The Future of eLearning?

This isn’t in response to anything I’ve read or seen lately, this is just a stream of thought post that I need to get out there. The real strength of what we’ve done at the Solutions Institute has been built on our original project — Online IST. I’ve talked about it in the past, but lately we’ve moved so far away from those early tenants that it sort of has us (namely me) worried about where all this is going. In an effort to pull SI back on track I sat down with Keith Bailey, Associate Director of the Institute, to really talk honestly about where we as a team are headed. What we kept coming back to was that:

  • We aren’t a software development house
  • We are a powerful eLearning design and development group
  • We have outstanding eLearning design and development tools (D3 & Edison)
  • We have a proven ID&D methodology
  • We have way too many projects at the moment
  • We aren’t a web team
  • We hate maintenance

Ok, so pull all that apart and it becomes clear that we have traded innovation in the areas of learning and instructional technology design in for software and web development. When you add up that we aren’t a real software house, that we hate maintenance, and that we strive for innovation I start to get the picture that a good way to get it all going again is to return to our roots … those happen to be around eLearning, instructional design, process, and innovation.

The challenge that Keith and I will attempt to create for the team here will be one that sees us rally around one of our projects — an NSF funded eLearning course related to Information Assurance (IST 451 is the first course in the track). We’ve been plugging along in our tried and true methodology and it has bored most of us … if we can create a new research and development agenda to combat that I believe we may be able to pull everyone here back into the mix. Imagine:

  • Using our proven methodology for ID&D
  • Experimenting with new tools to give faculty the flexibility to change, edit, and contextualize content as they see fit
  • Integrating some level of social networking, blogging, tagging, and other new and emerging CMC approaches to change how students collaborate with each other and faculty
  • Delivering all of it on time
  • Crafting a research agenda around the methodology, the learning strategies, and the outcomes

If we could do that, I think people would get excited about it again and we’d feel like the work we are doing can make a difference now that we are nearly 10 years into the eLearning experiment. The only way this team can return to its roots is by creating a new challenge. I believe it’s just a matter of framing it correctly. All of that coupled with the blogs@ist and how it can all be integrated into that emerging community could be amazing. I guess all I can say is stay tuned.

RSS to Grow …

Seems like everyday I am telling someone new about how RSS and syndication will (already has for me) change the way people use the web. Last week it was our Dean for Research and just yesterday it was the guy at PSU who is responsible for technology spin-outs … when people catch on they love it … its always, “how can I get started?”

All that’s fine and dandy, but I am starting to wonder when everyone else is actually going to catch on. Here’s a quick example … a couple of weeks ago I emailed the people at PSU who are responsible for the LMS on our campus (ANGEL) to find out if it could do RSS (in either direction) … of course it can’t but I did get an invite to come and talk to them about just exactly “what do I mean …” Again, I have no problem helping out, I just wish this stuff would catch on in Higher Education (and in the real world as well) soon. I am dying to have my students, faculty, and research sponsors dialed in enough that I could push updates, assignments, and thoughts to them without having to spam them.

I had read last week that Jupiter Research said RSS wasn’t going to catch on and was a marginal technology … that’s bullshit if you ask me, but they’re the research experts (hehe) … then today, came across this saying RSS is set to explode! Here’s to hoping it does! We built RSS into Edison Services over a year ago and for those who use it, they love it. Next year when I am teaching again, I will tell my students to get on the RSS Bus if they want to get updates and enclosures from me … no ANGEL or other crappy CMS/LMS anymore … all open source tools to power my classroom.

As a matter of fact, I am giving a talk at the ADC Institute next month that will focus on technologies that change the classroom. Apple was hoping I focus almost completely on their tools … I will, but will be doing a whole bunch of stuff with blogging, the power of open source tools, RSS, and the like. To tell you all the truth, Apple has some great tools — iSights, iPods, iLife, etc, but very little of it allows people to share — unless you want to shell out $100.00/year for a .Mac account. Its what we are going to talk with Apple about — how can they allow people on campuses to integrate their technologies with existing, standards-based protocols. At any rate, seems like a change for the better is coming.

