Tuesday, June 30, 2009

1.4.2: No significant difference!

Many thanks to elearnspace for this link: A meta-analysis of comparative studies has concluded that, "on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction" (p.ix). Blended learning, with the additional work it tends to demand while combining face-to-face and online work, emerged as much better however here the influence may well be on the additional time students spend on learning tasks. Indeed, time on task and the use of different educational approaches emerged as two of the 'secrets' to the online experience.

The K-12 situation has not yet been adequately studied, so the meta-analysis draws on results from results noticed in medical training and higher education. The definition of 'online' applied is just that - Web-based instruction only.

Other findings:
  • Video and online quizzes in online courses do not seem to influence learning in online classes
  • Courses that emphasise reflection and student control of media enhance learning
  • Guidance for groups online is less successful than guiding individuals
The findings also emphasise that "the online and classroom conditions differed in terms of time spent, curriculum and pedagogy. It was the combination of elements in the treatment conditions (which was likely to have included additional learning time and materials as well as additional opportunities for collaboration) that produced the observed learning advantages" (p.xvii).

There may well be concerns relating to completion; I am aware of some evidence (Dutton et al, 2002) that online learning students tend to get higher than average grades because only the best of them actually complete their courses (see also Angelino et al 2007). That retention rates are not typically reported on is a weakness of the various studies in this area (p.xvii). Further work on retention is neccessary before online advocates can break out the bubbly!

More from Beyond Current Horizons

Some additional reports are now available from the Beyond Current Horizons Web site:
  • The schooled society and beyond: the modernizing role of formal education as an institution - considers the growth of formal education, and celebrates the success of formal education; theorizes that formal education largely determines society, rather than prepares students for society. Schooling doesn't prepare; it transforms. Rather than being oppressive, schooling is founded on principles of egalitarianism and actualisation; where schooling is genuinely oppressive, it is usually so because of suppressive political influence. Formal education focuses on "academic intelligence", defined as "those cognitive skills needed to do abstract reasoning, problem-solving, higher order thinking, multiple perspective taking, and effortful thinking"; this increasingly replaces the "more traditional academic skills such as recitation, disputation, memorization, formalistic debate, formulae application, accuracy, and authoritative text reading and exegesis". As a result, fluid IQ (thinking) scores are increasing significantly while crystalised IQ (recall) scores are increasing moderately.
  • Knowledge, creativity and communication in education: multimodal design - with a focus in particular on the evolution of textbooks, in terms of style, content and participation.
  • Summative report: Identity, communities and citizenship - a wide-reaching and well-grounded consideration of issues; the 'potential for schools' section has much in common with that of Gilbert (2005), who argues for a focus on training for thinking. 
I particularly enjoyed the first of these three contributions, not least because it portrays formal education as being on the right trajectory for the future. Formal education is working, and that, well. Continuous improvement is a part of that success.

5.1.2: PLEeeze...

George Siemens' post, "Beyond management: Personal Learning Environments" overviews Stephen Downes' latest presentation on PLEs (Personal Learning Environments) at ED-MEDIA 2009. As explained in the E-Primer (draft for discussion next week in IT Forum), there is a flaw here; higher education is not about fact-filling. It recognises that knowledge is adaptive and emerging, and complex. Is the system "out of touch" and risking "irrelevance"? Is "reform" necessary? Might PLEs (Personal Learning Environments) create more problem than they solve? Is the curriculum an enemy to learning? Is learning equated to 'memorisation' in higher education?

I find myself with more questions than assent. Is 'connecting across a network' the same as 'knowing'? I do struggle with the assumptions beneath Siemens' post, and just can't help thinking that I'm missing something...

Friday, June 26, 2009

5.*: More on the Net Gen

This from Net Gen Skeptic.

