Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Student Retention

Tresman, Susan (2002, April). Toward a strategy for improved student retention in programmes of open, distance education: A case study from the open university UK. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning.

As I was reading this article, I found myself jotting down a number of notes in the margins. I suppose that means that Tresman's work really resonated with me or that some of her comments hit a nerve.

Starting with the hit nerve: In the early portion of this article, Tresman discusses the theoretical work she is using to frame her discussion. She points to Ball's work on the "market economy" approach, including a critique on the notion that "educational problems can be solved by technological means." A number of articles refer to these "educational problems," but few elaborate on what these are. What problems are we hoping to solve by implementing technological solutions? Is there a common list that educators are working from? Is this notion constantly changing and evolving? In the 1930s, Dewey was talking about the inadequacies of education. Are we still dealing with the same issues? (I would imagine not.) Tresman concludes this section by arguing that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. She states, "Careful observation and analysis of what is actually happening within a given institution, can lead to a theory that is both relevant to a given institutional context, rather than that of the government."

Continuing with the market economy approach, Tresman highlights the assumption that students are customers/consumers. She questions the idea that consumers "are the best judges of their educational needs and how these should be met." How do students know what they need? They often do not have any experience in a particular area and are not aware of the work that may be relevant to it. If students did have the experience and knowledge, then why would they even need education? While I agree with Tinto's assessment that educators should make students' needs a priority and create a rich learning experience, I do not think that students always know what is best for them or what they really want/need. As many retailers have discovered, young people are a fickle market - what's hot today is passe tomorrow.

In the section, "The Student Learning Journey," Tresman asserts, "All higher education institutions regard student dropout as an issue." It is interesting how quickly things change. When I was an undergraduate, it was a source of pride to weed out students. In fact, the professors in some of my course we repeatedly state that they intended to create an environment where students either dropped or flunked out. I suppose that is what happens when education becomes a business - those undergraduate dollars are what fuels the institution and now have purchasing power.

The last section that was of interest was Tresman's discussion of "rescue strategies" designed for those students who have to interrupt their studies. She proposes that these individuals would be able to carry forward earned credits if they decided to "recommence their work within a reasonable period of time." This statement reminds me of the article that appeared in the October 29, 2007 issue of the Arizona Republic (the one that includes the quotes by Curt). This article discusses a new system implemented at Rio
Salado College where courses started every week. While the Arizona Republic article does not specifically refer to stopping and starting courses mid-stream, it and the one by Tresman both do refer to a more flexible model of education. While this many be beneficial for students, how does this work for the instructor? It seems like these revolving door logistics (student in class - student not; one students signs up for class; next week another one starts, etc.) would be mind boggling.

So, what is a community?

The articles for this week discussed building communities among students at a distance and virtual teams. One thing that was mentioned in the Kimble et al. (2000) piece is that "the concept of the virtual team is not clearly defined and it often overlaps with concepts such as the virtual or networked organizations, the virtual workplace, virtual communities, electronic commerce and some forms of teleworking" (p. 3). Perhaps one of the difficulties in creating a sense of community in virtual spaces is rooted in the fact that online educators have not reached a consensus on the definition of community. How can we as researchers understand online communities and the formation of these entities if we cannot first define what they are?

Not only are there different ways of defining "community," but, as Brown (2001) notes, there is little research on the way students define community. In her study, Brown found that not all students participating in courses that were reported to have high levels of community did not share that viewpoint. Moreover, Brown states that while she was able to identify three levels of community (making online acquaintances or friends; community conferment; and camaraderie - p. 24), five of the students reported that they felt no sense of community in these courses; responses from four of the others were questionable. This discrepancy between the researcher's observations and the comments revealed during the interviews complicates the notion of community even further. Where does (or should) our focus lie - on the findings of our observations based on theory, or on the self-reports of those participating in these courses?

