Wednesday, March 28, 2007

University 2.0 - Online Courses Enhance Universities

Online information and communication is changing the way the world interacts and learns. We are part of a global human network in which we can now harness the collective intelligence of people from all walks of life to come up with solutions to problems that could have never been possible in the past. The following video clip does an excellent job demonstrating the "human network" that the world is embarking upon.

A few thoughts strike me after watching that clip. The world is communicating online. The world is learning online. The world is our classroom. In addition, I have come to realize that the only reason I am able to share the video with you is because someone shared it with me online. It is true that we may catch the commercial on TV once in a while, but now that it is online, it can be accessed and discussed any time, any place. It has become a shared learning object. This is powerful and kids today are growing up with this kind of access to information.

My question is what are universities across the world doing about this information revolution? How are we demonstrating to our future students that we are not only a part of this human network but that we are leaders in the movement? Most universities were built and designed to function effectively in a single geographic location to a specific group of people in a print based environment. Now that we can communicate with people around the world instantly and access books, journals, presentations, videos, and more online, we should think of the world as our classroom. Future students understand this information age and expect universities to be on the front lines. As the world moves toward a global economy and information can be accessed from anywhere in the world, universities need to think more critically about how they want to proceed in developing leaders of this brave new digital age.

One clear response from universities world wide as well has here in the US, has been to invest in the design, development, and implementation of online and blended university courses. These universities understand that an online course goes far beyond information posted online. An online course is a beautiful collision of technology and education, people and information, ideas and communication, diversity and unification, cultures and communities, students and experts. More and more universities are weaving online courses into the fabric of their traditional university. According to the latest national survey from the Sloan-C Foundation, "nearly 3.2 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2005 term, a substantial 35 percent increase over the 2.3 million reported the previous year." Since there is such a massive amount of information available to people via the Internet, our future students are looking to universities to help them research, organize, understand, and successfully sail this vast ocean of information. Hundreds of universities across America, from Berkley on the west to Harvard on the east, are developing their online courses and programs to enhance communication between faculty and students as well as student to student, and student to content. The result of a well designed online course is a learning community that far exceeds anything we have experienced in education to date.

Imagine taking a college course in African Studies and your teacher actually lives and performs research in Nairobi, Kenya. In addition, you could imagine the kind of dynamic discussion that would ensue in an online Foreign Policy course when your classmates actually live in 15 different countries. The conversations and insights shared in class, online, would be far reaching and potentially world changing. Universities that take a proactive role in developing high quality interactive online courses will become worldwide hubs for connecting people, information, and ideas in the pursuit of knowledge, understanding, research, cooperation, and change. Universities with online course offerings will expand students' learning networks and facilitate their growth as critical thinkers, problem solvers, and world changers. A well developed online course is essentially a personal and communal learning environment for both the students and the teacher. The educational tools within an online course equip the instructor to develop a course fit for the demands of students living in the information age. The result is a course that enables the students to become both receivers and transmitters of information.

With the advent of Web 2.0, the read/write web, the online learning environment is the ideal space for communication and learning to occur. The following list demonstrates only a fraction of the capabilities and benefits a technologically enhanced online university course offers:

