Online Blogucation

Why the iPad didn’t work for me…

My friend and colleague, Luke Cable, posted about a year ago, "Thoughts on the iPad in Higher Education." And his post still rings true to me. The iPad and other tablet devices are great canvases for putting one's own thoughts into a particular application. Sketch, draw, brainstorm, create mind maps, videos (now on those tablets with cameras), and so on and so forth.

Recently, I decided to take the plunge and buy an iPad 2. For those of you not in-the-know, it is very similar to the original iPad except for having a faster processor and added video capabilities. Oh, and it comes in white as well as black. That's important.

In all seriousness, it's been a great tool. But I'm not (yet) convinced that it is the greatest tool for fully online education.

Now, full disclosure here: I am an Apple fanatic. I owned one of the first Macintosh computers and have been a Mac user ever since. In my small family of four, we have three Mac laptops as well as Apple TV, iPhones, iPod Touches, and so on, ad nauseum.

But as an online educator, I'm still not convinced of the iPad's usefulness in my work. I'm not talking about issues such as its lack of flash support, which by the way are being solved day-by-day by Web publishers either creating flash-free apps, switching to HTML 5 in Web site creation, or even using the newly announced Adobe Flash Media Server applications, which can deliver flash media across multiple platforms, including iOS.

What I have found are two areas where the iPad fails me in interacting with my students. First, support for locally stored files: I need to be able to download, for example, student papers directly to my tablet, edit them, and then upload them back to the learning management system I use for my teaching. The iPad's cloud-based solutions for document management include the MobileMe iDisk (soon to be replaced by iCloud) and WebDAV access to remote servers, a protocol that not all universities and colleges support.

Second on my wish list: full integration with Microsoft Office. Yes, as an Apple fan, I said the "M" word. But let's look at reality: Microsoft Office has become the de facto solution for creating documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Maybe that will change someday; but until it does, I need more than just a conversion to Apple's Pages app to read my students' papers, track changes, add comments, and so on. (I have some attorney friends who have said the same thing. They find it impossible to adequately mark up drafts of contracts and briefs on any current tablet device.)

Why, you may ask, don't I just switch my loyalty from the iPad to an Android tablet or wait for a Windows 7 (or 8?) enabled tablet? My logic is simple, and similar to that in the above paragraph: the iPad has become the de facto solution for tablet devices. With thousands of quality-controlled apps in their app store, Apple has done what no other tablet maker has been able to accomplish: deliver quality experiences on superior hardware that people are willing to spend several hundred dollars to acquire. Even more so than the iPhone among smart phones, I contend that the iPad is the ubiquitous tablet of choice. No other tablet comes close to bringing so much to such a large market.

That said, for my online teaching, it still falls short. I'll stick with my trusty MacBook, thanks. At least for now, until the next iteration of tablet operating systems and apps can address my needs. Of course, at the rate that Apple releases these things, that might be next month! ;-)

Rob Kadel, Ph.D.

Academic Training & Consulting

Pearson eCollege


Hallmark #2 – Planning

Fasten your seatbelt and hold on to your hat! This week we are going to talk about planning in regards to the Middle States Accreditation plan. While I say that a bit facetiously it is actually a little piece of the canvas which is part of a bigger more exciting piece of work.  By standardizing accreditation requirements nationwide for higher education online learning programs, those of us firmly planted in online learning programs can take a huge leap forward to demonstrate (with statistics, research and data) that what we are doing is not only catering to a growing market’s demands but doing so because the pedagogy and statistics show that our students are learning and competing and often exceeding their counterparts in fully online programs.

There are 9 hallmarks in the Middle States Accreditation plan and today we look closely at #2-Planning. On a side note, I will give you some background into this series of blogs. After an introduction to the overall Distance Education Programs--Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education (Online Learning) each person on our team (the Academic Consulting team at Pearson eCollege) took a hallmark to focus on and fully explain. In the draw, I drew #2 Planning.

Now, as I plan for this blog (I deliberately chose the word plan in case you missed that) I can see how apropos it is that I have the planning topic. I am a planner to the point of a clinical neurosis some might say. I am the person who, when the seatbelt light goes off on an airplane as we pull into the gate, I get up and find my car keys and my credit card so when I get off the plane and get to the end of the very long walk to my car, I can jump in, start the car and proceed to pay for parking. Downtime is used for reflection and analysis but it is also a moment or two that can be used to take care of details and save time later on. So from the planner’s perspective, let’s look at hallmark #2.

