June 30, 2004

RESOURCES: Ed-Tech News Reading List

Chris asked about the news sources I rely on for information about education and technology...In addition to the sources listed here, I also review some subscription and "old media" resources, and I periodically conduct Lexis-Nexis and other database searches on select topics as time permits (if you're enrolled at NYU in a degree program, as opposed to taking classes as a nondegree student, you have access to a variety of online resources of this type through the "Research" link on NYUHome).

You can view my blog subscriptions for Online Ed through Bloglines at http://www.bloglines.com/public/joanne

Other resources I generally check out through RSS feed include (in no particular order):

Posted by Joanne Tzanis at 11:47 AM | Comments (0)

June 29, 2004

RESOURCES: Bloom's Taxonomy

When writing objectives, teachers and trainers too often focus on measuring only low-level cognitive skills (listing, memorizing, restating, etc.).

These resources, compiled by a former course participant (thanks, Kathy!), focus on providing tools to help craft objectives on each of the six levels within the cognitive domain (from simple recall to complex analysis and evaluation) identified by Bloom.

June 28, 2004

LINKING: Clueless Permission Policy

This weekend, the newsblog Boing Boing pointed out a particularly silly permission policy by FastCompany magazine, which states that users can link to the site "at no charge" once they sign and fax a formal permission agreement.

A number of companies have attempted to institute unenforceable policies like this one, which are generally ridiculed and ignored by the Internet community.

The policy itself is here, under "Web links".

Update June 29: Boing Boing reports that Fast Company's newly revised linking policy is still lacking

Posted by Joanne Tzanis at 11:38 AM | Comments (1)

June 27, 2004

RESOURCES: Interface Design

User Experience Design.
Semantic Studios's Peter Morville describes a "user experience honeycomb" to help define priorities and move beyond simply designing for accessibility.

Information Architecture.
On Sitepoint, Subha Subramanian does a nice job of giving an easy-to-read introduction to this key interface design topic.

Syntactic vs. Visual Knowledge.
As a followup to the Forum question about WIMP, I found this article from Juan C. Dürsteler of Inf@Vis! comparing the different types of knowledge a user needs to interact with a graphical vs. a command-line interface.

Posted by jotz at 11:31 PM | Comments (0)

June 26, 2004

COURSE ANALYSIS: Why Analysis Matters

Analysis is in many ways the most important phase of course development, but too often novice developers who are eager to start writing or creating a graphic interface dive right into the design phase without performing an adequate analysis.

They almost always suffer for it later.

As you can see from the outline presented here (click the image to enlarge it), the decisions you make during analysis affect every key aspect of your course. If you rush into design and development without making sure you've addressed all of these issues, you're likely to face one or more of the following problems:

  • A course that doesn't teach what you want it to
  • Content that needs to be revised almost as soon as it's developed
  • An interface that students don't respond well to
  • Technology that doesn't meet your (or your students') needs
  • A system that you can't easily maintain
  • Budget and schedule overruns
  • Frustrated and unhappy students and staff
  • A course that is discontinued because it is ineffective.

In the end, all this translates into wasted time, effort, and money.

Of course, no matter how many times I say this to first-time developers, there's no teacher like experience. The single most common comment I get from former participants in my classes is: "I just developed my first course module and I wasted soooo much time and energy. Now I know what you meant about performing an adequate analysis."

Posted by Joanne Tzanis at 11:13 PM | Comments (2)

June 25, 2004


diploma.gifOne of the threats to the acceptance of degrees from legitimate distance learning programs is the proliferation of "diploma mills" - fake degrees from bogus institutions.

Check out this fascinating slide-PDF presentation Unconventional University Diplomas from Online Vendors: Buying a Ph.D. from a University That Doesn't Exist by George Gollin of the University of Illinois, which illustrates how some of these degree mills work.

Thanks to elearnspace for the link

Posted by Joanne Tzanis at 04:23 PM | Comments (0)

June 24, 2004

What is RSS?

One of the technology terms you'll see a lot these days is RSS, which stands for "Rich Site Summary" or "Really Simple Syndication." Basically, RSS is a way for a publisher -- usually the publisher of a news site or weblog-- to open up the website for syndication.

