Friday, January 22, 2016

Analyzing and Categorizing Online Digital Tools and Systems for Education – Getting Started

decorative image of a magnifying glass looking closely at a course website

The second module of #EDUC5101G (Digital Tools for Knowledge Construction) @uoitmed looks at analyzing and categorizing online digital tools and systems for education. I figured that I would start course participants off by compiling an off-the-cuff (and far from exhaustive!) list of types of online digital tools frequently used by teachers and learners. I’ve also posed a few questions for consideration in the Week 3 round of blog posts.

Types of Online Digital Tools and Systems for Education:
  • Learning Management Systems (LMSs)
  • Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs)
  • Reusable Learning Objects (RLOs)
  • Learning Object Repositories
  • Academic and Scientific Databases
  • Resource Storage / Sharing
  • Collaborative Workspaces
  • Scheduling Tools
  • Web Authoring and Hosting
  • Multimedia Production
    • Document Production
    • Graphics and Images
    • Audio
    • Video Production
    • Screencasting
    • Multimedia Hosting / Publishing
  • Communication Tools
    • Email
    • Discussion Forums
    • Social Media
  • Data Collection and Analysis
    • Survey Tools
    • Online Polling
    • Data Analysis Tools
    • Environmental Data Collection (Sensors, etc)

Week 3 Blogging Questions
Considering the (far from exhaustive) list of types of online digital tools:
  1. What types of tools do you think are missing?
  2. What types of tools from the list have you used as a teacher? As a student? (Can you provide examples?)
  3. Which of those tools have you found most (and least) useful as a teacher? As a student? Why?
  4. Which types of tools from the list have you NOT personally used as a teacher or student? Why?
  5. Find an example of that type of tool that might be useful in your personal teaching / learning context.
  6. What would be your first questions / steps when evaluating how (or if) you would use such an online tool? (We’ll be looking at more formal assessment strategies for digital tools over the next few weeks!)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Are There Limits to Distributed Learning?

My online wanderings brought me to two interestingly connected “places” yesterday. The first was the homepage of IRRODL (a journal I frequently read, and highly recommend). The second was a set of comments posted to one of my UOIT MEd student’s blog sites. I’ve been debating what these two places mean. And I want to invite the participants in #EDUC5101G and #EDUC5103G (and anyone else) into that conversation.

First, I read about how IRRODL has updated its name from the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning to the International Journal of Open and Distributed Learning – a change prompted by the evolving landscape of educational technology, and a shift away from the negative, “exclusive” connotations of the term “distance” learning towards the more “inclusive” connotations of “distributed” learning. “Distance” learning implies (rightly or wrongly) that there is are transactional distances imposed upon the learner – it implies that somehow they are being disadvantaged, and that efforts are required to remediate those distances. “Distributed” learning implies that educational technologies are being leveraged to the advantage of the learner. A small change in word choice, with huge implications for educational technology discourse and public perception. A change that echoes my observations in my doctoral dissertation (2015, pp. 14-15) that

As technologies available for the mediation of teaching and learning evolve, the distinctions between traditional face-to-face education, distance education, and mobile learning are beginning to disappear. This trend is described as ubiquitous learning, where learning “anywhere, anytime” is supported through advances in one-to-one computing technologies, including mobile devices (Education-2025, 2013). Wheeler (2014) advised that if educational institutions such as universities are to continue to meet the needs of changing learner demographics, they should place more emphasis on the use of technology to facilitate blended and distributed approaches to teaching and learning… Ally (2014) also noted that teachers need to be better prepared to integrate new technologies into teaching and learning practices.

