Taking it to the Web

Originally Posted: February 5, 2011

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
~ Charles Caleb Colton

I am currently enrolled in a “Media and Instruction” course at National University which will be utilizing digital storytelling for some of the assignments.  It is widely accepted that classical storytelling may be utilized as a catalyst to assist students with the cultivation of literacy skills.  The idea of digital storytelling simply moves the associated activities into the digital arena (Ohler, 2008).

The video which is embedded below is an excellent example of digital storytelling, and not because it happens to be the course instructor’s welcome video.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Where there is a will, there is a way. ~ Pauline Kael

While it was not easy to find the embed code for Dr. Taylor’s welcome video (I did not see the video on his Youtube channel), I used my natural curiosity along with my previous background as an IT Security Analyst to find the necessary embed code.

I chose this video because when I first watched it, on my mobile device, I knew right then and there that I wanted to be able to do something similar for my degree’s capstone project.  Some of my first thoughts were that I would love to be able to utilize the green-screen technology with a 3-D digital world as the overlaid background.


Examining Synchronous Virtual Classrooms

Originally Posted: February 5, 2011

Image with Web 2.0 Buzz WordsWe now live in a globally connected, diverse, and multicultural world.  Everything from online games (computer or console based), blogs, and social networks in general have made it completely possible for anyone to develop an ongoing interaction with others outside of their own culture.  The specific technology may change over time, but the underlying activity has become firmly rooted in modern society.  The same may be said about education in general, and e-learning specifically.  “The role of the teacher is changing” (McIsaac & Craft, 2003, p. 45).

Oliver, Kellogg, Townsend, and Brady (2010) suggested that utilizing synchronous communication methods, such as messaging and/or chat, may assist with collaboration and/or planning projects (2010).  McIsaac and Craft pointed out that the exchanges taking place between instructors and learners are morphing as a result of synchronous online learning environments.  In order to be successful, instructors must be able to adapt and utilize their knowledge to design interactive content (2003).

Most courses will be a combination of synchronous/asynchronous activities.  Horton (2006) suggests utilizing synchronous activities when students need to actively interact with other students, synchronous events provide positive peer pressure, students have the same requirements and/or need for teacher interaction.  Piskurich (2006) suggests several components and/or activities that should be considered when implementing synchronous virtual classrooms with VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol).  Table 1 lists these various suggestions:

Table 1
Summary of design considerations for synchronous virtual classrooms

Component Activities
  • Small one-minute icebreakers
  • Agree/Disagree questions about content
  • Polls
  • Learner(s) to instructor(s)
  • Learner(s) to learner(s)
  • Learner(s) to panel

Note. Adapted from “Design Considerations for Synchronous E-Learning,”
by G. M. Piskurich, 2006, Rapid Instructional Design: Learning ID Fast and Right.
(2nd ed.). p. 350-353. Copyright 2006 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Jackson and Helms (2008) documented various strengths and weaknesses as reported by students regarding their experiences with (a)synchronous activities.  Some of the strengths included being able to learn from other students’ perspectives, better utilization of time, and professional networking opportunities.  Some of the weaknesses reported included the inability to form true study groups due to geographic location of students, less time with the professor, and more time to procrastinate.

This author has had the opportunity to witness the benefits/weaknesses of synchronous classroom activities personally, in addition to, watching his wife complete her Master’s degree via National University, and watching his son participate in synchronous activities via National University’s Virtual High School program.  Overall, it appears that classmates are very cooperative and more than willing to assist whenever possible.  There usually seems to be a short “feeling-out” process during the first synchronous activity until participants achieve a level of comfort with each other.  Once the timing of a synchronous activity is figured out, the effectiveness of the activity seems to be on par, if not superior, to that of asynchronous activities.


Horton, W. (2006). E-Learning by Design. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Jackson, M., & Helms, M. M. (2008). Student perceptions of hybrid courses: Measuring and interpreting quality. Journal of Education for Business, 84(1), 7-12. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.nu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=34772191&site=ehost-live

McIsaac, M., & Craft, E. (2003). Faculty development: Using distance education effectively in the classroom. Computers in the Schools, 20(3), 41-49. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.nu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=12440246&site=ehost-live

Oliver, K., Kellogg, S., Townsend, L., & Brady, K. (2010). Needs of elementary and middle school teachers developing online courses for a virtual school. Distance Education, 31(1), 55-75. doi:10/1080/01587911003725022

Piskurich, G. M. (2006). Rapid instructional design: Learning ID fast and right. (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Online Course Components

Originally Posted: January 29, 2011

Cole and Foster (2008) list several recommendations that should be considered by instructional designers intent on developing quality courses.  While implementing everyone of these considerations is not feasible, the instructional designer that is able to implement as many as possible will design a better quality course.  The recommendations are divided into three categories as represented in Table 1 below.