Just as a syndicated newspaper column or news item can appear in multiple newspapers simultaneously through a wire service, a site that has an "RSS feed" can automatically and immediately publish new additions to the site on other Web sites that subscribe to the feed or to individuals.

The feed can be set up to publish the entire article or to publish just a headline - or a headline and opening paragraph - with a link that lets the readers go to the site iteslf to get the full text.

Web sites can display the feeds they subscribe to directly on the pages of their sites. Individuals can use free online "news aggregators" (like Bloglines) or desktop software to subscribe to the feeds from multiple sites. The aggregator checks the sites for updates and, when a site is updated, the aggregator highlights the addition or notifies the user.

While these are the most common forms of syndication, RSS feeds can also be read by other devices such as PDAs and cell phones.

Why Bother with RSS?

Well, for example, I have about 25 blogs and news sites I like to check out on a regular basis - particularly for online education-related news and links. As you can imagine, trying to check out that many sites a day would take A LOT of time.... and a lot of that time would be wasted, since sites don't necessarily have updates every day, and some of the news on these sites isn't of interest to me.

Using a news aggregator, I can basically create my own daily online newspaper containing all the updates from just these sites. I can use it to scan the headlines, read articles that interest me, or save articles I don't have time to read at that moment.

A web site can use the feed from multiple sites to add a set of articles to their site that they think might be useful to their readers (e.g., on this blog, it might be useful for me to provide headlines from some of the education blogs I think might be useful to you - instead of just linking to them as I currently do through my "Ed Blogs" link).

This is still fairly new technology, and early adopters are still experimenting with ways to use RSS in the online classroom, but you can check out the following sites for more information:

Terms related to RSS:

  • XML (Extensible Markup Language). A way of creating Web documents so that they can be defined, transmitted, and interpreted by a number of different applications.
  • RSS feed. (also called "RSS channel") An XML file summarizing Web-based content that is automatically generated when a site is updated and which is read by news aggregators. A site's feed is usually indicated by a link marked "syndicate" or "subscribe" or with the images: rss.gif, rdf.gif, or xml.gif. (The link "Syndicate this site (XML)" shows the feed for this site)
  • Syndication. Simultaneous publication. To "syndicate" a site = to subscribe to a site's RSS feed.
  • RDF (Resource Discovery Framework). A version of RSS.
  • News Aggregators. (also called RSS readers or news readers) Applications that collect, scan, and organize RSS feeds for syndication.
  • Atom. A new Web log syndication format designed to address perceived problems with RSS. Atom is newer than RSS, so some aggregators may not be able to read Atom feeds.
  • Blogroll. A collection of Web log feeds that can be exchanged using OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language), allowing users to share the list of sites they subscribe to.

Posted by Joanne Tzanis at 04:56 PM | Comments (3)

June 23, 2004


technology.jpgWhen Investing in New Technologies: During analysis, you will probably need to make some basic decisions about the types of technologies you can use in your courses -- setting minimum technology requirements and investing in technologies based on your organization's and your audience's technical capabilities.

Unfortunately, SMEs and training developers often don't know enough about the available technologies to contribute much to this discussion, leaving this important decision in the hands of technology experts, who may be more focused on ease of administration and system compatibility than on educational applications.

You'll probably have to live with the technology decisions you make during the early stages of course development for a long long while, so it's worth taking the time to learn some of the basics. Here's a start:

  • The chapter Technologies of Online Learning from the book Theory and Practice of Online Learning (Athabasca University) gives a good overview of some key technologies and their applications, as well as links to examples of their use. (You can download the entire book here)
  • Confused about Course/Learning Management Systems (CMSs or LMSs)? Check out the EduTools site, which allows you to review and compare the features of a range of systems.