The finding that "Although young students are technologically increasingly well-equipped, they do not exhaust the potential of their devices or the potential of common Web 2.0 applications" is fast becoming representational of the Net Gen in the research cited in E-Primer 5. As is pointed out by Mark, though, the paper still calls for a fundamental shift in HE structure. If a shift is necessary, it is becoming increasingly difficult to muster any evidence for it based on any particular strengths inherent to the Net Gen. Overall it seems the Net Gen may well have the tools, but they're using them like toys.

[Image "Toys Misbehaving" uploaded March 24, 2005 by Cade]

Thursday, June 25, 2009

5.*: Will Facebook kill blogging?

Interesting question... see this story in Stuff.co.nz before it is removed. I have noticed a significant drop in blogging traffic across the various ones I have subscribed to. A sign of the times? If so, no doubt more research attention and activity will go toward trying to exploit Facebook and MySpace for educational purposes (said with a hint of cynicism). However, as I mention in E-Primer 5, the issue of genre is an important one. It could be too late to redeem the likes of social networking for the purposes of educational discourse. Consider this quote from the Stuff article:
...the online network is like a virtual pub, where you and your chosen "circle" can share photos of your weekend shenanigans, look up old classmates or simply waste time on trivia quizzes that prove your pop culture mettle.
Sounds like promising stuff for academic learning! Now, where can I get me a research grant...

5.1: Becta links: "Digital lifestyles" and "EU kids"

Becta links to two reports about online media use:
The EU report points out that Internet use seems to be spreading, in that most age groups are now using the Internet and gender imbalances are correcting. Socio-economic status is the real differentiator now between those with access, and those without (this is also mentioned in the Ofcom report). The EU report specifically notes that higher education is increasingly requiring online access, so there is a call for improving connectivity.

Neither report is specifically prepared for educational purposes however they do give some reliable insight into accessibility and online behaviour that is of relevance to e-learning.

E-Primer draft now available

The draft of E-Primer 5, "eXtending possibilities", is now available from the IT Forum Website here.

The online event takes place week commencing July 6.

To join the discussion, simply subscribe to the forum. All it requires is a valid email address.

I'm looking forward to the discussion; the IT Forum is made up of very insightful practitioners, many with extensive publication histories (some may have been cited in the E-primer itself). The 'wisdom of this crowd' will be of great benefit to the final version of the E-Primer!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

E-Primer 5 for IT Forum review and discussion

E-Primer 5, "eXtending possibilities", will be peer-reviewed during a one-week online discussion through the IT Forum. The IT Forum is a listserv with members from across the globe.

The online event takes place week commencing July 6.

To join the discussion, simply subscribe to the forum. All it requires is a valid email address.

The paper will be uploaded by the end of the week, and will be avaialble from here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

5.*: Balancing the faces of ePortfolios

Thanks to Hasmeeta for alerting me to this... Helen Barrett, an ePortfolio pioneer, has an online work in progress called "Balancing the two faces of ePortfolios". In this paper Helen models how apparently competing aims of ePortfolios for learning and reflection and ePortfolios for showcase or accountability can be complementary. Helen's three levels of ePortfolio use also helps put them into perspective.

As with most tools outside of traditional LMS or VLE systems, their use can take place at different levels ranging from the most basic (usually just using the most fundamental functions of the tool) right through to the deeply invovled (which requires a much more ambitious pedagogy). Helen's work continues to inform ePortfolio progress in education.

E-Primer 5: Draft ready

At last. E-Primer 5, "eXtending possibilities", is drafted. It's taken a while, and it's already under some pressure to include the latest ideas (see previous posts on m-learning, the Net Generation and MUVE alternatives), but it's still a pretty solid piece of work.

Table of contents:

5.0 eXtending possibilities

5.1 Web 2.0 and the Net Generation
5.1.1 The phenomenon of Web 2.0
5.1.2 Web 2.0 and education
5.1.3 The Net Generation

5.2 The Conversational Framework

5.3 eXtending tools
5.3.1 Blogs
5.3.2 Wikis
5.3.3 ePortfolios
5.3.4 MUVEs and Second Life
5.3.5 M-learning

5.4 Designing for eXtended tools

5.5 Summary

I'm reluctant to give away too much for the moment, as I am seeking potential ways of peer-review. My hope is to make it the basis of discussion for an online community of peers; I received a positive response today to a request from one online community, so watch this space...