Table 1
Summary of categorically based solutions

Factors Considerations
  • High expectations
  • Respect for diverse talents and learning styles
  • Emphasis on early undergraduate years
  • Coherence in learning
  • Synthesizing experience
  • Ongoing practice of learned skills
  • Integration of education with experience
  • Active learning
  • Assessment and prompt feedback
  • Collaboration
  • Adequate time on task
  • Out-of-class contact with faculty

Note. Adapted from “Course Design Patterns,” by J. Cole and H. Foster, 2008, Using Moodle:
Teaching with the Popular Open Source Course Management System
. p. 213-214.

Copyright 2008 by O’Reilly Media, Inc.

Additionally, Cole and Foster suggest that learning goals and feedback are the key aspects that differentiate virtual learning environments (VLE) from other typical web sites.  Learning objectives provide the goals that students would not, likely, set for themselves.  Learning objectives also provide the framework for how students will interact with the VLE.  Feedback is paramount when it comes to providing students with a method to gauge their progress towards accomplishing their goals.  Feedback may be presented in several forms including: tests/quizzes, assignments, synchronous/asynchronous student-student and/or student-teacher interaction to list just a few (2008).

Horton (2006) goes on to suggest that there are three unique activities that are requisite in order to achieve VLE course objectives.  Absorb activities include presentations, teacher stories, reading, and/or field trips.  Do activities involve student practice, discovery, and/or games.  Finally, connect activities include learner stories, job aids, and/or original work.  The order in which these activities are presented to students will be based on the analysis that takes place as part of the overall instructional design process.

Oliver, Kellogg, Townsend, and Brady (2010) list several online activities as alternatives to simply having students reading assigned text.  These interactive activities include:

  • lab experiments
  • design-oriented projects
  • online research
  • collaboration activities

Furthermore, Oliver et al. assert that students may better process course content when able to utilize asynchronous communication tools similar to discussion boards and/or blogs.  Whereas, utilizing synchronous communication methods, such as messaging and/or chat, may assist with collaboration and/or planning projects (2010).

Although there is an abundance of tools available for implementation by instructional designers, it is not necessary (nor recommended) to use every single tool when designing course content.  It is important to consider what the stated learning objectives and/or goals for the course are, and then implement the components and/or activities that will ensure a successful virtual learning environment.



Cole, J., & Foster, H. (2008). Using Moodle: Teaching with the popular open source course management system. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, Inc.

Horton, W. (2006). E-Learning by design. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Oliver, K., Kellogg, S., Townsend, L., & Brady, K. (2010). Needs of elementary and middle school teachers developing online courses for a virtual school. Distance Education, 31(1), 55-75. doi:10/1080/01587911003725022

Examining Hybrid Courses: Online vs. Onsite Supplements

Originally Posted: January 15, 2011

Perhaps contrary to what some may believe, distance learning has actually been around for over a century.  “‘Distance education’ has been in existence since the state of New York authorized degrees offered through ‘home study’ in 1883” (Tandy & Meacham, 2009, p. 314).  The differences between 1883 and 2011 are the available delivery methods.

Young Woman Lounging in Living Room on Couch with LaptopOne modern adaption is the hybrid/blended course.  By nature, a hybrid course blends aspects of traditional onsite education with aspects of distance learning; in modern times this is, usually, accomplished through technology (El Mansour & Mupinga, 2007).  The study, “Students’ Positive and Negative Experiences in Hybrid and Online Classes”, conducted by El Mansour and Mupinga provides credence to the cliché that you cannot satisfy all of the people all of the time.  They assert that no one teaching and/or delivery method is ideal for everyone.  Some of the feedback recorded by El Mansour and Mupinga was that students liked the immediate feedback and/or live sharing of ideas with their instructors and/or classmates during the face-to-face portion of their hybrid class(es).  They also liked the flexibility of being able to attend to classwork from almost anywhere with access to the internet, and still being able to maintain full time employment.  Some of the negative feedback included disruptions to students’ social and professional lives in order to attend scheduled onsite meetings, and delays in getting feedback from instructor(s) and/or fellow classmates during the online portion(s).

