Change Has Already Arrived but We Don’t Know It, Yet

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

The problem with innovation is that we don’t see it unless it suddenly stops or disappears. You might say that its importance in our lives is indirectly proportional to its visibility. The more important it is, the less visible it is. It simply becomes a part of our lives, like the air we breathe and the earth we walk on, and we take it for granted. But remove it, and we’re suddenly painfully aware of our dependence on it.

A few examples will do: electricity, indoor plumbing, freeways, cars, the toilet, cable TV, broadband, wi-fi, passenger and cargo jets, container ships, oil tankers, cell phones, GPS, the internet, computers, super markets, malls, Starbucks, eBay, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

These are truly dramatic innovations, and they changed the world and our lives, but they pale in comparison to the greatest, the one that trumps them all by a margin so wide that it, too, is invisible — our triumph over time and space. It’s crept so softly and slowly into our lives that we didn’t notice it. It just happened, like the rising tide or the turning from spring to summer. Continue reading

Sloan-C’s Virtual Attendance Option: Real or an Afterthought?

encountersIntroduction: The 15th annual Sloan-C Conference on Online Learning will be adding a new virtual attendance option to its October 28-30 event in Orlando, Florida. Hmmm. Will this online “addition” be anything to write home about? Or is it just an afterthought, a pale reflection of the “real” conference? -Jim S

John SenerJohn Sener, ETC writer, on 15 Oct. 2009, 3:54 am:

Sloan-C’s virtual conference option at its San Fran event in June was very well received by its participants. It’s certainly not intended as an afterthought; Sloan-C is very consciously and deliberately moving into this space of virtual conferences, which is driven in part by the high cost of travel and the budget crunch.

Whether or not it’s a pale reflection of the “real” conference depends on one’s perspective about virtual vs. f2f events, I suppose. Recently I’ve been hearing ads by British Airways touting the necessity of f2f contact to conduct business effectively. I interpret that as meaning that virtual meetings must be starting to cut into their business if they feel the need to counterattack the trend in their ads…

claude40Claude Almansi, ETC editor, accessibility issues and site accessibility facilitator, on 15 Oct. 2009, 5:08 am:

I agree with John Sener. Based on participating in 2 virtual conferences recently:

1. Oct. 3: about digital natives, both real-life in Lugano and online.

positive: brilliant moderator for the online part, quick in accepting chat messages, good at drawing speakers’ attention to them (they were all a bit too old and above all set in their ways to know how to multitask between their in-presence do and reading the chat)

negative: the do was only transmitted in streaming video, and at too high a definition, meaning that the moderator kept sending messages: “If the streaming stops, reload the page.”

2. today: work meeting between folks in Lugano, Luzern, Zurich, Brig and Geneva. Real virtual conference, say like Elluminate but as Web app, so no java applets to install.

positive: again, the moderator was good (though there was no connection to be made with a real-life meeting as there was none, and we were all used to video conference softwares, so her job was easier)

positive: the software allowed folks to indicate their connection type (hence speed), and actually everybody used just written chat and audio (not video)

positive: nice whiteboard for slides etc: much better than having them filmed onscreen in a video streaming

negatives: none

So based on these 2 recent experiences (and some older ones) I’d say that when offering an interactive conference both in real life and on the web, success depends on

  • having a separate moderator for the online part
  • using a real online conferencing software rather than just video-streaming the live event + a text chat.

thompson40John Thompson, ETC editor, green computing, on 15 Oct. 2009, 5:12 am:

A growing number of heretofore F2F ed tech conferences (e.g., TCEA, FETC) are now including a virtual attendance component. I suppose it provides another way to reach out to the ed tech community, and perhaps can be seen as a marketing tool, especially when the virtual conference is free. It also attracts attendees who might not otherwise have participated and provides another revenue stream for conferences, many of which are seeing the effects of the strained economy.

Having F2F conferences offer a virtual choice is similar to print media also offering an online edition. And there you’re seeing a gradual shift to online editions being more like the print edition, not “pale” versions. USA Today has recently initiated a free electronic edition for subscribers that is exactly like the print edition, plus add a reduced size Saturday electronic edition to subscribers. The NY Times and Chronicle of Higher Education are two other print pubs that now offer electronic versions to subscribers that are exactly like the print editions.

