Virtual Learning Worlds — Where are we Headed?

Virtual Learning Worlds — Where are we Headed?

A colleague of mine, Bart Pursel, has an interesting blog site that he has been working on related to what he calls, “Virtual Learning Worlds.” His concept is that the same engines that power today’s most popular games can be essentially re-skinned for education and training purposes. He is clearly onto something. If you have some time, jump over and take a look at some of his postings.

He has been pushing us to add principles of game theory to our courses and tools over the last couple of years and we’ve finally started doing just that. This Fall we’ll be rolling out a new eLearning course that is supported heavily be small interactive exercises that take game theory into consideration. Our hope is that students not only use the materials to acquire knowledge, but then spend a larger amount of time interacting with the material because it is designed as a game. When its all said and done, I think we’ll find that student retention goes up and that their overall levels of satisfaction and motivation will rise as well. We’ll be looking at it in a couple of classes to see what its really all about.

When you take the syllabus as the hub to your digital teaching and learning life concept and extend it with the ability to send students directly into engaging simulations and other game-based interactions you can start to do some very interesting things. For example, let’s say there is a simple game-based simulation that students must interact with to solidify a certain set of skills we hope they acquire … the idea would be to allow them to “play” the game over and over to practice and ultimately assess their learning. If all the students are using this same interaction on a regular basis, you can begin to pull the high scores out and list the top five students every week on the syllabus. I know for a fact it would motivate students to strive for higher scores and ultimately greater mastery of the skill set. There is so much work to be done in this space and when you start to pull it all together you begin to see how powerful a mix of all these ideas can have–>

Hub to your Digital Teaching & Learning Life

Hub to your Digital Teaching & Learning Life

Most LMS and CMS tools have the same basic layout … they focus their interface efforts on the folder tab metaphor, or even an old-school CBT main menu structure. These interfaces seem to get worse with every new feature as new tabs, or silly icons must be added to every student’s learning space. One of the tabs is always a syllabus tab … where students are supposed to go in and see their, you guessed it, syllabus. Now, I remember going to high school and even college before the Internet was such a part of the educational experience and I always got a syllabus handed to me the first day of class — and I promptly stuffed it into my notebook.

We all understand the perceived importance of the syllabus — from a teaching perspective; it gives teachers a location to centrally announce what we plan to do over the course of a semester. As a student, it is the spot where we first learn about what is expected of us, when things are due, and all sorts of other procedural stuff. The Internet has not changed our need to produce a paper-based syllabus that articulates the goals and expected outcomes of the course. I am asked every semester to turn in a copy of my syllabus for review at the College level and we as faculty are bound by policy to provide our students with one.

Back to the CMS/LMS model … in the world of teaching with technology we have a few choices, we can use Word (or whatever tool) to produce a syllabus that is suitable for print and then move it online as a PDF, or as a static html document. We can also fight our way through the standard tools inside the LMS/CMS our University or College uses … again, building a static version of the syllabus. We then use all sorts of other tools inside the CMS like the calendar to set up due dates, meeting times, and more … like the email tool to send messages to students, cancel class, and collect feedback … a grading tool to provide secure acces to grades and so on. All of these tools are disconnected across the multitude of tabs or within depths of menus that must be navigated.

LMS Menu
The syllabus should be the hub to your digital teaching and learning life.

I am so sick of the tools available to make my teaching life better and I know my students are sick of these same tools as they use them to access information and submit work. You can’t do anything without five or six clicks though poorly structured menus and tabs. Why is it that EVERY class starts with a syllabus and it then becomes the ignored part of the learning experience? Why not make the syllabus the CMS? Why not make the syllabus the central place that students visit everyday to find out what is going on? Why type something in Word — or even DreamWeaver — and then have to retype, print (or PDF), and hand it out again next semester when information technology can change this?

I have maintained for some time now that the syllabus shouldn’t just be typed up and stuffed in a student’s notebook. It should actually replace all those tabs and menus of the CMS … students should just be able to visit a living portal into your class via their syllabus. From there, once logged in, they should be able to see what is going on, read dynamic announcements, communicate with their peers and faculty via email, respond to posts, blog, assess individual and team behavior, connect to readings, assignments, exams, and whatever other resources I choose to assign them to. If we build a hub that allows students to visit one location and link to everything from there and make it a meaningful experience, then we can shatter the typical CMS/LMS paradigm and get on with teaching and learning instead of fighting with technology.

This is just the start of all this … within the year, we’ll have built a syllabus tool that not only does everything listed above, but also intelligently looks at student behavior and begins to work with them. It will pull the best and most read posts to the top, calculate scores and provide students with dynamic feedback, and create reasons why they will want to visit it everyday … the syllabus will become as much of a destination as it is a resource. They will begin to see it the hub to their learning community — when that happens we all win–>

Listen Up! The iPod Can Change Grading

Listen Up! The iPod Can Change Grading

For the last three years I have been an iPod user. When I got my first 5 GB iPod as a Christmas gift a few years back I really thought it was a nice, cool device that gave me a first class MP3 player … what I ended up discovering was that the iPod could enable a whole lot more than just listening to playlists. What does this have to do with grading?

I teach primarily using a hybrid, or blended, approach. In other words, I use the Internet as a huge part of my resident teaching and I don’t usually require students to be in class every week … instead I use computer mediated communication (CMC) technologies, like the PSU ANGEL CMS , or the new features of our own software, Edison Services to assign readings, gather feedback, and discuss things. This usually saves time, but in the last several semesters my classes have become much larger (around 60 students) … the students love the freedom to not be cooped up in class getting the “death by Keynote” treatment from me and it makes the times we do meet much more interactive and engaging.