Posted by Joanne Tzanis at 11:29 PM | Comments (0)

June 22, 2004

RESOURCES: Course Analysis

In addition to the excellent site from Big Dog's Bowl of Biscuits, you might find the following resources useful:
  • How much will this all cost? This interactive web estimate generator from EEI Communications is a fun (!) way to get a ballpark estimate of the cost of a site at the very earliest stages of course development.
  • Process overview. While you're at it, check out some of EEI's excellent content on their multimedia process and web-development process. These are short, simple and graphically interesting...each is a good tool for describing the steps of the process to others in your organization.
  • "Human obstacles." This article from a past issue of ASTD's Learning Circuits describes some of the perceptions and obstacles to overcome when instituting elearning.
Posted by jotz at 06:23 PM | Comments (0)

June 21, 2004


In the Forum for the discussion of the Analysis phase of course development, Peter asked:
What exactly is a user's metacognitive ability? "Thinking about thinking"? -- but what does this mean in the context of education and Instructional Design?

In learning, metacognition refers to our self-conscious awareness about how we learn - paying attention to what we learn and how we learn it while we're learning it.

As we learn different ideas and skills throughout our lives, we also learn something about how we learn (at least if we're paying any attention!) and how to approach different tasks. Sometimes we do this quite self-consciously -- for example, when thinking about how to approach a very complex task or when reading something we think might be "over our heads" -- but at other times, we may just be going through the motions.

>>Try this experiment:
Select a piece of reading material -- anything ... an article in the paper, a course reading, this blog entry(!), etc.-- and read through it once without any particular agenda or mental preparation.

Then read it again --but this time, first imagine that you are going to have to write a one-page summary of the piece or teach it to a class.

What was the difference?

Most likely, you consciously paid much closer attention to how you were reading the second time.

Girl-reading.jpg When simply skimming a piece of writing, you might not think about why you're reading it, you might ignore any terms or phrases you don't immediately understand, and you probably wouldn't analyze the structure of the writing or the argument it presents, think about how it relates to other things you've read on the same topic, or reflect on it afterwards. But when charged with writing about or teaching the content, your attention is conscious and focused on how you are going to interpret the content and arguments presented.

When faced with a learning task like the one in the experiment, you focus your attention, monitor and evaluate yourself while you accomplish the task. For example, you might apply the following metacognitive strategy:

  • Plan/Pre-plan - Analyze the task and decide to concentrate on it
  • Direct attention - Focus on the task or on certain aspects of the task (e.g., decide to focus on how to teach the content rather than on how to directly apply the information)
  • Strategize - Decide on a strategy for accomplishing the task (in this case, for example, decide how to pick out the key concepts that will be the focus of the written piece or teaching unit, highlighting important phrases and taking notes as you read)
  • Self-monitor - While accomplishing the task, gauge the success of the strategy chosen and change strategies if necessary (e.g., ask yourself "Am I focusing on the right things, or should I look at this a different way?")
  • Evaluate - Look at outcomes (e.g., "Did I get what I needed to out of this to teach or write about it, or should I look at it again?")

In other words, the task assigned to you in the experiment was a learning intervention that made you become aware of, monitor, and take control over your learning.

Children's metacognitive skills tend to grow as they progress through different levels of education and cognitive development and as they become more skilled at learning how to become independent learners.

Classroom.jpg If you've ever taught in elementary or high school, you probably already know that young students often do their schoolwork without stopping to evaluate their comprehension, to think about the quality of their work, to revise their work as they go along, or to think about how the work connects to other things they've learned. They do the assignments because they are assigned, and finishing the assigned task -- not learning -- is the ultimate goal. In other words, their learning strategies tend to be instructor-dependent, and the instructor must "push" learning to the students.

Adults and mature students generally have more highly developed metacognitive skills, and therefore more independence as learners -- particularly if they are highly motivated to apply themselves. Mature learners are more aware of when they need to check for errors, why they might be having problems in understanding, and how to go about finding another way to approach the task, improve their work, or better comprehend the material.

Of course, this isn't simply a matter of age...personality factors and experience with formal study both play a big part in the development of these skills.

What does all this mean in terms of online instructional design?

knowledge.gif As we've discussed in previous sessions, online courses generally require a greater degree of learner autonomy and independence than do face-to-face courses.... therefore, a learner's success is often in direct proportion to his or her ability to apply successful learning strategies in self-directed learning.

During the analysis phase, analyzing learners' metacognitive skills allows the designer to create an environment tailored to the learners' ability to be self-directed, as well as promoting learners' knowledge and awareness of their own thinking and learning -- in other words, helping them become aware of the learning strategies that they already use and introducing new strategies and exercises.