With that statement of credibility (I am qualified to talk about planning because I am a neurotic planner in my day to day life), let us take a look at how EduKan, the consortium of online campuses for 6 Kansas community colleges, leads by example when it comes to these accreditation hallmarks. Some institutions will fret and have to hire consultants to comply when this becomes standard whereas other institutions, such as EduKan, will simply look at the list and say: “we already do that.”

Hallmark #2 reads:
The institution’s plans for developing, sustaining, and, if appropriate, expanding online learning offerings are integrated into its regular planning and evaluation processes (MSCHE Standard 2).

From the guidelines, analysis and evidence of this hallmark will review:

  • Development and ownership of plans for online learning extend beyond the administrators directly responsible for it and the programs directly using it;
  • Planning documents are explicit about any goals to increase numbers of programs provided through online learning courses and programs and/or numbers of students to be enrolled in them;
  • Plans for online learning are linked effectively to budget and technology planning to ensure adequate support for current and future offerings;
  • Plans for expanding online learning demonstrate the institution’s capacity to assure an appropriate level of quality;
  • The institution and its online learning programs have a track record of conducting needs analysis and of supporting programs.

So in asking how EduKan’s director Mark Sarver addresses the topic of planning, he replied that all aspects of the planning guideline are addressed through their Strategic Planning committee. The Strategic Planning committee for EduKan includes representatives from all jobs and roles within the organization. The group includes but is not limited to: academic deans, advisors, instructors, registrars, other administrators et. al. They devise a 3 year strategic plan which is created and agreed upon by all members of the committee. It is all encompassing to include goals, budget planning, technology planning, and indicators of success. The stakeholders on the committee then take the plan back to their respective groups and gain approval from those groups. As the committee meets every three years, they check the indicators of progress, document successes and adjust or re-define goals for the next three year plan. Statistics, reporting and data analysis provide the documentation needed to assure the required appropriate level of quality. The process is ongoing and it includes every role in the EduKan system to gain buy-in from all those with a role in the success of the online program and the consortium as a whole.

EduKan is not unique in this process. All institutions have a similar program or committee that examines, develops, implements and then reviews their overall plan for successfully educating the students who attend their institution and enrolls in their courses. If they have always been a traditionally on ground campus, this will have to expand to include the online goals above. If they already have an online component to their offerings, they will have to be sure they can document that they are addressing the analysis components above. Of the 9 hallmarks soon to be part of the accreditation process for online learning programs, number two might be one that you can check off as already being in place. Good luck!

-Pamela Kachka, M.A.Ed.-
Academic Consultant


Hallmark #1

As Jeff Borden mentioned last Wednesday, this week marks the first blog in a nine week series where the ATC Team will highlight each of the 9 Hallmarks for Quality Online Education.  If you missed it last week, the regional and national accreditors have agreed on a set of outcomes they will use to evaluate online institutions. So let’s take a look at the first hallmark: 

 Hallmark 1

Online learning is appropriate to the institution’s mission and purposes

As I sat down to think about what I would write, I found myself stumped. What could I write about?  This one‘s a “no-brainer”.  We’ve all been taught that, no matter what the industry, corporations, non-profits, all organizations MUST have a mission.   But as I continued to read the analysis/evidence section, I realized this is about more than simply having a mission, it’s about making sure online learning fits into the overall institutional mission.

In other words, quality online programs aren’t just a whim.  They aren’t implemented because every other college has online courses.  Quality programs are not quick money-making ventures designed to support the REAL programs.  Quality programs require extensive planning where the leadership answers questions like:

  •  How will online courses integrate with the current offerings?
  • How will online courses impact the student experience? 
  • Do we want online courses to attract new students to our programs or will we design them to support current student needs?
  • What will be the look and feel of our online environment?  How does this fit into our current environment?

 Most of us have at least heard about online programs where these questions likely were not considered prior to implementation - programs that offer a certain online course once every two years and students just have to wait.  Or we’ve heard about the institution known for its liberal arts education that suddenly offers an online MBA program for Executives.  Neither example assumes bad programs, but Hallmark #1 provides the guidance to help insure that online programs are properly incorporated into the big picture.

