Monday, October 31, 2005

MIT Open Course Ware Project

MIT Open Course Ware is described on this site as "a free and open educational resource for faculty, students, and self-learners around the world." The project's stated goals are to:

  • Provide free, searchable, access to MIT's course materials for educators, students, and self-learners around the world.
  • Extend the reach and impact of MIT OCW and the "opencourseware" concept.

Per the mission statement:

"The vision of the MIT faculty who first developed the OCW concept at MIT was that one day, there would exist a vast network of universities around the world offering open access to high-quality educational materials in a variety of different disciplines, in a variety of different languages, creating a global Web of knowledge that will improve education around the world. So MIT is very pleased to be joined by other institutions around the globe in openly sharing educational materials as it helps us fulfill the second part of the OCW mission -- to extend the "opencourseware" concept to other leading universities. The collective body of high-quality educational materials made available by these institutions provides a remarkable free and open network of resources for educators, students, and self-learners everywhere."

Here is a list of other Opencourseware Projects.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

GarageBand.com - Free Podcast Studio

Here is a free podcast studio supported by GarageBand.com. I set up an account a few months ago and have had some fun making a few posts with my family. By the way, most of them are either too embarrassed to participate or think it is "goofy"!

Here are my "early works" from this summer!

Tutorial to Create a Free Vlog

Here is a fun tutorial on how to make a free Vlog on either a Mac or PC.

Friday, October 28, 2005

ivisit (lite) Free Synchronous Technology

Always one to try out "free" technology, I downloaded ivisit(lite) at ivisit.com. It is a free real- time video conferencing technology that includes voice calls, instant messaging, filesharing and web co-browsing. As their web site touts, you can:
  • Interact privately 1:1, in 8 way videoconference rooms, 100 party channels or with iVisit Plus up to 15 others,
  • Video conference, audio call, message and collaborate across both Windows and Mac platforms,
  • Share pictures, videos, music, Powerpoint® presentations or any file format during voice calls or video conferences,
  • Offer affordable video conferencing to your team, business, school or community

I'll keep testing it out and keep you posted . . .

Friday, October 21, 2005

Furl vs. del.icio.us

In the past day, I have tried both Furl and del.icio.us. While I am certainly no expert in this limited trial, so far I prefer Furl. It has great functionality (however, in most cases so does del.icio.us). However, I took to Furl quicker than del.icio.us (plus it is a pain in the *** to have to type the del.icio.us name in this blog, so from here on out it is "d" for short). Here is a short list of my observations about Furl:
  • Quick link from tool bar (same as d)
  • Ability to categorize (appears easier and more robust than d)
  • Ability to set up RSS to your links (better than d?)
  • Ability to add list of links to web site (did try it on d?)
  • Great layout (d was "clunky" to me)
  • Link sharing (haven't tried d to compare)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Role of Technology and Instructor in Asynchronous Learning

A student in our online Facilitation class raised an interesting case for our forum discussion, including these case facts:

"I attended a class at Brand X University, a well known online university. This particular university had most everything asynchronously (no chats, no online classroom tool, etc.) Further, they used everything via Newsgroups (so much for the lesson saying this is a lessening method!) in Microsoft Outlook Express. There were a total of five newsgroups that were employed for each class, all viewable via Microsoft Outlook Express. I eventually withdrew from the class because the navigation among all those newsgroups was personally confusing and causing me to miss assignments and other items because of the overwhelming amount of information. While there was also issues with a rather user unfriendly instructor, my main issue was this style of asynchronous class.


As the consultant brought in the revamp Brand X University, you have been asked to propose how to revamp the way classes are delivered. The only restriction is that is has to remain asynchronous. What would you change and how would you change it? Or, if you think the newsgroup is a great idea, why would you not change?"

