Bill Gates on Online Learning in 2010

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

The following are excerpts from “Online Learning,” a section in “2010 Annual Letter from Bill Gates.” According to Gates, “The focus of this year’s letter is innovation and how it can make the difference between a bleak future and a bright one.” He says, “If we project what the world will be like 10 years from now without innovation in health, education, energy, or food, the picture is quite bleak. . . . In the United States, rising education costs will mean that fewer people will be able to get a great college education and the public K–12 system will still be doing a poor job for the underprivileged.”

1. Hybrid approach: “The Internet will surprise people in how it can improve things—especially in combination with face-to-face learning.”

2. Cost effective: “With the escalating costs of education, an advance here [online learning] would be very timely.” 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.

Encounters: USDE 2009 Report on Effectiveness of Online Learning

encounters9Introduction: This encounter begins with a bump from Judith McDaniel (ETC editor, web-based course design), who posted a comment to Steve Eskow re Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Judith_McDaniel2_80Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies (Washington, D.C., 2009), conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development.

After reviewing the excerpts or the complete report, please post your extended comments re the findings. Some or all of the comments will be appended to this article as they are submitted.

Here are some of the key findings:

• Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.

• The observed advantage for online learning in general, and blended learning conditions in particular, is not necessarily rooted in the media used per se and may reflect differences in content, pedagogy and learning time.

• Most of the variations in the way in which different studies implemented online learning did not affect student learning outcomes significantly.

• The effectiveness of online learning approaches appears quite broad across different content and learner types.

• Studies in which analysts judged the curriculum and instruction to be identical or almost identical in online and face-to-face conditions had smaller effects than those studies where the two conditions varied in terms of multiple aspects of instruction.

• When a study contrasts blended and purely online conditions, student learning is usually comparable across the two conditions.

• Elements such as video or online quizzes do not appear to influence the amount that students learn in online classes.

• Online learning can be enhanced by giving learners control of their interactions with media and prompting learner reflection.

• Providing guidance for learning for groups of students appears less successful than does using such mechanisms with individual learners.

encounters: ideas that go bump

thompson80John Thompson, editor, green computing, on 17 August 2009, at 5:43 am, said:

This discussion on F2F, blended, and online learning reminds me of Matthew Arnold’s quote:

Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
The other powerless to be born.
With nowhere yet to rest my head
Like these, on earth I wait forlorn.

F2F proponents (right up there with the Luddites supporting print publications against digital encroachment) refuse to acknowledge a broken system. F2F served educational purposes well in another age (in a galaxy far, far away). And while there are still excellent F2F synchronous instructors (e.g., Randy Pausch), by and large the student audience has moved on. This government study merely confirms the obvious — almost anything is as good or even better than F2F instruction, at least as too many F2F instructors practice it. For all intents and purposes, F2F instruction is dead. Yet, online still remains in the wings, albeit with one foot on stage.

encounters: ideas that go bump

keller80Harry Keller, editor, science education, on 17 August 2009, at 7:53 am, said:

I also noted the small coverage of K-12 learning.

I did not see any discussion of the self-selection effect. Students in online or blended learning may have chosen to do so. Such students may be more motivated to do well, on average.

I believe that the instructor remains the key to success. Really good teachers manage to get good results regardless of the surroundings. By providing excellent tools to instructors, we can make the good ones very good. Perhaps, these same tools can help us identify and weed out the poor ones — emphasis on perhaps.

Even if online learning does not, by itself, make learning better, it has and will continue to provide incentives for new ideas in education from which these important new tools will arise.

Of course, as a creator of such a new tool, I have a bias.

encounters: ideas that go bump

jims80Jim Shimabukuro, editor, on 17 August 2009, at 11:15 am, said:

We tend to forget that communication is at the heart of learning, and that schools and classrooms are basically a medium or form of communcation. The problem is that we’ve become so accustomed to the classroom that we no longer view it as a medium of communication but equate it with learning. The danger of this equation is the tendency to dismiss other critical media such as the web.

Another way of viewing this dichotomy is the notion of formal and informal learning. For many educators, the distinction is clear: formal happens in the classroom, and informal, outside. Since the web appears to be clearly “outside” the classroom, it’s informal and irrelevant.

Fortunately, students don’t buy into the belief that learning is limited to what happens in the classroom. They understand, intuitively, that the web is a natural medium for communication and learning, and that the distinctions between formal and informal learning are all too often arbitrary and meaningless.

John Thompson, in his comment above, says, “By and large the student audience has moved on” to online modes of communication. I agree. For them, traditional F2F classrooms are becoming, like telephone landlines, anachronisms, sharing the same fate as typewriters, newspapers, and horse-drawn carriages. The web’s instant, anywhere, anytime communication with anyone or with any information source in the world is a given in their daily lives.

