Online Blogucation

Flipping The Mooc?

140,000 students in a single course?  C'mon...there's no way!  Or is there?  A LOT of people have taken notice of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) in the past few months.  And when I say people, I mean highly positioned, well respected, very powerful people in the education sector.  People like Presidents, CEOs, Provosts, etc., of places like Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and many more have at least publicly inquired about MOOCs if not actually starting programs to invest in their own.

A respected colleague of mine who talks almost exclusively to C-level educators put it simply but effectively, "...the genie is out of the bottle."

Of course, this is exciting.  Anything to further the discussion around eLearning is wonderful from my perspective.  The ridiculous, antiquated, fallacious arguments about leaving teaching and learning alone are growing tiresome.  So anything that promotes the use of technology to enhance and augment learning is a powerful thing.  But with that in mind, and as an "early-adopter" much of the time, my next statement might surprise you.

We need to blow up the MOOC.

No, not blow up as in destroy.  Blow up as in, let's get to v2 as fast as humanly possible because v1 is NOT a good poster child for online education.  Why?  Simple.  Today's MOOC takes many of the worst elements of teaching, instruction, assessment, etc., and simply presents them over the Internet.  For instance:

Lectures - A big name in both the MOOC world as well as his discipline (aka, the smartest guy in ANY room) was describing the process he used to create his MOOC.  He said, "I was shocked when I started researching ways to disseminate information to find that lecturing is actually a really bad way to present information.  I have been lecturing for over 40 years and didn't know that..."  And yet, this great scholar and innovator did exactly that in his MOOC.  He simply recorded himself lecturing, put it on YouTube, and tied it to his MOOC.  Eric Mazur talks about a fantastic study he did at Harvard where students had their brains continually monitored for a week.  EVERY single student had similar brain patterns with regard to class (lecture) time.  Their brain waves were almost completely flat.  That's right - no activity.  The only other time in the week their brains were that inactive?  When watching tv.  Even when sleeping, the human brain is more active than during a lecture.  And yet the lecture is still the predominant means of "teaching" students today.  So, if MOOCs are to "change the world" for the better...we have to figure out how to incorporate much better ways of teaching and learning through them.

Learning - What is learning, really?  Isn't it the acquisition of information and then the assimilation of that information?  If we agree that it is, at its core, those two things, then I would bet we could also agree which of the two things is harder.  Dissemination of information is easy.  It can be done through a book, a lecture, etc.  The HARD part is actually making sense of it in a contextual, meaningful, connected way.  Yet for decades (if not centuries) educators have performed the easy part, while leaving the hard part to students.  (Actually to students who are alone, at home, with only a book...)  The flipped classroom, which is a remixed way of talking about what educational psychologists have known for decades, is finally starting to shine a light on the notion that the hard conversations should take place in class, while the dissemination activities happen at home.  MOOCs, as they exist today, do not even approach this.

Assessment - We can create objective tests that are manually graded and start to identify what a student does or does not understand.  In fact, a few MOOCs in the past month have finally started to do just that.  (This is why the very first MOOCs were not taken seriously - they really had little to no meaningful assessment.)  However, even with such heavy reliance on standardized assessments in our Universities today, most professors still agree that much of the way we know if our students do "get it" is through interaction, conversation, dialogue, and transference of ideas.  This can happen in discussions (before, during, and after class), as well as through ideas presented in papers, etc.  However, the only real way to even approach this in a MOOC is through peer review and peer assessment.  And that is a tough one for a lot of people.  For example, I recently took a Udacity MOOC on statistics.  I had opportunity to join a discussion group that I found purely by happenstance, with others from the class.  It was a study group of sorts.  However, after asynchronous discussions with about 10 peers, I soon realized that I was likely the most knowledgeable person in our group when it came to statistics.  (My mother and father are giggling right now...)  In other words, nobody had anything of value to bring to the table.  Social learning is indeed a powerful thing, but without what Vygotsky would call the "More Knowledgeable Other" in the group, it starts to break down quickly.  MOOCs could rely solely on high stakes, standardized, auto-graded tests, but again, that would simply perpetuate a bad practice from face to face teaching in the online realm.

