerging needs of people seeking to keep their skills up to date. The recent economic crises, combined with an awareness of human impact on the environment have led to a new surge of innovation and new programs. Here are new directions in degrees and certificates programs.

Environmental LeadershipEven before the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the tragic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, there was a push to establish programs that examine the impact of human activity on the earth, and to bring together an interdisciplinary set of courses covering global and local interdependencies and the decision-making processes that are used to interlink the interests in a positive way. Focus areas include economic development, environmental science, energy policy, trade and commercial practices, ethics, responsible technology, climate change controversies, innovative entrepreneurship, and community sustainability.

An example of a program that falls into this category is Naropa University's MA in Environmental Leadership. The MA in Environmental Leadership is a "two-year, 39-credit residential program comprised of semester-long courses and an eight-day summer field course that involves a three-day wilderness solo. In the final year, students apply their leadership skills to a collaborative project within an organizational or community setting." (from the website). Naropa University is located in Boulder, CO. It is unfortunate that this program is residential; there are many ways to collaborate on projects in a distributed setting.

Environmental Design
Community planning, environmental science, economic development, and architecture come together to focus on all-encompassing "green design" -- not just for commercial, industrial, or trade, but also for residential and community development purposes. What is the best way to educate children in a way that optimizes learning environments, while maximizing energy efficiency, facilitating parental / family involvement, in a sustainable economic environment? Environmental design looks at how to facilitate functionality so that the processes and contexts allow the elements within a society to achieve sustainability goals.

University of Massachusetts Online offers a number of programs dealing with sustainability and the environment, including three launched in 2009 . They have a number of courses and certificate programs that involve green building, LEED certification, and a green built environment.

Sustainable Hospitality and TourismYou might be surprised to see the ways that the hospitality industry has transformed itself to achieve increased efficiencies and to respond to the need to be as green and sustainable as possible. The person entering the hospitality and tourism fields must be aware of how technology is being used to promote to market properties and programs, and how aggregators / bulk discounters have transformed the markets. Property managers must be able to implement and administer the "green" operations that incorporate alternative / renewable energy, waste reduction procedures, environmentally friendly chemicals and coolants, low-water plumbing, and locally-sourced inputs. In addition, hospitality professionals must understand the best ways to accommodate the evolving needs of conferences and conventions and to provide infrastructure for hybrid face-to-face / distance (web-conferencing, streaming media) delivery modes.

An example of a program / course in this category is LSM Business School's Postgraduate Diploma in Sustainable Hospitality and Tourism Management.

Sustainable Communities
Sustainability in difficult economic times may mean dramatic changes in the services that a community provides, as well as a vision for how to change and incorporate new technologies. A community that finds itself suddenly unsustainable may have to seek guidance in the following areas: innovative approaches to employment creation, launching and supporting web businesses, reconfigured educational structures and delivery, green building, alternative and renewable energy sources, reconfigured social safety nets, invigorating inclusion in training programs, community-centric law enforcement, smartgrids and smart growth.

A number of colleges and universities offer courses in green, sustainable building design, which often incorporates renewable energy. UC-Davis Extension has a certificate course in green buildings and sustainable design as a part of a cluster of sustainable programs certificates. Newer programs will need to metamorphose to incorporate innovative systems and "smart" systems that function not only to monitor and control, but also to link together previously unrelated activities in a kind of green energy mash-up.

Sustainable Health
For health care to be sustainable, it has to make sense on many different levels. The bottom line is that appropriate and effective access must be expanded. For example, it is important for the health system to avoid an over-reliance on hospitals and in hospital emergency rooms as sources for primary care. The trends now are to move primary care to urgent care facilities and even pharmacies for effective "one-stop shopping." There is also a trend toward expanded home health care to avoid, delay, or minimize institutionalization. Ethical issues, especially unexpected ones, are emerging. End-of-life issues, privacy, impact of new technologies, debates about medication, are a few.

Many programs incorporate public health care administration and health care infomatics. However, fewer programs focus on sustainability and bring in the interdisciplinary approach needed to fully appreciate the changes that will occur in the future. California State University East Bay's Management of Health Care Administration does include courses in sustainable and integrated health care. It could be argued that it's important to aggressively pursue more interdisciplinary elements, and to include psychology, sociology, ethics, and gerontology in addition to the other options.