Increasingly, for students today, the question isn’t “Online or F2F?” but “Why limit learning to classrooms?” And increasingly, they’ll want to know, “Why do we have to gather in a classroom for instruction that could be delivered much more effectively and efficiently via the web?”

In their lives outside the classroom, students have become expert at informal learning or learning that’s not guided by an instructor. They use their mobile electronic communication devices to get information instantly on the latest news, entertainment, products and sales. If they need information, they automatically turn to the web simply because it’s there and they have access to it from anywhere at anytime. And more importantly, it’s a way to keep in touch with friends, allowing for the creation of social networking that’s unprecedented. Through the web, they can stay in touch with all their friends 24-7. They’re never more than a few seconds apart, regardless of the physical distances between them.

Replacing some of their F2F class meetings with online activities is a way for educators to acknowledge the undeniable impact of web technology in the lives of their students. This adjustment is considered “blending,” and the result is blended instruction. It seems to be working very well, and many if not most claim that it’s superior to both completely F2F and completely online methods. The USDE report seems to support this contention, but the gap between online and blended is apparently closing.

My concern with the term “blended” is its inclusiveness. It includes such a wide range of practices that it has little or no power to define an actual pedagogy.

Like a storm building at sea, online learning is gradually making its way to landfall, and all indications are that it’s strengthening rather than weakening, and when it hits shore, the impact will change the educational landscape.

The significance of the USDE report is not so much in telling us where we are but in showing us where we’re headed. There’s a trend, and its direction is unmistakable and unavoidable. In the meantime, as Harry Keller says above, “Even if online learning does not, by itself, make learning better, it has and will continue to provide incentives for new ideas in education from which these important new tools will arise.”

The coming years will be exciting, but we can’t really see the dramatic changes that are coming. However, we can read the signs and imagine.

encounters: ideas that go bump

john_sener2_80John Sener, ETC writer, on 17 August 2009, at 10:41 am, said:

There is an inherent danger and limitations to these studies, even meta-analyses such as this one. In particular, the danger is in absorbing the report’s summary findings (e.g., “the use of video and online quizzes…does not appear to enhance learning”) and applying it in a blanket fashion, when in reality the report itself describes findings which indicate that a more nuanced interpretation/response is needed. (Why reports like this one are so schizoid about this is one of the things that bugs me about them.)

For example, the actual language of the report states that the existing research on online quizzes “does not provide evidence that the practice is effective,” which means that:

1) The research does not indicate that the practice of using online quizzes is ineffective either.
2) As the report indicates, each study looked at slightly different things. The above comment was based on very few studies.
3) There are several important but unstated qualifiers. For example, one study found that discussions worked just as well as quizzes; that doesn’t mean that the quizzes weren’t effective.
4) Effectiveness depends on other variables. (Duh!) Interestingly, one study found that one LMS platform was better than another (WebCT vs. IDLE), suggesting that “details of their user interfaces” may have been the key variable in that case. As this example shows, there are LOTS of elements that can explain differences — elements that IMO are impossible to control using (quasi-) experimental designs.

Likewise, the Media Elements section of the report provides clues about possible practices related to using video effectively. For example, the Zhang study “found that the effect of video on learning hinged on the learner’s ability to control the video.” Now, read that sentence juxtaposed with the report’s summary paragraph for this section:

‘In summary, many researchers have hypothesized that the addition of images, graphics, audio, video or some combination would enhance student learning and positively affect achievement. However, the majority of studies to date have found that these media features do not affect learning outcomes significantly.’

Do you see the same disconnect that I do? On one level, this is simply an echo of Clark’s findings from 25+ years ago, as the report itself notes:

“Clark (1983) has cautioned against interpreting studies of instruction in different media as demonstrating an effect for a given medium inasmuch as conditions may vary with respect to a whole set of instructor and content variables.”

On another level, the report’s summary findings do NOT point out significant findings such as the Zhang study because, as one of my colleagues has put it, they are asking the wrong questions. But if you take the summary findings at face value, it’s easy to lose the more important and useful findings such as Zhang’s.

Also IMO, here is the report’s real message:

“That caution applies well to the findings of this meta-analysis, which should not be construed as demonstrating that online learning is superior as a medium. Rather, it is the combination of elements in the treatment conditions, which are likely to include additional learning time and materials as well as additional opportunities for collaboration, that has proven effective. The meta-analysis findings do not support simply putting an existing course online, but they do support redesigning instruction to incorporate additional learning opportunities online.”

To me, that means that you’re much better off in looking at the “combination of elements in the treatment conditions” than in taking the report’s summary findings as stated and running with them.