___________________________

Based on the way the case is presented, it appears two things got in the way of learning in this class: (1) the technology and (2) the instructor. I have highlighted what I see to be the key aspects of both that must be addressed in this scenario:

Technology:

  • Type of technology: I'll start by assuming that this online university requires all learners to have broadband internet access. This seems to be a prerequisite in most US university level programs that I have seen and opens up a vast array of options - many that are available for little (or no) money. Therefore, it is far to limiting to utilize just a Newsgroup with all of the other choices (such as blogs, wikis and forum discussions). While including too many options at once would be an equally poor choice, selecting one or two options that improve content management and navigation is appropriate for a university level class.
  • Content management: Learning and content management options should allow content to be easily added, retrieved and edited with simple navigation. While there is a learning curve to most new technologies, most readily available tools allow this flexibility.
  • Navigation within platform: Also, in an online course, technology should be used to enhance students ability to communicate, not hinder it due to poor navigation as seems to be a major problem in this case.

Instructor: It has become evident to me that online instruction requires skills and attributes that may not be needed (or as important) in a traditional learning environment, including:

  • Belief in Online Learning: An online instructor has to buy into the concept that online education can be successfully developed and delivered. If he (she) is transitioning from a traditional environment to an online setting with no plans to amend his (her) teaching approach, it is hard to envision success. Also, if the instructor is not cognizant and empathetic to the learning curve associated with online learning, he (she) may seem unfriendly and students may not engage. This may be a key problem in this case.
  • Passion for Technology: While "passion" may be a strong requirement, it likely separates the great online instructors from the so-so instructors. Also, an online instructor has to buy into the concept that online education can be successfully developed and delivered. If he (she) is transitioning from a traditional environment to an online environment with no plans to amend his (her) teaching approach, it is hard to envision success.
  • Understanding of Technology: It is one thing to believe in a concept and another to capitalize on it. The only way to capitalize on the advantages of online learning is to understand the best options available. From this case, it doesn't appear those setting up the program had a good understanding about the pros and cons of the existing and available choices.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Application Exploration

Along with blogs, there is a lot of excitement surrounding Content Management Systems (CMS) - basically a suite of features that allow sharing of thoughts and ideas, as well as team collaboration. I have spent some free time lately exploring what is out there in hosted sites (similar to this Blogger.com site) and tried out various wikis, discussion forums and CMS platforms.

As my interest level intensified, I made attempts (usually unsuccessful attempts) to download free open source CMS programs to my own web server. Given that I am completely "self taught" (with not a very knowledgeable teacher), I did a whole lot of trial and error (lots of error). As I don't know anything about programming terminology and just a little about reading / writing html, it was quite an effort. While most of the sites offer download "help" and forums (with quite active participation), I really don't know enough to know what I don't know or how to begin asking what I needed to know (that's a mouthful).

While I was successful in installing a few applications, I found out in the discussion areas that there is this slick little utility called Fantastico (part of the cPanel) that makes installing the supported programs a snap. Unfortunately, my current host (Yahoo!) does not utilize cPanel, so I went off to find a new host that does offer it. This turned out to be a good idea anyway, because there are a lot of good hosting options out there with a ton of available space and functionality for not much money at all. It seems the going rate is about $7.95 / month for mammoth amounts of space and I was paying about $20.00 / month down from about $35.00 / month earlier in the year . . . but I digress . . .

So, long story short, I found a new host (BlueHost.com) that supports Fantastico as part of cPanel and I spent the better part of the weekend trying out all sorts of blogs, wikis, discussion boards, and CMS platforms. After all that testing, I think I found one with a great mix of options, functionality, ease of use, ability for plugins, etc. called Drupal. I have found other review sites that rave about it, too. I have no experience with commercial CMS platforms, but here are some of my observations about Drupal as compared with the other free open source options:
  • Functionality: A ton. I don't even know where to begin . . . I guess the most interesting aspects are the administration options, blogs for each registered user to your site, discussion forums, wiki like "books", RSS aggregator, RSS feed of your site and the list goes on . . .
  • Ease of Use: While there is a learning curve with every new piece of technology, this one is VERY intuitive. They didn't come up with their own language for things, but named the modules what a "normal" person (non developer) would. So far, I have been able to figure out about 95% of what I tried to do - not bad at all!
  • Aesthetics: This is where I was really sold. It is very simple with lots of white space and no annoying logo of the developer. In fact, I chose a template that doesn't have any reference to Drupal. Also, you can organize and move the content around in blocks as you desire.