One of the types of CMC activities I use are called Discussion Activities (DAs). DAs are short, open ended, read and respond style questions that every student in class must answer. There is one DA every week that must be responded to in the ANGEL CMS space. Now, when we came up with the DA concept, class sizes were more in the 25 range. It is very easy to read and grade 25 DAs in a week, provide feedback, and post grades but it is impossible to do the same thing with 50 or more students. What ends up happening is that I just turn the whole process over to a TA and students end up getting very late and unispired feedback.

This is where the iPod comes in. The newer iPods have a feature that we think can turn it into a very powerful assessment tool — ratings. I’ve been talking about the concept of one-click assessment for over two years now. One-click assessment will allow faculty to generate a rubric and assign a simple five star rating system to it. The technology figures out the percentages on the fly and it really streamlines the whole assessment process. Now, imagine having a simple app that would automatically turn text files into mp3 files, drop them into an iTunes library on the fly, and sync them to your iPod. Faculty could simply listen to responses and using the built in ratings system, perform simple one-click assessment on each. When the iPod is plugged back into the computer the files are updated with the ratings in place on the faculty’s machine. Again, a simple script would send the feedback to students instantly via Edison Services. I’ve tested it and it saves me a ton of time in grading DAs.

iPod Grading
Add a mic to your iPod and you can even send audio feedback files to students. The whole idea is to close the gap between students turning in work and providing them with feedback. I’ll be doing this and a lot more in my IST 110 class this fall. Its going to be fun and I think it will yield some interesting results–>

IM Me

IM Me

So I’ve been doing quite a bit more with IM technology lately … as an avid Mac user, I should be clear, I use iChat. I have an iSight camera that I carry with me everywhere and it has come in handy for quite a bit of stuff. The other day I had a guest lecture in my PGSIT class I teach … he was so good that I fired up the iSight and invited people from my staff to listen to what he was saying. They ended up coming to the classroom and participating in the discussion. That’s not really a big deal, but it has gotten me thinking about how cool the whole AV IM thing really is.

Another story … I do some work with Apple as the lead of Penn State’s Apple Digital Campus project … this means I get to visit Apple a couple times a year. Something very cool happened the last time I was there — everyone in the room (about 20) had a PowerBook and wireless Internet. Everyone also had their iChat up and running. What’s cool is that Apple has a zero config network setup in iChat that finds other iChat members within your subnet … which means I could “see” everyone in the room. What I found amazing was how there were sometimes three or four IMs flying at me from people I had barely met … asking me to pose questions, offering insight, and just talking about what Apple was talking about. For the first time I started thinking that IM is not just a toy, but a VERY powerful business tool.

Since that trip I’ve required my staff to have their IM clients open and their screen names shared so we can communicate more quickly. Gues what — it actually helps productivity.

So, naturally, I thought I’d start to let my students have their IM clients open during class and it is helping as well. I’ve stopped getting pissed about them doing that and engaging them more and more via the technology. They hand in assignments — its faster than the network — pose questions, respond to polls, and send me presentation files that we can instantly look at in front of the class. Very cool and the students really do like it. I’m teaching again this fall and I am going to use it even more … I am going to ask them what the uses are for it and see if we can’t get an agenda together to look at real functional applications for the technology in and out of the classroom. By the way, IM me at workercole.

More on this later–>

Innovation in eLearning and Educational Product Design: The Story of the IST Solutions Institute

Innovation in eLearning and Educational Product Design: The Story of the IST Solutions Institute

Cole W. Camplese
Kristin Z. Camplese
March 13, 2003

Abstract

As a pioneer in developing and deploying innovative curricula in Information Sciences and Technology (IST), the IST Solutions Institute is proud and committed to share the story of our Education and Training Team. In 1999, the School of Information Sciences and Technology at The Pennsylvania State University opened its doors dedicated to the creation of leaders for a global, digital society. As part of our mission, curricular sharing and technology innovation are core success factors. To this end, the IST Solutions Institute was created to meet the challenges associated with this innovative goal.

As the creative center of the School of IST, the Solutions Institute serves as the primary outreach arm through its innovative, media-rich eLearning products and services, information technology research, and student-centered solutions. The IST Solutions Institute’s core areas of specialization include content and process management, Instructional Systems Design as applied to eLearning, and multimedia and visual design, authoring, and application development. Our organization is committed to solid pedagogy, quality products, creativity, and lifelong learning.

Our core initiative, Online IST, sets the Institute apart as the leading developer of integrated eLearning opportunities. Based on a custom instructional design and development methodology, the Online IST project has reached over 5000 students in the last two years. The entire online curriculum is supported by the Digital Design Document (D3), a custom, database-driven content management tool that facilitates content creation, collection, instructional design, team-based collaboration for designers and developers, and flexible course publishing.

The Online IST courses are created based on a custom, four-tier instructional design model. A seven-person team within the IST Solutions Institute manages all facets of Online IST design, development, delivery, and support. The design process is a highly collaborative one that integrates all team members and faculty/corporate subject matter experts. The Institute team has reduced design and development time to six months per course because of this innovative approach. In addition to the online course materials, the team is responsible for several complimentary components that serve to extend and support the reach of Online IST. These include the IST Solutions Exchange — a centralized web-based resource for students and faculty, Edison’s Services — a suite of set-up and management tools for students and faculty, the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for Information Technology — a program for talented high school students, and the IST Faculty Academy — an annual conference dedicated to teaching and learning with technology.

