Thursday, January 21, 2010

Learning Technology Jan 18 discussion group summary

Sarah Stephens facilitated our first themed discussion group on the subject of Learning Technology this past Monday at New West. She provides a detailed summary. Please feel free to comment on what you read here.

DCFA President Dr. Peter Wilkins was there, and you can read his take on the discussion at Faculty Matters.

If you missed this face-to-face discussion on Learning Technology, there will be another opportunity on Wednesday, February 10, 4:15-6pm, at David Lam. RSVP online. --Scott

Learning Technology discussion group summary - Sarah Stephens, Computing Science and Information Systems Instructor

An enthusiastic group of about 20 employees attended the session on Learning Technologies.

The group identified several issues. They are numbered to allow for convenience in responding; this is not intended to imply a ranking.

1. There is a need for a strategic approach to online and hybrid courses. This will require resources to be devoted to it. The group did not come to consensus on the exact nature of those resources—they could include technical and pedagogical support personnel, faculty release time for development, purchase of software, and payment for rights to put material online.

2. Any strategy in this area must be connected to other strategic directions of the College, not only will it compete for resources; it is a means to achieve other goals.

3. There is still some uncertainty about definitions—clarified that fully online courses don’t require students to be on campus; that a “hybrid” reduces face-to-face time by at least 50%, a blended or technology enhanced course uses online resources and tools but is still mainly face-to-face. Our discussion encompassed all these areas but was mostly about online and hybrid.

4. Anything we do in this area should be of a high quality standard, yet we would like to see experimentation more welcome and encouraged, there’s a sense that in the past there has been discouragement of doing anything in a non-standard way. There are many online environments available for free—Google Docs, Delicious, Skype, Sporcle, to name just a few. New ones are invented every day. How does this fit with privacy concerns and the need for quality and the advantages of adhering to standards?

5. A lot of good work has been done in the past. There’s a sense that there hasn’t been sufficient strategic scaffolding on which to build; some efforts have felt random. The past approach to which courses to put online or teach in a hybrid mode has sometimes been based on faculty interest and ability rather than any organized strategies.

6. How do we measure success? Student success should be a measure—yet, in general (not just at DC), completion rates tend to be lower than for face-to-face. Is this something we should recognize and accept?

7. There need to be good reasons to proceed; access for older students, geographically disbursed students and working students were identified as possible reasons; also corporate partners may be more interested if we have online options.

8. It needs to be pedagogically sound; don’t have the technology drive the pedagogy. There are examples of online approaches being pedagogically better, in writing courses, for example.

9. What data does the College have about student/potential student demands and preferences? What data about success rates? What about other stakeholders—faculty, partners, government, employers? There’s a feeling we are losing students to other institutions, can this be quantified?

10. The group wanted to make it clear that we still must meet the needs of students who prefer face-to-face learning

11. Curricula have to be re-thought, can’t just “upload” existing artifacts. This takes time, training, thought, and support.

12. Three areas seem to show the most promise:
a. Niche areas may be best to be targeted; entire programs where local demand is too low but wider area (province, country, world) demand may be high. Better to put the entire program online than just a few courses.

b. Courses with a large number of sections, where there may be a large enough number of students who prefer online to justify one section;

c. If it is pedagogically better.

13. Issues—student privacy, student readiness, student demand, faculty readiness and enthusiasm, copyright, levels of support available for faculty during development and for faculty and students during delivery.

14. Some sense that we may be making too much of the barriers, that we should “just get on with it.” We have been piloting and trying things for about 12 years.

15. How frequently will the content and format need to be updated? Something implemented only a few years ago can feel clunky and out-of-date already.

16. There is still a lot of skepticism about whether we can devote a sufficient amount of resources to do this successfully.

17. Is there a possibility of sharing this effort with other institutions?

18. Two possible models of support for faculty should be considered—decentralized, as is being used in Health Sciences with a Faculty Ed Tech Coordinator; or a centralized model with a faculty member with College-wide responsibility for championing and supporting development and delivery. Or a combination of both.