One other important point about this report: it apparently fails to take differences in learning outcomes assessment methods into account. in some cases, they simply report that learning outcomes were the same (or not) without telling us what methods were used. This is a clear yellow flag IMO.

An Interview with Terry Anderson: Open Education Resources – Part I

boettcher80By  Judith V. Boettche

This is my first experience with doing a formal blog posting, although it has been on my list for a while. Jim Morrison suggested that this format, the new blog area for Innovate, might be a good way to more quickly share a recent interview on open education resources with Terry Anderson, director, Canadian Institute for Distance Education Research, and one of the keynoters at the 14th Annual Sloan-C International Conference on Online Learning in Orlando, Florida, on 4 November 2008. Terry’s keynote title was “Social Software and Open Education Resources: Can the crowd learn to build great educational content?

One of my goals in going to the conference was to interview Terry about his perspectives on open education resources, and I was not disappointed! Terry was very gracious in meeting me over lunch the day of his keynote in the Caribe Royal restaurant. We had a broad-ranging conversation that included his personal experiences with making the book, The Theory and Practice of Online Learning, now in its second edition, freely available on the web. But more on that later.

So here goes. I hope you enjoy it!

terry_andersonJB: Terry, the abstract for your keynote emphasizes the promise of open education resources (OERs) to radically reduce the cost of educational content production and availability. Yet you seem to indicate that educators are not making much use of these resources. Why not?

TA: I don’t think that the availability of OERs has had much impact as yet. Lots of people download content, but how many people use it for serious academic work?

JB: Why do you think that is? What do you think has to happen before the adoption of OERs becomes more widespread and thus more of a force in keeping educational content costs down?

TA: I think there are two issues in the adoption and use of OERs: credentialing and the social support of learning experiences.

People work hard when they are motivated, and most people are motivated by credentialing or earning some kind of a certificate. What is needed for broadening the impact of open educational resources is to provide a pathway for credentialing. For example, with the open courseware from MIT, they provide the courseware resources, but no credentialing. It is up to other institutions to provide the pathway to credentialing. For example, at Athabasca University, a significant number of our Athabasca courses have what we call a “challenge alternative.” This means students can elect to writing an equivalent final exam or completing the final requirements of a course — without actually taking the course.

The second issue is that of social support. Many students find it difficult to learn on their own independent of a social environment. They like to struggle and engage with other learners as they learn. So one of our future tasks is likely to focus on developing educational experiences that include interaction with other students. For example, a learning experience that says, “Go to this site and do this with others who have started at about the same time.”

JB: What about the financial model for OER? How is this going to work? How do we ensure that people with expertise, talent get some compensation for their time and resources?

TA: What we have here, I think, is the same issue that exists with television, music and other creative industries. I think that micropayments are one approach that will work. We see this in the model from Apple with iTunes. Rather than buying a whole album, people select and pay 99 cents for one track of a CD. We need to experiment with additional different models that include reaching out with micropayment models to the long tail of the net —where there are millions of people on line today. We need to begin doing more looking out beyond the 200 or so million people in the U.S.

terry_anderson_sbJB: What about faculty members? Is the micropayments model going to be important for them?

TA: For many faculty it is not an issue. Even today, writing educational materials generally does not mean a lot of money coming back to faculty. And it does not matter as faculty are paid by the state or by the institution! Faculty may dream about writing a textbook that becomes a nationwide top seller, but it doesn’t happen very often.

I think we should move away from a production model where textbooks are written by one or two superstars to a production model with a much larger group of folks. Or move to a co-production model such as we do for research journals.

[Note: Terry’s thoughts on content production models made me think about the Wikipedia model. Maybe we should consider a Chemistry or Physics Resources Wikipedia? -JB]

JB: Terry, what bout the current costs of textbooks and educational materials. Are the costs for educational materials really a big deal?

TA: It really depends a great deal on where you are. When I am working on my campus I have access through our institution’s library database agreements to almost any resource I am interested in using. And this is the same for most of my colleagues in the academic community. So, we start to forget that materials may not be similarly “available” to others. If you go to Africa where the tuition is $45, and the libraries do not have access to content and the textbook is $90 to $100, it’s a very big deal!

JB: Let’s return to the question in the subtitle of your keynote presentation. Terry, do you think the “crowd” can learn to build great educational content?”

TA: Oh, I think “yes!” A colleague and I have been working on a book that is in a long gestation period. The book focuses on the “three aggregations of the many.”