Brown indicates that this research involved telephone and email interviews. It would have been interesting to see whether the comments made in the first round were consistent with those made in the second. It is possible those who reported no sense of community had a bad day and upon reflection would revise their initial response. One explanation Brown gives is that the "participants did not want to be part of the community - did not want to bother with positive, supportive messages and interaction in the cafeteria" (p. 26). Isn't it possible that these individuals could have had an external support group, and because the cafeteria interactions were not a required part of the course did not feel the need to engage in optional activities? Overall, Brown's spin on her five explanations are somewhat simplistic and negatively skewed.

People are complex and developing a deeper understanding of what makes a community for individuals who participate in online course may require research that is more longitudinal in nature.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Virtual College in a Virtual World

Miss those college years? The current ones not living up to your expectations? Thanks to Second Life avatars Roberta Beauchamp and Redd Columbia, you can experience the stereotypical college years (e.g., beer parties, Greek life, late night cram sessions) in a SL role playing game, Kindly State University. Just complete their online application and pay 200 Linden dollars, and you too could be a part of this experience!

More about this "institution" is available through the Chronicle of Higher Education's Wired Campus blog.

Blackboard and Connections

At the EDUCAUSE conference this week, the CMS company, Blackboard, announced its latest initiative - the K-20 Connection. According to the company's project site, the K-20 connection is "new initiative designed to foster collaboration between higher education and K-12 institutions worldwide." The overarching goal of this project is to create a bridge between K-12, community colleges, and 4-year institutions.

More about this project is available "Online Education: Tailoring, Measuring and 'Bridging'" in the October 26, 2007 issue of Inside Higher Ed.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Face-to-face: How important is it?

Jones, N. (2005). The development of socialization in an on-line learning environment. The Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 3(3),

The Richardson and Swan article (previous post) was not the only one that brought to mind methodological questions. Another article where I started to think about alternative methodologies and what outcomes they might produce was in conjunction with the Jones and Peachy (2005) article. In their concluding remarks, the authors state, “Face-to-face contact played a significant part in the socialization process and subsequently in the creation of a community of learners” (p. 15). But how do they know that for certain? While they employed Solomon’s model, with the exception of the face-to-face component as an add-on, all of the students followed the same stages. What would have been enlightening, given that Jones and Peachy privilege the f2f interactions, would have been to really put that belief to the test. For example, half of the students could have followed an unmodified version of the Salmon model; the others could have followed the version with a f2f stage. The findings under these conditions may have confirmed the authors’ claims…or not.

Swan (2003) also mentions the techniques such as ice breakers and a f2f component to cultivate a sense of community among the students. One program she mentions is the LEEP program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign [she misspells Champaign, though]. Swan points out that those in charge of this particular program connect their 95% attrition rate to the on-campus f2f meetings that they use to build community among the students. For a project that I’ve been working on for almost two years (one that’s not related to libraries or librarians per se), I have conducted interviews (and have transcribed interviews) with a handful of students from the LEEP program. In general, both male and female students feel positively toward the program and the school even though they may work full-time or live outside the U.S. They even report a sense of belonging in this online program. Is this the result of their f2f "bootcamp" or is something else at work?

Even though the article is older than the others, the points made by Chickering and Ehrmann (1996) are still relevant today. This, in spite of all the technological changes that have occurred since the mid to late 1990s. After they address and describe their seven principles, the authors make a point of concluding that technology is not enough. In fact, they argue that students and faculty need to be “tough-minded about the software- and technology-assisted interactions they create and buy into.” Those like Salmon indicate that a f2f component is not needed, and the cost savings alone behind this line of thought would make administrators tend to believe this to be sufficient evidence. However, those affiliated with the LEEP program have found a strategy that works for them and are doing as Chickering and Ehrmann suggest – being “tough minded.”

Democratization and Methodology

Richardson, J. C., & Swan, K. (2003, February). Examining social presence in online courses in relation to students’ perceived learning and satisfaction. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Environments, 7(1). Retrieved February 19, 2006, from

Rhetoric suggesting that the Internet has democratizing effects appears to be back in vogue. In this 2003 article by Richardson and Swan, they state in their Introduction that “the ability of personal identities to remain concealed mans that all students, regardless of race, sex, disability, or appearance are on equal ground” (p. 69). However, scholars, such as Herring (gender and language cues) and Nakamura (race and ethnicity) argue that the anonymity afforded by the Internet may be more revealing than users (and others) once hoped or believed.