For example, this information can used to:

  • Determine the level of direction needed in the course (e.g., while self-directed learners might take advantage of a non-linear format, "novice" learners might need a well-defined, linear learning path through the content)
  • Determine whether the course should be blended online/classroom (if learners are not independent enough for 100% online work)
  • Determine whether to track learners and check their progress at various points through the course (e.g., instead of allowing users to monitor their own progress)
  • Determine the types and number of instructional strategies to be employed
  • Determine the types of assessments and evaluations to be employed
Posted by jotz at 11:12 PM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2004


Quick interactivity. Adding a user poll is one way to add quick interactivity to a Web site.
Pollhost is one such free hosted service that allows you to add up to 30 polls at a time to your site. I've now added a poll to the left-hand column of this blog so you can test out the service.

Posted by jotz at 01:07 PM | Comments (0)

June 19, 2004


In one of the Forum postings for Session 3, Chris wrote:
In the session 3 reading we come across the question "what is the organization of the learners knowledge?"
Can you explain how a learner organizes knowledge?
Is organizing the same as information processing?

I'm not sure which reading Chris is referring to here, but I thought I'd better give an in-depth response, since this is a question-and-a-half ;)

When talking about learning theories, "organization of knowledge" refers to the ways in which information and knowledge are stored within the individual learner's memory.

Without getting into an in-depth discussion about brain theory (!), we can simply say that information is stored in either long- or short-term memory. Within long-term memory, information is organized into different types of structures, such as:

  • semantic memory (e.g., networks of connected ideas and relationships, frames of reference, principles and rules, paradigms, theories, models, etc.)
  • Stories and analogies
  • Procedural memory (e.g., knowing how to ride a bike, play an instrument, etc.)
  • Pictures and images

As teachers and trainers, our goal is to help learners take in new information and anchor it in a meaningful way within long-term memory -- in other words, to help them learn and create knowledge. Of course, our ultimate goal is to have them be able to retrieve and apply this knowledge when appropriate. (Just how best to do all this is the question at the heart of all the different learning theories.)

In a learning sequence such as Gagne's nine events, the focus is on stimulating the mental processes that promote learning -- having the learner create and elaborate on relationships between new concepts and existing concepts. In constructivist approaches, instructors tailor their teaching strategies to students' unique context and encourage them to analyze, interpret, and predict information -- requiring an understanding of the mental models that students use and the assumptions that underlie them.

In both of these approaches, it's important for the instructional designer to have an understanding of how a learner's knowledge is organized and the types of relationships between ideas that already exist in the learner's mind in order to design appropriate learning interactions.

You've probably had the experience of explaining a concept to a student in a number of different ways before the student has the "Aha! moment" and finally seems to grasp the concept... In other words, you finally found a way to help the learner see a relationship between the new concept and one that is already meaningful.

However, in much of online learning (particularly in self-instructional courses), you generally don't have the opportunity to interact with the learner in this way and to keep trying new ways of presenting the concept until you hit on one that's meaningful...

Materials such as Flash demonstrations, HTML pages, case studies, videos, etc., are all prepared in advance of the student's interaction with them, so you have to know something about the target audience's entry-level knowledge and how that knowledge is organized before you develop them -- hence the importance of identifying the primary audience's key characteristics during the Analysis phase of development.

How's that for a transition into next week's discussion of the Analysis phase of the ADDIE model!

Posted by jotz at 10:19 PM | Comments (1)

June 18, 2004


Ever ask, "What's a Wiki?" The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning defines Educational Wikis in this paper.

Here's an interactive, flash-based learning style assessment from EnactCorp.

ASTD Learning Circuits presents an article on how to use collaboration to help learners feel more "connected" to elearning

In the June issue of DEOS News (in PDF format), James Tyler describes a California State University study to assess the level of acceptance by campus students of online course packets in support of a blended (classroom/online) course.

Posted by jotz at 11:30 PM | Comments (0)

June 17, 2004


form-inform-learn.gifOne often-quoted statistic by trainers and education professionals is that, while organizations invest most of their budgets in formal training - such as workshops and courses - 80% or more of critical job skill learning occurs on the job in informal, unstructured ways.