...in the meantime I'm going to be making progress on my PhD!

5.*: MUVE alternatives

Are Second Life's days numbered as the experimental base for formal education? The most recent SLENZ update suggests that they may - and provides a great list of alternative MUVEs that might provide a less proprietary future. Cobalt, an open source application, could be the way of the future...?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

5.*: Educating the Net Generation

I'll leave it to Net Gen Skeptic to provide the overview... A previous (2008) publication from Kennedy et al, "First year students' experiences with technology: Are they really digital natives?" is included in the draft of E-Primer 5 (coming soon). The fuller 2009 handbook "Educating the Net Generation: A Handbook of Findings for Practice and Policy" is available online in PDF format.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

1.4: It's all about flexibility and pedagogical progress

The latest ALT Fortnightly News includes a link to a UK market research presentation entitled "Examining e-learning in higher education: Perceptions and reality". Apparently the results were used in a Times Higher Education story headlined "Questions of cost and usefulness dog e-learning".

The comments on the article make better reading than the column itself; it is clear that the author put a very unusual spin on the research findings. The survey is actually focused on the use of lecture-capture technologies, a rather small part of 'e-learning' as a whole. Additionally, one thing that does come out very clearly in the survey is that e-learning is perceived as primarily providing a more flexible education. This is to be applauded. That e-learning is not seeing many lectures placed online is also to be applauded!

E-learning, 'pedagogy empowered by digital technology', is concerned with far more than making lectures available outside of class time. Indeed, using e-learning for an online lecture-repository lacks a certain imagination and pedagogical progressivism and betrays a class- or teacher-centric orientation. The survey correctly identified that e-learning is concerned with flexibility; it is also concerned with new ways of teaching and learning. Derek Rowntree, many of whose books adorn my distance education shelf, comments thus on the article:
Putting lectures online is scarcely e-learning. It's just a new way of delivering the old forms of mass communication. For e-learning to be worth bothering with it needs to be interactive: it may enable students to interact with learning materials, e.g. medical students may be diagnosing a patient, deciding on what tests to make, responding to the results given them from those tests, and so on. But effective, interactive e-learning is not dependent on materials and certainly does not require them to be presented online. Instead it can work by enabling students to engage in discussion with tutors and one another about what they are learning (even from materials presented in print) and to collaborate in carrying out group learning activities. By such means e-learning students may learn more from one another than they can in much of today's over-crowded face-to-face teaching.

Well said.

Friday, June 12, 2009

1.3.*; 5.*: Solid stuff on the future

The "Beyond Current Horizons" research programme was established to "examine how social and technological change overthe coming 20 or so years may present new challenges or opportunities for education". The Futurelab project has just released some interesting new insights into what the future may hold.

Usually I am skeptical of such reports, but there is a depth to the analysis in the "Beyond Current Horizons" work that stands it apart. The quality of the Expert Advisory Group demonstrates the level of expertise the project has drawn on, adding significant depth to the analysis and findings. The six proposed scenarios have not been merely brainstormed; rather, they have been carefully fashioned from the results of clearly documented evidence (over 60 papers written by experts, also available from the site).

The six potential futures (and their implications for education) are:

World 1: Trust yourself
  • Scenario 1: Informed choice - Learning is a bespoke, life-long journey that develops and builds upon your unique strengths. Educational providers work with you to tailor education to your needs.
  • Scenario 2: Independent consumers - Learning is an individual responsibility, educational providers are suppliers responsible for ensuring quality of delivery.

