Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Impact of Open Course

Photo credit

Over the last few years, the availability of open education has changed dramatically. MIT’s *Opencourseware (OCW) was once the only institution providing free educational materials, however, users can now access thousands of courses from hundreds of organizations in many different languages. The Opencourseware Consortium alone has more than 250 member institutions dedicated to open education and continues to make their course materials available for free. I selected an **OCW Scholar course from MIT to evaluate so that I could better understand the purpose of the course, and discover how it compares to defined requirements for distance learning. 

I chose the Introduction to Computer Science and Programming course taught by Professor John Guttag (2012).  The course description suggests that the course is aimed at students with no computer programming experience, and should provide students with an understanding of the function computation can play in solving problems. The course uses Python programming language and states that students should feel confident, after completing the course, to write small programs in this language (Guttag, 2012).

Photo Credit

As I reviewed the course, I was particularly impressed with the breadth of information and explanation about the class itself, the objective, and the thoughtful flow of the course. The syllabus was complete with links to lesson requirements, optional textbooks, and technical requirements for taking the course. The course included a technology overview of the software required for the course and a full page of additional resources. This information, especially the syllabus, provides the student with a scope, a course completion sequence, and clarification on what is required for successfully class completion. By most standards, all of these elements are consistent with the requirements for any distance learning program (Simonson et al., 2012).

Photo Credit

The course is divided up into three manageable units, each containing complete lectures by Professor Guttag (2012), resources such as handouts or slides, homework problems, and narrative videos to aide in problem solving techniques. Piskurich (n.d.) agrees that distance learning activities need to be related to the course objectives, and I found that each unit activity allows students to improve upon their computing skills with Python. Additionally, each unit includes self-assessment tools, including quizzes with solutions to allow learners to evaluate themselves on their progress. The course demonstrates thoughtful and considerate planning with regards to design, content inclusion, and organization. It includes appropriate activities and assessment tools to help the learner develop their knowledge of computer programming through this course. These elements are also vital in comparing this course with distance learning standards (Simonson et al., 2012).

The only limitation that I could find was the lack of communication options between the student and instructor or institution. Distance learning should include asynchronous and synchronous components (Piskurich, n.d.; Simonson et al., 2012). This course falls in line with a distance self study course because it does not utilize any components, such as chat, email or discussion wiki’s that allow for feedback from the instructor. I think that MIT understood this to be a limiting factor because they sponsor a secondary component to OCW Scholar called OpenStudy.  Users of OCW scholar courses can interact with each other, work together on assignments, and collaborate on questions. Study groups are also available. While this does not meet the criteria of interaction between student and instructor, it does add an element of collaboration that increases student motivation and the overall value of the course.

OCW has a valuable role in distance education, and is particularly significant for those learners that do not have learning opportunities readily available to them. Additionally, teachers around the world can use the information found in OCW resources to improve their teaching content, thus perpetuating the spirit of open sharing.


Guttag, John. 6.00SC Introduction to Computer Science and Programming, Spring 2011. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 30 May, 2012). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Piskurich, G., & Chauser, J. (n.d.). Planning and designing online courses. (Video Program). Laureate Education, Inc.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: foundations of distance education (5th Ed.). Boston , MA: Pearson.


*Opencourseware (OCW) is a web based publication of MIT courses.  It is not a degree bearing or credit granting initiative, but serves as a content library that anyone can access for free.

** OpenCourseWare (OCW) Scholar courses are substantially more complete than typical OCW courses and include custom-created content and materials repurposed from previously published courses. The materials are arranged in logical sequences and often include enhanced multimedia.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Selecting Distance Learning Technologies

A high school history teacher, located on the west coast of the United States, wants to showcase to her students new exhibits being held at two prominent New York City museums. The teacher wants her students to take a "tour" of the museums and be able to interact with the museum curators, as well as see the art work on display. Afterward, the teacher would like to choose two pieces of artwork from each exhibit and have the students participate in a group critique of the individual work of art. As a novice of distance learning and distance learning technologies, the teacher turned to the school district’s instructional designer for assistance. In the role of the instructional designer, what distance learning technologies would you suggest the teacher use to provide the best learning experience for her students?

When I first considered this scenario, I got excited about the highly technical prospects of creating a virtual museum in Second Life or commissioning some virtual tour software to create a custom museum tour matched by no other. Seriously, Second Life has a virtual underwater Jules Verne museum that is rumored to be amazing. Also, take a look at this interactive museum tour that was built using Virtual Tour Engine:

Click here for interactive version
I have these technically robust ideas as a knee jerk reaction, and it is probably because I have been in the corporate software business for many years. There is nothing wrong with an elaborate technical imagination, but solution ideas such as Second Life or Virtual Tour Engine may not be well suited for a high school class project. There would be too many “what ifs”, a steep learning and design curve, and high costs associated with something of this magnitude.