In some parts of this country, Chick-Fil-A is a fast food tradition.  Its most popular menu option being a chicken breast deep-fried in a pressure cooker and served a variety of ways: in a salad, as a sandwich, etc.  Chick-Fil-A is also known for their advertising campaigns where cows advocate that we all “Eat More Chikin”.  If you aren’t familiar with the restaurant and their ad campaign, visit the Chick-fil-a Cow Campaign.  This campaign has a national footprint and a 20 year history.  As a Chick-fil-a fan, I would be extremely concerned if the corporation suddenly decided to sell hamburgers. Such a move would cause me to question the leadership.  I’d wonder whether Chick-fil-a can cook a burger?  I would be concerned about the cow campaign.  What about the name of the restaurant? But the Chick-fil-a mission is to “Be America's Best Quick-Service Restaurant”.  So if they did decide to sell beef, they’d have to do extensive planning to address concerns like mine, but they could certainly make a case for it.  The point being, the accreditors are not concerned that institutions with online programs have a mission.  They are concerned that the program fits in, that it has a place in the big picture.  Even when it’s a reach, like beef at Chick-fil-a, that’s OK, as long as the planning work gets done and everyone can explain how all of the pieces fit together!

Kimberly Harwell

Reporting Analyst and Consultant


Today’s students will never know…

There are several lists that publish what children of various years will never know or always know as they grow up. For example, Beloit College puts out an annual mindset list for students of different graduating years (here’s the list for the class of 2011 ). And another recent one that made news online is this list of things babies born in 2011 will never know . These lists generally include broader cultural items and events and obviously don’t focus on educational topics. I have one young child and another one on the way, and I’ve been wondering what their education will be like. So for babies born today, or even for young children entering school today, what will they never experience in a classroom?

I asked my fellow ATC team members what they thought, and here are some items that we had in our classrooms that are not typically found in today’s classrooms (or at least many of them).

  • Print encyclopedias
  • Card catalogs
  • Chalk blackboards
  • Microfiche machines
  • Film projectors
  • Overhead projectors
  • Pencil sharpeners

But are changes with these “things” really evidence of changes in education? Or are these items just being replaced by newer technologies that still serve the same functions in a relatively unchanged educational culture? As I try to imagine the education that children of today will have, I hope to see more fundamental changes, rather than the same experience shown in Mr. Winkle Wakes.

– Gail E. Krovitz, Ph.D. –
Director of Academic Training & Consulting


A Holiday eWish: Digital Media, Blogs

Finding its way to the top of many instructor wish-lists this season is the incorporation of digital media into their courses. As I talk with professors and read through recent articles, it seems many instructors of hybrid, fully-online and traditional-courses are seeing signs that all seem to point to the same reality:  The use of digital media in education is on the rise.

In the pulse of current research on the subject, we find that across disciplines and educational levels, the use of digital media in educational contexts has been emerging rapidly and is outpaced by a growing demand for the same. Several factors, to include (1) access to Web 2.0 tools that can power digital media in our courses as well as (2) rising student interest and demand for digital media in their learning, serve as active ingredients in this brewing digital media revolution.

A simple Google search on the topic yields an outstanding 96.9 million hits- far more web pages, articles, blogs and resources than we could ever resolve to explore- even with perhaps a bit more downtime during this holiday season than we might enjoy throughout the year. Still, in a recent discussion in a Web 2.0 course I co-taught this past month, it was clear: the winter break exudes potential for course-improvement exploits and tempts many instructors (including myself) with the possibility of enriching our course(s) before their next spring-term run.

Earlier this month, I facilitated a dialogue with educators and administrators around the inclusion of digital media in eLearning. We discussed various tools and uses, among them, the pedagogical benefits of blogs. I was surprised to find that while the concept of blogging is not new, it has still not found its way into many courses, including blended and fully-online offerings. And so, I gravitate towards to asking the following, simple question:  With as much research and information is available on the pedagogical uses and educational benefits of blogs, how have you (and I) incorporated blogs successfully into our own courses?

If you find yourself having had a less-than-pleasant blog experience in the past or having not yet taken the plunge to incorporate the use of a blog in your traditional, blended/hybrid or fully-online course, consider that blogs can be used in your course(s) to:

  • Build engagement
  • Elicit collaboration
  • Foster interactivity
  • Develop literacy
  • Cultivate thinking
  • Promote tech-savviness

This short list represents just a few of the pedagogical benefits and objectives that can be accomplished through the effective use of a blog. Though seemingly-simple themes and prevalent in the research on digital media in education, we cannot underestimate their true impact on learning! Highlighting the first outcome (building engagement) as an example, we know from our own teaching and learning experience (and notable confirmation from formal research) that engagement is critical to achievement. Simply put, without student engagement, our instructional efforts and course content cannot facilitate the fullness of the learning experience for which they are designed! Combine this with a commitment to prepare our students for the communication and collaboration via the methods and platforms they will face in their “real world” and the resulting task might entail weaving into our teaching and learning the social sites, tools and digital media students often use on a regular basis outside of class.