There are others here, but I think you get my point.  The MOOC as it exists today, with millions of dollars being poured into figuring out how, when, and where to use it, needs a quick overhaul.  I am hopeful that it will happen sooner rather than later as (hopefully) it hasn't become an "institution" to anyone yet.  Hopefully nobody is so tied to the notion of something that didn't really even exist until less than a year ago that they can retool, reconfigure, and rethink the MOOC.  Because a MOOC has tremendous possibility.  Delivering global education at scale with ties to real-world competencies...that could be a game changer.  So let's make sure we get it right.  Let's flip the MOOC.

Good luck and good teaching.


The Future Of Education?

I've been at my job with (Pearson) eCollege for 10 years this October. I've seen trends come and go. I've watched bells and whistles become staples while staples disappear from existence. Some things change while others stay the same. But during my tenure with the company, in addition to the 17 years of teaching in higher education for which I've never stopped, I am also tired.

I'm tired of defending the same points to people who don't really care about the answers. I'm tired of trying to show people what it's like to move a mile, just to get them to move an inch. I'm tired of the assumptions based solely on "gut" feel or (worse yet) on tradition. You know the fallacy - "We've always done it this way, so we should continue..." I actually heard the head of one of the largest eLearning institutions in the world start a keynote address with this: "We all know that face to face is the best option. But when that isn't possible, here are the best ways to use eLearning."

Huh? Forget the studies that show how online is BETTER in some instances than on-ground. Forget the research which shows how online, with greater transparency and accountability is a better method for getting students through outcomes-based assessment. Forget that data, which can transform education into a personalized learning environment allowing exponentially more students to pass, succeed, and thrive, only comes when we digitize content, delivery, and assessment. And by all means forget that online education is changing the paradigm of learning from those who cannot (be accepted, matriculate, complete, etc), to those who can (pass, graduate, accel). Forget all of that. Let's just keep doing what we're doing that is and has been failing for decades...

...or not! Instead, why not focus on what we can accomplish if education embraces technology like almost every other facet of our world. What would happen if we really opened ourselves up to delivering incredible content, authentic assessments, and practical tasks to help students work, live, and thrive. Imagine.

Flying cars painting from the late 1800'sImagine a student sitting on a bus. Maybe a flying bus. (Ok, maybe not - did you know we have pictures of "future" vehicles flying dating back to the 1700's?) But this student is looking at her tablet device. She's a pre-med student going through A&P. So, she clicks on her device, powered by the sun of course, and goes into a lesson on the heart. Immediately a 3-Dimensional heart starts slowly turning above her device. This heart can be turned by her, examined by her, and even sliced open to reveal its contents. Of course, with her ear bud in, she can hear the instructor going through the sections as she views them. Or, she can watch a real heart pumping in a video based on various contexts like during exercise, when in distress, or while sleeping. When her bus arrives, she simply clicks off the tablet and heads to work.

Another group of students is studying statistics. There is a problem that asks them to discern numbers within a given culture. They are in a late night study session in their school's commons area. One of them suggests they step into a room where one wall is made entirely of an HD monitor. A student touches the monitor which switches on. He logs into an account and sends a video conference request to a friend in another country. Immediately the wall is transformed into a window for another classroom 10,000 miles away. Now two student groups on two continents start working the problem together. They share ideas, data, and learning methodologies as they also connect on a personal level. They simply use their fingers to draw facts and figures on the wall - many of which are translated into another language, all of which are dually usable by both groups. The session lasts for 45 minutes when both groups decide to take their new understandings and craft a solution. The wall becomes a wall again.

An instructor begins class. Students login to their devices (mobile, pc, etc) to hear her speaking, but only seeing blackness. Soon though, the blackness becomes gray. Her talking continues as she describes the geothermal tunnels she is walking through. She is trying to research potential problems with the Earth's crust through a research grant, but what better opportunity to illustrate her findings with the next generation of scientist? The entire class experience occurs through the camera attached to her helmet, with the students able to ask direct and poignant questions along the way.

A class of 400 is broken into groups of 15. The instructor begins the simultaneous lecture / webcast, "Welcome to History 215. You have been placed in groups and have been given a packet which includes journal articles, websites, riddles, and puzzles. Your job is to find out who Nymon Lester is and stop him from harming our school. This 55 year old has more power than you can imagine and is using it to destroy something valuable to everyone hearing my voice. You only have 48 hours. GO!" Immediately students scatter as they devise strategies, assign roles and tasks, and establish norms for their immersive group experience. The course will be over in 2 days and only one group will win.