Where Have You Been?

That’s what a lot of people (if you count the four or five people who visit this site as a lot) have been asking the last several days. No, I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth, but I have been both very busy and very distracted the last week or so. Things have been nuts at work and we have been getting some new initiatives running, so that’s good. We have been spending most of our time between rolling out the few fixes that are needed to the CMS we built to drive the School’s web presence and investigating several open source tools for our blogs@ist project and a few kick ass project management and bug tracking tools. Its kept me busy.

Some other things on the personal side of my life — I am a real person — have also gotten in the way of posting. As a matter of fact they are the kinds of things you’d love to post about, but just know it wouldn’t be a good idea to do so. Some of the things I have been working on and trying to pull together have taken quite frankly all of my time and mental energy and it hasn’t left me with anything to say. I can say this, stay tuned … some interesting things are in the works.

Here’s something I will rant about for a second … the whole podcasting, Daily Source Code thing has gotten me a bit down. I’ve been a daily listener to the Source Code since around October or so and have always loved it … I am seeing the end of the run for me though. The content just doesn’t seem as inspiring to me anymore and podcasting in general hasn’t been getting me going like it did the past several months. My podcasting guys (who we do our weekly show with) and I haven’t even posted our last two shows … I’m just not feeling it. I need some new, good content to get me excited again. Or maybe that I am moving on to the next round of thinking with all this stuff …

Anyway, more to come on the new ideas front shortly … a few last wrinkles to work out. I will try to get the posting juices flowing again and get this thing back to where there’s actually some discussion related to Innovation & Learning. And oh, by the way, Let’s Go Mountaineers (WVU in the Sweet 16)!

Blog to the Rescue?

I had a meeting a couple of weeks ago that I was supposed to do something about … until now, I haven’t acted on it at all. Things have been nuts, so I don’t feel too bad. But, the time is right and I thought instead of just typing up a proposal in Word, I’d post some of the thoughts here and see where it takes me.

The meeting in question was a get together that the Dean of our School pushed us to have. Quick background … he received an email (more of a spam) from a Dean at another University’s I School. The email contained a video introduction to the Dean, to the University, and the I School at that University. I said ho-hum, he said, “cool, let’s do the same thing.” He ended up asking our Marketing Manager, Director of Development, and myself to make it be so. The three of us met to discuss this idea and luckily I wasn’t the only one who didn’t think it would be appropriate to spam prospective donors, students, and faculty with multi-megabyte movie files of talking heads. That just doesn’t speak to me as being something a School like ours should be considering.

I started showing the others in the room blogs and blogging software, started discussing the power of RSS, and we talked about how this could be a very powerful publishing engine to drive traffic to the School. We discussed a scenario in which the Development folks would contact key members of our Advisory Board (these are heavy hitters in the IT world) so that they could contribute a post once a week or so … the Dean would have two tasks, one would be to moderate some of the postings from Advisory Board members and the second would be to post original thoughts about the School, the state of IST, and other things that make sense to our stakeholders. Guess what? They loved that! So the IST Leadership Blog Space may be coming soon. We’ll couple it with a bit of marketing materials and see where we end up.

I don’t pretend to think this will be a perfect solution … its been said before, but content is king and without content who is going to read? That will be a big test of this … I’ve been involved in so many “must haves” at the School only to see the huge effort to create them be wasted by inactivity and a lack of content. We’ll see … but what a better approach than sending our audiences spam. Makes me happy.

B2 Evolution … Multi Blogger Solution?

As I’ve noted before, we are looking for multi user blogging systems … I’ve gotten b2 evolution running and so far seems like a great solution. It has some really nice features, but I haven’t heard too much about it from the community. There are lots of people looking at these types of systems and I haven’t heard of many people talking about it. After I get it working the way I want it to, I’ll post more. For now, if anyone has experience with this version of b2, leave a comment. Thanks.

Online Learning … A Failure?