Another section of this piece that made me stop to think for a moment is the one that includes the results associated with Hypothesis 4: Students’ perceptions of social presence for individual course activities are related to their perceived learning for those activities. The authors’ survey revealed that “about one-third of students indicated written assignments while one-quarter of students indicated class discussions/questions and answer activities” (pp. 79-80). Respondents to the questionnaire also mentioned that interactions and feedback were also important. The reason why this stands out is because, as the authors note, class discussions, feedback, and interaction are aligned with social presence, but the written assignments are not. As a result of this contradiction, the authors suggest that social presence “permeates not only the activities generally designated as social activities but also those activities usually designated as individual activities” (p. 80).

However, an alternative explanation may be related to their methodology. This study employed mail/online questionnaires that the students completed. Perhaps face-to-face interviews would have clarified some of these discrepancies. Interviews may have also enabled the authors to probe into the reasons behind the responses to their questions, which may have been more revealing.

CMC and Context

Rourke, L., Andersen, T., Garrison, D. R., & Archer, W. (2001). Assessing social presence in asynchronous text-based computer conferencing. Journal of Distance Education.

In their discussion on the community of inquiry model, particularly the core component of social presence, Rourke and his colleagues provide a nice overview of computer-mediated conferencing (CMC). In their discussion, they integrate much of the literature that makes up the history of CMC – work by Sproul and Keisler (1986) and Walther (1994), just to name a few. They even mention a piece by Angeli, Bonk and Hara (1998) that concentrated on a content analysis of messages created in a social setting. While these pieces serve to frame the concept of social presence, and the authors also acknowledge the tension between certain perspectives outlined by these historical pieces (lack of cues versus hyper-personal for example), they do not mention one factor: many of the studies conducted in the “early” days of CMC were done so in labs. The context was not an authentic one, and the study participants were not as invested as students relying on CMC in an online course may be. This is not to suggest that these lab-based studies are not valid or important; they are. As social informatics researchers would say, though, context matters.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Online Learning

Inside Higher Ed reports that the Sloan Foundation has released a new report on the growth of online learning over the past five years. The report appropriately titled, "Online Nation: Five Years of Growth in Higher Education" indicates that the enrollment figures for online courses has begun to slow down a bit. While students continue to enroll in online courses, the increase is not as dramatic as in previous years. For example, the percentage increase last year was almost 37%; in contrast, this years increase was only around 10%. In addition to examining student enrollment in online courses, this report also outlines topics such as where the growth has occurred, areas of future growth, and barriers to widespread adoption of these types of courses.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Michael Wesch is at it again!

If you have not seen this YouTube video by Michael Wesch, an assistant professor at Kansas State University, and his Introduction to Cultural Anthropology students, it is definitely worth a look. In the spring, these students created a survey about student learning and also wrote the script for the video.

While some of the figures are striking, particularly those associated with the use of technology (e.g., students will write 500 pages of email but only 42 pages for class; students bring a laptop to class but aren't doing coursework - okay, not so striking), I wonder how this really differs from when I was an undergrad many moons ago? I knew plenty of students who purchased a $100 textbook and never opened it; there were also those who paid for a class and never attended (particularly those huge lecture courses at UIUC in Foellinger Hall). Even though technology played a very minor role (if at all) in my undergraduate classrooms, I saw a lot of similarities between my experiences and those of the students in this video.

Video Clips and SL

Here are the clips that I'm going to show in class on Monday night:

Education in Second Life: Explore the Possibilities

EDTech Island in Second Life

Library Education Goes Virtual

Intellagirl Tully - student engagement and student retention (just the beginning)

Web 2.0, CMS, and Questions

As I've been reading the articles for this week, I can't help but notice that they take a rather utopian stance on Web 2.0 technologies, including course management systems (CMS).

