May 20, 2010

Online Support for Amputees

This is a short video about how the military is using Second Life to help manage the social and psychological needs of amputees --- including finding ways to let them be with their families virtually during recovery.

I really enjoyed seeing a soldier read to his daughter via Second Life. Reminded me of the days when I traveled a LOT for work and read to my daughter over the telephone ... using a book at each location.

So what does this mean for education? Perhaps that social workers and psychology majors should start getting used to tele-therapy options.

Not that I think they will replace all face-to-face interactions. (Why, whenever we talk about adding a virtual or computer-based tool, do people assume that we intend to use it to replace co-presence interactions??) But it may allow us to bridge distances in situations where being together is not practical. Think about specialized care consultations that could save on travel time - or even become possible where economies of scale would not allow a specialist to be consulted locally. Or where abusive spouses could talk to family members without any risk of physical harm. Or where families who are scattered due to military service or work requirements could be together.

Being virtually co-present is different than talking on the telephone. You can do things together in a game or a virtual world beyond just talking, providing the common experiences so necessary to maintain or (re)develop relationships. But unless tomorrow's leaders, teachers, and therapists have experience with these media, they won't have any idea of how to navigate the differences successfully.

We should be exposing our students to these developing tools now and working with them to help them succeed in whatever media is available to them as they live and work in a world of mixed interaction modalities.

Posted by bjohnson at 10:09 AM

April 29, 2010

Online Teaching Evaluations

This morning I read, with some relief, a post over at Teaching Professor that echos some of my frustration with online teaching evaluations.

Since my current courses are taught mostly online, it makes sense to have students give me feedback online as well. Unfortunately, response rate is under 50% ... and it seems to be the 50% who have "suggestions for improvement" who respond. The other half of the class presumably found the course acceptable to the point where they did not need to voice an opinion. But without data, one does not know what parts of the course should be retained as is, since they may have met the needs of the majority ... or not.

I like the suggestion in the post that there should be some sort of incentive to complete these evaluations. They would, of course, need to be given by the system confidentially. But if it brings response rate up to something reasonable ... such as the 80% cited in the study, I would think it worth the work. Otherwise, we may be basing promotion and retention decisions on inadequate data as well as asking teachers to "fix" course materials that really are not truly broken.

Posted by bjohnson at 1:43 PM

April 21, 2010

Camtasia Relay - Recorded Mini Lectures for Online Learning

When I started teaching Research Methods in the Master of Education cohort, senior colleagues convinced me that constructivist teaching was the ONLY way to conduct online classes for adults. In fact, attempts to conduct direct instruction online were seen to be nearly the work of the devils - U of Phoenix and Capella. It wasn't respectful of adults as self directed learners who had expertise of their own.

And I bought that argument for a while, but it made me uneasy. After all, there are many technical aspects of research theory and practice that are not easy to discover on your own ... just look at seasoned researchers who make mistakes and end up in the news! "Guidance" via more words and redirection to students' own experiences and the textbook (none of which really meet our needs for this class fully anyway) did not work very well for two semesters.

Then, I discovered Camtasia Relay.

This little program allows me to record mini-lectures over PowerPoint presentations. In 15 to 30 minutes, I can give direct information and guidance to my online students ... every week. This keeps them on track, reassures them that I'm still really "there" as their instructor, and has significantly raised the comfort and satisfaction my students have for the course.

It also allows me to use my computer display, with voice over, to show students many of the tools and techniques that I use in research and analysis. Using dummy information (gathered from the class on non-personal questions), I can demonstrate how to calculate statistics or used thematic content analysis to answer a research question. In theory, you could use this capture technology to show and talk about any subject matter you could show on your computer - with or without Power Point.

One of the best things about the software is that it works for both Mac and PC ... a rarity in the ed tech world. And with Camtasia Relay 2 coming out, many of my concerns may be addressed.

Up to this release, I'd been concerned about what I would do when I had a hearing impaired student in my class (which has happened in prior terms). But Relay 2 promises voice to text - something I need to verify.