Horton (2006) provides different levels of blending to consider when deciding to what degree of blending a course should be developed.  At a minimum, course designers should consider Horton’s “Level 2: Strategic Blending” when developing a hybrid course.  This level of blending would be driven by the actual subject matter and course goals when deciding how to combine classroom and web-based evolutions.

Blended learning provides the opportunity to capitalize on the pros of both onsite and online learning while, simultaneously, creating the potential pit-falls of the negative things associated with each kind of training environment.  Hybrid courses truly are akin to a double-edged sword.

One other aspect to take into consideration when discussing the pros/cons between onsite, online, and/or hybrid courses, is that of access for those with disabilities.
Tandy and Meacham (2009) provide several examples that support the idea that the sword cuts in both directions.  While onsite courses may be difficult for people with physical disabilities, they provide opportunities for people with other disabilities such as low-vision or blindness.  The opposite side of the sword is that online courses provide convenience for those people with physical disabilities.  However, developing online courses that may be utilized by people that have low-vision or blindness presents some technical and/or financial challenges for the course developers.

Ultimately the quality and success of hybrid course delivery methods will be about the same as regular classes.  There will be the champions of hybrid developed courses, there will be the inevitable antagonists, and there will be those that remain indifferent.  In the same manner that not everyone enjoys the same kinds of music, movies, or sporting events, not everyone will have the same experience(s) when participating in a traditional onsite course, completely online course, or a hybrid course.  Whether or not to recommend hybrid courses would depend on the potential students’ personal preference(s), comfort with technology requirements, and personal goals such as the need for immediate feedback, flexibility to limit social/professional interruptions, etc.




El Mansour, B., & Mupinga, D. M. (2007). Students’ positive and negative experiences in hybrid and online classes. College Student Journal, 41(1), 242-248. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.nu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?

Horton, W. (2006). E-Learning by design. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Tandy, C., & Meacham, M. (2009). Removing the barriers for students with disabilities: Accessible online and web-enhanced courses. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 29(3), 313-328. doi:10.1080/08841230903022118

Developing Course Outlines for Online Courses

Originally Posted: January 15, 2011

According to US Legal (2001-2011), the legal definition of a course outline is “…a brief summary of the topics covered in a particular course” (Course outline law & legal definition section, para. 1).  Additionally, Dictionary.com defines syllabus as “an outline of a course of studies, text, etc” (World English dictionary section, para. 1).

McIsaac and Craft (2003) suggest that it is paramount to have a well designed and developed course syllabus/outline in order to improve a given course’s chance of success.  They postulate that this is especially important when courses are web-based since not all students access course materials during “normal business hours”.  Course outlines must be prepared and available well in advance of the start of the course, and must be sufficiently detailed to avoid the need for mid-course changes.  Mid-course changes to the course outline will, inevitably, cause confusion and/or frustration for students that work ahead.  Finally, McIsaac and Craft suggest four elements that should be part of any online course outline:

  • Accurate calendar of due-dates and/or topic discussions,
  • Active resource lists and links embedded within the course readings,
  • Detailed steps for discussions, and
  • Detailed annotations for assignments and tests with established processes for help.

There are several websites the provide insights and/or suggestions for developing useful course outlines.  The Penn State World Campus (2000) Faculty Resources webpage, and the Center for Scholarship in Teaching and Learning (2009), both, provide very detailed guidelines and “best practices” of the things that should be taken into consideration when developing course outlines, in addition to pointing out that detailed course outlines provide the foundation for instructional designers to work with academic personnel in developing final courses which will be made available to students.




Course outline. (n.d.). In US Legal’s free legal dictionary. Retrieved from http://definitions.uslegal.com/c/course-outline

CSTL Teaching Associates. (2009). Suggested guidelines for developing a class syllabus/outline: A best practices document. Retrieved from http://cstl.semo.edu/cstl/resources/contributions/common-syllabus-2009.pdf

McIsaac, M. S., & Craft, E. H. (2003). Faculty development: Using distance education effectively in the classroom. Computers in the schools, 20(3), 41-49. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.nu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?

