Thursday, July 21, 2011

Amazon has announced an e-textbook-rentals program

Amazon has announced an e-textbook-rentals program to serve students. Of note, is that Amazon has tens of thousands of titles from major publishers like John Wiley & Sons and Elsevier and Taylor & Francis that are available for digital rental.

The rental model is structured around that of an online subscription allowing students to download temporary copies of textbooks from the Amazon web site. The digital books can be read using a Kindle, a computer, a tablet, an iPad, or a smartphone running the Kindle App.

The rental subscription model will allow students the option of specifying a rental period from as short as 30 days to as long as 360 days. This may result in significant savings to the student. For example, a typical text book that retails in a bookstore for around $200.00 could cost around $57.00 for a three-month rental subscription (a 72% cost savings). The press announcements stipulated that students may continue to rent the textbooks after the expiration of the contract for an additional fee as well as purchase the text outright.

Like other e-reader devices, students will be able to make margin notations and highlight using the Kindle Whispersync technology. In addition to being able to highlight passages and jot notes in the margins, Whispersync allows readers to keep all their notes, even after the rental expires.

The battery life of the Kindle is superior; it is common to go four days without a recharge. The Newest Kindle is .36 inches at its thickest and weighs in at about two ounces. Moreover, Amazon has made significant improvements to the reader. For example, eye strain is reduced by using an electrophoretic display and they have been working to address accessibility issues.

Earlier in the year, Amazon announced an assistive technology called the Kindle for PC Accessibility Plugin. It is available for free download through Amazon. This plugin provides text-to-speech reading with adjustable voice settings, a voice-guided menu navigation, font size adjustments, a high contrast reading mode, keyboard navigation, and accessibility shortcuts. In addition to the plugin, Origin Instruments offers some new devices for the Kindle to assist those mobile impairments. While there is still work to be done in terms of accessibility, the new e-textbook option by Amazon is yet another resource for all students to save money and bulk as they head back to school.

Resources: “Amazon Announces Digital-Textbook Rentals” (July 20, 2011) By Jie Jenny Zou.

Kindle for PC Accessibility Plugin

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Google+ a new social-networking platform is currently in a limited field trail. The ability to check it out is by invitation only. Some scholars who have viewed Google+ have shared excitement about its potential - so lights up the blogosphere.

Google+ is Facebook like in many ways and may be a spring forward from Google wave (remember that platform? It was quickly dropped after nonuse). Google+ promises the tools to share photos, updates, and recommendations with a tight circle of identified colleagues or friends. The key difference from Facebook is that it is easier to restrict access and information by isolating contacts, friends, and subgroups. This provides a veil of protection from accidently sending updates to everyone on your “friend” list.

The structure of sharing found on Facebook is defaulted to share with everyone – creating a FERPA nightmare. While it is not difficult to restrict access in Facebook to only friends, there have been enough accidental posts and sharing to cause weighty concern. Professors and students alike have posted comments that they meant for only a few, to later find that their comments were shared wider than intended.

In Google+, scholars may be able to define classes into subgroups and use the application to deliver course content and share communications or collaborate in new ways. Some have said that they plan to use it to collaborate on research projects (search - B.J. Fogg, Dir. Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab and the Chronicle of Higher Education to learn more). Others have praised the potential of the video chat features as a possible way to hold virtual video office hours or synchronous small-group meetings. The video chat application allows up to 10 people to join a discussion. Another scholar (Dave Parry from the University of Texas, Dallas) has gone further to say that Google+ may turn out to be an alternative to learning management systems such as Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai, etc.

Emerging technology is exciting as it provides fertile ground for leading edge thinkers to find new ways to use tools and applications for teaching and learning. But caution must always be applied as we consider first and foremost: Is the new application accessible to all learners? Does the new application facilitate learning and achieve desired outcomes? Does it protect student privacy and records? Is it appropriate? And, does it make sense to use it?

The reason I approach new applications with caution rests with the fact that we have seen many cases where the use of technology and new applications are simply added to classes without consideration of goals, objectives, outcomes, or pedagogy. Add-technology-and-stir is not the right approach.

I am also cautious because we know that many of the existing Google Apps may not be accessible to all learners and universities have faced discrimination lawsuits for violating federal (ADA) law.

I also share concern because social networking sites and learning management systems prove to be a fertile ground for scholarly research. There is much we can learn but also much at risk. Take for example events at Harvard whereby scholars have been accused of violating student privacy after it was revealed that they downloaded the profiles of a Harvard college class without students' knowledge and for failing to protect student privacy. Ethical challenges abound as scholars research social networks and other online environments. Both faculty and students need to realize that what is posted on public forums is public and may not be protected as private.

From an administrative perspective, we need to be certain that before we implement any new application that all learners have equal access to the benefits of using the application to drive learning. Therefore, as Google+ prepares to make its debut, academics and administrators should ask themselves many questions. Like others, I share excitement about the potential of web 2/3.0 in higher education. I also look forward to innovative flexible learning platforms that tear apart silo infrastructures. Google+ may be the next step forward that many of us have been waiting for.

Resource: Wired Campus, Chronicle of Higher Education (Monday July 11, 2011).

Friday, July 8, 2011

Five Common Pitfalls of Online Course Design

In the area of online learning, we see a great diversity in how courses are designed and presented to the learner. Many faculty who have not been through pedagogical training specific to online course design and delivery, often make the mistake of shifting their traditional course content directly into an electronic delivery format. Elizabeth St. Germain recently addressed five of the most common pitfalls of online course design. I will republish her discussion below.

