Posts tagged education

A Tuition-Free Higher Education School Opens for Enrollment


World Education University (WEU)A new online university I’ve been involved with for several weeks just opened for enrollment. Based out of Palm Springs, California, World Education University is a for-profit, tuition-free, online school. It was founded on the belief that everyone in the world should have access to higher education without cost, bypassing socioeconomic barriers that would normally prevent people from engaging in important learning opportunities, and elevate them into higher-class lifestyles. It joins the company of other free online learning communities like Coursera, edXUdacity, and the University of the People, who offer Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). However, there’s an important difference between World Education University (WEU) and other learning communities: WEU is set up as a standalone institution, and has been awarded degree-granting status by the state of California. And they are restlessly pursuing fulfillment of accreditation requirements. So instead of partnering with different colleges that offer college credit for MOOCs, like the University of Antioch has done with Coursera or Colorado State has done with Udacity, everything will happen in-house.
While the structure is probably most similar to University of the People, WEU is taking the for-profit route, instead of non-profit. Tuition costs are subsidized through advertising and forming business partnerships, rather than through donors. Every student will have a marketing profile. Very few people would ever claim to like ads, but sitting through a few ads and an occasional marketing survey in exchange for a college degree? Who wouldn’t do that?
I’m optimistic. With the recent news that 40 more public universities started offering college credits for free MOOCs, I think the time is right for an endeavor like this. There’s a few obstacles WEU is aggressively striving to overcome so it can sustain itself as a valid and effective institution of higher learning in the long run.
Instructor Involvement and Peer-to-Peer Learning
In a MOOC I participated in recently, one person noted, “A MOOC is very illustrative of what self-directed learners can do. There is, very purposefully, I believe, little intrusion from a teacher in the traditional sense as the participants start to create their own meaning. In this way new knowledge on the given topic evolves.” I love the peer-to-peer approach to learning. It encourages socialization and collaboration, deeply involves students in the educational process, and empowers students to take control of their own learning. An online environment is especially suited for peer-to-peer learning, because it tends to level the playing field. Educators have noted before that shy students tend to open up to their teachers and classmates in an online class, and say things and voice thoughts they’d never have the initiative to communicate in a face-to-face situation.
Light BulbStudents can’t be left in the dark. There must be a structure, and typically in an online learning environment an instructor or facilitator assumes that role. However, in a MOOC, this can be a little trickier. To help address this, WEU is implementing an adaptive learning system which facilitates educational experiences unique to the individual’s learning styles. And if WEU can successfully emphasize the best aspects of its peer-to-peer approach to learning, it will really soar in the quality of its learning material and how its students engage the courseware and their classmates.
Validity of Degrees
Certainly, it is a prime time to implement a higher-ed business model like WEU. The economy is still recovering, unemployment rates are high in many areas, and college tuition rates are continuing to rise faster than inflation. People recognize the need for marketable knowledge and skills a college setting can provide, but it’s not within everyone’s grasp financially. The attraction of zero-cost education is growing, as evidenced by the constant rise in MOOCs, and the attention they’ve received from accredited universities.
But how attractive will this be to students? I can understand why it’s hard for some to rationalize spending time on a course for which they don’t receive a tangible benefit, such as a raise or an industry-recognized diploma. In the U.S., accreditation is especially a big deal. For example, according to the course catalog, WEU is offering a Masters in K-8 Instructional Mathematics. Many K-12 schools and districts offer raises, tuition reimbursement, and added recognition for teachers who complete extra degrees. But if it’s not accredited, teachers may not receive these benefits.
However, this is not always the case overseas, especially in developing countries. In a place like Thailand or Malaysia, a degree from an American college is valuable no matter the accreditation status. Such a degree is evidence the graduate is knowledgeable and fluent in English…both highly marketable skills in such an area. WEU will undoubtedly be extremely attractive to students from countries with a lower socioeconomic status.
Fortunately, WEU has a full-time staff actively working on fulfilling the requirements for accreditation. As soon as they make more headway in this area — and I’m confident it’s just a matter of time — you can bet I’m going to enroll in a degree program, but that’s not stopping me from participating in a few other classes as a non-credit student for my own edification and personal enhancement.
I highly recommend visiting World Education University’s web site to learn more about this unique school, its mission, goals, and the courses it offers.