Second, I read conversations in comments on a student blog site about the limits of distributed learning (I’ve chosen to follow my colleagues at IRRODL and adopt that term). James Elsdon remarked on Kenneth Van Dewark’s blog that there are some professional training areas where “online education [can be] difficult to carry out effectively.” He noted how some professions (such as law) may even impose bans on accreditation of online training programs. James also remarked that STEM degrees (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are difficult to deliver through online avenues. What I’d like for participants in #EDUC5101G and #EDUC5103G to consider it whether or not these limitations to the effective scope of distributed learning or real, or just perceptions. Having spent 10 years in the Middle East, I saw that these perceptions were widely held. But they were misinformed perceptions. They were based on beliefs that:
  • “distance” learning meant no meaningful learning activity (just readings packages and essays);
  • it was easy for learners to cheat, and difficult to ascertain the veracity of a graduate’s credentials; and
  • that online learning was wholly inferior to, and a poor substitute for face-to-face training.

I even heard anecdotal reports that some major post-secondary institutions in the region refused to acknowledge any credentials (for faculty) that were awarded by (even reputable, government regulated and independently accredited) online institutions. But over the course of 10 years I watched as those perceptions changed. I began to see institutions and government ministries welcome online credentials, and start looking to them as viable training alternatives in their increasingly knowledge-based economies. I’ve seen the volume of literature on investigations into the efficacy (and perceptions) of distributed learning increase dramatically in recent years.

I’m still wondering about comments that law societies oppose online learning because they feel that “the ‘Socratic methods of teaching and learning’… cannot be achieved through the delivery of online classes.” Do traditional lecture halls also impose transactional distances upon learners (because they are historically rooted in passive reception of content transmitted by an expert)? Do modern educational technologies empower learners by facilitating (not guaranteeing) increased Socratic engagement? Does the assertion that a particular field cannot be studied through distributed methods come from sound educational theory and practice? Or does it come from misperception and fear of the unknown or, worse, elitist protectionism?

I’m also still wondering about comments about STEM degrees and medical training. In particular, I’m curious what my students think about the perception that some areas of study, such as education, are better suited to distributed learning. Do educators not also deal with ‘real people?’ Are we not also required to interact with (even if mediated via technology) learners? And do our professional actions not also have profound consequences? Yes – there are some things that require one-on-one guidance during training and credentialing, simply because they involve real and immediate danger. But, are educational technologies evolving to the point that such danger can be mitigated, and one-on-one guidance effectively distributed? Look at the example of using Google Cardboard and virtual reality (VR) to figure out, in advance, how best to approach a unique and difficult surgical procedure. What about the possibilities of using Google Glass (or other augmented reality (AR)) platforms to establish a remote expert presence?

My task now for participants in #EDUC5101G and #EDUC5103G is this – Join this conversation. Respond to these observations, musings, and concerns. #EDUC5101G students should consider this a ‘challenge’ for their Week 2 blog posts:
  1. What does the change in discourse from “distance” learning to open and “distributed” learning mean?
  2. Are some areas better suited to distributed learning than others?
  3. Are there examples (in Canada, or internationally) of successful use of distributed teaching and learning methods to facilitate more challenging (i.e. Law, Medicine, STEM) subject areas?
  4. What technologies and methods are emerging that could break down barriers that might still exist to distributed learning in some subject areas?

I’m looking forward to seeing where this conversation takes us.


Ally, M. & Prieto-Blázquez, J. (2014). What is the future of mobile learning in education? Mobile Learning Applications in Higher Education [Special Section]. Revista de Universidad y Sociedad del Conocimiento (RUSC), 11(1), 142-151. doi

Education-2025 (2013, November 26). Ubiquitous learning [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Elsdon, J. (2016, January 19). Untitled comment. Digital Medical Education [Web log]. Available from

IRRODL (2016). The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning. Available from

McGreal, R. and Conrad, D. (2016, January 1). Name change of IRRODL journal. Available from

Power, R. (2015). A framework for promoting teacher self-efficacy with mobile reusable learning objects (Doctoral dissertation, Athabasca University). Available from

Power, R. (2016). Student blogs. EDUC 5101 G: Digital Tools for Knowledge Construction. Available from

Wheeler, S. (2014, February 7). The survival of higher education (1): Changing roles [Web log post]. Retrieved from!/2014/02/the-survival-of-higher-education-1.html