For any kind of formal teaching or training, the ultimate goal is achievement of specific knowledge, skills, attitudes, and, finally, performance (whether it be performance on-the-job or performance in an academic sense) -- not achievement of a passing grade on a test.

But too often formal learning is taken out of the context of performance, and success in the classroom does not translate to successful application of learning.

informlearn.jpgInformal learning -- getting direction from a supervisor, asking a co-worker who sits next to you, talking to others at lunch or in the breakroom, looking something up on your own, observing what others do, calling the help desk, and, most of all, trial-and-error -- is effective because it's personal, timely and REAL. Application is immediate, and there's no question of the WIIFM ("what's in it for me?") factor

Informal learning is, ultimately, self-directed learning.

But most informal learning is unstructured, and organizations can't just assume that workers will be self-directed enough to "pick up" critical job skills. So how can teachers and trainers leverage technology to make their formal training efforts more effective?

Integration is the key.

Designing formal learning activities that make use of contextualized learning activities representing the complexity of the real world -- such as simulations and problem-based learning -- is an important part of this, but it's only one part.

When designing a training course, consider the other types of interventions that will support learning on the job, such as just-in-time training aids, help systems, job aids, communication and collaboration spaces, and other interventions that allow learners to learn what they need to when they need to.

Posted by jotz at 09:43 PM | Comments (0)

June 16, 2004


Today is the 100th anniversary of Bloomsday, the day on which James Joyce's "Ulysses" is set.

If this anniversary moves you to do some exploration of Joyce in your online courses, you can check out the many Internet resources provided by the International James Joyce Foundation.

Posted by jotz at 01:32 PM | Comments (0)

June 15, 2004


audience.gif Online courses can be a lonely experience for the learner... particularly in largely self-instructional courses.

Even in facilitated courses and courses that contain group discussion, the learner can feel isolated from others, confused by the interface or content, and not "connected" to the course experience.

One of the instructional designer's key roles is as the learner's advocate during the course design process, determining how learners will best navigate through the various media in the course and focusing on creating a satisfying learning experience for each individual learner.

To do this, the designer must have a clear understanding of who their audience is, how they learn, and what they want to achieve through the course experience.

At minimum, the designer needs to be able to answer the following questions at the very earliest stages of course development:

  • What knowledge and aptitudes do learners already have? What life experiences do adult learners bring to the course?
  • What is the organization of learners' knowledge?
  • How will this course add to learners' knowledge of the subject?
  • How will learners apply this learning in their real-world context?
  • What barriers may they face in an online environment?
  • What are the attitudes, motivations, lifestages, and interests that might influence learning?
Posted by jotz at 12:25 AM | Comments (3)


MIT's OpenCourseWare: This is a free and open educational resource that allows you to view more than 700 available courses from 33 disciplines and all 5 MIT schools.

Posted by jotz at 12:15 AM | Comments (0)

June 11, 2004


Free e-learning resources from the June 8 Online Learning News and Reviews newsletter: Additional resources from the Penn State DEOS-L list:
Posted by jtzanis at 12:59 PM | Comments (0)

June 10, 2004


As you begin thinking about online learning, one of the first issues to consider is the relationship and "distance" between the instructor/facilitator and learners in both the traditional and online environments.

There is always some sort of social, psychological, and communications space between instructor and students in the learning "transaction", even in traditional classes. ...

Structure.gifFor example, in traditional lecture-based classes, the instructor is the "expert" who provides information to learners in a largely one-way transaction; there is little or no discussion among participants. In these courses, the interaction is highly structured, and the psychological "distance" between instructor and learners (as well as the distance among the group of learners) can be quite large.

When interaction and dialog are increased (for example, in a seminar-style course), this so-called "transactional distance" is decreased. However, an increase in dialog and interaction also requires a less rigid structure for the course and less control for the facilitator.

In online learning, the physical separation between instructor and learners requires some sort of mediated communication (e.g., though web pages, email, and multimedia applications) for learner-instructor and learner-learner interactions, thus further increasing the potential transactional distance.

By using two-way communication technologies in facilitated classes, this distance can be greatly decreased, but too much of an emphasis on group communication can cause the class to lose structure and fail to meet learning goals. Finding the right balance between structure and interaction is one of the course designer's key goals in the early phases of defining a course.