Full disclosure: For another course, I've been reading a book titled, Brave New Classrooms, which takes the opposite approach - the authors included in this collection of essays take a very cautious if not a dystopian position on the adoption of technologies in the classroom. The chapter by Lockhard, "Manifesto for Democratic Education and the Internet," summarizes the tone of this book. To give an example, he states, "A 'virtual campus' is an educational scam in progress" (p. 290). Lockhard continues by noting that "electronic education is no less than a means of technological colonization in the service of capital" (p. 291). While he does temper these beliefs toward the end of the chapter, it is possible that these and similar views have caused me to question the ideas presented by the authors we read for this week.

In the article by Thompson, which compares and contrasts Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, he refers to the work of early filmmakers. He states, "It took time for filmmakers to move the actors off stage and into studios and even more time for them to begin making movies on location." Thompson is not alone in his connection to the movie industry. In a piece by Livingstone and Kemp, they too point to the connection between cinematographers who replicated existing work and in their case, 3D virtual worlds.

However, Thompson continues by arguing that "Web 2.0 applications will continue to evolve, making the process of change much more complicated." Which leads to my question: If the technologies that educators want to integrate into the curriculum are constantly morphing into new technologies, will it ever be possible to move beyond the fits and start stage?

Downes (2005) also talks about technology and education in his article on e-learning 2.0. Not only does he assert that "living and learning...will eventually merge" but he also notes that as a result of e-learning 2.0, there will be a "collapse of the distinction between teacher and student altogether." But, aren't teachers in that role because they possess a certain level of experience and expertise? By moving to a system where there is no distinction between students and teachers, why do we even need to bother with the teacher? Couldn't we just have the students "talk amongst themselves" as the "Saturday Night Live" character Linda Richmond (played by Mike Meyers) would say?

Moving on to CMS, I had a difficult time envisioning this application as one that would allow students to "experience deeper learning" (p. 27) as Carmean and Haefner (2002) contend. I suppose I still consider this tool to be a "system container" (p. 28). In their 2003 article on CMS tools, they boldly state, "As information literacy grows more significant in learning outcomes, the role of the library in course support increases" (p. 10). Does it? Not according to the OLCOS Roadmap 2012, which predicts that in 2012 "library services may be slow to find their place in open learning environments" (p. 115). The authors of this report also suggest that "traditional and current digital libraries will have a long way to go before they become part of 'the flow' of a new generation's learning landscape" (p. 106).

So, I suppose the overarching question for both educators and librarians is this: Do we roll with the punches and try to adopt the new technologies as they happen? Or, do we stop and take the time to assess how we can use these systems and applications most effectively (while hoping we don't get left behind in the process)? Or...

Friday, October 12, 2007

OLCOS Roadmap 2012 and Libraries

Geser, Guntram (ed.). (2007, January). Open Educational Practices and Resources: OLCOS Roadmap 2012 (149 pages). Retrieved July 4, 2007, from and

As I was reading through this report, libraries and the role of librarians kept coming to mind. While the focus was primarily on individuals affiliated with educational entities, I was pleased to see occasional references made to librarians. To me, librarians are an integral part of the educational mission - at least that is the way I approached it when I was a reference/instructional librarian.

Like those in education, one of the core components is the concept of sharing (knowledge, information, resources). Yet, the library community is not one that is quick to change. One of the first library jobs I had out of grad school was at an institution that was proposing to convert their online catalog to a new system. Many librarians threatened to retire - some did once the conversion was underway, but others stayed and found that this was not their worst nightmare come true. For some, it is difficult to be flexible and optimistic (and willing to invest a lot of time) when facing the unknown that often accompanies new technologies. As this OLCOS report indicates, this is true for educators, as well.