Community, Environmental, Psychological, Social InterventionsThe media has made what was once hidden and denied a public preoccupation, if not a full-blown spectacle. There are popular web-streamable documentaries / news programs (60 Minutes, Vanguard, etc.) and reality television featuring (Intervention, Hoarders, Obsessed, etc.), along with countless blogs, wikis, and social networking sites. The result is a surge in demand for an interdisciplinary approach to complex problems that involve all levels of society, from the individual to family members, social services, businesses, and often even law enforcement.

While it's not a degree or certificate program, USC Marshall's "Reconnecting to Remain Competitive" event captures the spirit of what it will take to be able to adapt to changes and times.

Enhanced Recoveries and Community RevitalizationsCreating jobs for a community is not simply a matter of providing tax incentives to attract a manufacturing facility to your town. The new jobs are for the new economy, and while one might argue that they're still service-based, they involve an entirely different skill set. Communities must attract web businesses, and they must have the infrastructure capabilities to meet needs of the distributed workplace. More companies are hiring home-based workers, and where there are facilities, they often come in the form of server farms, or administrative offices, all of which have high energy and internet infrastructure needs. New education programs must provide students with opportunities to learn the new technologies, but, even more importantly, to display them in the form of portfolios and projects. "Show what you know" is the new assessment dictum.

Community and Economic Development Certificate Program at Penn State University is an example of an existing program that does not specifically relate to sustainability. However, with a flexible five-course program, courses themselves can start to incorporate new views and vistas. Technical and career colleges such as TCI offer courses and programs that can be combined with liberal arts programs to help with the nuts and bolts of economic development at the state, community, or neighborhood level.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Interview with Jonna Ward, Visionary Integration Professionals: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Lifelong e-learning is essential in one's professional development and career trajectory. Much of the ongoing training and development is available in a situated learning context, which is facilitated by the existence of integrated technology and content. Bringing the elements together is often challenging, but has been made possible because of the vision and sense of mission of individuals who are willing to take risks when bringing together human resources development and education. Welcome to an interview with Jonna Ward, founder and CEO of Visionary Integration Professionals. Her companies have been pivotal in increasing access to content and efficiency in processes.

What is your name, affiliation, and connection to e-learning?
My name is Jonna Ward; I'm the founder and chief executive officer of Visionary Integration Professionals, which is a global information technology solutions provider. VIP is the parent company of Meridian Knowledge Solutions, a company that provides software (including learning management systems) and services for delivering, tracking and analyzing training over the Internet. VIP employs approximately 800 people, and Meridian is one of our important divisions. We acquired Meridian in 2006 because we saw (and continue to see) repeated demand from our clients for integrated solutions that bring analytics, data, and learning management together.

How does your organization administer and / or develop e-learning resources?
Meridian takes the lead for us in this regard. Many of the employees who work for us at Meridian have been with the company since Meridian's founding in 1997, so they've seen the evolution of e-learning content, e-learning standards, LMS and LCMS technology and mobile learning. VIP's purview spans much more than developing e-learning. Because we're implementing IT systems across entire organizations we are always looking for ways in which learning can be woven into the fabric of everyday work.

Through contact with customers, industry pundits, primary research and our customer advisory board, Meridian's R&D team stays abreast of which e-learning trends are picking up traction and which are fads to be forgotten. For example, over a decade ago, Meridian was among the first, if not the first, LMS provider to incorporate collaboration features into its system.

Today, online collaboration is a prerequisite to having a competitive LMS, but Meridian's R&D team knew about this and developed a viable system well ahead of the trend. So we rely on some really great minds at Meridian to tell us what we should focus on as an organization, and, at an executive level, our divisions work with one another to capitalize on opportunities to incorporate e-learning into various enterprisewide projects.

How does elearning relate to your vision of developing human resources, and matching organizational needs with people?
Organizations of all kinds collect and rely on employee performance data to make decisions, but that data is rarely connected in a meaningful way to the information learning systems use to manage employees.

Our vision is that these disparate systems work together, so a company (i.e., managers, mentors and peers) can develop an employee in much the same way a sports team cultivates its talent. This stretches beyond employee performance, too. The performance data that's collected for business units, divisions and an entire organization ought to be synchronized with learning management information, too, so executives can spot a dip in performance, identify its cause and prescribe a course of action (which can include learning of some kind) to bring performance in line with goals.