Undersea Observatory Available for Download and Featured at VWBPE


Version 0.9 of my Undersea Observatory for OpenSim is available for download. It’s available as a standalone OAR, which can be imported into your own OpenSim server, or another OpenSim host like Kitely. There’s also a standalone version packaged with Sim-on-a-Stick that you can basically just unzip and run. I’ve noticed a few bugs already in the sim, which I’ll fix. The permissions seem to be incorrect for the mini-submarine, so I don’t think visiting avatars can use it. Somehow my install got corrupted, and I can’t even modify the submarines, so I’ll have to figure something out. And I’m still working on scripting the squid and the kiosks, so I removed those from this version. They will be added in the 1.0 release.
I have a poster session exhibit set up at the VWBPE 2012 Conference, too, which is running from March 15-17:

UPDATE 2012-03-16: My exhibit was nominated for the award for Best Example of Educational Practices in a Virtual World!

Thoughts on Student Safety and Using OpenSim for Education


OpenSim is making headway as a viable alternative to Second Life. About 98% of the functionality of Second Life is present in OpenSim. The remaining 2% primarily deals with vehicle physics. Although it is still considered “alpha” software, OpenSim hosting is sold, and teachers, students, and businesses are taking advantage. The alpha status reflects more on the rapidly changing nature of the virtual world market, than the stability of the software itself. Microsoft and IBM have some backing in it. Intel operates its ScienceSim experiments with OpenSim, and has made headway in providing models for ubiquitous shareable content and massive user connections.

3rd Rock Grid: Natural History Museum

There are definitely some measures being taken to address educators’ needs. The Jokaydia and 3rd Rock Grids have been around for several years, and they are largely education-oriented. Last year, Firesabre launched its own Starlight Grid, which provides private hosting for educators. And Kitely is starting to establish itself as the premiere third-party choice for educators, and provides the option for making user-created regions private. However, as hypergridding becomes more stable and common, this can be the vehicle to unite different grids into a single education-related hypergrid. The common “education hypergrid” should blend the most relevant content for students and teachers into a singularly accessible virtual space. There should never be any reason for a teacher or student to log out of their viewer and log back into another grid with a whole new avatar. But we need to think about how to make such a hypergrid suitable for students, especially K-12 since there’s often a litany of additional laws and policies governing online interactions and access for them.
A few thoughts and ideas come to mind:

  1. It is more productive to include students rather than solely use teachers to create content. Many teachers already do this, since with their often beyond-full-time jobs they simply don’t have the time to both learn the skills needed for building in a virtual world, and actually construct the content alone. We should use the skills of the young tech-savvy generation, and develop constructionist class projects that appeal to our students.
  2. Activities should directly tie in with the curriculum. This is rather obvious, but it would be useful if virtual world activities were tagged with the relevant standards and/or objectives they address. This way, others in the same state, province, or country can find relevant material, without having to wonder if it actually addresses the necessary learning content or is just another topical sim.
  3. To address safety issues, different approaches have been taken. I mentioned above how FireSabre and Kitely provide private regions. For educators, they don’t want inappropriate content to drift in, or outside trolls to visit the region and cause havoc while students are using it. While securing a sim for exclusive private access is well-intentioned, they miss out on the community-produced educational content. Whether this is on Second Life, OSGrid, or any other virtual world system, a significant strength of the virtual world is in its shared content. We should avoid having to recreate the wheel each time.
  4. One solution could be to script a session monitor. Those who wish to join the education hypergrid can be required to place a script inside each region which connects to a server and monitors participants. Teachers who wish to use a particular region (or group of regions) for learning but are worried about others coming in and disrupting the class can reserve a session, and either enter their students’ avatar names, or have the students sign up themselves. The script would monitor anyone entering or currently in the region and kick out anyone not registered for the session. A publicly viewable calendar in the regions and on the web would let others know what time slots are open.
  5. We need to provide a venue for coordinating with educators and organizations who are considering investing actual time or money in the development of a sim. If similar goals and objectives can be identified, pooling resources together may help alleviate the burden for all parties involved.
  6. Regions such as the "Foul Whisperings, Strange Matters" Macbeth sim in Second Life could be added to an educator-maintained whitelist so the viewer knows it's student-appropriate