All of the initiatives have been widely used throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In addition to the 19 location PSU Commonwealth Campus System, the Solutions Institute has delivered Online IST courses to educational partners who cannot adequately support an IST curriculum at their location. In addition, because of our close placement to corporate clients, the Institute has created many industry partnerships related to Online IST. Many of these projects have allowed us to validate the custom Instructional Design and Development model with high-level industry training courses.

The strategic direction of the IST Solutions Institute for years 2003-2005 is related to broader dissemination and revision of the Online IST curriculum, increasing the flexibility of delivery opportunities, and refining and extending the capabilities of the D3 content management system. In order to disseminate the Online IST curriculum to wider audiences, the Institute is engaged in creating licensing models that will provide other learning institutions and corporations with the high level learning topics in support of their learning objectives.

Background

As a pioneer in developing and deploying innovative curricula in Information Sciences and Technology (IST), the IST Solutions Institute is proud and committed to share the story of our Education and Training Team. In 1999, the School of Information Sciences and Technology at The Pennsylvania State University opened its doors dedicated to the creation of leaders for a global, digital society. As part of our mission, curricular sharing and technology innovation are core success factors. To this end, the IST Solutions Institute was created to meet the challenges associated with this innovative goal.

As the creative center of the School of IST, the Solutions Institute serves as the primary outreach arm through its innovative, media-rich eLearning products and services, information technology research, and student-centered solutions. Our positioning is unique to all of higher education; we are placed squarely between the School of IST and the corporate sector. This positioning allows the Institute to utilize the thought leadership of the university and apply it to real world challenges associated with industry. Because of this, we are afforded extensive opportunities for corporate partnerships, collaborative projects, and applied research initiatives. The Institute has become a leading applied research and development organization focusing on solutions for technology-assisted education and training challenges. This effort was recently recognized with the IST Innovators Award, presented by the students of the School of IST.

To learn more about the School of IST, please visit: http://ist.psu.edu . To learn more about the IST Solutions Institute in general, please visit: http://solutions.ist.psu.edu .

The Online IST Project

Our core initiative, Online IST, sets the Institute apart as the leading developer of integrated eLearning opportunities. Based on a custom instructional design and development methodology developed by the Co-Director of the Institute, Cole Camplese, the Online IST project has reached over 5000 students in the last two years. The entire online curriculum is supported by the Digital Design Document (D3), a custom, database-driven content management tool that facilitates content creation, collection, instructional design, team-based collaboration for designers and developers, and flexible course publishing. The goals of the Online IST project include:

  • Maintaining teaching and learning as the number one priority, regardless of delivery medium.
  • The extension of a problem-based learning approach for the curriculum that focuses on solutions and outcomes to real world problems (Solutions-Based Learning).
  • Development of a modular, scalable, reusable, and relevant curricular core.
  • Development of content management tools, processes, and teams to oversee the storage and maintenance of our curricular knowledge objects.
  • Integration of faculty and industry thought leaders in a collaborative design process that ensures broad-based coverage of relevant IST topics.
  • Providing centralized support to the 19 campus IST Commonwealth System through curricular integration and flexibility (i.e. materials used as full package or as supplemental material).
  • Providing the content baseline for IST core courses supplemented with extensive rich media.
  • Sharing the fully developed curriculum with educational and industry partners.

Currently, there are five fully developed Online IST courses. For a full listing of the courses and links to course demos, please visit:
http://solutions.ist.psu.edu/exchange/online_ist/courses/index.html

A typical Online IST course contains six hundred screens of instruction tied together through a custom Course Content Interface that organizes all materials for students. Within the course, there are, on average, 10-15 online topics of instruction, 2-3 real world problem activities, 5 virtual lab activities, and instructor and student guides (entitled “Roadmaps”). Because they are managed in the D3 system, these discrete components can be “mixed and matched” to create custom offerings due to the modular design. To break this down further, the online library currently contains 2663 screens of instruction, 670 graphics, and 147 high-level, Macromedia Flash-based interactive exercises and animations. To view samples of graphics and interactive exercises, please visit our Media Showcase at: http://solutions.ist.psu.edu/exchange/online_ist/showcase . In short, the Online IST library is a criterion-referenced, highly comprehensive, interactive, and instantly accessible web-based resource that can be made available to allow instructors to create their own IT courses based on their specific learning goals.

In general, Online IST courses are adopted by individual faculty members and delivered to students at either the University Park or Commonwealth Campus location. To date, over 170 course sections of Online IST have been delivered by approximately fifty IST faculty members. Traditionally, faculty members have resisted usage of online or technology-based learning opportunities as course replacements. The adoption of Online IST has been effective in removing this traditional stereotype because of our focus on teaching, learning, and support.