What is your philosophy of learning? What are the elements of it that are perhaps a bit unusual and not seen every day?
Learning isn't something that happens at a particular place or time; we're always presented with opportunities to learn, but we don't always seize the opportunity. Other times we have the opportunity and desire, but not the tools. Identifying why someone doesn't capitalize on a chance to learn is the secret to not only motivating employees but helping your workforce, employees and business partners succeed.

When does e-learning matter most?
When you want to train people at a moment's notice or over a wide geographic area, e-learning really pays for itself. E-learning is obviously one way to learn, but within any e-learning course you can embed video, audio or even access a virtual world to conduct a training exercise that might be too expensive or dangerous. It's the maleability and versatility of e-learning that matters most.

How can e-learning tie in to the most pressing issues facing a corporation, association, or government group?
That's a great question, and the answer depends on the people who are in charge of training as well as their vendor partners. Top training professionals within any organization have to truly understand their employer's business in order to tie e-learning to the most pressing challenges. For example, if you're in charge of training for, say, an airline, you have to know how market forces are affecting your routes, customer attitudes, profit margins, government regulations, services, facilities, aircraft maintenance and the like before you can develop the strategies that e-learning can support.

If, on the other hand, you're an expert at training but have less insight about what's bearing down on the business, then you're flying blindly. Pun intended. Training vendors owe it to their clients to learn about more than the training organization's challenges, too. A great vendor assigns people to an account who know the industry dynamics, not just how to implement and troubleshoot software.

Finally, can you recommend a book that made you see the world in a different way?
Anyone who reads the book, The World is Flat, has no choice but to see the world in a different way. The book emphasizes the need for people to change and adapt to remain competitive in a global market where historical and geographical boundaries are becoming increasingly irrelevant. As the world becomes more able to collaborate and share with others of different cultures, languages, and religions – we will find that we need better education and training to compete with the most brilliant minds around the globe and to adapt to the needs of the world.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Interview with Sarah Elaine Eaton, University of Calgary: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Understanding how informal learning occurs is critical in e-learning. Welcome to an interview with Sarah Elaine Eaton, whose research has focused on how, where, and when people learn in informal settings including e-learning and mobile learning.

1. What is your name, affiliation, and connection with e-learning?

Sarah Elaine Eaton, Principal Consultant of Eaton International Consulting Inc. and Research Associate of the Language Research Centre at the University of Calgary. My connection with e-learning began in around 1999 or so, when I began using Blackboard in the Spanish classes I was teaching.

From there I went on to learn Centra and Elluminate. My first intensive experience with e-learning was being part of a multi-university team that was developing a comprehensive online English as a Second Language program for international students. I've also worked on projects involving video conferencing, You Tube, Skype, Moodle and Slideshare, and other types of e-learning tools and platforms. As part of my work now I give professional development webinars on learning and leadership to educators, program directors and administrators. I gave one in May of this year on using Skype in ESL and Literacy classes. There were participants there from all over Canada and the US and even as far away as Egypt and Kyrgyzstan. I have no idea how those folks found out about the webinar, but it was super cool that they were there. I just love e-learning because it allows us to transcend so many boundaries.

Sarah Elaine Eaton

2. What are your thoughts about informal learning?

I'm fascinated by the notion of informal learning. Over the past couple of years I've done more and more research into the areas of formal, non-formal and informal learning. I suspect that informal learning isn't sufficiently acknowledged because people overlook it or take it for granted.

I think, bold though it may sound, that we are on the brink of a major paradigm shift. This shift will dramatically change how we view learning and how we value it.

Such a paradigm shift may well pose a threat for schools, colleges, universities and other formal learning institutions because it will challenge the very foundation of education. Traditionally, formal learning has been revered and valued deeply. In the "olden days" only clerics were taught to read and write. Books and formal learning were reserved for men (and a very few women) of the cloth and for those trained in law and medicine. Learned people held positions of authority and were greatly respected. Today, you can't help but have respect for the 13-year old kid who knows how to fix your computer - and he taught himself or he learned how to do it on the Internet. His skills are highly valued and you just know he's going to get a job, if he doesn't already have one "informally".