I'd also been bothered by the fact that I have to unplug my second monitor whenever I did a recording. The new version manages multiple monitors and multiple microphones!

It also promises better integration into Moodle, which is currently my CMS of choice. Heaven!!

So, if you teach online and feel that your voice and expertise is missing from your classes, check out Camtasia Relay!

Posted by bjohnson at 8:43 AM

August 5, 2009

Welcome : PBS TeacherLine

An online professional development program for K-12 teachers is receiving kudos from ISTE ( What does this mean for the education of pre-service teachers? How old - or how experienced - do you need to be to be capable of learning how to teach online?

Posted by bjohnson at 12:08 PM

July 31, 2009

No Significant Difference Phenomenon Website

Back when Bruce Reeves and I did our Masters of Education thesis together, we found study after study showed that there was no significant difference in the performance of students who were studying a class at a distance and those who were studying on campus.

This website (and the corresponding book) pulls together hundreds of studies comparing online versus on-campus student performance ... which point generally to either no significant difference between them ... or that online students actually outperform their campus-based counterparts. And this result is during the infancy of online teaching, in which we are still trying to teach the old way using new tools, "´╗┐blind to the possibilities of doing new and different things" (McDonald, J. (2002). Is "as good as face-to-face" as good as it gets?).

Posted by bjohnson at 1:41 PM

May 27, 2009

Robots for Kids??

At a recent meeting, discussion grew heated over whether computers and virtual worlds would ever be useful in teaching very small children. I think part of the problem many people in education have, particularly at the higher levels of education (middle school and up), is their definition of computer.

We think computer and what comes to mind? The standard desktop or laptop computer. General purpose and versatile for the average adult, but it admittedly does not stand up will to the pounding of your average child (trust me on this .... I know from experience!). Nor is it particularly easy for the very young (or the very old) to get information OUT of (my reading glasses become increasingly necessary when looking at a laptop screen).

But the view of the mainstream user is necessarily very limited. For those of us who have backgrounds in computer science and engineering, the range of types of computers far, far larger. We see computers everywhere, from your car to specialized robots used on the international space station. While some people may gripe that "computers are everywhere", it is becoming rapidly true in most parts of the industrialized world.

Input and output devices (i.e. what you use to interact with a computer or computerized device) already have a wide range include cute little dolls like this one used with autistic children:

Who knows what we will be able to produce in 5 or 10 years that will allow teachers to work at a distance with special needs children?? We may be able to spread expertise and a capacity to mentor pre-service teachers into areas where it simply is not feasible to physically send a person. But to embrace this possibility, we may have to ask faculty to rethink the definition of "computer" to include the capabilities of both experimental and playful devices -- which will become mainstream almost before we know it.

Posted by bjohnson at 12:01 PM

September 23, 2008

Second Life: Distance Education and IT Fluency Among Girls

Shameless plug for my presentation at SLedCC '08 following ....

This was our team's report on the Tech Savvy Girls project's first year in Teen Second Life. The full paper should be published (eventually) in the conference proceedings. Meanwhile, interested parties can read it here or check out the slide show at Slideshare.

In short, the girls gained IT fluency throughout the year. Most encouraging was the way they learned and appreciated copyright protection on digital media because they, as creators, had to draw boundaries. Critical questions arose over how much material could be taken from others, recombined, and called one's own - which is especially difficult when collaborating with other team members.

The year was not without its challenges, but we made the most of those as learning opportunities. Two of the most successful girls had some of the greatest struggles with the technology itself. But they learned about bandwidth, RAM, FPS, etc. through those challenges and eventually became tech support for families and friends. No matter what they will eventually do in life, they know they can master technology in their lives.

Finally, while it may not be obvious in the paper, I have to point out that the people involved in this project were not physically co-located. The girls and one mentor were together much of the time, but not exclusively, while the other two mentors physically existed in different states. Outside of club meeting times (only two hours per week), all other work time was done virtually, at a distance, in Second Life.

Posted by bjohnson at 7:09 AM