Making online learning more dynamic, visceral and so on

Hello fellow lovers of education,
I love visiting this Fireside Learning blog and reading this and that. As a retired educator now working mostly with adults and mostly online at that, I am wondering how the rather cool, flat and non-visceral medium of cyberspace can be made more dynamic and stimulating. I also have been wondering about how online learning is going to be more a part of secondary and college educational contexts. As many middle class families struggle to afford tuition for private and public colleges, how might creation of satellite college communities partly via the internet enable more students to afford a good college education? Might community colleges link up with either private or public colleges or universities to strengthen their programs? And again, could the internet be part of that linkage? I have two small grandchildren who will be going to college (I hope, God willin' and the creek don't rise) in about 10 and 13 years respectively. I've read that by then tuition costs for 4 years will be about $500,000.... Who will be going to school?
So, I'm raising two questions here that are peripherally related. How can the online learning environment become more dynamic? And how might online learning positively affect a changing paradigm regarding post secondary education?

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Comment by Laura Gibbs on May 16, 2009 at 11:39am
Hi Jane, your point about online courses being MORE cost effective is the motivating factor at my school. My interest as a teacher is in teaching better courses - for my students, the main interest is convenience (their schedules are just unmanageable, so the timeflex of an online course it essential for them)... but for my school: it is about money. They literally have run out of classroom space (especially since classroom space is really only used during workday hours, Monday through Friday) and cannot afford to build more buildings (especially in the humanities, where donors do not have the deep pockets, like for science or business), and they have run out of office space for new faculty... but the number of students keep growing.When I started teaching online, my boss apologized to me profusely about how they had no kind of office to give me... but I was just delighted: I had no interest at all in driving my car back and forth to campus in order to sit in an office where my interactions with people would be online anyway!
I'm very happy if the online courses can meet three such disparate goals for the teachers and students and institution ... even if our goals are not exactly the same, we can agree on the value of the online courses.
The real opponents of the online course program at my school are traditional faculty who fear/resent it - they are suspicious of the fact that the university and students are NOT motivated by making the online courses as good or as better than regular classes. And yes, it is true that the university's motives and the students' motives are not focused on quality of courses, so I can understand that fear... which is why I am always so quick to share with anyone who asks that for me teaching online has been a much higher quality experience than my classroom career. :-)
Comment by Jane Nordli Jessep on May 16, 2009 at 10:43am
I had a feeling this was going to be an interesting discussion. Or-Tal's comments and blog post were interesting and thought provoking. But what I'm wondering is can't technology finally make education MORE cost effective in the long run? I foresee people being able to work and go to school at the same time through colleges offering parallel programs online. I know there are some online universities but I'm talking here about regular colleges and universities truly expanding their walls, and reaching out to potentially thousands of students who might not otherwise be able to receive an education. I also think we need to seriously decide what being educated in the 21st century means. We are so linear in our conceptions, I think we need to become more well, what would be a good word? Ian mentions "catch a vision of a preferable future" and that is directly related to what I want for our students and our teachers. In the future, teachers will be required to have technological facility, to use technology dynamically in a classroom with lessons, to help with records, to aid in direct research and inquiry which I feel should be part of all childrens' experience in school from the get go.
Comment by Ian Carmichael on May 16, 2009 at 2:41am
Hi Or-Tal,
The people factor is the most problematic, in my view, with two main challenges. One is to enable people to catch a vision of a preferable future to the one extrapolating from now. The second one is to be sufficiently impassioned by that vision to make time to acquire future-relevant skills, so the vision is implementable. In very many cases, the bugetary requirements are met. (Theoretically not - whole school, whole staff implementation is usually not possible. But, counting only willing and ready, if uncertain, staff and students, there's often enough.)
Comment by Or-Tal Kiriati on May 11, 2009 at 3:32am
Hi Jane, Laura & Steven. I think the whole "point" of the current web is the portability issue. It just happens that I wrote about in in my latest blog post.