    One solution to the problem of inappropriate content and the ability to provide a safe gateway to Second Life for students 16+ may be to build a custom viewer that uses whitelists. Ideally based on Viewer 2/3 (e.g. Kokua and Firestorm are two viewers being developed off this branch), it would access a server-maintained whitelist of regions appropriate for students. Anything not on the whitelist would not be accessible from the viewer. This can cross over to OpenSim as well. Though some regions on different grids may be “education-appropriate” and suitable to be hyperlinked to, other regions may not be. A mechanism in the viewer could prevent teleporting to regions that aren’t specifically part of the education hypergrid. This doesn’t prevent the usage of other viewers from bypassing these client security measures, but it’s still one measure that could help, and may meet the security policies of many schools and districts. Another option is to implement a teleport-restricting module on the server side so it limits access to educational regions, but since OpenSim is still in alpha, requiring it be included in all upgrades may be inconducive, unless a separate fork of OpenSim is made (much like OSGrid or Diva Distro).
  7. When appropriate, content should be Creative Commons-licensed. This isn’t entirely necessary, and I believe there is tremendous value in reinforcing the commercial OpenSim goods market. But any CC content could be provided as OARs and IARs (compressed archives of OpenSim content), so it can be installed on private servers. Direct links to OARs and IARs should be posted inside the regions themselves, when possible.
  8. We should create an open, zero-cost (for the end user) conference region. This can be accessed from anywhere in the hypergrid, and can be reserved for school events or professional development as needed.

Hopefully I’m not too far off base with some of these thoughts. I believe as we move forward it will become increasingly important to standardize how educational simulations are maintained so they can meet the policies and safety standards of most school systems.
This article was reprinted in Hypergrid Business.

Shifting Toward Best Practices in Online Learning


Utah Senate Bill 65 was recently passed, which establishes a statewide online education network, where students can earn credits from different schools. As a result, our attention has shifted toward fully online courses and how we can implement them, and how we can improve our existing hybrid courses.
There are a good number of teachers in Weber School District using Moodle, but we’re struggling with getting teachers over the learning curve. And the problem is the same as one identified by Lane 2009. For our teachers, Moodle is a counterintuitive interface which “stops Web novices in their tracks” (p. 4). “Educational technologists look at a [course management system] and see its many features, but faculty see an inflexible system that cannot be customized” (p. 6). There are probably very few teachers in our district that have taught in a fully online learning environment, let alone do so effectively by adjusting their pedagogy accordingly.
I realize Moodle is frustrating for some of our teachers, but I also realize now that it’s our fault. We handed them a default course template that does not adopt best practices in online learning. Moodle’s topical format isn’t particularly pretty, and I’ve seen some teachers’ online courses that scroll forever downward with a neverending pile of assignments and resources. It is, quite frankly, confusing. As a result, we are redesigning the Moodle course format and implementing our own. The goal is to make an interface that’s more intuitive for novice online/hybrid teachers, makes it easier to navigate for students, and encourages stronger constructivist methodologies in the instructional practices.
What Utah is doing right now with online courses, I imagine one day will happen with professional development, even if not formally mandated. If we can share educational courses for K-12 students statewide, why not the same for teachers? There are many similarities and best practices we can identify in both K-12 and adult online courses, such as a strong focus on collaboration — the lack of a physical social presence necessitates a stronger cyber-social presence. Teachers should encourage discussion among students, and give numerous opportunities for interaction and collaborative learning. And as noted in a study by Arbaugh (2000), students in web-based courses conversed more than the old brick-and-mortar classrooms (as cited in Ternus, Palmer, & Faulk, 2007).
Collaboration was the primary focus in our Moodle class at the BrainBlast conference last summer. Yet as I discovered in my recent evaluation of Moodle, there has been little to no change in how our teachers use Moodle for collaboration. If it’s true that in the hybrid course, we must meet best practices for both online learning and classroom learning, then we need to place more focus on the online learning space in Moodle, and use it as a constructivist learning environment, rather than just a repository for stashing assignments and quizzes (Ternus, Palmer, & Faulk, 2007). Likewise, any future online professional development class we build must follow the same standards of highly constructivist learning if it is to truly succeed.
Arbaugh, J. B. (2000). Virtual classroom characteristics and student satisfaction with Internet-based MBA courses. Journal of Management Education, 24(1), 32-54.
Lane, L. M. (2009). Insidious pedagogy: How course management systems affect teaching. First Monday, 14(10).
Ternus, M. P., Palmer, K. L., & Faulk, D. R. (2007). Benchmarking Quality in Online Teaching and Learning: A Rubric for Course Construction and Evaluation. Journal of Effective Teaching, 7(2), 51-67.

