Archive for the 'Resources' Category

History of "Distance Education"

September 1st, 2009

Most readers of this blog know that I think the term distance education is terminally flawed, but it continues to be used in the common vernacular so we need to address it. One problem is that many practitioners today think the the terms “distance education” and “online education” are equivalent. We need to address that by examining the history of “distance education” and see where “online education” falls on that timeline.

In the beginning there was the word. In my perspective – one that’s not generally shared in the field, I should point out – distance education began with the first technology that allowed the relatively accurate transmission of instructional messages from the teacher to the student. In this case I’m referring to physical distance but synchronous mode, that is both people are able to exchange communications in real time. It’s the “I-talk-you-talk” model we’re most familiar with. That first technology is spoken language. The codified collection of symbolic utterances which follow rules of pronunciation, grammar, and syntax represents a technology that is used to bridge the physical distance between teacher and learning. This is thought to have occurred sometime before 30,000 years ago. Whether it occurred simultaneously with the evolution of Genus Homo or shortly thereafter, is open to speculation.

The next milestone in the development of “distance education” occurred with the development of a tool that allowed the communications channel to become asynchronous – that is, separating the teacher and learner in time. The teacher speaks. Sometime later, the learner hears. The learner speaks. Sometime later, the teacher hears. They don’t need to be together in time for communications to occur. That milestone is “written language” and the earliest known use of written language is about 5,000 years ago.

It’s significant to note that without the precursor technology, spoken language, writing technology would have had no basis upon which to be developed. The encoding of the spoken word sounds and the grammatical ordering of those encoded sounds into words, sentences, and paragraphs depended on having the system of sounds to encode.

After these two technologies, all other contributions to “distance education” are largely just new ways of transmitting either spoken or written words. The invention of print – and eventually moveable type – was just the next step in the mass production of the written word. Mail, telegraph and teletype are ways to move those words across large distances. Telephone and radio move spoken language quickly and expand the range of a speaker’s voice from in-the-room to around-the-world.

In our timeline of “distance education” the generally accepted beginning of the use of these media for instruction in a mode which has become known as “distance education” occurs with the advent of the “correspondence course” in the early 1700s when a Boston teacher is reputed to have offered the first class using the mail service to send and receive lessons. This laid the groundwork for the modern model of so-called “distance education” and represents, in my opinion, one of the first instances of an educational use of language to corrupt meaning by assigning a general term – “distance education” – to a specific application of technology – “correspondence course.” We’ll see this again.

An anomaly on this time line is the use of graphical materials. Earliest man used drawings and graphically symbolic representations of the world to record and explain what he saw around him. From the three dimensional renderings of Stonehenge or the Anastasi arrows to the cave paintings in Europe, this graphical representation of the world has been around for a long, long time. The use of diagrams and images is probably most famously documented in Da Vinci’s notebooks where he drew meticulously accurate renderings of this ideas. The key element of the diagrams – at least in terms of an educational use – is the text and explanation that went with them. While it’s true that an image carries meaning unto itself, from an educational standpoint, one really needs to make that meaning as unambiguous as possible in order to be sure that the messages that are being exchanged are the messages that are intended. This application of graphical recording was expanded to photography – a process of mechanically reproducing an image from the world and rendering that image more or less permanently onto a page – in the early 1800s.

Media convergence began almost as soon as there were media that could converge. Earliest printing sometimes included drawings and sketches. In the 1800s we began to see the convergence of synchronous media with the advent of movies. Movies permitted the encoding of moving graphical images and written language. This is a significant development in that it led to the rise of “talkies” that merged spoken language with moving graphical images, permitting a more natural appearing rendering of the world that could be manipulated for the purpose of instruction. The primary purpose of film for this discussion is the invention of the documentary. Short films of a documentary nature were produced in the late 1800s, but Nanook of the North (1922) is considered to be the first example of the modern documentary.

Television permitted the synchronous distribution of pictures and sound in a broadcast mode — that is, you needed to be watching when the message was sent in order to be able to receive it. That quickly changed with the invention of video tape. Video tape permitted the sender to record his message and store it for later transmission. That same technology was eventually available to the receiver which permitted a true asynchronous application of broadcast media. This medium had the draw back of being one-way. They could send but in order to respond, you needed a separate channel — usually mail or telephone — to send your messages back.

In later half of the 20th century that all changed with the advent of teleconference and the ability to have two way, live, communications between two locations. This gave rise to a huge program of linking in “remote campuses” across the US. These networks are still in use today.

Eventually, near the end of the 20th century, the invention of the personal computer, the evolution of computer networks, and the convergence of telephone and computer technology has given rise to one of the single most powerful forces for social change since the advent of the automobile — the internet. By using digital modes of encoding and transmission, almost any form of media can be sent and received across a global network. The communications options include both synchronous and asynchronous modes, the use of video conference, text, audio, and even real time handwriting and drawing.