I came across this article last night and cued it up for a quick read today and thought I’d post a few thoughts and reactions — of course from my point of view. The article, Online Education Flunks But New Focus May Spark Revival, is an interesting read and does a decent, if limited job of describing the challenges of the eLearning boom and (perceived) bust. I understand the point of the piece is to look at the big-time (for-profit) initiatives lots of Universities engaged in and around the Internet craze of the dot com era … where it fails to go, IMHO, is at the way these distance or web-based learning initiatives have driven resident education.

Get in the way back machine with me for a minute … when I came to PSU, I was fresh off my stint in start up land and had just accepted a position at the University in the World Campus (WC) as an Instructional Designer. At that time, the WC was all abuzz with huge upside, tremendous growth potential, and the start up feeling I had just left. The only problem was that the University, in traditional University fashion, went head first into the initiative without a whole lot of thought on how to actually implement the thing. Our early numbers showed that … the University did lay some amazing groundwork to what has become a successful program, but a lot of that has happened in the last couple years … they’ve since built a relatively efficient process, workable policies, done some major reorganizing, and taken a few lumps to create a sustainable model. One thing that struck me about the WC back in the day was that eLearning courses built by us in the WC were not to be used for resident education, period … that was a very strange decision in my mind (of course I didn’t understand the political underpinnings at the time) … and one they’ve since reassessed.

Fast-forward a couple of years as I move over to the School of Information Sciences and Technology to get our eLearning initiative going and to do it the right way. I was one of the first employees in the School, so there wasn’t the history of how it was done in the past — we invented our situation. We decided from day one that eLearning would support our resident offerings first and be used for distance education second. Fundamentally, a great idea given our School was a start up and was at 19 of the PSU Campuses across the Commonwealth of PA. eLearning was used to support a consistent and quality learning experience in the classroom. That is a key differentiator … our eLearning materials are designed to help faculty at all locations get the real core of what IST is all about.

I think going forward we’ll see more success for pure DE types deliveries, ala World Campus, but I think more and more schools (k-20) will be using designed content as the basis for a lot of what happens in the classroom. Its funny, the year I came to IST to start the Solutions Institute I went to the President’s State of the University Address and listened to him say something to the effect of, “I see a day in the future where all of our resident courses will be a blended, hybrid structure with both in class and eLearning components …” It made me sort of angry at the time … I thought, why isn’t he talking about IST, we’ve been preaching hybrid for a year now? Looking back, I know he was. To date our eLearning program, Online IST, has touched over 10,000 enrollments in just four and half years … what’s amazing is that faculty have chosen to adopt it to change what goes on in the classroom. Good stuff!

eLearning isn’t at all dead, and was never a bust … its alive and will continue to fundamentally change what we as teachers do and what our students come to expect. Its a perspective thing … and its easy to have my point of view sitting inside the non-profit world of higher education, but let’s get real, if it didn’t make a difference and it was bleeding dollars we’d be done with it. Or, I’ll be wrong again … who knows … what do you think?

Working at Otto’s

Here we are at [Otto’s]( (a nice little brew pub in State College) to discuss podcasting and I am demonstrating WordPress … no other way to talk about the power of RSS without showing people just how easy it is to make and edit content. Todday I met with two faculty members from our [College of Education]( to discuss a NSF grant they are assembling. One of the things they are really interested in is podcasting. Let’s just say they walked away with the light bulbs on!

Again, it is just really cool to see people’s reactions when the whole content delivery via rss thing clicks with them. I have a feeling we’ll be doing quite a bit of good stuff with these guys! One of them was Kyle Peck — quite frankly one of the most respected names in Instructional Systems Design … I studied his book in grad school for crying out loud! This isn’t the first time Kyle and I have hooked up … he is a great guy and very into pushing the limits of technology (and the establishment, research, educational philosophy, etc) and is just great to hang out and talk with. He is going to be a guest on the From the Basement Podcast here in the next couple of weeks.

We’ll be setting up a pilot program that I’ll be blogging about here. Until then let’s just say it was a great meeting that will unlock a ton of opportunities.