The very possibility to take the information with you, not just anywhere, but any how, to any platform or tool, is incredible and must be used for education.
Look what it is all about: it's all about knowledge. People want to know. Education is about offering knowledge.
So the big question, I think, is why are the two - the education system, and the WWW, are more intertwined?
One reason could be the people. Those people who are education people but do now work well with technologies. The other answer is budget - costs - technology costs, and not every one or every institute or state can afford the investment.
I think the people factor is more flexible, especially today, than the budget factor.
Comment by Steven Paul Pritchard on May 10, 2009 at 11:39pm
Hi from Steven Paul Pritchard. I just got back from D.C. and I was sent by the Drake University adult literacy center where I am on the board.
I am now on the board of V.A.L.U.E (
I am the Virtual Literacy advisor for Drake.
I took the Kreader Mobil, the Dragon Natural speaking, Kruzwell3000, hand reader. And as I sat in the back of the room in the house meeting for the WIA act, There kept asking where is this tech stuff coming from and how much will it cost and there I sat with all the answers and could not talk.
I did meet with Congressmen Boswell, Congressmen Losbeck, and Congressmen Kennedys aid.
meeting the two congressmen one on one was great and they loved the Virtual Tech tools that I brought with me.
Now I am back in Des Moines and how do I help the people in this country. I do not know how to get this out to them.
Comment by Laura Gibbs on May 6, 2009 at 6:25pm
Hi Jane, super! I'll go ahead and send you an invite to the Ning now if you want to poke around and see how things look - class is basically over so there are not too many new postings, but there's a year's worth of stuff in there and you can see how the students interact with each other, etc. I'll be using the exact same Ning for next year, too; it was an experiment this year that I would definitely rate a success! :-)
Comment by Jane Nordli Jessep on May 6, 2009 at 6:06pm
This sounds like just the experience I need to really "get" how this kind of course works. I am so excited to know about this world. I have two grandchildren and I suspect when they go to college in ten or so years, this kind of course will be part and parcel of how kids get a degree. Or maybe we won't even have degrees then, maybe there will be a completely different model. Oh boy, please do invite me to peek into the Ning thing. Thanks. If you're ever in NYC let me know, we'll meet up and chat face to face.
Comment by Laura Gibbs on May 6, 2009 at 5:46pm
Hi Jane, absolutely! I teach the same courses every semester and they are so completely different every semester because of the topics and ideas that each new group of students brings on board. In addition to the public websites that the students create, we use a private Ning for all the blogging - I'll be glad to send you a Ning invite when school starts up again in the Fall. It really is a lot of fun... the Ning has been a BIG plus for the class,since the students really feel free to express themselves and share in the Ning environment which feels so much like Facebook to them. :-)
Comment by Jane Nordli Jessep on May 6, 2009 at 2:04pm
I looked at your site and the projects. Very impressive. I wish I could take one of your courses. Might I peek in now and then?
Comment by Laura Gibbs on May 4, 2009 at 2:03pm
Hi Jane, I was such a total misfit in the Classics department at the University of Oklahoma (where I had a traditional tenure-track professorial appointment), that I resigned that job and started teaching fully online courses when OU started its online course program around 2002. I had started publishing materials online in my last year of graduate school back in 1999, and it was something I found totally inspiring; that sense of free, unrestricted, unlimited sharing is what still inspires me about the Internet - and the tools for publishing and sharing are so much better than what we had ten years ago.

I love the idea of JUICY interaction. What a great word!

One big improvement to my classes this year was switching to a Ning as our discussion/blogging platform. That was a huge plus! At least for the college students I work with, the Ning environment is very "juicy" - with the chance to include images, embed YouTube videos, etc.

Another thing I've done to my classes over time is that the focus is almost entirely on CREATIVE writing. I've pretty much dispensed with analytical or expository writing, except as something that exists as a commentary to the creative writing, which is the main focus. Creative writing lends itself to being very juicy, thanks goodness! I need the students to be excited about their writing topics because it's a real struggle for some of them to work on their writing, and especially on revising their writing (their writing skills are pretty poor in terms of writing mechanics).

I guess in some ideal world, college students would all find it possible to express themselves fully in expository essays... but the students in my classes are really alienated from expository writing... although when it comes to creative writing - specifically, RE-telling traditional myths and legends - they get very inspired and ambitious. As a result, it is fun for me to read their stories, and I can bestow praise that is both lavish and sincere! :-)

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