  • Students can choose classes based on what they want to learn rather than what fits into their schedule. Online course content can be accessed and engaged any time any place so that students are not bound by geographic locations, scheduling conflicts, building conflicts, etc. When I did my undergrad work, I never once got the class schedule I planned on because classes were either full or conflicting.
  • Content can be easily published and discussed. The online environment enables both students and instructors to publish and comment on text, images, audio, and video, thus enabling students to construct knowledge as well as reach diverse learning styles.
    Information is easily retrievable. Just as Google has shown the world the power of the search engine, online courses enable students to efficiently and effectively search course content and class discussions.
  • Information can be more accessible, relevant, and up-to date. Now that almost all journals and professional websites are using RSS technology to syndicate content, instructors can use feed readers in their online course to pull in and provide the most up to date information from the most credible sources in their field of study. This not only provides the students with a collection of the most up to date resources available, but it also enables students to read, discuss, and synthesize the content in the context of their learning environment.
  • Information can be mobile. The mp3 player is revolutionizing the way we entertain and educate ourselves. Now, a small device that can fit into your pocket can hold thousands of audio books, lectures, music, etc., enabling students to take their education with them. Podcasting enables both instructors and students to create, syndicate, and receive audio and video content on a computer or mp3 player. For more on how universities are using podcasts I recommend doing a Google search on Berkley + itunes, Stanford + itunes, or Harvard +itunes. You will find some interesting information.
  • Discussion is enriched. Discussion forums enable the entire class to engage in meaningful discussion. In addition, the wisdom brought out in discussion can be saved and returned to at any point in the future. When a discussion becomes profound in our face to face classes, we may write it down and ponder it for a while. When discussion becomes profound in an online course, the entire class has a chance to save it, read it, revisit it, and comment on it. This is great news for instructors who have a plethora of profound discussion points to share with their students. In addition, students who are typically shy in class feel more comfortable contributing online.
  • Assessments can be more thorough and feedback more prompt. Online quizzes and exams can be set up to generate instant feedback that enable students to make corrective actions in their work and get back on the learning track sooner.
  • Cheating online is difficult. Cheating online is a lot more difficult than glancing over at the person's paper next to you. If someone is a cheater at heart they will find ways to cheat whether it be online or face to face. However, the good news is that the technology in online courses make it much more difficult. Online tests can be designed in a way that deters cheating. For example, timed tests ensure students know the material; randomizing questions makes it difficult to share answers; pulling questions from required knowledge test banks keeps students on their toes; locking down all windows but the test window makes it more difficult to search for answers. As technology continues to improve, even more will be done to curb cheating, such as biometric pass-codes, online video monitoring, and more, but cheating is first stopped in the heart of a person that values education whether it's face to face or online.
  • Information is organic. Hyperlinks within a lecture enable students to explore topics in greater detail than ever before.
  • The course design mimics 21st century business design. Businesses such as Best Buy and IBM, are developing a new system of working that fits into the fabric of human life rather than patched on top of it. The flexible and accessible nature of online courses mimic this design. According to BusinessWeek Online, "Best Buy did not invent the post-geographic office. Tech companies have been going bedouin for several years. At IBM, 40% of the workforce has no official office; at AT&T, a third of managers are untethered. Sun Microsystems Inc. calculates that it's saved $400 million over six years in real estate costs by allowing nearly half of all employees to work anywhere they want. And this trend seems to have legs. A recent Boston Consulting Group study found that 85% of executives expect a big rise in the number of unleashed workers over the next five years. In fact, at many companies the most innovative new product may be the structure of the workplace itself." Click Here to view the article. (Remember what I said about the power of hyperlinks).
  • Online courses harness the collective intelligence of the class through the social network. Social networking sites are a powerful tool to connect people and they can be utilized within the classroom. Students and instructors can create an online learning social network in which each member of the learning community can share photos, videos, journal assignments, and more. Instructors could use this for a wide range of learning activities.
  • Online courses can include face to face communication. Now that web cams are affordable and the software is often free, web cams can be effectively used for face to face discussions, oral presentations, office hours, and more.
  • Online courses have quality management built in to the system. The quality of an online course can be ensured like nothing we have seen before. Student and faculty participation, projects, assessments, journals, debates, essays, exams, and more can be accessed and reviewed at any time. If quality is in question, bring up the archived course and review it.

These points only represent some of the benefits of going online. Overall, well designed online courses leverage technology to offer an interactive, communicative, and collaborative environment to equip students to become the leaders of the future. One mission of IDEAL is to create this environment for online courses at Bowling Green State University.


Bruce in Ohio said...

Bravo, terence. You've articulated well the challenge, the opportunity, and the glory ahead for those who are willing to invest and to dream.

I hope readers of this blog will take action, both here at BGSU, and in their own educational or business environment.

--Bruce Edwards

Anonymous said...

I hope readers of this blog will take action, both here at BGSU, and in their own educational or business environment.

- not to mention that they have e learning tools

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