Finally, we find a woman in her early 50's. She has gone back to school after raising a family, but she doesn't remember much. She needs help. So, as she opens her Algebra eBook during the lecture, she watches the instructor start to piece together a problem on the eBoard. Soon, he asks the students to try it on their own. When she tries to do a similar problem, she gets stuck on step 2 and the book pulls in some content from a remedial math course to show her a video, give her a simpler problem, and help her get to a place where she can succeed. By the end of the lesson, she is caught up. Her digital course remembers what she struggled with and will remind her the next time she logs on to cement the learning, but she is not nearly as far behind as she could be.

Do you see it? More importantly, are you preparing for it? Because it's coming. Every technology described here is being worked on somewhere and even a few exist today. Oh, and don't forget the administrator who can call all of it up on her computer, create a report of the institution's teaching and learning efficacy, and email that to three accountability groups for quick perusal.

So my friends, when you get tired of the fight, remember these things. If you hear the fallacious arguments from those in power, just nod and smile. They will retire. Or, when the change is finally too great, they'll simply leave. In the meantime, keep setting up the foundations of education to prepare for this reality. It's coming. And it's going to be more than's going to be transformative.

Good luck and good teaching.

Dr. Jeff D Borden
VP of Instruction & Academic Strategy
Pearson LTG


Whom will the data serve? Thoughts on Usefulness and Portals for Education

As noted in the article Salman Khan: The New Andrew Carnegie? -

...knowledge no longer needs to be bound into the paper and cloth of a book but can float free on the wireless waves of the Internet. There’s a lot of junk bobbing in those waves as well — information that is outdated, inaccurate, or flat-out false — so the emergence of online educational materials that are both free of charge and carefully vetted is a momentous development. This phenomenon is all the more significant given the increasing scrutiny directed at for-profit online universities, which have been criticized for burdening students with debt even as they dispense education of questionable usefulness. Websites offering high-quality instruction for free are the Carnegie libraries of the 21st century: portals of opportunity for curious and motivated learners, no matter what their material circumstances (Paul, 2011, para. 6).

I pursue the goal of excelling as an engineer or architect of learning and to be otherwise associated with the proliferation of "portals of opportunity for curious and motivated learners, no matter what their material circumstances" (Paul, 2011, para. 6). In some sense, I am these things already as an Academic Trainer and Consultant with Pearson eCollege. If I had a personal mission statement, it would be worded similarly and my destiny would be to serve in an industry associated with or embedded within the systems of education.

Yet, that’s not the point of this post!

I found it interesting the Paul (2011) article quoted above suggests the phenomenon of high quality online vetted materials " all the more significant given the increasing scrutiny directed at for-profit online universities, which have been criticized for burdening students with debt even as they dispense education of questionable usefulness."

Could not many of us argue that public colleges and universities also "dispense education" of "questionable usefulness"? Actually, many might also debate whether education is dispensed or received or shared or…

Wait, that’s not the point of this post either!

So, what is the point you ask?

The point is to consider critically the reality that all colleges and universities - regardless of profit motive or mission statement - are justifiably susceptible to this questioning of usefulness. Knowledge and skills needed for professions and trades evolve quickly in part due to the globalization of knowledge and virtual removal of barriers to access to information through the internet for a large portion of the world’s population, but certainly not all of that population! Let's question some things...

Could we argue that a nursing or teaching degree in the United States from 1990 is as useful today in the same locale as one from 2010? Does locale matter? How does that impact usefulness?

Does on the job real-world apprenticeship style workflow-learning add value to the formal education received? If yes, how is that measured?

Does a graduate's lack of continued professional or personal development post-graduation to become or remain productive in the workforce as laborer or entrepreneur necessarily reflect negatively on the value of educational portals provided by a college or university?

Yes, that’s the point.

While there is much that can be unpackaged from the messages of the selected quote opening this post, the point of this post is to ask you to think critically about what we are measuring when we refer to educational usefulness, how we are measuring it and defining the variables associated with the measures, and ultimately why we are measuring it – whom will the data serve?