A Quality Learning Experience


Halfway through my first semester of the EDTECH program at Boise State, I realized that I was going to have a high-quality online learning experience, because online teaching is a chunk of what the program is about. The professors practice what they preach. The two ingredients for me that have made the program a success so far are the engagement and the project-based learning.
My first memories of online courses date back to about 2001, when my undergraduate school was first implementing online learning. It was a prime example of what not to do: no collaboration, faulty assessment tools, and no interaction with the teacher. There were few, if any opportunities to interact with the other students online. The assessments were basically just the same quizzes used in the brick-and-mortar version of the class, but with a time limit slapped on and the ability to “cheat” by reading your textbook. And the teacher was unavailable, and wouldn’t respond to emails for three or four days at a time.
Contrast that with the highly constructivist, collaborative, project-based learning model Boise State’s EDTECH program has adopted in its classes. It is an engaging experience. I’m finding that I’m learning and retaining more knowledge than I have before. The collaboration is invaluable as I develop and refine my projects, not to mention the enjoyment that comes from sharing one’s hard work with peers. Being able to create projects that I can directly use in my own line of work is motivation to finish them and do my best. For me, at least, I consider that an indication of this instructional model’s efficacy.
In our school district’s summer technology conference, all learning follows a similar hands-on learning model. Participants are expected to create content, rather than simply learn about it. There is still an approach where the instructor is more a lecturer than a facilitator, but every participant sits at a computer, learns about the technology tools, and constructively uses them during the instruction.

Reflections on Immersive Virtual Learning


Bartle (2004) demonstrated that players often can pose unreasonable demands upon the design of virtual worlds, or sometimes design changes can create unintended and undesirable consequences among the players. In educational virtual worlds, formative evaluation should occur regularly and frequently to assess the learning potential of the current system state.
One of the foremost benefits of virtual worlds is its ability to reach higher levels of immersion more readily than other learning platforms. Csikszentmihalyi (1975) introduced the concept of flow as a state of absolute engagement or absorption in an activity, resulting in an optimal learning experience, which has been shown to have a positive impact on learning. There can be such a thing as too much immersion right away, however, and in some cases scaffolding may need to occur to ensure different types of participants properly assimilate the immersive experience.
One of the chief mistakes many teachers make when starting to use virtual worlds is simply replicating the classroom environment in the online space. There is little sense to creating virtual desks in a virtual room with a virtual whiteboard if it already exists in the real world. The power of the virtual world is that it provides a collaborative space where constructivist learning activities can take place, in ways that are difficult or simply not possible otherwise. For learners to achieve the flow state, they must be actively engaged.
In some techno-cultural milieus it may be inappropriate to expect learners to participate in different types of immersive environments. The digital divide can play a significant role in who has necessary access to the types of technology-based learning employed. Pedagogically, the paradigm shift that comes from teaching in a classroom to teacher in an constructed immersive environment requires both training and experience before effective instruction and learning may occur. This is one of the greatest challenges, ensuring that the virtual environments are used optimally, but it is an important one as virtual environments are continuing to become an important part of children’s social and online lives (Beals & Bers, 2009).
Bartle, R. A. (2004). Virtual worldliness: What the imaginary asks of the real. New York Law School Law Review, 49(1), 19-44.
Beals, L., & Bers, M. U. (2009). A developmental lens for designing virtual worlds for children and youth. International Journal of Learning, 1(1), 51-65.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1975). Beyond boredom and anxiety: The experience of play in work and games. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Top 100 Tools for Learning 2010


If you haven’t seen this list yet, it’s worth checking out. Below is a slideshow with the top educational tools, ranked by the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies. They compile this list every year.