Penn State World Campus. (2000). Creating a detailed course outline. Retrieved from https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/public/faculty/detailedcourseoutline.html

Syllabus. (n.d.). In Dictionary.com’s online dictionary. Retrieved from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/syllabus?o=100074

Do you want to know what “IT” is?

Originally Posted: December 3, 2010

The Matrix is everywhere.  It is all around us.  Even now in this very room.  You can see it when you look out your window, or when you turn on your television.  You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes….Unfortunately, no one can be told [emphasis added] what the matrix is; you have to see it for yourself.  (Wachowski & Wachowski, 1999)

The quote above is from the famous “blue pill or red pill” scene in the 1999 hit, The Matrix.  With an ever increasing amount of people utilizing wireless internet connections, whether through a smart phone or a wireless router in their home, the word “Matrix” could easily be replaced with the word “Internet” in the quote above.  The internet, truly, is everywhere.  So, how does one “jack into” the internet?

Globe Montage
cc by-sa : Some rights reserved by mikecogh

The Internet
The first thing one needs is a modem in order to connect to the internet.  Williams and Tollett (2006) explain that modems translate the digital information of our computers into the analog information that must travel across the various communication wires that provide our internet connection.  On the far end of this connection, another modem will convert the analog information back into a digital signal that the receiving computer will understand.  Hence, a modem modulates and demodulates information.

Next, a person must choose the type of service he/she wishes to use for there internet connection.  One may choose to become a member of an online service, but this is not the internet.  Rather, an online service provides a, somewhat, controlled representation of what is available on the internet.  If you have seen the movie The Matrix, an online service is akin to the vast majority of people “jacked into” the matrix that believe the world they are experiencing is real.  An online service controls and limits one’s internet experience.  If a person wants to experience all that the internet has to offer, they must choose the red pill.  Those that wish to experience more freedom when exploring the internet should consider utilizing a true ISP (Internet Service Provider).  ISPs are like the “free” humans in The Matrix movie.  They can provide direct access to the internet where one is free to explore everything that is available; good or bad.

Oh, What a Web we Weave
“The part of the Internet we hear about the most these days is the World Wide Web” (Williams & Tollett, 2006, p. 21).  The authors further explain that the web is composed of an enormous amount of individual pages that contain various types of information.  These web pages are linked to other web pages.  When an entity creates a group of related web pages, it is referred to as a web site.  Most web sites have a home page which is usually a navigation page for the rest of the web site.  However, the home page is not always the first page of the web site.  Some entities choose to use an entry page or a landing page which serves as an introduction to the home page.

Text and images may be used to provide the various links to other web pages.  Text that is used to connect to other web pages is called hypertext.  To view these web pages, one needs to use a web browser.  There are various browsers available for downloading, the majority of which are free.  Each web page has its own address, or URL (uniform resource locator), that must be typed into a web browser in order to view the contents of that web page.  Williams and Tollett (2006) further explain that people may choose to use downloadable snippets of software called plug-ins that allow certain things to happen.  Plug-ins allow for animation, streaming video and/or sound, and other special effects.

I Get Around
The background theme song for this section should be the 1964 song, I Get Around, by The Beach Boys.  Getting around the internet and/or world wide web may seem overwhelming at first, but with a little patience, almost anyone can find a way to utilize the internet as a resource to increase overall productivity.  There are several search engines and directories that are designed to help one find relevant information on the vast world wide web.  There are quite a number of ways for people to refine their searches in order to increase the likelihood of finding useful information.  Each search engine and/or directory offers directions on how to best utilize their service.  Reading these direction is the most prudent way to ensure getting around in an efficient manner.

I originally made the content for this post on a “discussion board” as part of my Master’s cohort in Educational & Instructional Technology.  One of my classmates made a better analogy regarding the use of “online services”.

I would think that a more accurate comparison would be the training simulations that the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar use.  We know these simulations are connected to the Matrix because when the characters are in the simulations they can then go directly to the Matrix without leaving the simulation and reconnecting.  However, while in these simulations the rules can be slightly altered to protect participants, and the environment is protected from outside influence, including malicious software.  Even with these protections and restrictions, however, the user can still be harmed, if he is not careful. (M. Wright, personal communication, November 28, 2010).


eaglerocktv. (2008, June 20). The beach boys – I get around (From “Good Timin: Live At Knebworth” DVD) [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GiekNHjkLTk

Wachowski, A. (Producer/Writer/Director), & Wachowski, L. (Producer/Writer/Director). (1999). The Matrix [Motion picture]. United States: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Williams, R., & Tollet, J. (2006). The non-designer’s web book. (3rd ed.). Berkeley, CA: Peachpit Press.