The Online IST courses are created based on a custom, four-tier instructional design model. A seven-person team within the IST Solutions Institute manages all facets of Online IST design, development, delivery, and support. The design process is a highly collaborative one that integrates all team members and faculty/corporate subject matter experts. The Institute team has reduced design and development time to six months per course because of this innovative approach. In addition to the online course materials, the team has designed several complimentary components that serve to extend and support the reach of Online IST. Some of these include:

  • The IST Solutions Exchange is the central starting point for both students and faculty for all Online IST learning opportunities. All of the opportunities below are integrated within the IST Solutions Exchange. Available at: http://solutions.ist.psu.edu/exchange
  • Edison’s Toolbox and Services are custom registration and support tools that empower PSU faculty in the delivery of Online IST courses and students with personalized support components. In Edison Services, accounts can be created for users external to the PSU authentication system. Available at: http://online.ist.psu.edu/Edison/index.cfm
  • The Online IST Problems Library is a problem-based learning repository that provides faculty and students with direct access to the ever-growing library of Online IST real world problem assignments. The goal of the Problems Library is to increase a faculty member’s flexibility with regard to usage of problem-based activities in the classroom. Available at: http://solutions.ist.psu.edu/exchange/online_ist/problems/index.html
  • The Online IST Print Library provides printable versions of Online IST Topic Packs to faculty and students. These Topic Packs are generated by the D3 System to provide easy access when users cannot be connected to a computer. Available at: http://solutions.ist.psu.edu/exchange/online_ist/print/index.html
  • Solutions-Based Learning Live is an “always on” streaming channel designed to distribute guest lectures of visiting professors and industry experts to a geographically-dispersed audience. Available at: http://solutions.ist.psu.edu/exchange/innovation/sbl_live/index.html
  • The IST Expert Exchange is a community of users committed to providing answers to IST-related questions. This community consists of over 75 leading experts, as well as the IST faculty and student body. Available at: http://expert.ist.psu.edu

All of the initiatives have been widely used throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In addition to the PSU Commonwealth Campus System, the Solutions Institute has delivered Online IST courses to partners who cannot adequately support an IST curriculum at their location. Some of these course-sharing partnerships have involved:

  • Juniata College, a small rural private college
  • Holy Family College, a small urban, non-traditional college
  • Cheney State University, a Historically Black College and University in a suburban setting
  • State College Area School District, a large school district in central Pennsylvania.

In addition, the Online IST courses are shared with the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for Information Technology. This program, supported by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, brings 75 of the top high school juniors to PSU for a five-week, intensive residency program in the summer. Designed and delivered by the IST Solutions Institute, this program focuses on solving relevant, real world information technology challenges using modular components of the Online IST learning repository. To review last year’s challenge, please visit: http://solutions.ist.psu.edu/exchange/pgsit/

Because of our close placement to corporate clients, the Institute has created many industry partnerships related to Online IST. Many of these projects have allowed us to validate the custom Instructional Design and Development model with high-level industry training courses. Three examples include:

  • Infinity I/O (II/O): II/O is the leading provider of Storage Area Network training content. By combining the Online IST tools and methodologies with II/O content, a new standard for online training has been established.
  • Lockheed Martin Material and Data Services: The IST Solutions Institute created the world’s only Level 5 CMMI (Competency Maturity Model Integrated) interactive training course. This course is delivered to approximately 8000 Lockheed Martin employees.
  • IBM: The IST Solutions Institute has partnered with IBM to provide NetDB2, a web-based database manipulation tool that allows students to query data without a client application, to all IST students and faculty in the Online IST 210 course (Organization of Data).

Organizational Growth

The strategic direction of the IST Solutions Institute for years 2003-2005 is related to broader dissemination and revision of the Online IST curriculum, increasing the flexibility of delivery opportunities, and refining and extending the capabilities of the D3 content management system. In order to disseminate the Online IST curriculum to wider audiences, the Institute is engaged in creating licensing models that will provide other learning institutions and corporations with the high level learning topics in support of their learning objectives. Learn more by visiting: http://solutions.ist.psu.edu/license/topics/index.html .

Based on the knowledge we have gained in the last three years, the Institute has made the decision to provide faculty with online tools from Edison Services that empower the creation of individualized learning environments using the Online IST learning repository. A major focus of this effort will be on building easy and intuitive user interfaces with multimedia and graphical elements to streamline the creation of learning environments. The courses and learning objects are also under a constant revision process with plans for a new Course Content Interface, as well as new versions of all courses beginning in Fall 2003.

Furthermore, the Institute will be extending the D3 System to work more closely with emerging content repository standards. These standards will allow the Institute to effectively distribute our pre-designed knowledge objects for broad-based adoption. This move will allow the Institute to engage in a true “e2e” (education to education) distribution model.

The IST Solutions Institute is slated to move into a new, state of the art building in Fall 2003. This facility has been designed to create a “living value chain” that optimizes the research, development, and dissemination of our applied solutions. It will also allow for human resource growth in the areas of data and database management and client relationship management. By hiring other key personnel to expand our team, the Institute will be able to enhance the creativity of our solutions and bring them to life in more powerful ways. Other planned growth activities include visiting faculty members every semester to engage in scholarly activity, corporate sponsorships to create research clusters around key initiatives, and expanding the technology infrastructure to support our activities.

Core Competencies

The major disciplines and technical areas that the IST Solutions Institute specializes in are:

  • Content and Process Management: The foundation of the Institute’s initiatives are built on our custom design and development model using the D3 System. These models are based on proven instructional systems design models merged with product development theory. There is a synergistic relationship between our process and technology tools. It is a distinguishing characteristic of the Institute that our content management initiatives have been in place for nearly four years and are used in an actual production environment.
  • Instructional Systems Design as applied to eLearning: Our team’s experience is rooted in Instructional Systems Design theory. We have applied this knowledge to create “best in breed” eLearning solutions that meet the learning needs of students and provide a solid teaching basis for faculty. In addition, Instructional Technology Specialists within the Institute ensure that media is used to target multiple learning styles based on course learning goals.
  • Multimedia and Visual Design, Authoring, and Application Development: The IST Solutions Institute has a unique ability to bring its technology solutions to life using creative design techniques. Our learning repository is filled with interactive activities that extend the thought leadership of the content. Without these media elements, it would be impossible to capture the attention of our primary audiences. All of the initiatives related to Online IST are managed using web applications for authentication, delivery, and communication.

