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February 11, 2002

Problem-Based Learning: The Benefits to Students and Organisations Good overview of Problem-Based learning (PBL), including a definition, set of assumptions. List of eight tasks around which PBL is based. Survey of the benefits of PBL and some examples. By Fred Ayres, Training Journal, February, 2002.[Refer]

Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy Forget that this book is about terrorism, war, and political insurgency. Read it instead as a discussion of two different types of organization: the centralized hierarchy and the distributed network. Anything that can be organized - a system for creating and selling learning objects, the organization of an educational system, the campaign to reduce (or increase) advertising in schools, an online classroom - can be viewed as one of these two types of organization. That said, read this online book and - importantly - compare it to your own (or your institution's) organizational strategy. The major principles are stated in Chapter One:

  • Hierarchies have a difficult time fighting networks.
  • It takes networks to fight networks.
  • Whoever masters the network form first and best will gain major advantages.
The entire book is available online in PDF format. By John Arquilla, David Ronfeldt (editors), RAND , November, 2001.[Refer]

Scientists Sharing Fewer Discoveries Statistical evidence that scientists and researchers are sharing less based on a study by analysts at the Harvard University Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital questioning 1,800 geneticists. "They found that almost half of the scientists had been denied access to information about published research... The trend toward secrecy in science means that it is harder for scientists to check each other's experiments for mistakes and ensure the integrity of published research. It also is more difficult for competing laboratories to build on the advances of others, several policy analysts said." Surely this is the sort of evidence that argues against the commodification of knowledge. By Robert Lee Hotz, Los Angeles Times, February 11, 2002.[Refer]

Distance Learning Is... Interesting set of polling results from Fast Company on whether distance learning is education's future or a waste of time. Dozens of short comments from people involved in the e-commerce field, some revealing fair insight, others based on the usual miscinceptions. I liked this one: "Learning is at once a deeply personal and highly social process. This complexity is not manifested robustly through the use of distance learning technologies. These technologies frequently require learners and learning professionals to choose between deeper individual learning (achieved, for example, through reflection) and richer social learning (achieved, for example, through dialogue.)" - Jeff De Cagna (who voted 'a waste of time') By Unknown, Fast Company, February, 2002.[Refer]

Web Services: the Next Big Thing? Overview article, at times employing fractured grammar, that covers the essentials of the coming deployment of web services. I have yet to see the definitive web services article (and this isn't it) but this is a bit more realistic than most and has one of the better quotables: "A web service is about interoperability...not portability," said David Truog, analyst at Forrester. It is worth noting that Microsoft is expect to announce its visual .Net studio next week, "the mother of all developer tools for the mother of all platforms" (Bill St. Arnaud) - this will be just one of a number of announcements expected. Prepare to be deluged. By InternetNews.com Staff , Developer News, February 8, 2002.[Refer]

Learning in Teams Using Collaborative Tools That Scaffold Facilitation, Knowledge Creation and Thinking Skills People have to learn to create better titles for their papers. That said, this item is a useful outline of some work using collaboration teams with scaffolding - the framework that leads the discussion toward learning outcomes by framing forms and types of responses - built in.

I had a discussion with David Jonassen last week about this concept. Jonassen and his team have build discussion lists with built-in scaffolding. But the problem with this approach is that it forces discussion along certain lines. In the internet environment, scaffolds should be available but not required. Otherwise you end up with something like Outlook - a monolith that makes you do email Bill Gates's way, no matter what may be more rational or reasonable in the given circumstances.

It also occurs to me that discussion list scaffolding should be providied using visual tools such as Tim van Gelder's Reason!Able software. By John Findlay, Learning Technology Volume 4 Issue 1, January, 2001.[Refer]

Long-Life Learning Communities Based on PBL Courses There was once a time when I thought that online learning communities needed to be carefully structured in order to function. I based this on the dearth of comments in the typical unstructured course-based community. I am now of the opinion that the reason why course-based communities failed was that there weren't enough members and and that they did not exist long enough to generate any sort of community awareness. This paper, a proposal for a research project, meets these two difficulties by describing a multi-university Problem/Project based learning community that would extend in time after graduation. But the thing is: if you have the essential components for a successful community - enough people and enough time - do you need the structure that PBL imposes? Or would the imposition PBL in fact turn what would otherwise be a functional community into a dysfunctional one? This seems to be a theme for today... By Joao Batista & Eleuterio Machado, Learning Technology Volume 4, Issue 1, January, 2002.[Refer]

Corporate E-Learning A project completed for a course in educational technology, this website looks at "key issues to explore before committing to computer mediated instruction" in a corporate context. The site organization is a bit awkward (I wish there were a single-page version, for example), but the content, framed as a series of questions with discussion, is quite good. Well referenced with supporting articles and links, a rarity for this sort of presentation. By Dennis Beaulieu, Jane Borland, Sean McCausland and Robert Wensveen, University of Calgary, Fall, 2001.[Refer]

A Framework for Evaluating Computer Supported Collaborative Learning OK, I don't want to get all bogged down in theory here, but with the recent emphasis on pedagogy within e-learning we have a clash between past and future. This item and the next bring it out nicely.

This paper is essentially a comparison between the principles of collaborative learning and the principles that seem to underlie good e-learning (that is, learning using information and communications technologies (ICT)). An essentially constructivist model of learning via ICT is developed (which is not surprising, given the development of the field). Learning using ICT is then depicted as drawing support from both the constructivist and collaborative models of learning, which suggests that the principles of the two theories could be used as a framework for evaluating learning using ICT. By Jim Ewing and David Miller, Educational Technology and Society (forthcoming), 2002.[Refer]

Enhancement of Online and Offline Student Learning As with Ewing and Miller (2002), this paper maps major features of constructivist and collaborative learning theories against a model for learning via information and communications technology (ICT).

While the overlap is fairly substantial, as I have written before, I do not necessarily follow the tenets of collaborative or constructivist learning. But I do support, in broad strokes, the elements of learning via ICT depicted in this paper.

I read Ewing as saying that the principles of collaborative and constructivist learning should inform the design (and evaluation) of e-learning. But I wonder whether instead we should see e-learning as informing these two theories. Take, for example, the issue of learner control. Ewing cites Merrill: "organisation and elaboration within a learning environment should be part of the instructional design rather than being left to the learner to decide for himself." This is just the opposite of what a study of internet culture would suggest. The promise of ICT, it seems to me, is that we can allow a much greater degree of learner control that the previous theories allowed. By Jim Ewing, Educational Media International, 37, 4, 205 - 217., 2000.[Refer]


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