Old notions of formal learning have been turned on their head in the past 25 years. We are beginning to value informal learning more and more. People understand on some level, that our notions of learning and how we acquire vital knowledge is changing. I'm not quite sure how universities and schools are going to deal with this, but I do know when I talk to my colleagues that there is concern. And the very least, they're perplexed. Some feel challenged that the "quality of learning" diminishes as the level of formality diminishes. Again, I refer back to the 13-year old who can teach you how to do something new on your computer. Has the quality of his learning been diminished because he didn't learn it from a book? It'd be hard to claim that when you need their help and they fix it for you in no time flat.

3. In your opinion, where and how does informal learning take place in an online environment?

Informal learning, I think, takes place in an online environment every day. Anytime you have a question, where do we turn today? To the Internet. We look up words we don't know at sites like We ask questions at sites like AnswerBag. If we want to learn the steps to do a particular task, we turn to sites like For those who prefer video or audio sites like YouTube, Vimeo and other video sites offer clips that teach people how to do new things. And the number lectures and learning opportunities available by podcast now is astounding.

The Internet offers us an opportunity to immerse ourselves in all kinds of learning, every day. And not only that, it allows us the opportunity to make those learning opportunities mobile. Today, you can look up all that same information on the move with a Blackberry or iPhone. It's great. I literally "learn on the run" because I load TED talks or podcasts onto my iPod and listen to them while I'm out running or walking. The Internet has transformed how we learn, how we access learning and how we want to learn.

4. Can informal learning be structured? How? Where?

The very nature of informal learning is that it is unstructured. I like to explain it like this: Formal learning is very organized and structured. It is offered by schools and institutions and guided by a curriculum. So, formal learning is very structured. Non-formal may or may not be arranged by an institution, but is usually structured in some way, even if it is loosely. Since there are no formal credits granted or earned, in non-formal learning, there's less need for structure. And then there's informal learning. Rather than being guided by a curriculum, it's much more spontaneous.

In the case of informal e-learning, I'd say it's much more learner-driven, too. People download podcasts or watch YouTube videos on things they're motivated to learn themselves, not because someone told them they had to do so. Once I was a bridesmaid for a bride who requested that all of her attendants wear fake eyelashes on the big day. I'd never worn fake eyelashes in my life, so I looked up videos on YouTube on how to put them on. I was motivated to learn (albeit for a specific and limited purpose), so I went on line and learned how.

Having said all that, I don't think the categories are as cut and dry as I've explained them here. Think of it more like a continuum. Formal, highly structured learning is at one end and at the other end there's spontaneous, impromptu learning. Non-formal learning is somewhere in the middle. So it could be that there are some types of learning that may be classified as informal, that are still a little bit structured. For example, when I shoot a YouTube video, even if it's only a few minutes long, I plan it, script it out and then do a few dry runs before we shoot it. So, it's not exactly spontaneous, but the result is meant to look spontaneous. For anyone who watches one of my YouTube videos, I hope they look informal and spontaneous. That's the point. :-)

5. What are some of the projects you've been involved with that you would like to share?

This project taught me so much about how we learn, how we can learn and how we value learning. My entire career has been spent in education and this project has literally transformed how I understand learning. I used to value formal learning to the nth degree, thinking that it was the only "real" type of valid learning. Now my understanding has both broadened and deepened. Despite the fact that I have a PhD, I believe that there are many more opportunities in the world for non-formal and informal learning. Not everyone has the means or opportunity to pursue formal education, but that doesn't mean that they are incapable or disinterested in learning. On the contrary. Thanks to the Internet, there are hundreds of thousands - likely even millions - of opportunities to learn new things every day - most of them for free.

The project started out small. It focused on languages and literacy, because that's my background. For anyone who's interested, the final report, "Formal, non-formal and informal learning: The case of literacy and language learning in Canada" is available free of charge at:

I became so intrigued with the concepts of formal, non-formal and informal learning, that together with a research assistant who was a trained scientist with a background in geophysics, I began exploring those same notions in different disciplines. After languages and literacy, we started one on science, which is the one you graciously and generously lent us your expertise on. We're just wrapping that one up and it's much more comprehensive and robust than the first report. Now I'm starting to look at the same notions in business and entrepreneurship, together with another research assistant who has a background in business. By the time we're done, we'll have a set of reports that examines formal, non-formal and informal learning across the disciplines. I'm totally pumped about it!