This evolution of correspondence course to online delivery has led to the next conflation of general term “distance education” to the specific application of technology — “online course.” These are not simple splitting of semantic hairs. As I have made clear here and in other postings, I believe the term “distance education” is redundant. All education is, by definition, at a distance. The term “distance education” in the modern vernacular has been applied to the system of teleconference and other remote delivery modes as an omnibus term intended to relegate all such modes of mechanical transmission of instruction as somehow different — a semantic segregation of “distance education” from “real education.” This is, I believe, a deliberate attempt to maintain the educational status quo without consideration of what that segregation means to the field.

By making “distance education” something other than “education,” it robs practitioners of the opportunity to use established educational research as a foundation. “Well, that was classroom based instruction and that tool hasn’t been validated for use at a distance.” As long as “distance education” is different, that becomes a valid obstacle. In return, by failing to recognize the continuum of technology used in the classroom setting, educators forego the opportunity to fully realize the potentials by not being able to see how those technologies might be manipulated and leveraged to take advantage of the opportunities.

A Real Test

April 28th, 2009

I love this guy.

Class members should have seen this on their aggregators, but this is too current — too important to let slide.

My idea is simply this. How can we use an event like this, and all of the news sources that are available on a breaking, global story in our classrooms? How can we teach kids about which sources of information are valuable in the midst of swirling rumour? They must be able to evaluate the worthiness of primary information surces at a time like this. There are many different channels of information available. How can our understanding be collated and improved instead of swamped by information and rumour?

This is a real test of information literacy skills.

via Remote Access: Swine Flu and Breaking News in the Classroom.

Clarence is right. This is a real test. More than a test for his kids, it’s a test for us. We *think* we get it.

Do we?

Frustration Outpost

October 16th, 2008

I’m seeing “I’m so frustrated I want to scream” posts on various blogs. This is unfortunate and avoidable. Here are some FAQ’s:

Q. Where are the pictures?
A. This is a text based game. It was designed for low bandwidth/low power gaming. The kinds of situations most teachers face when dealing with populations that are (1) rural, (2) poor, (3) both.

Q. How do I talk?
A. Type “say whatever it is you want to say.” Almost all commands are in the form “verb object” so “say” (the command to the game to repeat what follows to the room) and “whatever you want to say.” will be echoed. You will see the word “Ok.” and not what it is you say.

Q. How do I talk to somebody not in the room with me?
A. Type “tell whoever whatever it is you want to say.” The stipulation is that “whoever” must be logged in and visible to you at the time you “tell.” To find out who is on and visible, use the command “who” to see.

Q. Where am I?
A. Use the command “look” and read the room description. It starts with the room’s name, followed by a description of what the room looks like, a list of people and objects in the room. By using the command “exits” you can see which open doors lead out of the room.

Q. It keeps telling me I’m hungry and thirsty! What do I do?
A. Eat and drink. The MUD is going to demand that you have food and water. Water is available at the well in Town Square, but you’ll need a cup. Food is available in the General Store in the form of iron rations, altho newbies are encouraged to slay the herds in the grasslands and eat the food provided there in the form of mutton, chops, steaks, etc. Clerics can create food and water for people who get caught short.

Q. Are there other commands I should know?
A. Yes. Informational commands like “score,” “inventory,” and “equipment” are critical for keeping track of where you are in terms of score and gear. For a relatively comprehensive list of game commands, use “help” in world to get a list.

Q. I have to log off! What do I do?
A. Go to the Last Resort Inn. Go up to where the Receptionist waits. Type “rent” and take the 0 option from the following menu. This will save your equipment and log you out safely. When you come back in, you’ll start in the reception and be ready to go with everything you had when you left. People who drop link or quit to leave run the risk of coming back naked and unequipped.

The following links have articles that explain more about the environment:

  1. Tips on creating a character
  2. Some background on resources
  3. Some ideas about how the game is controlled in time
  4. Map of the town
  5. Map of the grasslands just outside the gate

SuperStruct : The Game?

October 8th, 2008

I did a quick post yesterday on SuperStruct. I spent some time yesterday exploring the site in some detail and looking over the various features and facilities. There’s a lot there – video, text – organized in a variety of ways. I’m looking at this site from two perspectives — one as a game, and the other as an educational setting. There’s a LOT of stuff that’s available to the public (that is, non-members) and even more that registered players can see.

As a game, the scoring is perhaps a bit arbitrary. As an educational environment, it’s probably best described as “problem based learning.” It’s particularly intriguing from that perspective because the problems are hypothetical but based on dystopian extrapolations of the present. Finally, the “game play” is probably best described as “interactive fiction” because discussions, stories, and user contributions are intended to visualize what our real lives might be in 10 years’ time. It’s a sort of “imagine what you’ll be then based on what you are now and what you’d like to do between now and then” scenario. It’s a kind of ‘predict the future’ game based around the six threats.