Interesting to see Sloan-C charging a registration fee for its virtual component, albeit at a significantly reduced level from the F2F conference registration fee. These are changing times for long time institutions such as print pubs and F2F conferences, and those times are exacerbated by the current difficult economic situation. At the very least, Sloan-C needs to be congratulated for taking the initiative.

Disclaimer – I’m presenting at the Sloan-C conference this month.

Computers in the Classroom Can Be Boring

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Editor, Teacher Education

The headline of an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week caught my attention: “‘Teach Naked’ Effort Strips Computers from Classrooms.” The article, posted on July 20, 2009, is written by Jeffrey Young and is actually called “When Computers Leave the Classroom, So Does Boredom.”

Young writes that, according to studies, students think lectures and labs depending on computer technology are less interesting than those relying on discussion and interaction. PowerPoint presentations (one of the main areas of complaint), for example, are often used as a replacement for transparencies shown on an overhead projector and make no substantive difference in lesson delivery. An effective use of video technology should be to spark discussion and not be a replacement for a lecture.

Young says students also complain that these interactive classes require more effort than lectures. He says that students who are used to the lecture model are often resistant to this type of participatory learning. I can attest to this from my own computer lab with 1990's computers round a central tableexperience. I teach my face-to-face classes seminar-style with small group and large group activities and discussion. I will never forget one student telling me, “Instead of all this group stuff, why don’t you just tell us what you want us to know.” (Unfortunately, that student is now a teacher who probably lectures to his students.)

Despite its title, the article is not insisting that all technology and all computers should be thrown out of the classroom. It is making the point that the way technology is used in the classroom needs to be reassessed and changed so that it is not just being used to replicate the traditional modes of delivery.

Many of the authors in this journal have advocated just such changes (most recently, Judith Sotir in Two Steps Forward . . . Several Back and Judith McDaniel in What Students Want and How to Design for It: A Reflection on Online Teaching). As McDaniel pointed out, we need to “design for a structure that challenges and rewards.”

I agree that this attention to design is important not only in the online environment McDaniel was referring to but also in the face-to-face classroom with or without technology. As Young says, with stiff competition from online courses, face-to-face courses need to engage students so that they see a reason for being in the classroom.

‘The College of 2020: Students’ – A Chronicle Report

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

In the the first of a three-part series in the Chronicle of Higher Education (6.19.09), Chronicle Research Services reports on what higher education will look like in the year 2020. Click here to view a copy of the free executive summary. The first report focuses on students. Here are some quotes from the summary:

  • More students will attend classes online, study part time, take courses from multiple universities, and jump in and out of colleges.
  • By 2020, almost a third of respondents [121 institutions that responded to a survey] said, students will be taking up to 60 percent of their courses entirely online. Now almost no students at those colleges take courses only online.
  • Colleges that have resisted putting some of their courses online will almost certainly have to expand their online programs quickly.
  • Many colleges are learning from the for-profit college industry that they must start courses and certificate programs at multiple times throughout the year.
  • Students will increasingly expect access to classes from cellular phones and other portable computing devices.
  • Classroom discussions, office hours with a professor, lectures, study groups, and papers will all be online.
  • The faculty member . . . may become less an oracle and more an organizer and guide, someone who adds perspective and context, finds the best articles and research, and sweeps away misconceptions and bad information.
  • The average age of students will keep trending higher as expectations shift in favor of people going back to college again and again to get additional credentials to advance their careers or change to new ones. The colleges that are doing the best right now at capturing that demographic are community colleges and for-profit institutions.
  • At some point, probably just after 2020, minority students will outnumber whites on college campuses for the first time.

Are Online Programs Growing or Dying?

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Judith McDaniel, in her response (28 May 2009) to John Sener‘s article, “The Recession Is Affecting Online Higher Education – Duh…,” points us to an article that appears in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Rocky Start for Colorado State U.’s Online-Education Start-Up” (28 May 2009). She gives us a paradox to think about. As we receive glowing reports on the growth of online programs, we’re also seeing signs of their possible demise.


I did a quick google and found two more articles that suggest a decline. Citing “low and declining enrollment,” Butler Tech is eliminating one of its three online learning programs (Lindsey Hilty, “District to Revamp Online Programs,” JournalNews 5.31.09). The Navy, in response to a lack of funding, is dropping nearly 4,000 online courses (David J. Carter, “Navy Cuts Online Business, Technology Courses,” Stars and Stripes 6.2.09).