6. What do you see as three new directions in learning?

1. Mobile learning. I think the iPad, and products like it that haven't even been invented yet, will replace desktop computers, particularly in schools. Textbooks will give way to "learning on the go".

2. Multi-sensory, interactive learning. We used to talk about "book learning". Books only involve visual learning - either words or pictures, but mostly words. The days of "book learning" are going-going-gone. Today people are after interactive, multi-sensory learning. They want to see it AND hear it. They want to write their own comments and questions. They want to ask questions in real time. And with the gravity sensor in the iPhone and the use of technology like SMART boards, we can now incorporate touch into our learning experiences, too. This is transforming learning in amazingly cool and effective ways.

3. Individualized learning. I truly believe that people are hungry to learn new things. But traditional learning confines us to stiff, stagnant curricula that are outdated and boring. If we temper rigid structure with some freedom, while still providing challenge and guidance, learners' motivation soars. I believe that people become more engaged when they have the ability to shape the experience themselves a bit. Learning will become more individualized and yet, more interactive at the same time.

Elevator to Nowhere ... fringejournaling on technology

Psychic Sponge's Guide to Zeitgeistland

Digital Textbook Sales in the U.S.: A 5-Year Projection -- free pdf from Rob Reynolds' the Xplanation :)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Interview with Sameer Bhatia, E-Learning Innovators Series

Effective assessment in an online course is not easy to achieve. Courageous developers have tackled online quizzes. It is interesting to look behind the scenes and see the challenges. Welcome to an interview with Sameer Bhatia, founder of

1. What is your name and your involvement in e-learning?

I am Sameer Bhatia, the founder of, an online learning community. Prior to ProProfs I ran an IT certification products company that has been in the business of providing e-learning centered around Cisco certification products.

2. What is and the learning philosophy behind it? is the knowledge FREEway, providing free resources and tools for online knowledge sharing. ProProfs is dedicated to offering new services and content that reflects the diversity of interests and topics in which today's users are engaged. Founded on the idea that knowledge should be freely available to people from all walks of life, features free schools on SAT & IT certification, and offers an ever increasing portfolio of tools for social knowledge sharing including quizzes, flashcards, blogs, forums and games.

3. What is your view of how best to assess whether or not students have achieved learning outcomes in an online course?

We created ProProfs Quiz Maker ( to address this need. By allowing educators to create tests, practice questions and quizzes around any topic and then embed them directly into their class websites, learning management system or e-learning courses, we allow educators to ascertain if students are achieving the learning objectives. We also aggregate the data across all attempts so a teacher can better understand what areas of learning the class as a whole needs more attention on.

4. How might assessing if students have achieved learning outcomes be different in a mobile learning course?

While content created using Quiz Maker ( displays fine in most mobile browsers, we are in process of creating a special version so assessments can be distributed to a classroom easily via mobile devices such as iPhone and iPad. Watch out for this in our upcoming version.

5. what is Quiz Maker and how does it work?
ProProfs Quiz Maker ( is a free learning tool that enables educators to utilize the power of the Internet to create online quizzes and practice tests for their students. The Quiz Maker provides an easy access for students and educators, without the hassle of downloading bulky software. In addition to the ability to create custom quizzes, we also offer the largest collections of freely available online quizzes, ranging from K-12 education to topics such as technology certification, SAT, GRE and even general trivia.

6. Are there any really bad quizzes or quiz styles that should be avoided at all costs? If you don't mind, describe a very bad (ineffectual or even potentially problematic) quiz and then compare it with a very good quiz. What makes the difference? What do instructors and instructional designers need to keep in mind?

One of the key issues we have seen is the choice between long/short quizzes. Educators need to choose the test style after careful consideration. Long tests have their place in education; for example, many instructors use them during mid-terms or finals. However, to ensure that students are understanding the material, short quizzes in practice mode (with answers revealed immediately after a question is attempted) work much better. These create a stress free environment and students feel encouraged to take the quiz repeatedly. The repetition brings remembrance and helps students master the subject. Using short quizzes in conjunction with larger tests for mid/end of term, have reported strikingly positive results.
With a lot of feedback from teachers we have built features to allow secure & timed long tests as well as short quizzes that can be run in practice mode with customizable results to make learning fun. Educators however need to choose carefully based on the learning objective.

