Sunday, September 26, 2010

courses online, learning online

For week 4.

From China to America, I'm getting closer and closer to online learning.

When I was taking the course of Open and Distance Education in SISU, we studied a case of Beijing Institute of Technology. Online courses in that case focus more on the organization and presentation of learning contents but lack synchronous interaction between teachers and students. There are technical methods to ensure students' online learning time, for instance, the web page will be blocked and a dialog box ejects when user does not operate for over 15 minutes.
This semester I take an online course in IU. Students and the teacher have regular meeting time online, using Adobe Connect Meeting. This software is effective for class meeting but problem occurs to group discussion. Because the class is composed of both on-campus students and distance students, it's hard to reach an agreement on time and individual habit of browsing forum in OnCourse varies largely. Our group has had two or three discussions already but every time we came to a conclusion that we need a meeting next time again. Students are struggling to find a way of effective and efficient group discussion.

Making a conclusion from these two experiences, I feel that the development of online courses is in bad need of theoretical study and technical support. As I see from the article Online Learning as a Strategic Plan, faculty invest additional time and effort in online as compared to face-to-face teaching and learning. Articles in this week talk about various factors affecting online teaching and courses and their present situation, but few of them introduce and analyze online courses in a designer's perspective. 

There are really many things affecting the development and sustainability of online courses other than the designer. Strategic decisions, financial investment, technical trends, incentives for faculty, academic resourses and so forth, designer needs quite many things to develop and sustain a successful online course. I remember an interesting saying from my undergraduate teacher, developing online courses also has its fashion trends in choosing what kind of techniques to use. That is proved by statistics but I can find it now ha... Faculty involved in the survey believe that teaching or developing an online course requires more time and effort than for a comparable face-to-face offering. In short term it must be so but I think in the long run, it can benefit larger amount of students in a comparatively low cost.

Actually I'd like to know more about online course design. Ha, that may be one of my future objectives in absorbing knowledge here.

Relevant articles:
Association of Public and Land Grant Universities. (2009, August). Online Learning as a
       Strategic Asset. Volume 1: A Resource for Campus Leaders.  
       and Volume 2: The Paradox of Faculty Voices: Views and Experiences with Online 
       (summary page:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Our technology-influenced learning

For week 2.

This week, we looked into what the web technology and Internet have brought us. Different authors hold different views, optimistic, critical, or extremely pesimistic.

Nicholas Carr, a critical view holder, tries to find what the Internet has done to us, especially to our brains. Here are some of his main points:
  • Regular Internet usage may have the effect of diminishing the capacity for concentration and  contemplation. There are a lot of distractions from the Internet.
  • Internet could yield an expansion of the short-term memory banks and a correlative atrophying of long-term memory, as well as multitasking, skimming & scanning. However: The more time we spend surfing, and skimming, and scanning ... the more adept we become at that mode of thinking. As people get better at multitasking, they become less creative in their thinking.
  • Unlike speech, which is an innate ability hardwired into the human brain, the ability to read has to be taught in order for the brain to rearrange its original parts for the task of interpreting symbols into words.
  • Research in the field of nueroplasticity as of 2008 has demonstrates that the brain's neural circuitry can in fact be rewired. Our brains are very malleable, they adapt at the cellular level to whatever we happen to be doing.
I should admit that our brains have been changed by the Web technology. We don't need to remember the exact knowledge. Instead, success means to know where to find those useful information. We tend to open several windows when working on the computer, with our instant messaging software logging on. We read in front of a computer instead of holding a book. We have access to almost every person and all kinds of books, articles, pieces of news, etc., because of the interpersonal connection and information sharing of our almighty Internet. ...

There's a "fight" between two ideas: "To enjoy the advantages of tchnology while minimizing the disadvantages" and "Technology is inherently dangerous". As when they fight in my mind, the "enjoy" one gets an overwhelming victory.

Internet is of course imperfect. Some of the changes it bring about do affect human in a negative way.I have experienced the distraction quite a lot. When I'm reading professional articles, interruption may often arise from the instant messaging software.
However, we are not robots, and have the ability of adjusting our behaviors to "enjoy the advantages of technology while minimizing the disadvantages". For instance, like what Carr does, we can turn off our cellphone, MSN or e-mail to keep concentrating on the reading or the assignment that are being done. We are using the technology, but not being controled by them.

According to what the author advocates in Learning for the 21st Century, the world advances, so should our learning skills.

One of the elements the article mentions feels interesting and important, which has long been ignored by school education. That is the financial, economic and business literacy. When I planned my journey to the US and the earliest period after I arrived here, Bloomington, that is a struggle to make a decision of which cellphone plan to choose, which apartment to rent, how to manage my bank accounts, and a lot more troublesome things like that. Financial issue matters a lot in our 21st Century life. If some kind of guidance or instruction can be provided, life can really get a boost.

Besides, the metacognitive approach to instruction also arouses my attention. As I have experienced when studying about Learning Theory, Psychology and some other courses related to metacognition, learning and contemplating about how I am learning does improve my study.  Attempts have been made to apply metacognitive approach to teachers' instruction, to help students make their study plan, or arrange their time for different subjects. But only some psychological priciples are introduced to students. I think more information about human cognition and psychological features can be delivered to them, in an organized and well-designed way.

Believing that technology helps us to achieve a better future.

Relevant articles:
Learning for the 21st Century (A Report and MILE Guide for 21st Century Skills) (no 
Nicholas Carr (2010, May 24). The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains. Wired.