All or Nothing ???

Originally Posted: November 13, 2010

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Learning Styles Don’t Exist
– Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

First Impressions

“Hi, my name is Dan Willingham. I’m a Cognitive Psychologist and a Neuroscientist [emphasis added]….I’m gonna talk to you today about learning styles, and how Cognitive Psychologists know [emphasis added] – that they don’t exist” (Willingham, 2009, “Learning Styles Don’t Exist,” ).

Initially, I had to review this video several times just to get passed my own and personal hang-up and impression that Mr. Willingham’s introduction sounds pretentious – to me; that was my initial perception.

The fact that Mr. Willingham makes the distinction that he is a “Cognitive” Psychologist seems to indicate that he has chosen to accept and distribute the theories of Cognitivism as undeniable and unquestionable truth.  If we use child-like faith to accept Mr. Willingham’s message as absolute truth, then Learning Styles do not exist.

I do not have a “traditional” educator’s background.  Actually, my background is in IT – the Information Technology kind, as opposed to Instructional Technology.  I mention this just to bring up the point that I am not completely partial (yet) to any particular learning theory.

Learning Theory
“Learning theories attempt to describe how humans learn….what are the key elements in the process of gaining new knowledge and capabilities and how those elements interact” (Januszewski & Molenda, 2008, p. 18).  When discussing learning theories, there are three main models or strategies (isms) that are often referenced: Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism.

Supporters of the cognitivist theory focus on that learning which occurs in the mind of the learner.

Cognitivism focuses on the actual cognitive processes of learning.  It sees the brain as multiple compartments that are more integrated and interdependent than the straight stimulus/reaction view in behaviorism.  It says that learning is an active process of filtering, organizing, and integrating information within and between these different areas of the brain making learning sometimes harder to observe than something like a Skinner box. (T. Henning, personal communication, September 30, 2010)

Januszewski and Molenda (2008) point out the following limitation to the theory of cognitivism: “…it is meant to apply to learning in the cognitive domain….It has much less to say about motor skills or attitudes except as regards the cognitive elements of those skills” (p. 30).

All or Nothing?
Mr. Willingham seems to, purposely, use examples out of context.  Yes, you may have a student that performs better through auditory learning, but, as Mr. Willingham points out, when it comes to learning the shape of a country, that student has to, visually, see the country’s outline.  Perhaps listening to the teacher describe the geography and population of the country while seeing the shape of the country’s borders will help solidify the information in the student’s mind.  While the preferred modality for a particular student may be auditory, that does not mean that the student is not able to learn by other means.

Unfortunately, it appears that too many people put the proverbial “blinders” on, and take an all or nothing approach when it comes to learning theories.

Champions of a particular learning theory, which  may have a strong grounding in research and is therefore a quite useful description of how people learn, sometimes forcefully argue that their prescriptive instructional implications must be equally true whether or not they have been tested and upheld empirically. (Januszewski & Molenda, 2008, p. 18-19)

An eclectic approach combines ideas from the different learning theories without forcing the implementation of an entire “parent theory”.

Personally, I believe in the “supermarket approach”; take the parts of the learning theory that are needed at the moment, and leave the rest “on the shelf” for another day.  Whether as an educator, or as an instructional designer (or both), one has to analyze the types of learners that one has as an audience.  Then, are we able to “go shopping” and implement the best portions of each of the learning theories.

What Now?
In the end, we have to accept that different learners, not only have different learning styles, but also have different motivations to learn, different life experiences, different cultural influences, and even different levels of knowledge.

I, for one, have come to the realization that learning theories must be blended.  This is the best way to ensure that we, as educators, are able to impact the maximum number of learners as possible.


Januszewski, A., & Molenda, M. (2008). Educational technology: A definition with commentary. New York, NY: Routledge.

Willingham, D. (2009, July 30). Learning styles don’t exist . Retrieved from http://www.teachertube.com/members/viewVideo.php?video_id=119351&title=Learning_Styles_Don_t_Exist