This is what Elizabeth St. Germain has to say:

Pitfall #1: Upload your course materials, then call it a day. Reading your course material on a computer screen does not make for a memorable learning experience. Step back and take a fresh look at your content in the larger context of the world and the Web. Think about how you can re-author your materials so that they leverage Web resources and computer applications. Rework that hand-out on tedious lab procedures into a colorful, animated slideshow. Bring a historic context to life through links to period paintings, historic sites, or even contemporary Google street views. Use your imagination to leverage the capabilities afforded by a computer connected to the Internet.

Pitfall #2: Let the course management system drive your thinking. Course management systems (CMS) are usually preconfigured with a course template that instructors are expected to populate with their course description, syllabus, assignments, and announcements. Often these templates are focused on content that is more related to course administration rather than the educational experience. An empty template invites you to fill it with text-based information rather than opening your mind to wider possibilities. Start by thinking about the kinds of learning experiences you want to create rather than letting the CMS define a more limited view of putting your course online.

Pitfall #3: Insist on being the "sage on the stage." In the old model of education, the instructor stood on the podium and served as the students' revered and primary access point to the desired knowledge. Today, your students may be Googling your lecture topic while you speak and finding three sources that update or improve upon your presentation. The Web provides instantaneous access to an enormous volume of opinions, commentary, and knowledge related to your topic. As a result, your role is now more of a content curator — the one who prunes and trains the branches that extend from your expertise out into the world. The Web enables interdisciplinary links, associations, relationships, and openness. Your course should be a place where students come to participate in the connections that can be made between your subject and the outside world. Build these bridges into your online course materials, and become a facilitator of these important connections.

Pitfall #4: Expect your students to consume knowledge rather than create it. Most online courses aim at pouring content into student containers rather than supporting students in making that knowledge their own through practice, experience, and play. The interactivity and interconnectedness of computers provides increased opportunity for students to actively participate in their learning rather than passively consuming what you feed them. Developing content that asks students to recall and apply what they have learned is essential to the education process. In many cases, you can ask students to use the same digital tools you have used to explain your ideas in order to demonstrate their own understanding. In an online course, this could mean peppering your online content with quick test-your-comprehension questions or developing exercises that ask students to generate data, capture and upload photos of evidence, research connections to real-world conditions, or create explanatory slideshows.

Pitfall #5: Ignore the ways students learn from each other. Many online courses assume a two-way dialogue between each student and the instructor, and they forget about the ways in which students learn from each other's mistakes, ideas, and input. Consider creating wiki spaces in which groups of students can work together. Include assignments that require students to share ideas and resources, present topics to each other, and critique each other's work. Use online communication tools and collaborative spaces to foster a class-wide web of supportive contact rather than settling into multiple parallel channels between you and each student.
The "online" in online course does not mean uploading Word documents into a course template rather than printing them out. Expand your view of how computer applications and Web-based resources can be used to increase the relevance, power, and memorability of the educational experiences you create.

Elizabeth St. Germain is the vice president of publishing and editorial services at nSight, a content development and communications services firm.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

ET4OL: Emerging Technologies for Online Learning

The 4th Annual Emerging Technologies for Online Learning International Symposium is next week and you can attend as a virtual consumer.

A joint symposium of The Sloan Consortium and MERLOT
"Empowering New Generation Teaching" is being held July 11-13, 2011 at the
Fairmont Hotel, in San Jose, California.

Whether you will be in San Jose or are thinking of attending virtually, check out this video to learn what all the chatter is about! Or follow their Twitter stream on the conference website to see what others are saying about the symposium.

A cool option if you are tied to your desk or can’t travel is the opportunity to register as a virtual attendee. An individual registration is $109.00 or an institutional registration is $500.00. Virtual registration gets participants into over 50 sessions, including keynote and plenary sessions.

View the attendee program to see if this is right for you.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Source: Continuing Legal Education Regulators Association DISTANCE LEARNING TERMINOLOGY: A WORKING LIST. Originally Prepared by Kristen Hamilton, DE CLE / Source: ASTD E-Learning Glossary Updated January, 2007.

The information that follows comes directly from the resource cited above. It is being reprinted as a means to provide common-ground as we use terminology on campuses and in conversation speaking about online or hybrid learning. This terminology working list has been reposted as a five-part series this week whereby each post included seven terms. We hope that this was useful in some way or another such that we all speak the same language or have similar reference points.

Teleconferencing: Two-way electronic communication between two or more groups

in separate locations via audio, video, and/or computer systems.

Videoconferencing: Using video and audio signals to link participants at different

and remote locations.

Vodcast: or Vidcast is a method of publishing video/digital recordings to the

internet for download and/or playback on mobile devices and personal computers.

The video method of this delivery is an offshoot of podcast technology.

WBT (Web-based training): Delivery of educational content via a Web browser

over the public Internet, a private intranet, or an extranet. Web-based training often

provides links to other learning resources such as references, email, bulletin boards,

and discussion groups. WBT also may include a facilitator who can provide course

guidelines, manage discussion boards, deliver lectures, and so forth. When used with

a facilitator, WBT offers some advantages of instructor-led training while also

retaining the advantages of computer-based training.

Webcast: (Web + broadcast) (noun) A broadcast of video signals that's digitized

and streamed on the World Wide Web, and which may also be made available for

download. (verb) To digitize and stream a broadcast on the World Wide Web.

Web conference: A meeting of participants from disparate geographic locations

that's held in a virtual environment on the World Wide Web, with communication

taking place via text, audio, video, or a combination of those methods.

Webinar: (Web + seminar) A small synchronous online learning event in which a

presenter and audience members communicate via text chat or audio about concepts

often illustrated via online slides and/or an electronic whiteboard. Webinars are often

archived as well for asynchronous, on-demand access.