Lisa Marie Johnson, Ph.D.
Academic Trainer & Consultant
Pearson eCollege


Paul, A.M. (2011, November 16). Salman Khan: The new Andrew Carnegie? The emergence of free, high-quality online courses could change learning forever. Retrieved from Times Online MagazineIdeas section (link opens new page):


Google Voice for Teaching Presence & Community

Abounding research has confirmed for us the power of instructor presence, immediacy and feedback in online courses. Conceptually, “immediacy” refers to behaviors that lessen the “psychological distance between communicators” (Weiner & Mehrabian, 1968). In practice, and in particular as it applies to online learning and course delivery, the behaviors and practices that generate and sustain instructor immediacy must often occur in scenarios of total or varying degrees of physical distance and separation of course participants. The power to connect with students who we do not physically see or meet with in person can have much to do with the resources available to us to power open lines of communication.

For online instructors, a critical need is to have the capacity for communication, just as we would have in a face-to-face classroom. Instructor-to-student communication around the delivery of content, course information, grades, assessment feedback, etc as well as the need for student-to-student communication around course concepts, discussions or group work illuminates the need for a wide range of tools to facilitate communication exchanges.

How do you foster immediacy and the communication you need to have with your online students?

If you teach with the Pearson’s LearningStudio system, you might use the Announcements and Email tool for asynchronous communication with your students. You might also be using the Threaded discussion tool for targeted areas of communication such as an instructor virtual office, a weekly topical discussion or dedicated group work areas. When synchronous communication is preferred, you might also use Classlive or the Chat tool. All of these measures share the function and outcome of providing means through which communication, interaction and dialogue can occur.

In addition to in-course tools for communication such as those briefly highlighted earlier, the greater Web community offers a wide range of tools you and I can use to generate channels of communication. In this post, I’ll highlight my most recent experience with Google Voice as a communication tool in my teaching.

Google Voice isn’t a new feature from the well-recognized Google family, but it is one that is still unfamiliar to many and is being continually improved. Google Voice offers key functionality you may consider to be helpful to you in communication with your students.

What is Google Voice?

Google Voice can be used to enhance the existing capabilities of your phone, regardless of the phone or carrier you might use. Key features include:

  • One Number: Use a single number that rings you anywhere.
  • Online voicemail to your inbox like email.
  • Transcribed messages.
  • Free calls & text messages to the U.S. & Canada.

Directly from the welcome email I received upon signing up, here is a brief highlight of Google Voice and few of its features:

“Welcome to Google Voice. Google Voice gives you a single phone number that rings all of your phones, saves your voicemail online, and transcribes your voicemail to text. Other cool features include the ability to listen in on messages while they're being left, block unwanted callers, and make cheap international calls. We hope you enjoy using Google Voice.”

Your inbox, messages, features and settings can all be accessed and customized from your Google Voice Page (

Here’s how I am using Google Voice with my students

So, here is a brief overview of my current setup and a few of the ways I use Google Voice to enhance the phone communication channel with my students. First, I did some research on Google Voice before signing up and discovered the ability it would provide me to essentially bridge my current phones and receive voicemails all in one place- my Google Voice Inbox. I decided to give it a try!

During the sign-up process, I was prompted whether I wanted to use Google Voice with my existing mobile phone number or a new phone number from Google. I selected to create a new phone number figuring I could later choose whether I would actually use it. As it turns out, having a Google number, which is free, opened up additional possibilities for me in leveraging Google Voice for phone communication with my students. With a Google number, I was able to now provide my students with 1 phone number where they could call me and I set parameters around what occurs when a student calls that number, such as which of my actual phones (home, mobile, etc) ring when my Google number is called. I was also able to set when my phones can & cannot ring, and the greeting that students hear when I don’t answer their call immediately. Awesome! (More on this later in this post).

Having a Google number has also meant I do not need to provide students with my personal mobile number or home number, but can set Google Voice to route my calls to those personal telephones, if I choose to. When I am not available to answer their call, students hear my personal greeting and are able to leave a voicemail message. That message then arrives in my Google Voice inbox as transcribed text that I can actually read prior to or in place of listening to the voicemail message.

In this example, one of my students called my unique Google number. I wasn’t available to answer at the time of the call, so my student was routed to my personal greeting message and left a voicemail for me. Within seconds, I received the voicemail alert in my Google Voice inbox and was able to read what the student spoke in the voicemail message. The alert in my inbox displays the number from which the voicemail was received, the date/time in which it was received and a transcribed version of the voicemail message. Pretty cool!