Posted by jtzanis at 12:57 PM | Comments (2)


One of the biggest differences between online courses and traditional face-to-face (F2F) training is that, in F2F training (and to some degree in real-time online interactions) learning content is generally "pushed" to the learner, whereas in the online environment, content is "pulled" from the interface by the learner....

The instructor/facilitator designs a workshop or seminar, and learners need only attend and complete whatever activities the instructor/facilitator has organized. Classes and training events are scheduled by the trainer, and learners only need to show up on the right day and time in the right place. In lecture-based classes in particular, the learner is fairly passive in learning interactions.

In online environments, the learner has to play a more active role. While some forms of content (such as this email message) are pushed directly to the learner, the majority of learning content and interactions must generally be "pulled" from the interface by the learners.

In these instances, the class is learner-centered and learner-controlled rather than instructor-centered ... in other words, interaction with the instructor/facilitator is just *one element* of the class, instead of the center of the class.

Particularly in an asynchronous class (where there are no scheduled real-time interactions), learners are responsible for logging in to the site, checking announcements, finding and completing readings, doing assignments, and asking questions of the facilitator if they are confused.

What does this mean for course designers?

Well, first, it means that your course interface had better be well designed so you can be sure your participants are even able to access critical materials.

It also means that user motivation and self-direction are key to a successful course offering... and it's a good idea to give learners as much direction as possible and to have ways of monitoring participation.

In facilitated classes like this one, the facilitator can take this role, using a variety of strategies to encourage participation. In self-instructional courses, however, you must program ways of automatically monitoring participation and successful completion of the class (for example by using log-in registration and tracking that can report whether participants have completed particular pages of the readings and activities or passed the tests).

In very linear courses, you might want to design a program where users must pass a test in order to access the next piece of content (we'll be talking more about linear and nonlinear course design in Session 5).

In the end, however, it's all about the learner's motivation to complete the course.

Posted by jtzanis at 12:36 PM | Comments (2)

June 09, 2004


A blog is a Web log -- any Website with dated entries, usually in text form. The blog's author usually keeps a sort of public journal, often accompanied by links he/she thinks might be of interest to readers or which illustrate some point of interest in the journal.

There's now a whole blog culture--communities of bloggers who link to one another's blogs. The format is better suited for a sort of newletter or diary than as a group discussion tool...but most blogs do include some sort of feedback mechanism, and Blogs do allow a free, interactive Web site for those who don't have one available in any other form.

So what are the potential uses of blogs in the online classroom...particularly if you already are using an LMS that includes many types of "publishing" features? Well, one way is certainly to have students maintain their own individual blogs for journal-type or portfolio-type assignments, since most LMS systems don't allow students to create and publish their own Web pages -- and to have students critique one another's blogs. Taken together, these can create a community space, where users comment on entries in one another's blogs.

Small groups could use this tool in a number of ways... A small group of students could collaborate in the blog to create a "newsletter" type of assignment. The blog serve as a sort of "feedback" space for short, informal comments on online resources -- for example, the instructor posts a resouce each day and has participants discuss whether they thought it was valuable. Groups of users in different locations could collaborate on a single blog, or each could maintain their own blog. The blog is available outside of a particular course offering, so it could be used to maintain contact or share resources after a course has ended.

These blogs don't really take the place of a threaded discussion or real-time chat area... As you look at this technology, think about what advantages or disadvantages blogs have as regards those types of resources and what other potential class uses blogs might have.

Posted by jotz at 02:45 PM | Comments (3)


Here are some resources for those of you who want to check out some other blogs...

  • "Edublogs" (http://webtools.cityu.edu.hk/news/newslett/edublogs.htm), on the educational applications of Weblogs

  • Slashdot (http://slashdot.org/), billed as "News for Nerds," is one of the best known

  • Schoolblogs (http://www.schoolblogs.com/) focuses on using blogs in schools (be sure to check out the links to students sites under "class weblogs")

  • Globe of Blogs (http://www.globeofblogs.com/) provides links to blogs grouped by topic, author or area of interest

  • The Weblog of the New York City Writing Project is another good example

    Posted by jotz at 02:22 PM | Comments (0)