Teaching, Learning, and Creative Expression

Teaching, learning, and creative expression are core to the IST Solutions Institute mission. These elements form the foundation on which all projects are based. The obvious focus on teaching and learning occurs within the Online IST curriculum. Unique, problem-based learning models ensure that students are engaged in motivating, real world scenarios. In addition, student and faculty evaluation allow us to constantly improve the learning environments, as well as to research emerging trends and best practices for online learning. In support of this, the Institute manages and delivers an annual statewide conference, the IST Faculty Academy, which focuses on teaching and learning with technology within the “K-20” environment. For more information, please visit: http://pafaculty.org/ .

Fostering creative thinking is critical to the overall success of the IST Solutions Institute. To this end, team members are encouraged to engage in “design experiments” several times per year. These experiments allow members of the Institute the creative space to envision new solutions without the constraints of project timelines. Many of these design experiments make their way into actual projects delivered to both internal and external audiences. The only requirement of the design experiment is documentation and presentation of results to the entire team.

Furthermore, a focus on lifelong learning is required of the Institute team. Professional development funds are made available to support ongoing research and learning by the team. Penn State University also encourages lifelong learning by providing a 75% tuition reimbursement to all university employees. This allows our team to engage in higher level learning opportunities, including masters and doctoral degrees. Externally, our advisory board and corporate partners provide the Institute with learning opportunities and insight into real world processes, technologies, and challenges.

Although we pride ourselves on our ability to compete in the corporate sector, the IST Solutions Institute’s work is grounded in the spirit of higher education. Our direct ties to an academic department provide the underpinnings of teaching, learning, research, and service for all of our initiatives. While our production capabilities rival those in business, our main focus will always be on improving teaching and learning and creatively advancing our field.

Online IST: A Quick Project Overview

Online IST: A Quick Project Overview

Kristin Camplese
October 25, 2002

“The overarching goal of Penn State’s School of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) is to pursue an agenda that focuses on the theoretical, application-oriented, and educational issues facing a digital global economy. Our research focuses on building an understanding of how information and technology fundamentally impact (and are impacted by) people, organizations, and the world community. The teaching and learning environments we offer are designed to build leaders for a rapidly evolving information-driven world. Because of the seriousness of technology demands faced by business, industry, and government, Penn State’s School of IST has moved aggressively on a broad front. One of the keys to these efforts was the development of the IST Solutions Institute (SI), an administrative arm of the school that is the driver of higher education institutional cooperation, knowledge transfer, and educational program development and delivery.” (School of IST, http://ist.psu.edu)

A primary focus of the Institute is the Online IST Project, which began in October 1999. The project presented a unique challenge: to create an online, problem-based, real-world, modular, reusable curriculum for the School of Information Sciences and Technology. One of the biggest challenges would be to flesh out a problem-based, online instructional design model that meshed with other unique, market-driven needs.

What has evolved through our team process is called “Solutions-Based Learning” — a real world model that focuses on teaching and learning within a business-oriented, team-driven process. Solutions-Based Learning not only focuses on students finding solutions to real world problems; it is a solution to the many high level learning needs that universities and schools have today. Solutions-Based Learning relies on presenting students with a real-world problem at the beginning of an instructional module. Within that module, topics support both the traditional instruction, as well as the problem-solving activity. As the students work through the content, they are not only gathering information for the problem solving process, they are participating in traditional online activities such as reading and collecting information in a hypertext fashion, discussing the content with students and facilitators in online bulletin boards, and interacting with multimedia exercises and streaming video events that enhance the content.

The Solutions-Based Learning and Online IST approach transforms the way in which courses are created, managed, accessed, and evaluated. It is innovative in three ways.

1. Online IST modules allow rapid configuration and tailoring of educational material –

Online IST courses are developed in a modular fashion by a team of faculty content specialists, instructional designers, and multimedia experts in the IST Solutions Institute. The School of IST has access to approximately 100 faculty in the information sciences. This enables the SI team to provide the most up-to-date content in information technology. Currently, there are four fully online courses: IST 110: Introduction to Information Sciences and Technology, IST 210: Organization of Data, IST 220: Networking and Telecommunications, and IST 250: New Media and the Web.

2. Delivery via the World Wide Web provides portability and anytime, any place access –

The Online IST courses are delivered through the World Wide Web. Teachers and students can access course content, multimedia exercises, live streaming video events, and lab activities through a simple web browser. In addition, they can communicate with members of their virtual class through synchronous and asynchronous communication tools. The “portability” of the courses enables learning to take place at any location in a “just in time” fashion. Both teachers and students can access the materials 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in any location. In this model, the expertise of the teacher is augmented by instant teacher and student access to a fully designed IT curriculum.

3. Interactive, problem-based courses increase student and teacher skills –

Learning gains are accomplished through activities and media including: team-based, real world problems, multimedia-based interactive exercises, online asynchronous and synchronous communication, and virtual lab activities. The resulting courses focus on developing students capable of understanding the theory, practice, and problem solving of IT. Real world problems are designed by faculty and industry experts in conjunction with Solutions Institute instructional designers to ensure that the problems are challenging, motivating, and aligned with course learning goals. Through these activities, students develop their oral and written presentation skills, professionalism skills, and research skills.

Since the project’s inception, experts within the IST Solutions Institute have designed, developed, and implemented four core online undergraduate courses. In approximately two years since the first course was finalized, approximately 100 sections with 5100 students around the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have utilized these courses.