Transcribed Voicemail Message Image

(Click on image to enlarge) Note: “Sample Student” and “(123) 456-7899” have been layered over the original name and number.

A few days after the original setup, I spent a bit of time exploring the Settings area within the Google Voice page and noticed several handy features that could help me even further. As mentioned earlier, I was able to schedule when my phones would be able to ring with a call and when they should not. This means I don’t have to worry about hearing my phones ring when a student calls me in the middle of the night. :-)  This is particularly useful when your online students span the country and/or the globe and could be calling you from a wide range of time zones!

Within settings, I also noticed the ability to elect to have text message alerts of new Google Voice activity sent directly to my cell phone. I went ahead and signed up to receive a text message alert on my personal cell phone whenever a student leaves a voicemail message at my Google number. (Keep in mind this is something you can change or cancel at any time). For me, this handy feature has meant I am automatically alerted of a student’s voicemail message even if I am not in my Google Voice inbox or even on my computer. Below is a screen capture of what the text message alert looks like on my cell phone. Notice the transcription of the voicemail message directly within the text message alert on my screen, giving me the ability to ‘see’ the content of my student’s voicemail message without having to be on my computer, log into my Google Voice account, or even ‘listen’ to the voicemail message:

Image of Text Message Alert of a Voicemail in Google Voice

(Click on image to enlarge) Note: “Sample Student” and “(123) 456-7899” have been layered over the original name and number.

I’ve certainly noticed instances in which the transcription of a voicemail isn’t complete. When this happens, I am able to listen to the actual message to hear my student’s recording directly. I am also able to alert Google of when this occurs and even “donate” the transcript for improvement of Google Voice in the future.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, having a Google number and Voice account means I can also receive text messages from my students, free of charge. Now, I know some of us as instructors are not sold on text messaging with our students. And you’ll find the features of this tool that are helpful to you and you can use those. I’ve found adding a Contacting your Professor announcement in my online course and including within it several parameters for communication and my expectations for students can really help clarify the way I encourage my students to communicate with me, minimizing issues of appropriate methods of contact, etc.

When a student does send me a text message (which I’ve noted in my announcement as an acceptable form of communication), the text message arrives in my Google Voice inbox, just like an email would. It is organized under “Texts” and I have elected to have alerts of new text messages to my Google number sent directly to my cell phone. The alert includes details of the message as well as the text itself, much like the earlier screen capture. And I can choose to respond with a text message, a phone call, or any other method I’d like to use.

Additional thoughts on Google Voice for Communication and Community

I’ve been using Google Voice for some time now and it has become a frequently-used tool in my toolkit as I seek to build effective communication with my students. I’ve also been able to refer my students to sign up for their own Google number to be able to make free nationwide calls to classmates throughout the course and to team members during a group project. All the student messages I receive, including voicemail messages and text messages, are stored within my Google Voice inbox and I can access them from anywhere I can access the internet. I can choose to delete messages once I’ve responded to the student or keep the message stored in my inbox, which means I no longer have to worry about time limits for the storage and retrieval of student’s messages. As a robust phone communication tool to support what I am already doing in my online courses and the ways I seek to foster immediacy, Google Voice is certainly worth a try.

Here are some resources to get you started

If you’re curious about getting started with Google Voice, take a look at this brief introductory video: What is Google Voice? or visit the Google Voice YouTube channel to see more. To sign up, go to Click “Try it Out” to sign up with a current Google account or to create a new Google Account. Once your Google account has been created and verified, click on Voice logoand follow the on-screen instructions to get started. Again, you’ll have the option of using Google Voice with an existing mobile phone number or creating a brand new (and free) Google number.

By the way, if on-the-go advanced calling and voicemail functionality is a welcomed addition for your communication toolkit, you can download the Mobile App, which gives you access to your Google Voice inbox and messages right there on your mobile phone. Pretty handy if you like to stay connected while mobile! With the app, I am able to call students or send them text messages that appear as though they are coming from my Google phone number even though I am actually sending them from my personal mobile phone. Pretty cool stuff! Plus, it’s totally free to do within the U.S. and Canada. Currently, the app is available for Blackberry, iPhone and Android powered phones. For more information or to download the app, search for “Google Voice” in your app marketplace.