7. Do you have any plans for the future?

Our next version will be available in just a few weeks. Key features would include tracking of who took the quiz, ability to store results and provide more customization of end of quiz results.

8. Please share the name of two good books you've read lately.

The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steven Gary Blank is a must read for entrepreneurs. The other book I read recently is Rework by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson. While both these book are not directly related to e-learning, they have had a big positive influence on how we build our e-learning products. We have stepped up on our feedback loop with educators to ensure we build something that they totally love.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Interview with Alan Lawrence Sitomer, BookJam: Curriculum Innovator Series

Creating conditions of learning for at-risk students can be challenging, particularly when literacy issues are a factor, and students must perform well in high-stakes assessments. Responding to the challenge has inspired at least one educator to create a set of study guides that respond to students' real-life interests and current, contemporary young adult literature. Welcome to an interview with Alan Lawrence Sitomer, who has developed instructional materials that incorporate popular works while still preparing students for curriculum requirements. Using his materials, for the past 4 years, more than 95% of Sitomer's sophomores have passed the California High School Exit Exam. Surrounding high schools have been averaging a 71% pass rate on the same exam.

1. What your name, affiliation, and relation to e-learning?

My name is Alan Lawrence Sitomer, and I am a teacher, author and a literacy specialist. In 2007, I was named California’s Teacher of the Year. In 2004, I received the prestigious award for Classroom Excellence from the Southern California Teachers of English, and in 2003, I was honored as Teacher of the Year by California Literacy.

As an educator, I work as an inner-city high school English teacher in Los Angeles as well as a professor in the Graduate School of Education at Loyola Marymount University.

My young adult novels include The Hoopster, Hip-Hop High School, Homeboyz, and The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez, published by Disney. I also the authored Hip-Hop Poetry and the Classics, a text used in classrooms across the United States to engage disconnected students, and The Alan Sitomer BookJam series, student-centric reading curriculum that is standards-based and geared toward achieving core curriculum objectives through traditional and 21st century digital literacy lesson plans.

I find it incredibly important to stay connected to the heartbeat of public education as it evolves and shifts in the 21st century. Though, I am still in a traditional classroom, I absolutely have my eye on all of the recent developments being accorded to students through e-learning. And to say I am impressed would be an understatement.

E-learning also allows students, who do not thrive in traditional classroom settings, a venue to still have a chance at becoming well-learned. Even as little as ten years ago, kids who do not fit into the “box of school” had very few alternatives. With e-learning, depth and rigor do not have to be sacrificed in order to provide genuine alternatives to modern-day schools. Peeking out on the horizon, it’s clear to me that e-learning is something that is only going to grow and grow.

Will it ever replace traditional classrooms? I don’t think so. However, will it mature and come to occupy an ever greater space in the way we educate our kids? Most assuredly, yes.

2. What is BookJam, and how is it different from other study guides ?

The Alan Sitomer BookJam series is reading curriculum for today’s high school classrooms. It was developed by me, a real teacher, for other real teachers that are facing disconnected students and looking for a way to engage them into reading.

Each BookJam comes with a class set of three engaging young adult books with teacher materials that take a student-centric approach to learning. The materials are standards-based and geared toward achieving core curriculum objectives through traditional and 21st century digital literacy lesson plans.

A BookJam set comes with:

• Three class sets of 30 books each (90 books total)
• A standards-based study guide for each novel
• An implementation guide
• 21st century multimedia projects for the classroom
• Internet resources
• Audio tools
• Differentiated learning opportunities
• Composition JamBox

Currently, there are 5 Jams available:

1. The Dark Secrets Jam
• Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
• Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
• The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez by Alan Sitomer

2. The Bad Boys Jam
• The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
• Holes by Louis Sachar
• Homeboyz by Alan Sitomer

3. The Funny, Doofy Weirdos Jam
• Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
• Son of the Mob by Gordan Korman
• Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

4. The Tough Being a Teen Jam
• The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake
• The First Part Last by Angela Johnson
• Hip-Hop High School by Alan Sitomer

5. The Friends, Foes and Crisis Jam
• Monster by Walter Dean Myers
• Tears of a Tiger by Sharon M. Draper
• The Hoopster by Alan Sitomer

This is the curriculum that I use in my very own classroom to achieve success with my own students. For the past 4 years, more than 95% of my sophomores have passed the California High School Exit Exam. Surrounding high schools have been averaging a 71% pass rate on the same exam.