While the threats are speculative, they aren’t that far out. Based on food, climate, energy, politics, and health, the roots of these challenges are already with us. The game, while speculative, may well provide some interesting ideas for charting a future where these catastrophes might not happen.

So, for the gamers (688? You know who you are), what do you think of this as a “game”? Does it work? Is there a place here for educational application? Either in this game, or as a derivational idea?

For the distance ed people, what do you think of this environment as as an educational environment? A learning environment?


September 29th, 2008

When we were talking about exotic tools last week, I mentioned Twitter. Most of you said “Bleah.”

I (Jane Hart) am often asked for the names of (e-)learning professionals – from both education and corporate learning – as well as other related professionals to follow on Twitter.

I started this list with 101 names on it, now thanks to many people who have submitted recommendations, it has grown. If you know someone you think should be on the list, email me.

100+ learning professsionals to follow on Twitter.

I’m not the only one who thinks Twitter may have potential. Here’s a list of people to follow. I’m not on it, but there are a lot of the people that I follow here, so I’m in good company.

Shanghai Notes

September 25th, 2008

We often talk about global perspectives but, unless you’re really looking, you might not see them. The Learning 2.008 conference just wrapped up in Shanghai and Jeff Utecht has a nice little photo album and recap.

Learning 2.008: A moment.
I think these pictures tell the story better than I can. I always have this weird feeling when the conference is over. Part of me is so relieved that it’s over and another part of me never wanted it to end. I was tired, running on pure adrenalin by the end of it but so excited to see educators learning together and from each other.

If you weren’t seeing this unfold on your aggregators, then you need to add a few people to your list.

Exotic Tools: Second Life

September 19th, 2008

In March of 2006, I joined Second Life. At that time, educational institutions were beginning to pay attention to the space as “educational environment.” Knowing the track record on (lack of) innovation that most institutions bring to online education, I wanted to see if there was anything interesting happening there. Near my first anniversary I wrote up my observations in a long post on my SLumming blog. At that point, I observed that most educators working in the space were trying to recreate the classroom experience in-world. Rather than using the space as it existed, they were imposing real-life expectations, structures, and restrictions where they were neither required or useful. In some cases, those efforts led to frustration and dissatisfaction. In too many more, the educators completely failed to comprehend the nature of the space and were quite happy with the results they were getting.
Read the rest of this entry »

Podcasts about Gaming

September 12th, 2008

There’s a lot of interesting podcasting and these five podcasts were the finalists for the 2008 Parsec Awards this year. If you’re interested in seeing what podcasting can do for learning, try learning about gaming from one of these.

Nominees for best Gaming Podcasts in the 2008 Parsec Awards

I’ve cross posted this for both my 685 and 688 sections because the gaming is of interest in 688 while the technology as a tool is important to 685’s discussion on “exotic tools” coming next week.

Game on!

Sylvia Martinez is Brilliant.

September 5th, 2008

Sylvia Martinez is one of the ground breakers out there. I’ve given her feed to a couple of you now and I think I may have to add her to the main line up because she’s always posting good stuff like this:

Generation YES Blog » Blog Archive » Helping students tell different kinds of stories via video
A while back I did a post about having students create “how to” videos for your school using the Common Craft model of simple illustrations with an informative voiceover. This is a very common GenYES student project, with students creating videos about how to use the technology found in their own school.

Go read the whole thing and note the comment on the bottom from Lee LeFever. Lee is the guy who makes the Common Craft videos. And if you’re not familiar with Common Craft, they have some of the very best explanations of complicated ideas ever!

This post is significant to our discussions in that it’s an example of what happens when we let learning out of the classroom. Sylvia is sharing a tool and explaining how she uses it in her practice. The conversation includes the guy who “owns the tool” — not a good choice of words but it’s an awkward concept to try to explain. It now includes all of you who are reading this post along with all the people who also subscribe to Gen Yes or who saw her tweet on twitter a few minutes ago. And now, because I’ve pinged her with this post (it happened automatically when I referenced the blog post), she’s able to see who’s talking about her and what we’re saying. (Hi, Sylvia!)

This is an example of the kind of resource I want to point to as an example of “learning won’t wait.”


August 19th, 2008

Yes, I appreciate that it’s probably not a word, but for some of you out there in the ether, it’s probably summing up how you feel right now.

Welcome to day two. The tasks for this week are intended to get us linked up and established. You’re going to use all these very simple tools to experience an online course in ways that do not mimic the classroom. There’s a method in my madness.

For a run down on the tools, see “Eating the Elephant.”