What do you think? We welcome your comments on the Learning Technology discussion.


  1. As a faculty member who has worked extensively with the development of online offerings at a U.S. community college before coming to Douglas, I would like to echo the concerns brought up in point 1: "There is a need for a strategic approach to online and hybrid courses. This will require resources to be devoted to it." Douglas College needs to have a clear plan for instructional resources if moving to hybrid and online offerings is going to occur in a coherent manner. Many of those pushing for online offerings have little idea of the amount of time it takes to restructure a course and alter the pedagogy necessary for a virtual environment. I would suggest that the College at least offer:
    1) ongoing training in both the technology and the pedagogy necessary for teaching online (WebCT/Blackboard has a course for instructors that institutions can purchase and facilitate that is an excellent introduction to these issues);
    2) at a minimum, a course release for faculty developing an online/hybrid course for the first time. Development time for putting an already developed face-to-face course into an online format is estimated in some sources at a minimum of 100 hours--and that is just the time to develop and post the course, not to teach it.
    -Nancy Squair
    part-time English instructor
    Douglas College

  2. Hi Nancy,

    Your comments are good ones. I worked at OLA for more than two-decades (yep, a long time) and while I was not directly involved in curriculum design for our online delivery, I worked on cross-functional teams with those who did. The key message is moving curriculum from the page to online delivery is not a simple "cut and paste" operation. Much consideration has to be given to access, navigation, placement and organization of content, the new significance that audio and visual aids take on, communications between instructor and students (one-to-one, one-to-many, etc.), and training for those who instruct. It’s simply a whole new kind of pedagogy, and the demands of this learning environment on student and teacher alike continue to evolve.

    Since online delivery has been around for more than a good decade I think it’s safe to say it’s not going anywhere. Along with the evolution of the medium are increases in enrolment levels. Online courses continue to grow in popularity amongst the wired generation, and it’s no longer unusual (as it once was) to see an online course in a student’s course load. Here's an article from Inside Higher Ed showing that online enrolment is up 17% and that one in every four students now takes at least one course online. This is based on a survey of data from nearly 4,500 colleges and universities.

    The article also speaks to your posted comment about the need for training those who instruct in the online environment.

    Pam Bischoff
    Institutional Research

  3. Comment on point 14. I agree, 'just get on with it'.
    E-learning technology is build in modular blocks. Publisher have ready made modules for courses. This makes adding courses easy to an existing system ( e.g. 'Blackboard').

  4. Hi all,
    Good discussion. I have worked in distance education/online learning for 25 years at the Open Learning Agency,Athabasca University and as a international consultant in the field (Caribbean, Ghana, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, China). In 2006 I completed my doctoral research on online learning implementation in six BC institutions (published in the Journal of Distance Education, 2009)and am currently finishing a SSHRC funded research project on online learning policy development and implementation in 20 universities and colleges across Canada. Both studies examined faculty and administrator attitudes to online learning and implications for its implementation.

    The findings show that few institutions have a broad-based online learning implementation strategy. This may be due to: 1. a lack of priority by faculty or administrators, 2. champions who want to maintain control so that they can shape its implementation from the bottom-up, 3. the institution taking an experimental approach to see what emerges and incrementally build policy from practice, 4. leaving the choice of tools to faculty due to increased access to flexible, lower cost instructional technologies. If strategies existed they were usually at the departmental level and were enabling in nature.

    The studies also found that most online learning was used in a blended format ranging from online learning enhancing and providing efficiencies to the classroom experience, to online learning carrying the bulk of the content supported by face-to-face tutorials. There was little new development in totally online courses and where this was happening (eg. Athabasca University)the trend was toward open source systems. (Note that a 2007/2008 study that I produced for Athabasca University and Douglas College showed little interest on the part of Douglas graduates to continue their studies totally online, prefering a blended approach).