My goal is to engage, educate and inspire our nation’s students with accessible, relevant literature so they can authentically own the literacy skills they will need to be successful in a rapidly changing future.

Literacy is the passport to achievement in the 21st century. Study after study after study proves it. This is why, in creating the BookJam (very much a culmination of my life’s work to this point) I sought to:

• Provide real teachers with real tools to achieve academic success measured by elevated test scores and increased literacy levels of today’s students.

• Marry fun and excitement in the classroom to academic rigor and intellectual growth. Years of experience have proven to me that these two elements are not mutually exclusive, but rather interdependent allies.

• Meet the core content standards for English Language Arts through a host of original curriculum materials. Tests, quizzes, activities, graphic organizers, ELL, and GATE materials are all provided in an easy-to-use format.

• Offer a viable alternative to the institutionalized one-size- fits-all academic curriculum.
• Re-shape students’ perceptions about books and literature in order to cultivate lifelong learners and readers.

• Build real-world skills by offering the added bonus of a host of simple-to-teach, important-to-implement new media and digital literacy lesson plans through Project Based Learning activities that cultivate the tools our students will need to be successful in the 21st century.

The 21st century has arrived and brought with it an array of new tools that offer unprecedented opportunities for dynamic, thoughtful, creative, and ambitious student compositions in the classroom. I am always putting new multi-media projects into operation inside my own classroom. Whether it is encouraging my students create podcasts of a book analyses, or getting them to construct slideshow presentations in place of traditional poster boards displays, I want to ensure that my students are developing strong literacy skills and know how to communicate in the 21st century.

However, the technology that I integrate into my lesson plans does not and cannot replace the need for students to think critically. The need for kids to be independent, reflective, creative problem solvers who can intelligently, accurately, and concisely express their insights has never been more important to the modern day student.

Teachers are in a unique and somewhat discomforting position. Undoubtedly, we need to be progressive so we can ensure what we are doing in today’s classrooms will translate into real-world skills that will have value to our students after graduation and beyond.

Today’s YouTube generation may not believe me, but once upon a time there existed a world where being able to construct well-reasoned, well-structured products of your thinking characterized by authentic, diligent, verifiable research and original insightful ideas actually mattered a great deal.

This is why I created the BookJam. It is real curriculum that embraces digital literacy in the classroom, without abandoning the academic value that preceded the invention of the Internet, Web 2.0 and Google.

3. What is your philosophy of learning?

When I was in graduate school working on my Master’s degree in education, the ivory tower institution of academia conveyed the message that successful classroom educators must focus on rigor. Rigor, rigor, rigor. Of course, no one is going to argue with the need for rigor in today’s classroom but the means by which they dismissed the critical nature of student engagement troubled me greatly.

Theoretically, I discovered, through my own experience as a practioner, that motivation and engagement were the way I could remove the barriers to reaching and teaching my students. By that I mean, once they were intrigued, interested and motivated, bringing rigor to my academic objectives was much simpler. But seeking rigor without tapping into a student’s internal desire to participate felt very much like pushing a rock up a hill knowing it would roll right back down as soon as I stopped standing over a student insisting that they do the work.

This is why e-learning holds such tremendous potential; kids love technology and by allowing our students to use the multi-media tools we now have available in order to pursue academic courses of study we leverage their own individual motivation to participate with the learning materials in a way that has previously been unavailable to us as teachers.