In commenting on the use of blogs, Steve Hargadon, International Society of Technology in Education’s (ISTE) emerging technologies chair, offers several, simple ways to implement blogs in a course:

“Teachers can create simple blogs through which they communicate classroom work and activities…You can post an assignment on a blog and have your students post responses in the comments. You can put up a place for students to talk about their reactions to a chapter in a book.” Or, he suggests, teachers can assign individual blogs to students, encouraging them to communicate their ideas in writing and allowing them to receive comments on their posts from their classmates.

With so many great blogging tools at your disposal, you can take the plunge today to incorporate a blog component in an upcoming course. Below are a few suggestions to help you get started (and hopefully get you closer to checking-off another item on your Instructor winter-break wishlist):

Blogging Tools:

A seemingly endless number of tools are available for the creation and management of blogs. You’ll find many of them are actually free to use. I’ve compiled the following list of noteworthy options for you to explore:



Far from an exhaustive list, here are a few resources you might find helpful in your own research on the use of blogs:

  • Blogs in Plain English (A short introduction to weblogs):
  • Blogs for Learning, an online resource about instructional blogging:
  • Matrix of potential uses of blogs in education:
  • Resources for educators wishing to learn more about blogging for themselves and/or their students:
  • Top 10 Reasons to Use a Blog in the Classroom (A student-created list based on personal experience and interest):

A few tips:

As a team, we often share with instructors tips and best practices we have identified in our own teaching. Here are a few on incorporating tools and technology in your courses:

  • Pedagogy should dictate the technology and tools we incorporate into our courses (rather than the availability of the tools alone).
  • Multimedia should add to the learning experience and be relevant to the course, content and students. (The right tool, a relevant graphic or a pertinent video can help to enhance your content and address the needs of multi-modal learners)
  • Providing students with clear instructions of your expectations, such as the participation guidelines of a blog assignment, is critical to the success of the assignment. (Working backwards from the perspective of what I would like my students to do with an assignment often helps me identify the critical components I would like to see in their participation).
  • Integrate assignments, such as blogs, early in the course design, being sure to clearly connect the assignment to course outcomes (Reynard,  2005). (This is a critical step before the assignment can become more than just an extra task for your students).
  • Once created, use the URL of your blog to create a link within a discussion item in your eCollege course. This will allow students to engage with the blog from within your eCollege course.

Indeed, blogs are a technology that can be easily applied to education. “What blogging really did is create a way to have conversations on the web that couldn’t have taken place before… It’s a simple technology to use. It’s easy to protect, so it can be used just within a classroom environment or just within a certain group of people (Hargadon, 2010).”

L. Rachel Cubas
International Academic Trainer & Consultant
Pearson eCollege


Hargadon, S. 2010. Ed Tech Experts Choose Top Tools. The Journal. Retrieved from:

Reynard, R. 2005. Blogs in Higher Ed: Personal Voice as Part of Learning. Retrieved from:


eTeaching Institute
Instructor-led and hands-on courses, including Creative Uses of Web 2.0, are available through the eTeaching Institute. You can find out more on


Now, children, let’s all play nicely, shall we?

Like an itch that just needs to be scratched, we can't seem to go more than about 3 days without reading something new in the debate between the iPad and the Kindle. (Not to mention the Barnes & Noble nook, Samsung Galaxy Tab, and the recently announced Blackberry PlayBook.) Steven Levy recently wrote in Wired magazine about Jeff Bezos' (CEO of Amazon) recent volley in the which-is-better-the-iPad-or-the-Kindle? war: "The number one app for the iPad when I checked a couple of days ago," said Bezos, "was called Angry Birds -- a game where you throw birds at pigs and they blow up. The number one thing on the Kindle is Stieg Larsson" (à la The Girl with the Pearl Earring). Bezos continues, "It's a different audience. We're designing for people who want to read."