Educational Technology and Learning

A presentation about the relationship between educational technology and learning.

Some Articles About Technology in Education


Jackson, A., Gaudet, L., McDaniel, L., & Brammer, D. (2009). Curriculum Integration: The use of technology to support learning. Journal of College Teaching & Learning, 6(7), 71-78.

This article addresses the benefits of technology in education from the perspective of Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, which states that there are different realms of learning, and that different learning styles may be better suited to different people. A person with logical-mathematical intelligence could benefit from engaging interactive multimedia technology that offers immediate feedback. Technology can offer simulated challenges that encourage higher-level thinking.

Mouza, C. (2005). Using technology to enhance early childhood learning: The 100 days of school project. Educational Research & Evaluation, 11(6), 513-528.

Some claims have been made that technology can disrupt or stifle learning processes, and this article addresses these concerns. Mouza, an Associate Professor in the School of Education at the University of Delaware, explores six teachers in an elementary school and how they integrated technology into their curriculum. The study demonstrates that technology can support child cognitive development by improving logical thinking, classification, concept visualization, and creating intellectually stimulating hands-on learning activities ideal for young children. Skills such as literacy, mathematics, and writing show improvement, and are reinforced by technology-oriented education. Students gain confidence and pride when they see their products in a visual technological form, and proper usage of technology can reduce social isolation, and encourage discussions and peer instruction.

Rhodes, J., & Milby, T. (2007). Teacher-created electronic books: Integrating technology to support readers with disabilities. Reading Teacher, 61(3), 255-259.

This article demonstrates that students with disabilities often are proficient with using technology to accomplish learning tasks and interactive activities they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) states that technology should be used as an active part of the learning process. Electronic books, with their text-to-speech capabilities, animation, and interactivity can boost the confidence of students with disabilities, and encourage their fluency, comprehension, and language skills.

Squire, K., Barnett, M., & Grant, J. (2004). Electromagnetism supercharged! Learning physics with digital simulation games. Proceedings of the 2004 International Conference of the Learning Sciences. Los Angeles, CA.

This conference proceeding contains an analysis of how games can improve learning. Some statistics are included in here that are quite valuable, including a study conducted by researcher Kurt Squire in pre- and post-tests control groups. He found that participants receiving a series of interactive lectures improved their understanding by 15 percent over their pre-test scores, compared with participants who used a specially-developed game/simulation called Supercharged, developed by MIT researchers, who improved their understanding by 28 percent.

Wall, K., Higgins, S., & Smith, H. (2005). “The visual helps me understand the complicated things”: Pupil views of teaching and learning with interactive whiteboards. British Journal of Educational Technology, 36(5), 851-867.

This article examines the views of students, age 10 and 11, regarding interactive whiteboards (IWBs), and how it benefits the teaching and learning processes. (While I don’t think a students’ preference for instruction does not necessarily correlate with the effectiveness of instruction, a student’s preference can still indicate a stronger degree of engagement and participation in the learning process.) The majority of students in the study approved of IWBs as they felt it increased their attention and concentration. Most students liked how concepts can be presented in a concrete form through an IWB, and some claimed that it improved knowledge retention. Negative comments were limited to concerns about technical difficulties.

Wenglinsky, H. (2005). Technology and achievement: The bottom line. Educational Leadership, 63(4), 29-32.

Wenglisky examines the claim that technology usage in schools raises student achievement. The author insists that we are at the point now that teachers should just take for granted that students will use technology to complete their learning tasks. In the 2001 National Assessment of Educational Progress assessment, middle school and high school history students benefited when technology was incorporated into their learning.
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