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These are my notes from the Wednesday, October 29th EDUCAUSE 2008 session, “The Global Classroom: Integrated Approaches to Sustainable Development Practice,” presented by Rob Garfield, Educational Technologist, Columbia University.

Columbia’s Center for New Media Teaching and Learning helped develop a 14-week, Masters-level, online course called, “Integrated Approaches to Sustainable Development Practice.” Rob took us through the extensive instructional design and infrastructure development/selection process that allowed them to deliver the course in 13 countries. The course went through several iterations, each building on the one before it. It was interesting to see the evolution of the course as designers, instructors, and students coped with the challenges of global delivery. They used Adobe Connect with great success. They also developed a shared content repository and a local group project with shared outcomes. The degree to which the final model emphasized collaboration was impressive.

Unlike many other program and course development efforts, there was never any doubt pedagogically why this program had to be online. It struck me that the main reason this was successful was because the need for a global program on sustainable development was so great that designers, teachers, and students were willing to fight through the technical progression from “shovel-ware” (i.e., online video lectures) to a unique, active, and collaborative learning experience. In this sense, the designers were employing a learner-centered process to essentially catch up technically with teachers and learners who were motivated to make something happen immediately.

I think this is an ideal situation. All too often, we are the ones saying, “Look, we are providing you with this expensive technology and we need you to use it. Can you help us?” I much prefer a model where faculty and students come to us and ask, “Look, we have this great opportunity and we want to take a whack at it. Can you help us?” At WSU, the eLearning Department is involved in good examples of both. Our interinstitutional work with Biology on a Clinical Lab Science online program is a great example of the latter. The general pressure being applied to increase laptop use in class as a way of justifying our laptop program is an example of the former.

I guess it will always be thus, but I do think success is much more likely when faculty and students are driving and we just clear the road, fix the car, and give directions.