The eight-person SI team responsible for the Online IST project is comprised of instructional designers, multimedia and graphics specialists, faculty development specialists, and project managers. Team members work directly with IST faculty members to create and constantly evaluate and improve the innovative Online IST courses. The director of the Online IST Project, Cole Camplese, has an extensive background in online education for both educational and corporate audiences. The Solutions Institute was recently awarded the IST Innovation Award by the students of the School for its groundbreaking work on the Online IST curriculum.

Alignment and Integration of e-Learning Support Mechanisms in Online IST

Alignment and Integration of e-Learning Support Mechanisms in Online IST

Cole Camplese, Director, Education and Training Solutions
Kristin Camplese, Manager, Instructional Design and Research

April 7, 2001

Abstract

An e-Learning course is only as good as the support that is provided to both students and instructors. The School of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) at Penn State University has focused heavily on aligning e-Learning support mechanisms. The approach has been to provide integrated faculty development, student development, and print documentation in the form of the “Roadmap.” This presentation will provide an overview of the Online IST curriculum and detail the support mechanisms that have been pivotal to the success of this e-Learning initiative.

Online IST Background

The Penn State School of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) formally opened in 1999 to develop leaders for the emerging e-world—professionals who put technology to work in any setting, whether it is business or social service, government, or education. Within the School, the Solutions Institute has been responsible for the translation of this innovative curriculum to an online world. The Online IST Curriculum was made real in the fall of 2000 when IST 110, An Introduction to Information Sciences and Technology, was delivered to a Penn State University IST audience. Since this initial roll out, approximately one additional course has gone online every semester. Future plans include online courses for the full undergraduate core and courses for the Professional Masters degree.

Online IST courses are built through a collaborative effort with thought-leaders in information sciences and technology, corporate partners and an experienced instructional design team. All of the courses are founded on the basic principles of Problem Based Learning, where students learn through solving real-world problems in cooperation with course materials, external research and team-based interaction. The courses are designed to be total packages—that is, they are designed from start to finish and can be taught with no additional design effort from faculty, if they so choose.

The Support Problem

As IST began to roll out online course offerings, we immediately realized that — no matter how good the online curriculum was — we needed the support and backing of IST faculty and students. In order to gain this, we needed to support them in their efforts to disseminate the online courses. Faculty members were excited about the new approach, but most had little experience implementing a course like this from both a technological and pedagogical perspective. They needed tools and information to help them in their quests to deliver our courses online. In addition, few, if any, students had experience in an online, problem-based course. The Institute needed to be able to provide teaching, learning, and administrative/ technological support in order to ensure widespread adoption of the courses. Beyond the instructional and technological issues, we had to be prepared to deal with the many change management and institutional issues that are always at the core of information technology projects.

The Support Solution

The support solutions that were envisioned considered all of our various stakeholders: faculty, students, administration, and staff/team members. We also realized that some of the support issues were really marketing issues in disguise. This meant we needed to create positive public relations through marketing materials. Some of these included “online course trailers” which introduced the courses as “coming attractions.” As part of this, a “customer support line” was also established. In short, we had to treat this like a business. However, teaching and learning could not be sacrificed.

Online IST Support Mechanisms

Several support pieces evolved as the delivery of the Online IST Curriculum continued. The Course Roadmap is the most important piece of the offering. The Roadmap is a printed manual (usually about 100 pages long) that walks both faculty and students through the course. It includes information about all course activities, grading rubrics, assignment checklists, technical set up, problem descriptions, and strategies for success in the course. Students are told “all of the answers to their questions are in the Roadmap.” The expectation is that they should consult that document before they go anywhere else. The document is the first line of support and has a nice byproduct—its comprehensive nature reduces the load on faculty members who are generally forced to answer hundreds of emails regarding the same course issues.

Faculty Development is the second key piece of our support puzzle. In anticipation of each semester, a faculty development session is held to prepare instructors both from a technical and learning perspective. In addition, the Solutions Institute holds the Faculty Academy (http://www.pafaculty.org), which is an event that helps teachers integrate technology into their classrooms. Special sessions at this event focus on Online IST.

Student Development is also important to the Online IST Support effort. The courses are designed to focus the first two to three sessions solely on course familiarization and team building. Called Module Zero and repeated in all online IST courses, these sessions go a long way in preparing students for the expectations of the course and help them immensely with team issues.

The final piece of the support effort is the Online IST Support Specialist whose main job is the support of both faculty and students in the online courses. The Support Specialist is also responsible for maintaining the online Solutions Support Suite, which includes many set up and support resources, as well as just in time training, and contact information on the web.

Beyond Support…

The alignment of these support mechanisms is also a very important idea to consider.

Alignment with Marketing: Along with the actual support events and sites, we provide marketing material to get faculty and students excited about upcoming learning opportunities. The Course Trailers that were referred to previously have been core to this effort.

Alignment with Administration and Curricular Goals: From the beginning of this effort, our Dean and administrative leadership have been in full support of the curriculum and its approach. Faculty and students are encouraged to get involved in the courses, and materials are freely available to the IST community. This support and institutional transformation enables high-level, high-energy, creative work and education.

Alignment with Design and Development Team: Our Instructional Design and Development Team within the Solutions Institute is a highly motivated and talented team. We have a shared vision of creating online learning that is educationally sound, practical, “implementable,” and fully supported for both faculty and students. Without this type of team alignment, our courses could not be successful.