Which is it? And perhaps more importantly, why are we getting these mixed messages?

The Recession Is Affecting Online Higher Education – Duh…

John SenerBy John Sener

In an earlier article in March (How Is the Recession Affecting Online Higher Education?), I asked whether anyone had found any “concrete evidence on the recession’s effect on online education” and received little response.  I noted that I had only been able to find speculation and perception about this topic.

Well, apparently I asked too soon or was not using the right search terms or something — this evening I’m finding all sorts of examples of how online education is on the rise thanks to the economy, especially at community colleges, for example:

Amy Rolph, “Colleges Nationwide See a Boost in Enrollment as the Economy Sours” (, 10.9.08)

North Seattle Community College reports a 32 percent increase in online enrollments over 2007. Seattle Central Community College officials say their online-course registration is up 27 percent this year. Most online students take “hybrid” classes taught partly online and partly on campus, so they don’t have to drive to school every day and have more flexibility for work.

Jeffrey J. Selingo, “Community-College Leaders Confront a Challenge: Enrollments Are Up but Money Isn’t” (Chronicle of Higher Education, 4.5.09)

Thelma White, president of Elizabethtown Community and Technical College, a Kentucky institution that has seen its enrollment jump by 18 percent this year as automobile-parts suppliers cut jobs in the area, has developed a career-transition program. It offers a 50-percent discount on tuition up to six credit hours for workers laid off since last fall. “The important part is that this is not costing us anything more to provide,” Ms. White said. “We’re looking to fill spaces in courses. We’re not going out to create new sections and hire more faculty.”

Dana Forde, “Online Programs See Uptick in Enrollment, Despite Economy” (Diverse, 3.6.09)

Dr. Jennifer Lerner, director of the Extended Learning Institute at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), says officials have added more course sections and additional instructors to help keep up with the increased demand for online learning. “We are currently 10 percent larger than we were last spring,” says Lerner, adding that about 7,500 students are enrolled per semester in distance-learning programs at NOVA. “I definitely think that either the economy is a significant part of the cause for that growth or it is the result of people losing jobs or wanting to retain or bulk up on their skills so that they are prepared for opportunities that may arise.”

Grace Chen, “Why Student Enrollment Rises as the Economy Falls” (Community College Review, 10.22.08)

Some experts theorize that a dwindling economy actually helps to stimulate student enrollment. As Inside Higher Education explores, “Whether it’s the economy, new academic programs or better recruiting, community colleges are seeing an enrollment boom. While enrollment has been growing steadily at many two-year institutions, this fall appears likely to set records for many of these colleges.”

ccpressurvClick the image for the graphic presentation. Click here to view the report.

New Survey of Community College Leaders Finds Rising Enrollments, Declining Budgets” (Pearson Education, 3.18.09)
Scott Jaschik, “Community College Surge” (Inside Higher Ed, 3.18.09)
Kenneth C. Green, “Community Colleges Surge Amid Economic Downtown” (Converge, 3.18.09)

The last three are reporting on the same study by Kenneth C. Green, The Campus Computing Project (see the image above), in February-March of this year — a survey of 120 community college presidents who have actual figures to report. But online education is on the rise at four-year schools as well, for example:

Eric Ferreri, “Distance Education Enrollment Up 20%: Online Classes Help Jobless, Reduce Need for Buildings” (News & Observer, 1.8.09)

Enrollment in distance education courses through UNC system campuses shot up more than 20 percent in 2008. The jump points in part to the desperation of out-of-work people looking to shift careers and make themselves more marketable. More than 22,000 UNC system students stayed off campus entirely last year, taking courses either at satellite sites or over the Internet. They are a relatively small but rapidly growing piece of the UNC system’s overall student pool, which topped 215,000 in 2008.

Bridget Botelho, “Mass High Tech – Online Universities Grow Enrollment” (UMassOnline, 3.30.09)

According to the 2008 report about Online Education in the United States by the Needham-based Sloan Consortium, more than 20 percent — 3.9 million — of all college students were taking at least one course online in the fall of 2007, and the numbers continue to grow. The number of students enrolled in online learning increased 12 percent over the previous year, and online enrollment growth far exceeded the 1.2 percent growth of the overall higher education student population, according to Sloan, an organization dedicated to integrating online education into mainstream higher education.

etc. etc. . . .