Until next time, I wish you the best in your courses. Be sure to share a comment with us via this blog if you use Google Voice or another handy tool for communication with your students!

Rachel Cubas
Academic Trainer & Consultant
Assessment & Analytics Group | Academic Training & Consulting Team (ATC)


Wiener, M. & Mehrabian, A. (1968). Language within language: Immediacy, a channel in verbal communication. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.


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


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


Global Perspective | Spotlight on Trends: USA & Brazil

Last month, I had the amazing opportunity of delivering a workshop course on Online Learning Best Practices in Foz do Iguaçu, Paraná, Brazil. The event, hosted by the Brazilian Association for Distance Education (ABED), is an annual gathering that calls for educational professionals from all over the nation of Brazil in what is esteemed to be one of the most critical events in the online and distance education arena for the nation.

The focus of my workshop was to engage a dialogue around what practitioners were facing today and then seek to facilitate sharing around their issues and experiences in order that we might bring to corporate attention those things we could observe as mistakes, successes and best practices.

To start this off, I gave a short presentation on trends in online education, featuring both U.S. and Brazil-based statistics. My original curiosity in putting the stats together was to identify some of what these two nations are seeing in their online learning & distance education landscape in order to draw an analysis of how the two landscapes might differ or cohere.

Through this presentation and our group dialogue, it became clear that both similarities and variances did exist. In such areas as student, teacher and institutional access to technology and the overall use of technology in education, for example, participants noted the U.S. is in a position of greater years of access to and practice with technology applied to educational contexts. We also dialogued about the impact of this reality on instructors, specifically in the case of wanting to find and incorporate online resources into their courses, including Web 2.0 tools and applications. Whereas we know that for an English-speaking audience, social giants such as Facebook now have 200+ apps that can be applied to education, the number of sources available for use in other languages, in this case Portuguese, can be dramatically fewer and thereby pose a greater challenge to instructors desiring to incorporate such tools in their courses and work.  Though we did identify these noteworthy differences in our dialogue, at least one solid point of coherence did emerge in our continued dialogue and exploration of the statistics.

Inasmuch as it seems evident the years of practice with certain technologies in education, as well as with eLearning in general can differ greatly between the U.S. and Brazil, it became clear that both nations are in seasons where the promise for the future of online education seems to be one of increased growth. For instance:

  • Brazil- “The offer of new distance courses in 2008 grew 89.9% in comparison with the previous year (ABED, 2009).”
  • U.S.A.- “The economic impact has been greatest on demand for online courses, with 66 percent of institutions reporting increased demand for new courses and programs (Allen & Seaman, 2009).”

For sure, this growth potential appears to reflect in both enrollment of students into online course offerings and in student-demand for increased online course & program offerings. In either case, the trend appears to point to a growing demand from students for opportunities through which to engage their education through technology.

Though both of these potential growth areas are vast topics for rich discussion, the one I chose to highlight to the group was the second (the expected & potential for growth in demand for new online course offerings). Moreover, I chose to focus less on the demand itself and more on the impact or implications of this demand on the online education landscape. My question to the group then and I pose this for your consideration now as well is to reflect on: “What does this mean for online course development?”

If we are to understand that the trend-signs point to great and seemingly rising demands for new online course offerings/programs, we can conclude that those institutions who desire to engage with this growth potential will need to:

  • discover their position in terms of current online offerings and
  • determine the extent to which their institutional strategy calls for (and will support) the development of new online courses and programs.

Bearing current offerings and strategic positioning for the future, new development would need to begin by an active discovery of those subject areas, courses and programs that represent the rising demands of online/potential online students. With this, we can observe the potential for a rising need for new course development across disciplines and levels. And a critical scenario for institutions offering online courses/programs to consider is whether the demand is rising at speeds that could soon (or have already) outpaced current systems for development.

Obviously, this apparent demand for course development is a larger reality than this short blog can fully address and there is indeed still much we need to discover. As such, I’d like to pose the following questions to you that might help you spark or continue this discussion in your institution:

  • What demand for online courses, including new courses and program offerings, is my institution facing?
  • What is our strategy concerning online education and how does growth in new course and program development fit into it?
  • How will any new initiatives for development affect our current system and capacity to support new online course development?