Lessons Learned

We have begun to distill our experiences regarding support into a few “lessons learned.” To summarize:

  • Faculty and students do not want to feel disconnected.
  • Importance of “physical” support pieces (Paper!)
  • Importance of availability (Phone, IM, E-Mail)
  • Importance of some face to face contact (Hybrid Approach)
  • Faculty and students do not have a lot of experience in these types of learning models.
  • Importance of support before the course begins
  • Even with the “perfect” interfaces and ID models, they will still need support!
  • Remember it is a change management issue as well.
  • Technology always brings out the need for support
  • Be prepared to support your users’ technology needs or find someone who will.

The Bottom Line

The Solutions Institute approach has placed faculty and student support at the heart of every instructional design and development project. In addition, support specialists are valued members of every instructional design team. Ignoring the human element in these projects is the first step toward non-adoption. And without adoption, very few projects are successful.

Solutions Based Learning Model: A Model for Online Education and Beyond

Solutions Based Learning Model: A Model for Online Education and Beyond

September 11, 2000
Kristin & Cole Camplese

Author’s Note: This white paper was written in 2000. The overarching model for Solutions-Based Learning is largely the same, however (as with technology and eLearning in general) it has evolved and our perceptions on some activities have changed.

The History of Solutions-Based Learning (SBL)

A unique challenge was presented to the IST Solutions Institute in the Fall of 1999: to create an online, problem-based, real-world, modular, reusable curriculum for the new School of Information Sciences and Technology. In addition, these courses could not spend years in development. There was a big need to roll them out quickly in order to prove that IST was an asset to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Another slight complication was the fact that this technology-based curriculum would be changing very rapidly—a content management strategy would be imperative. In addition, it would be very difficult to take time from our traditional, tenure-track faculty because they are so inundated with getting the resident curriculum up and running. The online courses would also have to be used in many different delivery methods: hybrid delivery (mostly online, but some face to face sessions) for resident students, asynchronous delivery for resident students and rolling enrollment, and “pre-packaged” delivery for other institutions.

The Education and Training Solutions group within the Institute would be responsible for this initiative. Just to create an online course is a challenge—few people have done it well to date. In addition, adding a problem-based layer in a distant setting would be another layer to the challenge. All of this had to be accomplished in a way that allowed us to roll out courses quickly and reuse/repurpose content in a modular fashion. Many challenges to say the least.

One of the biggest challenges has been to flesh out a problem-based, online instructional design model that meshes with all of our other unique, market-driven needs. What has evolved through our team process seemed to take some of the best elements of many approaches and combine them in a way that has allowed us to make our online curriculum a reality. It is not problem-based learning in its truest fashion. It is Solutions-Based Learning—a real world model that focuses on teaching and learning within a business-oriented, team-driven process. Solutions-Based Learning not only focuses on students finding solutions to real world problems; it is a solution to the many instructional design challenges that universities and schools face today.

Student Need

First of all, I feel it is important to state the educational mission of the School of Information Sciences and Technology. We are striving to create leaders for our new, information and technology-driven society.

Technology is no longer its “own” field; indeed it crosses the boundary of every single domain that exists today. It used to be that a computer science program was the way to educate students desiring a computer-related degree. But now, however, we see every field being impacted by technology. It is not only impacting the person at work, though. Every use of technology has a social impact on an individual’s daily life.

  • Nurses use intranet systems to manage patient care… Patients use internet systems to manage their own care.
  • Libraries maintain their collections through powerful information processing systems… Students of all ages do research for learning, or for pleasure, using those systems.
  • Large retailers maintain their storefronts on database systems accessible through the world wide web… consumers purchase goods by accessing these systems.
  • Online investing systems allow trading without a stockbroker … What do stock brokers do now?

Many of these systems have been in place for quite some time. However, accessibility to the systems because of networks has eliminated the “middle man” in many cases. Not only do students in our curriculum need to understand the fundamentals behind the systems; they need to understand the impact that the systems can have on society and in business. As in the stockbroker example above, our students need to recognize that entire fields and jobs are being redesigned to deal with technology. Now a stockbroker needs to add value to his customers’ buying process because of the ease of trading online. Our students need to see these impacts and be able to analyze them.

So, we are not only giving students the fundamentals to understand the systems, but we are giving them the problem-solving, analytical mentality to understand how these systems impact business and society. We need to train students to be able to work in diverse teams that allow them to have a taste of the real world. In addition, we need to assist them in problem solving as individuals. Most problem solving activities have both group and individual learning components.

Overview of Solutions-Based Learning

Solutions-Based Learning relies on presenting students with a real-world problem or case study at the beginning of an instructional module. Within that module, topics (and lessons that make up those topics) support both the traditional instruction, as well as the problem-solving activity.

IST 110 Course Structure

Modules = Groupings of content topics.
Topics = Groupings of related lessons.
Lessons = Groupings of related content pages.

As the students work through the traditional content, they are not only gathering information for the problem solving process, they are participating in traditional online activities such as reading, responding to discussion questions which are posted to the online bulletin board, and interacting with multimedia exercises which enhance the content.