On page 106, a reference is made to a report by Lorcan Dempsey (OCLC) that asserts that libraries will have to change the way they do business if they want to become part of "'the flow' of a new generation's learning landscape." As this section of the report suggests, librarians are worried about losing control of information. This is evident on numerous librarian discussion lists, particularly when tools, such as Google, Wikipedia, or MySpace find their way into the conversation. Librarians believe they are the only gateway to "good" information - in other words, they continue to call for a top-down model that the report warns against.

In the long-term influence section of the Roadmap Briefs (- 2012), library services are listed as an inhibitor rather than a driver/enabler. The report makes the following prediction:

Library services may be slow to find their place in open learning environments. It is widely felt that libraries will need to adopt better to the considerable changes in information behaviour and Web-based environments. (p. 115)

As a librarian, I find this to be a very depressing outlook for the profession. No wonder librarians are worried about losing control of information resources. They may not be able to find their place in the larger picture in a few short years!

Perhaps, librarians should look to the model proposed for teachers - a more bottom-up approach. Rather than being the "expert" and a dispenser of knowledge, teachers are to become coaches that emphasize the students' own activities. As is the case for teachers, though, the culture has to change.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

OER and Sustainability

Downes, Stephen (2007). Models for sustainable open educational resources. Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects. 3, Retrieved July 5, 2007, from

One section of the article by Downes (2007) mentions the issue of sustainability and the costs of providing the resource for free to the consumer. On page 34, he states that "'sustainable' in this instance may mean not merely financially cheaper, but capable of promoting wider objectives."

This made me think about the U. C. Berkeley's new YouTube initiative. An announcement for this project appeared in the October 4, 2007 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. On Berkeley's YouTube channel,
selected courses, special events, and lectures will be available for free to the public. One thing that has been a discussion topic on some library listservs is the long-term viability and sustainability of this project. According to some list members, there is no guarantee that what is posted will not disappear without warning. While I'm not familiar with the type of long-term arrangements Berkeley has made with YouTube in terms of preservation, it does add another dimension to the discussion of sustainability presented by Downes.

Open Educational Resources

Johnstone, S. M. (2005). Open educational resources serve the world. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 28(3), 15-18. Retrieved November 18, 2006, from

One thing that
Iiyoshi, Richardson, & McGrath (2006) emphasize is that their work on the KEEP toolkit is that their belief in it as an open source resource is one that is aligned with the mission of education in general - to share knowledge. This sense of sharing also comes through clearly in the article by Sally Johnstone. Not only does she advocate for the sharing of materials by educators in the U.S., but she also believes that this can work on a more global level. In addition to the interest in making resources and "knowledge chunks" available world wide, Johnstone also discusses some of the issues and concerns that faces these initiatives.

First, there are multiple definitions of a resource. What is included? What is not? (This is a concept that is elaborated on in the article by Downes (2007) - Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources.) In some cases, OER includes learning resources, resources to support teachers, and resources to support quality education. Others, like those involved in the Connexions project, place a greater emphasis on collaboration. The creation of community, like that associated with Open Learning Support (OLS), is yet another feature that is present in some OERs. In these communities, self-management and self-policing become important aspects.

Even though this is a rather short article, Johnstone is able to convey the breadth and depth of OER projects that are currently underway. Maybe it's the librarian in me, but one thing I thought would be extremely beneficial for educators would be to create some type of repository that would enable individuals to access all of these rich resources from one central location. Not only would that make it easier to see what others are working on and where the gaps are, but it would also make it easier to access (or contribute to) the materials in the various collections. In the words of Johnstone, this type of repository would further enhance efforts to "help people help themselves" (p. 18).