L. Rachel Cubas, M.Sc.
International Academic Trainer & Consultant
Pearson eCollege



ABED. (2010). Sao Paulo: Camara Brasileira do Livro.

Allen & Seaman. (2009). Learning on Demand. Newburyport: Sloan-C.


Science and Science Labs in Online Environments

A good advocate of online learning will tell you that all content areas can be taught online; you just need to plan and adjust so that the activities done online are still as rich and compelling as they were face to face (F2F). So if I’m that science instructor wanting to move online with my biology course, where do I start?


Having attended the Sloan-C Blended Learning Conference and Workshop in April, I was able to attend sessions and network with colleagues who have been at that starting point of where do I begin? It seems like a great place to start is a blended or hybrid approach. When planning for a blended course, you decide what will work best F2F and what will work best online. This allows you to examine your content and evaluate each lab and activity to determine what is the best way to learn this concept?


If you are going fully online with your science lab course, you obviously will not have the luxury of deciding which labs you want to do F2F and which you want to do online. So plans need to be made for full online integration. From that perspective I think the best option is collaboration with colleagues. In addition to the contacts I made at the conference above, after further conversations outside of the conference I have a list of other science professors willing to talk to me about what they are doing.


So what if your institution doesn’t have the funds to send you to a variety of conferences (does any institution have the funds right now)? No problem! If you’re scrappy you can find the contacts you need to start the conversations. It is easy to find conference Websites online. Look around for the list of presentations or in the case of the conference above, look for the link to the presentations post conference. If you find someone who might have information you seek, contact that person. I tried it with two people and in addition to their insight, they provided me with names and email addresses of other colleagues as well. So a little digging and you’ll be able to build your own network of colleagues with whom you can collaborate and generate ideas for bringing your science course fully online based on what others have done.


If you are not that adventurous, the other option is to find listservs that focus on teaching science courses. The group of collaborators will already be assembled for you, waiting for you to ask your questions. Some great resources I found are listed below. Just sign up (sometimes the tricky part) and send your questions out or search the archives for previous posts.


Also, any of these resources or tactics will work for any content areas. If you are taking your curriculum online, find others who have gone ahead of you and build on their ideas and experience. You don’t have to do it alone.


ITeach Listservs – resource page for instructors associated with Minnesota State Colleges & Universities. There are a variety quality of sites and listservs for all content areas.

AdjunctNation – a comprehensive resource for adjunct professors of all curriculum areas

 Clemson University Biolab listserv – you have to dig a bit on this one; scroll down to the Visit header and click on BioLab. There are directions for joining the listserv which is described as: a great place to discuss college biology teaching with colleagues.  

Catalist – a fully comprehensive search engine for listservs. You can find a listserv on any topic you can dream up. It led me to the last one:

ISEN-ASTC-L - which links informal science professionals from around the world.

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



Outcome Assessment vs. Assignment Grading

Admittedly, this debate will only catch the eyes of those of us who passionately engage in the role that outcome assessment plays in improving curricular and instructional effectiveness. My experience is that in most cases, course assignments predate the integration (or imposition) of outcomes into the course delivery process. As a result there is often loose alignment between assignments and the outcomes that have been associated with a course.

The core question then becomes whether faculty can integrate these two evaluation requirements into a single workflow or if they must be two discrete processes. My colleagues at Texas Christian University’s (TCU) Koehler Center for Teaching Excellence have deeply engaged in this debate with targeted faculty on their campus. They’ve summarized their perspective in a January 2010 newsletter article which is well worth reading. A case is made for maintaining outcome assessment as a unique process because of the aforementioned alignment issue.

For example, a student may turn in an assignment late which means s/he should receive a lower grade even though the student may have demonstrated mastery of the associated outcomes. Another common situation is that many departments want to include writing quality criterion in their assignment rubrics even though this may not be a stated outcome for the course.

While the points made in the article are valid, my belief is that ultimately these two processes need to be integrated into a single workflow for faculty. Professors have a limited amount of time they can dedicate to the feedback and evaluation steps in the teaching and learning cycle. If we ask them to add outcome assessment on top of an already full workload the quality of their feedback to students will likely be distributed more sparsely across a broader range of assessment requirements.