Comparison to Traditional PBL

This is a difficult piece to write because there is much confusion around what problem-based learning (PBL) really is. Everyone has his or her own view about what it must include and how it must be included. In a review of problem-based learning literature in medical education, it was stated that:

The basic outline of the problem-based learning process is: encountering the problem first, problem-solving with clinical reasoning skills and identifying learning needs in and interactive process, self study, applying newly gained knowledge to the problem, and summarizing what has been learned. (Barrows 1985, p. 15)

Wilkerson and Feletti state that it is crucial that “the problem raise compelling issues for new learning and that students have an opportunity to become actively involved with appropriate feedback and corrective assistance from faculty members.” (Wilkerson and Feletti 1989, p. 53)

Many people have many different views about what PBL is or is not. However, the following concepts are generally held to be true. PBL:

  • Relies on a real world, authentic problem presented up front to students.
  • Is facilitated by an instructor. The instructor must “guide, probe, and support student initiatives” not just purely lecture or operate as a “sage on the stage.” (Kaufman et al 1989, p. 286)
  • Is generally considered to be collaborative in nature.
  • Is assessed in the purest form “in the context of the problem.” (Duffy and Cunningham 1996, p. 170). Rubrics are generally used to evaluate student solutions and very few, if any, multiple choice-like instruments would be used to evaluate learning.
  • Is designed to facilitate deep and meaningful learning. Content coverage cannot be as easily ensured in a true PBL curriculum (as compared to a traditional course).

How is this different from Solutions-Based Learning? In many ways, not very! Solutions-Based Learning, from the standpoint of the model, is really on a PBL continuum. It is not PBL in its purest form, but it does hold many of the same characteristics. We focus on real world problems presented up front. And the instructor definitely acts as more of a facilitator. We all probably agree that a problem-based learning model is the most authentic way to learn—it is how we learn throughout our lives. But it is not always easy to translate into traditional education.

Where SBL is different is in the fact that we feel it is practical and applicable within most traditional educational settings. Our model can be collaborative or individual, depending on instructor needs. Our model allows assessment to take place in a variety of ways. We incorporate instruments that allow for demonstration of learning from a depth and breadth perspective. Let’s face it, most educational institutions, governments, and money granting institutions want to see how an educational experience can be quantified, i.e. what the grades were. They give us curricula that need to be taught, i.e. standards. And most instructors and students alike still focus on tests as skill demonstration. While we feel that this is not necessarily correct, it is still an important component to take into consideration. By including problems, discussion activities, labs and some opportunities for traditional quizzes, we feel that we can ensure the maximum amount of learning from both a depth and breadth perspective. Individual instructors can re-weight activities that they feel are the most important.

Assessment Strategies

Assessment takes place at each level of the course. At the module level, students are assessed within the context of the problem based on their solutions. A detailed rubric is used to evaluate each problem deliverable. In addition, when a team-based component exists, a “teaming” grade is formulated based on the average of each team member’s self and team evaluations.

Also at the module level, we have designed criterion-referenced quizzes. These were formulated to assess content coverage of objectives throughout the course. While this does not necessarily fit with a true problem-based approach, it does fit with a Solutions-Based approach. Problem-based learning does a fantastic job ensuring deep, meaningful learning; however, in introductory courses, especially, we need to ensure that students take away the basic introductory knowledge that all IST students need to have (the basic lingo, definitions, procedures, etc.). For this reason, we have developed short (15-20 item) online quizzes to motivate students to interact with all content, not just the content that is covered in the problems. The quizzes are timed, but not proctored. This means that they could “cheat.” We are not as concerned with that as we are with the students just preparing themselves for such a learning opportunity. Because they are timed, they will have to move through items in a manner that does not allow for extensive use of resources.

In an online or traditional setting, it is very difficult to ensure that students read and interact with the content. Because our content has been developed exclusively for this course (meaning that it is all relevant), students need to interact with it. They need to know (independently) what the definition of an information system is; they need to be able to list the basic steps in systematic design and development; they need to know the basic differences between relational and flat file databases. Employers expect this! Many high level concepts can be covered in problems or case studies; however, many of the IST fundamentals need to be adequately covered as well. Our basic approach is that problems are used to assess high level learning objectives; however, quizzes are used to assess lower level content objectives.

At the topic level, students are assessed through applied Lab Activities. IST 110 is a 4 credit course, so this is imperative. However, other courses may or may not have this component. Lab activities are applied, “internship-ready” activities. Students are required to learn a skill such as Microsoft Excel, but then apply it to a knowledge worker task, such as creating a spreadsheet that evaluates several different hardware systems. These types of skills make our students much more ready for employment than if they were simply asked to create a random spreadsheet with little need for context.

At the lesson level, students are assessed using Discussion Activities. Discussion Activities are based around one page of content and require students to think about it in a deeper manner. For example, when the content discusses the unbundling of hardware and software, students are asked to envision what the computing world would be like if this never happened. These generative learning activities require students to read and respond to the content in a way that makes them reflect and create new knowledge.

Screen Shot 2014-08-09 at 9.01.36 PM

More details around each activity can be found below:

Description of Problem Activity

  • Can be team-based or individual-based.
  • Focus on real world questions and present multiple perspectives.
  • Must replicate the motivation factor that is present in real world problem solving.
  • Do not necessarily have a right or wrong answer.
  • Students need to utilize course content and outside research to construct their answer.
  • Require a “deliverable” and a presentation (if hybrid approach) to defend their solution.

Description of Module Quizzes

  • Individually completed.
  • Criterion-referenced.
  • Ensure more adequate content coverage by students.
  • Can be online or face to face, depending on how facilitator wants to set up the course.

Description of Lab Activities

  • Individually completed.
  • Focus on a topic of information.
  • Require students to read content, perform outside research, and respond by generating a solution.
  • Implemented in Communication Space (e.g. WebCT)

Description of Discussion Activities

  • Individually completed.
  • Thought provoking questions related to course content.
  • Require students to read content and generate a response based on prior knowledge.
  • Lead to active discussion among students and facilitator.
  • Implemented in Communication Space.