Friday, January 15, 2016

Re’Connect’ing and Learning

It’s been a year (since Jan 14, 2015) since I defended my EdD dissertation (online via Adobe Connect). Since then, I’ve co-led a MOOC, and participated in some webinar and conference presentations. But this week marked the first time in over a year that I stepped back into an Adobe Connect classroom. I lead my first three-hour synchronous sessions for two MEd courses that I’m teaching at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. Amazingly, there were no major technical glitches across six hours of live interaction. My experiences this week were exhilarating – not just from the standpoint that I’ve embarked on a new journey in my professional career, but also because they reminded me that I, too, am along for the ride as a lifelong learner.

I prepared for my first week of #EDUC5101G and #EDUC5103G by creating a pair of course websites using free online tools outside of UOIT’s LMS. And I made a point of explaining to course participants just why I did that. I’ve had a lot of experience building courses in different LMS platforms, so I know their strengths and limitations. My choice of Weebly to build my course sites was prompted by:
  • A desire to demonstrate the power of concentrating on instructional design instead of fretting over the mechanics of an unfamiliar platform. 
    • (Blackboard is one LMS that I have not personally used. And one of the main points of my dissertation was that cognitive overload associated with learning new tech contributes to teacher’s perceptions of low self-efficacy. Conversely, focusing on learning outcomes and instructional design elements helps increase self-efficacy when working with educational technology – and specific tools are secondary to instructional design (and come and go.)
  • A desire to demonstrate the power of what can be done using free online tools, which every teacher can access. 
    • (After all, not all of my course participants will have the same (if any) LMS at their disposal at their institutions.)
  • A desire to capitalize on the interactivities enabled by BootstrapUI, which is foundational to the Weebly platform 
    • (but difficult to integrate into LMS content pages without extensive coding experience and, in most cases, administrative rights on the platform).
  • The fact that Weebly-hosted sites are mobile-responsive
    • (meaning that accessibility is increased for course participants, and I did not need to draw upon my coding skills to ensure device interoperability).

I also prepared for my UOIT courses by building in a mix of synchronous and asynchronous, as well as individual and group learning activities. When it came to the logistics of the group activities, I tried to be both pragmatic and equitable. And I learned that it can be difficult to get that balance just right. On the pragmatic side, I needed to get things rolling pretty quickly with the formation of teams and the selection of group assignment topics. This can be a challenge when you are not meeting with your students face to face every other day, so I embedded a free online tool into the course websites to show participants ways of randomly assigning people to teams during a synchronous online class. During my first Adobe Connect session, I polled the participants to get a feel for whether or not they’d be ok with random group assignment (and it turned out that they were overwhelmingly in favor of that approach). Perhaps a simple oversight – but I skipped that step during my second Adobe Connect class. I know that adult learners need to feel in control of their learning experiences, and that random assignment to a team for a learning activity can take away some of that sense of control. It appears that most participants are happy with their teams and with being randomly assigned. But, I’ve learned that the simple step of asking their preference in advance can go a long way to mitigating adult learners’ anxieties associated with lack of control or choice. So, I’ll make every not to skip that step next time around!

That said, on the equity side of things, I did take steps allow teams to choose their topics and presentation dates. This was a particular challenge in my second class, where each presents only once during the term (they’ll actually be leading a one-hour Adobe Connect learning activity, in addition to building associated online resources). So, if each group presents only once, how do you show equity in choosing the topics and dates? I took a two-step process. First, after forming the teams and assigning each team a number, I used another free online resource to “cast lots,” and generate a random order in which the teams would get to make their selection. Then I directed each team to a Doodle poll. To add an extra measure of fairness, I did allow for up to two teams to choose the same date and general topic. It’ll be interesting to see if any of the course participants posts their thoughts on how that part of the process went (or includes their thoughts in their learning reflection assignments).