Digging up the most recent stats, as of today, the top download for the Kindle is Compromising Positions by Jenna Bayley-Burke, followed by Jonathan Franzen's Freedom: A Novel. Bezos, you might have noticed, was comparing apples with oranges; the top selling books from Apples iBookstore (again, as of today) are Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars and Fall of Giants by Ken Follett. (Franzen's Freedom is #6, and Compromising Positions is not yet available). I don't mean to dig on Bezos' statement (yes, actually, I do), but people who want to read are clearly doing so on the iPad as much as the Kindle.

There are pros and cons to both devices. Kindle's biggest pro is perhaps its new low price (starting at $139, whereas an entry level iPad is $499). But in point of fact, these are two very different devices with very different functions. The iPad is, more-or-less, an all-in-one: read, write, communicate, shoot pigs with birds, etc. The Kindle, while it has a number of games available for download, is first and foremost a reading device.

My question is, why do we even care to compare them? I'm thinking specifically of delivering content in educational settings -- texts which previously had to be printed. When we compare these two devices on the merits of their reading capabilities, they are quite similar. Read some text, look at graphics, attach notes, etc. (Yes, there are some newer apps for iPad, such as Inkling, which are turning texts in to whole interactive learning systems. But let's stick with Apple's iBooks in this discussion.)

By my way of thinking, comparing the reader capabilities of the Kindle and the iPad is a moot discussion. We should instead focus our attention on how we can bring educational content to any reading device that a student or instructor chooses to use. This is known in Ed Tech circles as being "platform agnostic." It shouldn't matter whether a student uses an Android-driven Galaxy Tab, an iOS-driven iPad, or Kindle's own proprietary format. These CEOs and their engineers need to get together and discuss how best to deliver content across platforms.

The goal here should be the education and learning experience of the student. I'm not saying these companies don't have the right to maintain control over their products and to turn a profit. But, for the sake of students, couldn't they just play nicely?

A colleague recently reminded me that there is a Kindle app for the iPhone and iPad that allows users of those devices to sync their Amazon-purchased Kindle books to their Apple devices. That's nice. But it's still all within the Kindle framework. Let's say I want to share a passage I bookmarked with a friend; my friend has to have the same text in her Kindle or Kindle app, too. Kindle's bookmarks don't translate into Apple's iBooks any more than Apple's translate to Kindle. It's like both companies are willing to share the playground, but both insist on using their own bats, ball, and gloves.

eBooks are no longer in their infancy. I'd say they've reached toddler status at this point, and it's at this stage of development where children begin to learn how to share and play well with others. So, before these companies' products start "growing up" too fast, I call on them to work together for the sake of our kids who are desperate for exciting and engaging ways to learn. No more of this taking your ball and just going home. Find ways to share. Work it out. In the end, we'll all benefit.


Thank you, TED

Although TED was born in 1984, it has become wildly more popular in the last few years, and appropriately so. Originally meant to bring together people from the worlds of Technology, Entertainment and Design, TED has become an immense reservoir of “Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world”. “Remarkable” is an understatement in my view; UberSmart is probably better.

Yesterday, TED did me a great favor. It pulled my nose off the grindstone and reminded me why it is that we do what we do in education. The reminder came via a riveting talk by the remarkable person Sugata Mitra. You may have already heard of Sugata’s “Hole in the Wall” project that shows how, even without a teacher, “If children have interest, education happens.” Listening to his talk and thinking about my own continued education and the education of my daughters, I was struck by Sugata’s work in showing that a simple, innate passion to learn can be found in everyone.  

I was reminded that education is not just for the privileged because curiosity, innovation and desire can be found in any person. Education should not, cannot, be a selfish thing. Education is too foundational to each society and industry to be confined.  Education is the foundation of everything that makes the world go ‘round.

The reality is that this world is an increasingly more difficult place for a hexabillion people to share; but, when we better education, we better people, we better lives, we better communities, nations and tomorrows. That’s a purpose worth being a part of. That’s a purpose I’m glad to be part of.

So, thank you TED, for the reminder that when you educate, you work beyond yourself.

Luke Cable | Academic Trainer & Consultant
Pearson eCollege


I hate technology! May I please teach online?

Monthly, I teach a course called: Developing Online Courses. It teaches instructors/professors how to use the various tools and components of the LearningStudio program to build an online course. As one of our courses started a few months back, I had a user post something to the effect of:

I have to say that I'm not a big fan of computers and technology, but I am totally aware of the importance of using technology as a greater tool in teaching and learning. Also, the institution where I'm currently working is making a big effort to adopt and adapt to the new century challenges.