World 2: Loyalty points
  • Scenario 3: Discovery - Education helps you to understand and develop your capacity to make distinctive and useful contributions to a range of different communities, organisations and networks.
  • Scenario 4: Diagnosis - Education is about organisations diagnosing learners' pre-existing strengths and determining where they will fit in future.

World 3: Only connect
  • Scenario 5: Integrated experience - Learning is a process of participating in meaningful activities and developing competencies and knowledge to better contribute to the wider community.
  • Scenario 6: Service and citizenship - Education is a process of learning about the skills, competencies and roles that individuals play in the 'real world'.

The beauty of these scenarios is that they are realistic, discrete, and are not driven by any sense of technological determinism. There is plenty to muse on here, and plenty to study; the various papers I have scanned (such as "Learning to learn", "Digital natives and ostrich tactics?", "Reworking the web, reworking the world: How web 2.0 is changing our society", "Argumentation and dialogic teaching: Alternative pedagogies for a changing world") that inform the scenarios are all worthy of deep study in themselves. This study provides a good, substantial reference point that acknowledges the complexity of the issues involved as well as the fact that the future can often be anticipated but not pre-determined.

A must for anyone considering the potential futures of education wanting to engage with a serious consideration of the issues!

Monday, June 8, 2009

5.*: Mobile learning in higher education

An eBook, "New technologies, new pedagogies: Mobile learning in higher education", is available online from the University of Wollongong. The introduction explains that
While mobile technologies such as mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and digital music players (mp3 players) have permeated popular culture, they have not found widespread acceptance as pedagogical tools in higher education.

The eBook contains various exemplars associated with the use of PDAs and MP3 players in higher education, based on a project at the University. The project case studies aim to demonstrate how 'ubiquitous' mobile devices can be "legitimately" used in higher education. The project provides the following recommendations for using mobile devices in higher education:

  1. Real world relevance: Use mobile learning in authentic contexts
  2. Mobile contexts: Use mobile learning in contexts where learners are mobile
  3. Explore: Provide time for exploration of mobile technologies
  4. Blended: Blend mobile and non mobile technologies
  5. Whenever: Use mobile learning spontaneously
  6. Wherever: Use mobile learning in non traditional learning spaces
  7. Whomsoever: Use mobile learning both individually and collaboratively
  8. Affordances: Exploit the affordances of mobile technologies
  9. Personalise: Employ the learners’ own mobile devices
  10. Mediation: Use mobile learning to mediate knowledge construction.
  11. Produse: Use mobile learning to produce and consume knowledge.
I'm not certain of the absolute value of the principles however in my view the report is a good summary of where m-learning is 'at'. I have difficulty in leaping from 'mobile devices are ubiquitous' through to PDAs being used as the basis for experimentation and case study; this highlights one of the difficulties with m-learning, that of diversity of device. A standard mobile phone is a far cry from a fully featured PDA, and it is the latter that tends to be the backbone for most m-learning case studies. So the ubiquity argument does not, in my view, provide a sound reason for using m-devices in higher education. Many of the educational benefits are also somewhat marginal, which, for me, reveals a tension between wanting to use the devices and needing to use them for educational purposes.

So, the report is a good contribution to m-learning... but the concept is still, in my view, mired by a need to honestly answer the question, so what? Evaluations of (yet more) case studies are not what is needed; objective, control-comparison research is what is most needed in the field of m-learning. There is plenty of enthusiasm and creativity already at play. Where is the research focussing on comparative learning outcomes, rather than student experiences? Until m-learning advocates are able to take a more objective, more self-critical, less exploratory and longer-term approach to m-learning, I trust that little real progress will be made for others to sit up and take notice of. For a start I suggest a change in methodology, away from the case studies and action research projects that dominate this field, more toward large-scale and cognitively comparable results.

Most of the cases I have reviewed for the next E-Primer have student samples of about ten, with provided PDA devices... hardly a representative or transferable set of studies. This is a real problem, one that will hinder the serious uptake of mobile devices in further education.