Overall, here are my takeaways from my first week teaching online with UOIT:
  • Integrate as many communications channels as possible, even when using an external resource to build your course site, BUT
  • Limit the channels that are considered ‘official,’ and that will be analyzed when assessing student participation.
  • Don’t forget to turn on your webcam for a few minutes at the start of the synchronous class. It helps to establish teacher presence, and to humanize the online learning experience. BUT
  • Don’t keep your webcam on for too long. It becomes distracting. And it eats up participants’ bandwidth.
  • Be as equitable as possible. Offer choice when possible. BUT
  • Be pragmatic. Realize the limitations of time and interaction in a synchronous online event, and be prepared with tools to accommodate for those limitations.
  • AND – always remember that technology-based tools could freeze up or fail during a live session. Don’t let that phase you. Roll with it. Learn from it. And move along with another approach!

All the best,

Monday, January 11, 2016

Dear Blog, it's been a while...

Looking at the date of my last post, it’s obvious that it has been a while since I last ‘blogged’ (at least, long form!). It’s not that I don’t see the value of blogging for an educator. I do. I believe that it is a great tool for both personal reflection, and sharing. My last blog post was in November 2014, when I was in Istanbul, Turkey, for mLearn 2014. Anyone who knows me is well aware of the challenges that befell my family shortly after returning from that conference. Long story short – since then my family has travelled over 20-thousand km from Doha, Qatar (where I was working as an Instructional Developer with the Advanced Learning Technologies Centre at College of the North Atlantic-Qatar).

The Corniche (waterfront) in Doha, Qatar
We journeyed first St. John’s, Newfoundland, and then, finally, to Surrey, BC. Professionally speaking, I’ve been blessed. I’m now working as the Leader, Online Learning, with the Fraser Health Authority. And, I’ve accepted a teaching appointment as an Adjunct Professor of Educational Technology with the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT). It’s the latter that has prompted me to ‘hit the keyboard’ with this blog once again.

I’m teaching two courses with UOIT this term: EDUC 5101 G(Digital Tools for Knowledge Construction) and EDUC 5103 G (Online Technologyin Education). Particularly in EDUC 5101 G, I’m promoting the use of blogging for reflective practice (as a form of knowledge construction). I’ve asked course participants to post at least one original blog post per week, and to respond to at least two other classmates’ posts. I figure that I had better lead by example! My hope is to post at least once a week this term. And my objectives are threefold. First, I want to lead by example, and demonstrate the use of blogging for personal reflection (I’ll be reflecting on what I’m learning as an educator during my first official term with UOIT). Second, I want to demonstrate the use of blogging for sharing – sharing personal goals, problems, solutions, and expertise (something which I would like course participants to start doing, if they don’t already, as emerging leaders in the field of educational technology). And, third, I want to continue to build my PLN.

What is a PLN?

A PLN is a Personal Learning Network. It’s the combination of formal and informal professional communities of practice that I’ve built, and maintain, through digital technologies. I’ve made a lot of great connections through my online presences, which would have otherwise been impossible. And I’ve learned a lot (and shared a lot) through those communities. My PLN has also been instrumental in my career progression. As an online learner (and educator), one of the first places to start with building (or expanding) a PLN is my online class roster. I hope to use blogging, as well as Twitter and other channels, to forge mutual collaborative learning relationships that extend beyond the 12 weeks of this term. This is the reason why I’ve asked my course participants to share links to their public blogs, and why I’ve posted the course websites outside of the locked-down LMS. I want my courses this term to be starting points (home bases, if you will) that we can return to whenever we need… not fixed duration experiences.

Classes for EDUC 5101 G and EDUC 5103 G officially start this week. With that in mind, here are just a few resources that I’ve found that might be useful to participants who are just starting in the blogosphere:
And, remember, blogging doesn’t need to be exclusively long-form. I’m a huge fan of micro-blogging. I do that through my Twitter feed @xPat_Letters. And you can follow our course conversations on Twitter using the hashtags #EDUC5101G and #EDUC5103G.

Until next post…