    With the greater access to easy-to-use, readily accessible tools there is a movement away from large, expensive platforms which has meant less need for centralization of services.

    While faculty wanted the freedom to use tools that fit their needs they voiced concerns about lack of time to build online learning into their courses. In some cases faculty received release time depending on the extent of the application and if external funds were available (example BCCampus) but most simply built online activities into their courses over time.

    Training was also an issue. While most institutions provide generic training on platforms and tools faculty indicated a need for more instructional design training that would enable them to identify how they could use these tools more effectively for their discipline.

    Online learning flourished best when there was a strategy at the departmental level, especially where there was a committed Dean and faculty who saw a real need for online learning for their particular content or student group.

    These are just a few of the findings for your further discussion.

    Dr. Betty Mitchell
    International Education

  5. When I post my story on this topic (January 18), I thought I am just one of the very few aged student that has an unpleasant experience with online course - five years ago. It is a bit interesting when I learn from Dr. Mitchell’s post: “Douglas College showed little interest on the part of Douglas graduates to continue their studies totally online…”

    Speaking for myself, two things might have been ignored in our discussion about online courses.

    At Douglas College we serve a diverse population, a typical Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model. We have student that are working towards their highest level of hierarchy needs. In the same classroom, we also have student (like me) that are struggling for basic needs, i.e. able to get a job after graduation, pay off student loan, support the family, etc. In this case, how employer look at online programs is a critical factor. It is not uncommon to see job posting that specifically require an “on-campus degree/diploma”, unfortunately!

    The other thing is, “online only” program doesn’t match the real world. I can’t think about a job or position in the real world that is “online only”. I personally think a mixed-mode program might be the more appropriate approach.

    Online course is a great learning technology, but it just a tool for delivering education. It is the means not the ends.

    Albert Ng
    Library Technician – Public Services

  6. Zaheeda Merchant (Admission Officer)February 4, 2010 at 4:07 PM

    I agree with point 4 that anything that is done in this area needs to be of an extremely high standard. However, I think it a mistake to assume that students who have had past difficulties with online/distance education would face those same challenges today with online classes. Technology has changed dramatically just within the last 5 years and it is only going to continue to expand. In addition Douglas College should not drag their feet in this area if they want to be a leading education institution. I do not suggest that there should be programs that are only online but rather courses that are offered both online and in the classroom; accommodating the needs of all learning styles.

    There are many programs such as first class (currently being used by SFU) and teleconferencing programs that are highly effective for online classes. Teleconferencing programs in particular are quite interesting as they allow professors to give lectures online (verbally and with picture) addressing the issue of less face to face time. These programs while they may take some getting used to are quite user friendly. And while educators may be hesitant I strongly believe that they will greatly appreciate the freedom and accessibility of these programs once they have started using them. (I had a professor who use these programs and gave lectures from her couch at home)
    We should not continue to look at online learning as a hindrance to education when in fact they can enhance the level of education received. For example, many programs offer student spaces that allow students to discuss course material and content 24 hours a day. This means that students can learn from their fellow students and have a greater understanding of course material that they may not otherwise have. Often times students do not know their fellow class mates and do not discuss course material outside of the classroom; however, these programs that have built in discussion forums that allow students to post comments and receive feedback at their convenience.

    I think that it is important for Douglas College to recognize the increasing demand amongst students for online classes. Many students are unable to attend class due to their demanding work and home lives. In addition, employers are not only seeking graduates with credentials; but, also work experience. Online course would also appeal to those that want to upgrade their skills in a particular area but are not able to leave their jobs or are not interested in attending school FT.

    Utilizing the many programs that are available would allow professors to grade course work in the traditional sense as they allow students to submit course work online and obtain feedback from professors. Also, attendance can be monitored thru discussions and weekly mini assignments. I strongly feel that if Douglas College does not keep up with the increasing demand for online classes it will soon find that many students will turn to institutions that do meet their needs.