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Second Life Survey

The Friday, October 5, 2007 issues of the Chronicle's "The Wired Campus" included details of the Second Life Educators survey conducted by the New Media Consortium. Their findings show that educators are divided on the future of SL for educational purposes. The survey results and the appendix are freely available at:


Some of the interesting nuggets from the respondents include:

*80% of the respondents were between the ages of 36-55+
*43% took a class held in SL
91% have engaged in random wandering; 77% have used SL to meet new people
*46% have designed their avatar to resemble themselves
*45% indicate that rich interactions, meeting new people, expanding networks, and generosity of community have been their most positive experiences; 36% say that their most negative experiences are due to technical issues/using SL
*SL c
haracteristics that ranked high were engaging, interactive, social, and global; ease of use and realistic were lower in comparison
*46% consider SL to have great potential and is a taste of the 3D future


On Wednesday (10/3), Curt sent the class a link to an article in USA Today about the 23 year old owner of the social networking software, Facebook. In today's (10/6) New York Times, Alice Mathias (a 2007 graduate from Dartmouth) talks about Facebook as online community theater and a form of escapism. Check it out at:

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Wheeler Revisited

When I was looking for an article on an unrelated topic today, I stumbled up a Jan/Feb. 2007 EDUCAUSE Review article by Brad Wheeler:

In this piece, Wheeler reflects upon his 2004 article that also appeared in EDUCAUSE Review (
Open source 2007: How did this happen?), and notes that a "major shift occured in the conversation about open source" (p. 50).

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

What is free?

What does the word "free" mean in connection to open source software? Two of the articles I read for this week - one by Stephenson and the other by Lessig - discuss the definition of this word. Both point to the work of Stallman who founded the Free Software Movement. [Side note: A video of Stallman talking about free software is available at] According to Stephenson and Lessig, Stallman believes that the term "free" in free and open source software (FOSS) means free "as in free speech, not free beer."

I had not really thought about this term before and what it meant in relation to software, but this discussion about freedom made me question the use of this term. Perhaps "free" was not the best choice of words and has led to many thinking that free means free software instead of the freedom to run, study, improve, and share programs. However, in thinking about FOSS and its connection to the hacker culture (see Pan and Bonk, 2007), it is possible that the "confusion" surrounding the term "free" was part of the plan. As Pan and Bonk note, the hacker culture has a history of "cooperation and knowledge sharing." So, in this sharing climate, when/how does free shift from the "free speech" concept to the "free beer" version? Is it a matter of if you take you also have to give back (i.e., gift culture)?

Wheeler and Open Source

Wheeler, B. (2004). Open source 2007: How did this happen? EDUCAUSE Review, 39(4), 12-27. Retrieved July 4, 2007, from or

In comparison to many of the other readings for this week, I walked away from this article feeling very pessimistic about the open source movement. Two areas that Wheeler suggests are problematic are licensing and support. Starting with licensing, Wheeler contends that the licenses are inconsistent and many institutional technology transfer offices have prevented viable tools from being used because of different licensing terms. While templates created by EDUCAUSE have helped, it will still take years to rectify the situation. Support is another issue. According to Wheeler, "not all vendors are choosing to support a range of open source applications" (p. 16).

Wheeler is not optimistic about the future of open source, and he outlines factors such as failure to agree and inability to leverage as evidence of the failure of open source. In contrast, Pan and Bonk are much more optimistic, and state that "research on 'free and open source software' (FOSS) development is now flourishing and across disciplines." So, the question is: What happened from 2004, when Wheeler's article was published, to 2007, when the Pan and Bonk piece surfaced? Is it merely a matter of a difference of opinions, or is something more at play? Has the emergence of Web 2.0 technologies (and the participatory nature of these tools) revitalized the FOSS discussion?

Other topics that are discussed in many of the open source articles for this week are collaboration and community. The words collaboration and community have such positive connotations that it is difficult to think of them negatively, but Wheeler's argument is skewed in that direction. Like many other authors, (e.g., Kapor), Wheeler mentions the importance of community building and collaboration in the FOSS movement. While Kapor believes that open source is "a more efficient as well as a democratic way of developing software" (p. 73), Wheeler is more cautious in his assessment. In examining interviews with members of open source projects, Wheeler found that many reported that the team members "just couldn't agree."

One thing I noticed as I was reading through Wheeler's piece is that he uses the terms open source, home-grown systems, and community source models as if they were synonymous. Are they the same or do these terms refer to different things? The other authors we read for this week didn't shift their terminology as frequently, which made me question Wheeler's word choice.