The first logical step would be to make sure that the New York museums did not already a virtual tour available to structure a possible solution around. For discussion sake, let’s assume that there is no museum provided solution. Continuing my search for an affordable, easy to implement, yet still exciting solution for this scenario, I stumbled upon something quite amazing in its own right. Dr. Christy Keeler is a pedagogy scholar and educational consultant. Her recent publications are in the fields of educational technology, instructional design, and social studies education. Dr. Keeler is also a PowerPoint genius that introduced the concept of virtual museums built entirely in PowerPoint. She offers examples and templates of virtual museums, and instructions (including videos) that demonstrate how to create virtual museums from scratch or using a template (Keeler). Take a look at this to get an idea of what I am talking about: 

Photo Credit

More examples here

Dr. Keeler’s virtual museum tool would be the basic foundation of my suggested solution. Obviously we would have to seek assistance from the museum in getting digital images of the artifacts within each exhibit. There may be the singular expense of a trip to New York to meet with the curator, take some digital images and, maybe, video footage to collect the content for the project. If video footage of the curator could not be obtained, one could arrange several video Skype sessions with the curator over the course of the project. An alternative method of interaction with the curator would be to set up a discussion Wiki that the curator would moderate. The next part of the solution would be to host the virtual museum PowerPoint files on a school intranet, so that students could review and study at their own pace. This type of self study places emphasis on independence (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).  This would be ideal for high school age students.  If this option is not available, then we could use a free document hosting site like Google Docs. Many schools and faculty have to deal with outdated computers, minimal software options, and little funding (Simonson, et al. 2012). All of these proposed solutions are free, with a lower learning curve and require minimal software to build and host.

The proposed solution may not be as impressive as an underwater virtual museum, but with a lot of thoughtful planning and creativity, it can be just as exciting.

Keeler, C. [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance, foundations of distance education. (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Defining Distance Learning

Photo Credit
I completed my bachelor’s degree without computer technology, so my exposure to distance learning through online resources has been mainly within the last few years. Going as far back as I can remember, my mother took shorthand classes through a correspondence by mail at a local business school. They would send her cassette tapes of dictation, and she would transcribe those words into short hand, and mail her work back to school. Then I worked at a hospital through the internet boom and watched our facility go through the growing pains of converting manual processes to electronic. They converted our normal means of communication, through a pneumatic tube system and telephone, to computer based. This lead way to my transition from healthcare to information technology and I began a new career as a training consultant that taught hospital employees about their new computer systems. These moments signified a technology turning point for me. To further propel my information technology transition, I took self study Microsoft classes and certification exams. I would correspond with the instructors via email, and then take the exam at a designated computer lab for official scoring.  Continuing in the information technology field, I began working for a software company who had a training facility at our headquarters, and our customers would travel to us to attend our training classes. This eventually changed, and we began sending our trainers to our customer’s to conduct training. Not until the last five years, have we been dedicated to converting all of our training to online self study, with the option of “on-live” or live online training.

My initial definition of distance learning, e-learning or online learning only considered the experiences of the learner. I thought that any class taken electronically, regardless of whether the instructor was readily available or not, was considered distance learning. I work for a software company, and we offer e-learning modules that are recorded modules which can be accessed at any time. I thought that this mode of learning could be classified as distance learning until listening to Dr. Simonson (n.d.). He helped me realize that this is not distance learning, but rather online self-study at a distance (Simonson, n.d.).   I understand that the current definition of distance learning includes emphasis on both teaching and learning. Dr. Simonson (n.d.) defines distance learning formal education in which the learning group (teacher, students and resources) are available but separated by geography and sometimes time. Instructional media or communication technology is what links the group members together. Dr. Simonson’s definition allows for the separation of distance learning from self-study at a distance, thus helping me to distinguish between the two modes of learning (Simonson, n.d.).   
Photo Credit

Three factors, in my opinion, drive the changing definition of distance learning: technology, need, and professional industry. It is obvious that the evolution of technology has caused a significant increase in distance learning and online learning in general. Also, as technology continues to evolve, so will the capabilities of learning in this capacity. As distance learning becomes more and more mainstream, different needs will emerge.  These needs will continue to drive changes in distance learning. Lastly, distance learning is a broad term that can be applied to learning in many different industries, such as military\government, education, and corporate\industry. I think that a person’s profession creates a perception of distance learning which can model their own interpretation of the term distance learning. As standards are developed, we will see that these broad standards will not apply to every industry; thus definition differentiations will begin to emerge based on individual industry standards. I do not think that distance learning will be the sole process of learning in the future, nor replace our brick and mortar education establishments.  I think that distance learning will continue to be integrated and hybridized in all areas of learning.  Learning styles will change as we begin integrating newer technologies such as multiuser virtual reality environments, augmented reality and mobile and wireless technology (Dede, 2005).  Learners will be more in control of structuring their own educational needs through these technology integrations. 

Mind Map of Distance Learning Definition

This is a visual representation of my original definition (blue) and my new definition (blue + yellow) of Distance Learning.  The additional node (purple) includes some of my ideas on the future of distance education.

A small interactive preview is below.  Click the nodes to expand the map.  To see the entire map in a full screen view,  please click here -Distance Learning Mind Map


Simonson, M. (Performer) (n.d.). Distance education: The next generation [Web]. Retrieved from

Dede, C. (2005). Planning for neomillennial learning styles. Educause Quarterly, 28(1), 7–12.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Distance Learning

I am dusting off my blog, once again, and plan to begin posting assignments, observations and general information regarding my next course at Walden: Distance Learning.

Online education is becoming extremely popular today especially with the onset of globalization.  Through this class, I hope to understand new trends that are on the rise in the field of distance education, and their implications for designing and implementing distance-learning programs.