The third “aggregation” is the collective, which is the “crowd.” A lot of people are using the net for many purposes. As they are doing this, they are all leaving traces of their activity, explicitly by voting or buying or doing something; or implicitly by which sites they are visiting and how long they stay on a site. Data mining and data capture techniques include tools that match what some people are doing with what other people are doing with some automatic filtering going on. We are at the early stages of that. Collectives are being used as learning resources without enrolling the class. This means if you use the net fairly frequently, it will reward you.

[Continued in Part II]

Green Computing: How to Reduce Our Personal Carbon Footprints

thompson80By John Thompson
Staff Writer
22 November 2008

“I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” That quote sounds quite timely as President-elect Obama made “green energy” part of his vision for America’s future, including using clean energy as an engine to create millions of new “green collar” jobs. So over the course of the 2008 presidential campaign, the general public has heard about his vision for clean energy and should be primed for that issue to be addressed in his new administration. But apart from what government and business can and should do to address the energy situation, what can and should individuals do to support this initiative? Specifically, what can individual computer users do to reduce their personal carbon footprints?

However, it seems somewhat self-defeating to embark on new, costly initiatives to reduce energy costs without also first examining ways in which we can make cost saving adjustments on the personal level. With over 300 million people in the USA, if each person, or even each office or household, made a conscious effort to examine his or her own use of energy, it would seem that the multiplier effect of millions of small daily changes would yield significant results on a national scale. What are some changes that individuals can make to support green computing and reduce their technology carbon footprints? Let’s look at some ways to start making a difference by picking just a few low-hanging fruits.

thompson01Power management. Keep computers and printers turned off unless you’re using them. Or at least set computer and monitor power management controls to enter low power “sleep” mode when your system is not actively in use. And while a PC does use some power in sleep mode, it’s very small—maybe 10% of what’s needed when it’s running at full power. Also, cut down on the time a computer operates unattended before it goes into sleep mode. The US Department of Energy estimates that a PC wastes up to 400 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year just by functioning at full power even though it’s not being used. Dell reportedly has saved almost $2 million and avoided 11,000 tons of CO2 emissions in one year through a global power-management initiative that calls for its employees to say “nighty-night” daily to their PCs by changing the power management setup so their PCS enter sleep mode each night.

E-mail. Look at our use of e-mail, which continues to explode. Personally, a quick count shows that I have sent close to 400 personal and business-related e-mails this month, and there’s still a week left in the month. And that number is a small fraction of the hundreds that I receive each day and of the estimated several hundred billion sent daily worldwide. Use e-mail to minimize paper use, but don’t routinely print them. Add a message at the bottom of your e-mails requesting that recipients save paper by thinking twice before printing them off their screens. I’ve seen administrators who have their administrative assistants print out all e-mails so they can read and maybe reply to them. Suggest outsourcing your organization’s e-mail to Gmail as Google probably runs its data centers much more economically and greener than you do. And switching can generate cost savings and maybe increased e-mail features for users.

Online learning. By clicking to enter your course instead of driving to campus you do away with commuting and parking hassles while also eliminating your car exhaust emissions. A 2005 report on the environmental impact of providing higher education courses found, “on average, the production and provision of the distance learning courses consumed nearly 90% less energy and thompson02produced 85% fewer CO2 emissions” (p. 4). Online courses also typically reduce paper use since traditional classroom courses still use large amounts of paper (e.g., handouts). Unless your instructor assigns a textbook (many of the online courses I teach have not used a print text in years), everything is digital through e-mail or using the Internet. So if you have a choice between taking a college course in a traditional campus setting or accessing your course from work or home, consider the online choice. No campus presence equates to less energy use, but be sure to use the power management settings on your computer system and resist the temptation to print out all your online reading assignments.

All these suggestions sound doable to most folks. In addition, there are many other simple ways to reduce your personal energy use. But we aren’t talking about going totally “green” and parking your car and walking everywhere. We’re simply looking at ways you—the person reading this blog online right now—can start making a small but significant difference.

Then why are most of these simple strategies not being implemented? Why are computer users not seeking to achieve the TBL—triple bottom line (economic, environmental and social)—and save money, help protect the environment, and do what’s right for society? Is it strictly an “I didn’t know” reason, or are there other obvious and not so obvious reasons that individuals are not taking personal responsibility to reduce their own carbon footprints? Is this a nation (world?) of people with little awareness of these small yet effective changes or just plain lazy folks waiting for government and business to light the light and lead us to reduced energy consumption? What do you think?

Oh, that opening quotation? That’s from Thomas Edison—in 1931. One would hope that there is more progress on sustainable energy in the near future than in the past 77 years.  Don’t leave it up to government or your boss. Little things YOU can do can make a big difference. Making small, almost seemingly insignificant changes can yield huge cumulative results. Green computing is just a change of habit.