I love that she said: "I have to say that I'm not a big fan of computers and technology." It really demonstrates an important detail about online learning and the direction we are heading in academia. The computers and the technology are here. It is obviously no longer a fringe item that educators can ignore if they just don't like it (although in one of the stories cited below, they think they can and are doing their students a service). That being said, the technology needs to be accessible enough for all users regardless of skill or experience. The hope is that those new to online teaching specifically but it could be any level of technology integration into a classroom environment, will discover that the environment is uniquely suited to all users (students and instructors). But for those that feel as this participant felt, even though you have an aversion towards technology, you can still use it comfortably to teach without getting overwhelmed. Technophobes who learn about the tools will realize they can master it without too much extra work. Those with more skill, experience, or affection for technology will also find that they can introduce more complicated technologies as well. The online classroom does not exist without the technology. Technology needs to become the paper and pencil or the chalkboard or any item that you associate as a classroom standard.

That doesn’t mean that all professors are holding their nose and jumping into the deep end. A few articles show that many are not using technology available to them; others are openly banning or excluding technology. It is no surprise that the industry is filled with educators all along the spectrum. Hopefully a few more on the anti-tech side will see the benefits of technology in education and jump into the deep end with the student and begin to reap the benefits.

- Pamela Kachka, M.A.Ed. –
Academic Trainer & Consultant

Professors’ use of technology in teaching. (2010). Chronicle of Higher Ed, Retrieved from

Young, Jeffrey. (2010). College 2.0: teachers without technology strike back. Chronicle of Higher Ed, Retrieved from



Over the past six months I’ve presented multiple sessions on pedagogical uses of Web 2.0 at conferences in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Several of these presentations were part of a larger best practices workshop on eLearning facilitated by a total of three Pearson colleagues where we had between 40 and 150 participants at web-enabled workstations.

Prior to initiating our Web 2.0 session at Virtual Educa in the Dominican Republic, my co-presenters and I decided we should try a Twitter backchannel as another way to gather feedback and to facilitate Q&A during the workshop. To do that we first had to figure out the hashtag feature (#groupTagName) which is essentially a searchable tag that allows a group to share a common tweet stream. We also had to carve out about 20 minutes to work with participants on first setting up a Twitter account and then training them how to create a saved search for the #PearsonVE hashtag and finally how to post within the 140 character limit.

The same team presented a similar workshop a month later to the Central American regional conference in El Salvador. Having experienced what worked well and what didn’t we took more time to make sure participants were comfortable with the mircoblog concept. We also modeled how to submit a Tweet in front of the entire group and also how to reply to a Tweet so they could see how a conversation thread develops. The group generated nearly 80 tweets during a two hour period. Two of us would be monitoring and responding to the Twitter stream while the other facilitated the entire group. We got substantive and challenging questions and would review the main Tweet stream themes at the end of each workshop module.

If you’re completely new to Twitter, see this great primer by Ryan Cordell. Next, visit Gavan Watson, an Environmental Studies instructor at York University, who posted an excellent summary of his Twittagogy as a Web 2.0 supplement to his face-to-face class. He explains his plan, includes links to many real Tweets from his course, and reflects on what worked well and what he would change the next time he teaches his class. Finally, check out Mark Samples submission which contains a Twitter Adoption Matrix showing classroom integration ideas charted against a vertical Dialogic/Monologic axis and a horizontal Passive to Active continuum.

Ultimately, I concur with Gavan’s conclusion that the best way to integrate more technology into your teaching is informed use. Try it out and see what works and what doesn’t work with your teaching style and content. Make sure that you keep asking yourself whether the technology is improving student learning or simply an indiscriminate use of Web 2.0 in your classroom because it’s what we’re supposed to be doing.


Cordell, R. (2010). How to Start Tweeting (and Why You Might Want To). The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Sample, M. (2010). A Framework for Teaching with Twitter. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Watson, G. (2010) Reflections on my first use of Twitter in the classroom. Retrieved from

Brian Epp | Academic Trainer & Consultant| Pearson eCollege


The Future of Mobile Learning?

If you’ve had any exposure to media about distance education or online learning lately, then you’re probably aware that just about everyone is talking about mobile learning. It seems that with the exponential growth of the smartphone market, and the related boom in tablet computing, people are getting hip to the idea that learning not only doesn’t have to be relegated to the classroom, it doesn’t have to be relegated to a room, period.