Many of the brightest minds in educational theory agree with the philosophical notions guiding this train of thought. Some of my favorites include:

• Dr. Jeffrey Wilhelm, who talks about the critical nature of motivation, particularly when it comes to educating boys

• Sir Ken Robinson, who speaks to the need for students to feel a creative interaction with academic content (as opposed to a mere linear transmission from an all-knowing teacher at the front of the room to a passive, receptor-type student sitting obediently in a one-size fits all class)

• James Paul Gee speaking to the dynamic learning which takes place in video games

• Daniel Pink speaking to moving beyond the Information Age and into the Creative Era

Dr. Kylene Beers, Jim Burke and Carol Jago, all of the “big thinkers” I know in the field of education reaffirm my own beliefs that motivation and engagement combined with student empowerment is the path of the future for tomorrow’s schools. Thus, e-learning is a bright, bright star on our schools’ horizons.

4. In your opinion, what is the ideal way to engage students? What are the particular challenges associated with high-school age students?

There is no “one right way” to reach today’s kids. The idea that there is a one-size-fits-all solution is something that has been sold to many schools, but the fact is that it’s just not true.

Today’s teens are diverse and sophisticated so a “this is how you do it” type of answer that fits neatly into a formula which can be easily replicated is something I wouldn’t dare to try and offer.

What I do know is that today’s students are hungry to pursue meaningful academic activities. For every boring, drill-n-kill worksheet teacher that uses bubble tests to assess student performance, there is an educator who is bringing lessons to life through project-based learning that says, “Wow, today’s students are capable of so much… if only we unshackle them and then challenge them.”

Nowhere is this truer than with teenagers. High school students want to feel validated, participate in meaningful activities and be asked to give something of themselves in a manner that reflects who they are. “Dumbing” down the curriculum is not a recipe for better reaching them; making them work harder and asking them to rise up to the level of which we know they are capable is what we ought to be doing.

With encouragement, guidance, discipline and a positive attitude, you can move mountains with today’s high school students. And if you look around – beyond the mainstream media’s persistent message of “Today’s students are failing” – you’ll see that, in fact, kids today are demonstrating aptitudes that might be said to trump those of previous generations.

Does living in a wired world not play a role? Absolutely. However, we underestimate the capacities of today’s high school students all too often in today’s schools. This is misjudgment that we need to change.

5. What is the future of e-learning / mobile learning, from your vantage point?

It is hard to say with a degree of accuracy what the future of e-learning holds. I can certainly guess. With the way the educational landscape is changing, and the rate at which technology is expanding in society – I’d say a safe guess would be that the direction of its growth is immense.

The benefits are obvious. Students will not be confined by what the schools offer. Their minds are thirsty and through e-learning they will pursue their own academic interests. And I am a HUGE advocate of allowing students to, as Joseph Campbell once said, “Follow their passion.”

E-learning allows the esoteric and the erudite to become much more accessible. This is one of the reasons why I believe that the future looks so bright on the digital landscape. Just as iTunes created a system whereby a music lover could really gain access to almost any band, musician, genre and so on, so too does e-learning seem to be able to one day offer a chance for any student to be able to gain access to the study of things such as French literature, astronomy or applied mathematics without constrictions on their physical location.

Ultimately, my feeling is that “self-starters” will be the ones to most benefit in the early stages of e-learning. Right now there are courses available at no charge through universities like M.I.T. for those that simply want the knowledge. In and of itself, this is pretty remarkable.

Admittedly, my vantage point is a bit limited because public education is hampered in its ability, right now, to adapt to what e-learning seems to be able to offer due to budget issues. We simply do not yet live in a world where all our students have a computer, are connected to the internet and know how to take advantage of all the opportunities which are out there. Of course, that is going to change, but the 21st century is already 10 percent over and we still have schools that rely on cassette players and VHS tapes. So essentially, America has a long way to go.

6. Please recommend a few books to read.
I’ll break it up into YA fiction and adult non-fiction since these are pretty much the two areas where I do most of my reading. Truthfully, I’ve got dozens of picks but I’ll keep the list short and sweet, just a few real “home run” titles for those who are on the lookout.

YA Fiction• The Hunger Games
• Speak
• The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
• The Alchemist
• Do I need to mention my own books? LOL. Go to to check out all the titles I’ve written for young adults. They are quite popular.)

Adult Non- Fiction• A Whole New Mind
• Outliers
• Mindsets
• Freakonomics


Good Deeds Society: YA novel that deals with bullying, escaped exotic pets, a mom who was once a child star, and the mysterious disappearance of the only person who grounded the family and kept it on track...

The book available here.

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