There are many committed faculty who are willing to go the extra mile but a well-designed course and assessment process can go a long way toward integrating these two components of a course-based evaluation approach. Assignments can be rewritten so that their evaluation criteria more closely align to the stated course learning outcomes. This takes effort too; however, once this alignment has been completed the efficiencies are realized in subsequent terms.

“Rubrics for Grading, Rubrics for Learning Outcomes”. (2010) January 2010 Koehler Center eNewsletter. Retrieved May 4, 2010, from

Brian McKay Epp | Academic Trainer & Consultant| Pearson eCollege


Recipe For Success

A year and a half ago, my wife went in for radical, life-changing surgery.  The surgery worked and her life is altered for the better.  But an odd thing happened just before the doctors started removing organs.  I got a text message from my Dad.  While it was impressive to get a text from the 64 year old minister who flies 200,000 miles per year, that wasn’t odd.  What was odd was how he signed it.  The text simply said,

“Jeff, know that we’re all praying for you.  Please call us when you can, but know you’re in our thoughts.  LOL.”

Now, for those of you not in the know, it’s the LOL that really threw me.  So, about a week later, I was going back through my messages and I found it again.  So I asked my sister why Dad would sign a text that way.  She said that she had gotten a similar one.  Her little girl was having some dental problems and needed a root canal.  Dad sent her a text the ended the same way.  “Hope she does great…LOL”

So I called my dad and asked him why he was signing his texts that way.  He told me, “I was so moved by a text from your sister a few months back that I’ve adopted it!  She wrote me a text saying she had just seen my book on the shelf in Barnes & Noble and that I was the man…then she signed it, LOL.”  He went on to explain that the comment, “Lots of Love” was so moving, he almost cried and had been using it ever since…

The following five minutes of conversation led my father to hang up and spend two days calling and apologizing to people for “laughing out loud” at their deeply troubling problems.  My uncle’s divorce was met with LOL, a roommate from college who just lost his own father was followed up with LOL…essentially my dad had offended about 20 people in 2 months via text message!

As much as that story makes me smile, and while I hope it also makes you smile, it’s the formula for that story that is important.  I teach speech and rhetoric – I have for years.  And throughout my years, I ask students to include plenty of narrative in their speeches.  Stories make a profound difference to an audience when told right. 

But there is a problem…often they are NOT told right.  I partially blame the news.  Your local news or the newspaper has always been filled with stories, right?  WRONG!  The bastardization of that term has caused people to believe that a “report” is the same thing as a “story” – when it’s not.  Let me explain.

Typically, an article or report is about time.  It is a chronological, step by step explanation of what happened.  Can it be engaging?  Sure – but more often it’s just informational.  But a “story” is different. 

Coming from “mythos”, the idea of story is really all about plot.  And the idea is simple – the plot should create tension, keep tension, and release tension!  Let me share a quick, but simple (and effective) recipe for a story that my students try to use.

Step one is to provide an attention getter.  In my story above, my first sentence was designed to be a bit engaging.  Nothing Earth shattering, but unusual.  A hook to keep you listening.  This was followed by a very important step two – the creation of tension!  My statement about an odd text message hopefully had you wondering what exactly was odd about it.  Step three is actually the majority of the adventure.  The purpose of step three is to keep the tension building.  Hopefully you were wondering with me why in the world my dad would write such a calloused message and why he would perpetuate that message over and over.  Finally, in step four, I released you from the tension.  I explained the behavior and concluded the story. 

The formula for a good story.

The formula for a good story.

If you think about it, almost every good story today follows this formula.  This recipe can be found in prime time dramas, late night sitcoms, or blockbuster movies.  If you look at a legal show like Boston Legal, the only difference is that they use this formula five or six times per show, often leaving the tension for a few storylines so as to bring you back next week.

So, as you consider creating content for your course…heck, as you consider your course in general!  Think about this formula.  Do you tell stories that create tension, hold tension, and release tension?  On a bigger scale, does your course grab students from week one and build the tension until week 15 when they say, “A-ha!”  Of course there are mini-gestalt moments along the way, but if you use this formula correctly…your students will be clamoring for more week after week! 

So, whether it’s an individual narrative, a discussion illustration, a lecture, or an entire course, think about this “recipe for success” the next time you want to really engage your students.  I think you’ll like the results.

Good luck and good teaching.
Jeff D Borden, M.A.
Senior Director of Teaching & Learning