While I am mainly just playing with the application at this point, I could see many uses in a business or educational setting. As I keep playing with it, I'll keep this blog up to date with my observations and thoughts for this tool in an educational setting.

p.s. This turned out to be a WAY longer narrative than I expected. Thanks to anyone who hung on to the end!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Vlogs

The linked article is about Video + Blogging. I first heard of vlogs in May 2005 when I subscribed to a podcast by Make Magazine. The podcast was an interview with the creator of Rocket Boom (mentioned in this article). He outlined the process involved with creating the daily vlog. Needless to say, it is a VERY involved process to get the 3 minutes or so of content he produces each day. Here are a few of the highlights (what I recall, anyway) from the podcast:
  • Run Time: 3 minutes is average segment time as it appears to be the max attention span of internet viewers - any less and you can't get your point across.
  • Content: Stories came from sources around the internet - suggestions from viewers, his blog, searches, etc.
  • Taping: The taping of the show appeared to be the LEAST involved part. Equipment was relatively inexpensive to buy and his "set" was a large map as a backdrop and a desk.
  • "Reporters" and "Anchor": The news reporting was limited to a small group and read each day by the same anchor - not him, but a not-so-bad looking blonde (Amanda Congdon) - I guess in vlogging, looks count more than in traditional blogging : )
  • Editing and Posting: The editing and posting appeared to be the MOST involved part (posting due to the need to save it under multiple file formats - video is not nearly as standardized as written word, pictures or music).

While I found Rocketboom to be a fun novelty of the internet (and quite well done), I really haven't kept up as a viewer nor have I tried vlogging on my own site. Even the creator was stumped when asked how it could be made into a commercial endeavor or how long he thought people would stay interested in his site.

I think vlogging will become just another feature to traditional blogs (pictures, music and now video) as more and more cell phones are sold with video capture capabilities and the advent of the new iPod with video playback capability. As more people have access to the capture and play technology, the more they will want to "do" something with it. Vlogs just may be the answer.

. . . and last, but not least . . . from an educational perspective, the video will enhance the value of all types of time shifted content. It is often more engaging to see moving content than to read it. However, quality production and editing is important in vlogging as we are all used to pretty slick video on TV. It would be hard to engage a learner with video that looks "homemade".

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Web Links as Supplemental Material

As discussed in Session 2 Content, web links are a valuable source of supplemental materials for online learning. As a student in an online course, I find the web links to be a highlight of the online learning experience. The following lists a few of the pros and cons of utilizing a web link as supplemental material:

Pros:

  • Adds Context: The web provides an opportunity to give the subject matter additional context.
  • "Infinite" information source: Links thread learners to places well beyond the original link.
  • Learning Community: An amazing aspect of the internet is that nearly all topics are explored and discussed by someone / somewhere. It is almost always possible to find and join and "community" that is interested in the same topic.
  • Varied perspectives: The web provides a multitude of perspectives beyond the interpretation provided by the facilitator.

Cons:

  • Dead links: An obvious problem that can occur as hosted web pages are moved, deleted or amended can cause frustration and lack of confidence in the facilitator's credibility.
  • Information Overload: The vast amount of information on the internet can be overwhelming to someone just learning about a topic. This makes it necessary for the "suggested" list of links to be well edited.
  • Lose track of intended learning material: One thing leads to another and before long you aren't reading a topic that has anything to do with the original link.
  • Questionable quality of content: There is no guarantee of content accuracy or quality on most web sites or blogs. This puts additional burden on the facilitator to chose the most "credible" sites.