With 3G and 4G connections, with wifi making its way into just about every coffee shop, and with Internet access now even available on many airlines, the opportunity to access content is — truly — everywhere. (Okay, well maybe not in the Kyzylart Pass of Tajikistan, but everywhere else.)

Let’s take a look at some of the logistics for making mobile learning a reality. First, the obvious: the iPhone and iPad. Apple’s App Store (available through iTunes) has pretty much cornered the market — at least for now — on third party applications for delivering content, whether it’s reading an Amazon book from the Kindle app or browsing through a Pearson interactive text delivered through CourseSmart. It’s such a popular business model that competitors like Google and Microsoft have (and are continuing to develop) their own app stores, Google Apps Marketplace and Windows Marketplace, respectively.

But, as tech columnist John Blossom reported in 2009, the “Application-centric” model is not the only option out there. Yes, it’s convenient — the user browses an app store, makes a selection, has fees charged to a pre-authorized credit card, and watches as the app is automatically downloaded and installed on his or her phone. Simple! This model works well for companies like Apple because it keeps users committed to their store.

But what most of these apps do is simply repackage information that is already available via the Internet. For example, need to refill your prescription from Walgreens? You can to go to Walgreens’ mobile site (using your smartphone’s browser, like Safari) and take care of business. Now that site gives you the option to download the “Walgreens App for iPhone,” which does everything you can do on their mobile site, but all in a nicely packaged little app that you can tap to launch, rather than bookmarking a mobile Web site. (Full disclosure: I’m an iPhone and Walgreens mobile app user, and I like both. So please don’t think that I’m denigrating either.)

My point here is that there was already a perfectly usable mobile site for Walgreens. Why was a separate app even necessary? And doesn’t creating an iPhone app — whether from Walgreens or thousands of other developers — suggest that a Google app and a Windows Mobile app are close behind? Three apps all to do the same thing? To quote comic Eddie Izzard, “No one can live at that speed!” It’s certainly not the most efficient business model to be sure. To have to create separate mobile apps for every kind of smartphone would require tons of wasted labor when a better option already exists!

That option is the Web App. And believe it or not, Web Apps are nothing new. That Walgreens mobile site I just mentioned? A Web app. Need to track your spending and balance your checkbook? “There’s a Web for that,” says Blossom. Want to play a game to learn music theory? Yep, there’s a Web for that, too.

Tricia Duryee pointed out in July last year that Apple’s Steve Jobs originally trumpeted the idea of “[building] for the Web,” in other words, of delivering content via the Safari browser. But a year later — and now just about exactly two years since then — he opened the app store and switched our thinking to “There’s an app for that.”

But that was two years ago, and in Internet time, that’s practically an eternity. Apple’s marketing machine notwithstanding, there’s no inherent reason why developers must create separate apps for every platform that exists.

Where does that leave mobile learning? Educational developers and instructional designers cannot (should not) commit themselves to merely one mode of delivery. That is, one should not commit to delivering content via the iPhone at the expense of users of Droids, Blackberries, or Sprint Evos. What’s most important is reaching every student possible using whatever devices they choose to use.

At the same time, to develop separate apps for every existing and emerging mobile platform would be a tremendous waste of time and energy. Yes, there are some instances where an app native to each system may be necessary. But for the most part, delivering interactive content can be accomplished with the same basic code for Safari on the iPhone as for Google’s browser on the Droid — especially with the advent of HTML5 (which is a discussion for another time.)

In short, what we educators should expect to see coming down the pike are new modes of delivering content that are browser based and that are simpler and more cost-effective to deliver. By keeping labor time and costs low, we get more content for less money and in less time than we have seen before. And in that, we all benefit.

Not coincidental with the writing of this blog post, Pearson has recently released Pearson LearningStudio Mobile Solution, a Web App that allows students to check grades and announcements, read and post to discussion forums, and have a dashboard-like view across all their courses in the process. Our developers are thinking ahead on this — there is no app to download; access is available on the iPhone, Droid, Blackberry, etc.; and as new features and updates become available, users won't have to wait for app updates to be approved by an über-store. We end-users reap the benefits of Pearson's quick and cost-effective development. Bonus!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to refill a prescription…

-- Rob Kadel, Ph.D. --
-- Academic Trainer & Consultant --

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