By Stephen Downes
February 23, 2004

Theory and Practice of Online Learning
Just released and already getting wide play is this open access volume of essays released by Athabsca University. Theorists looking for cutting edge research will be disappointed, but that is neither the intent nor the outcome of this volume. Instead, what the editors offer is an accessible, readable, practical and comprehensive introduction to the field of online learning, a book that would make an outstanding introductory text, acquainting readers with the major issues, writers and schools of thought in the field, which is in its own right a major contribution. The bulk of today's issue of OLDaily is devoted to this work. By Terry Anderson and Fathi Elloumi, editors, Theory and Practice of Online Learning, February 21, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Foundations of Educational Theory for Online Learning
A necessary introduction to Theory and Practice of Online Learning, the bulk of this paper (after a nod to the benefits of online learning) is devoted to two major theories of learning underlining contemporary practice: cognitivist theories, and constructivist theories. As an adherent of neither school, I found this chapter a little less than satisfying, but through no fault of the author, as this work forms the ground on which the bulk of discousre in the field is based. By Mohamed Ally, Theory and Practice of Online Learning, February 21, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Toward a Theory of Online Learning
Drawing from contemporary and authoritative sources, Anderson looks at four major theoretical perspectives: learner (or learning) centered, knowledge centered, assessment centered, community centered learning. He then looks (correctly) at online learning as having as one of its central values increased access to learning. From this perspective, he looks at interaction and its relation to access. As we see below, interaction forms the heart of Anderson's theoretical perspective and forms the basis for what he describes as online presence. In this paper, Anderson looks at traditional accounts of interaction (Moore, Wegner) and crafts the typology that will be the basis of his later work, presented graphiaclly as a model of e-learning. This paper and the other in this volume comprise one of the most accessible accounts of Anderson's approach, and given the strength and internal coherence of this approach, by themselves would make this volume worth while. By Terry Anderson, Theory and Practice of Online Learning, February 21, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Value Chain Analysis: A Strategic Approach to Online Learning
This chapter draws a great deal from Paul Stacey's earlier work in value chains and e-learning, drawing out some of the business and marketing perspective and forming a solid picture of the industry. The only thing odd about this paper is its placement; one wonders why it would be presented so near the beginning of the book, when a mastery of the concepts that follow in later chapters are really required to understand its contents. By Fathi Elloumi, Theory and Practice of Online Learning, February 21, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Media Characteristics and Online Learning Technology
I am going to recommend this paper even though I disagree with it, with the caveat that readers watch for dated references and descriptions (the assertion, for example, that a computer monitor is one third the size of sheet of paper, while true for a paper published in 1997, is no longer true today, and particularly ironic given that I was reading the entire page on which this was printed on a single monitor screen). The paper gives a standard (more or less cognitivist) treatment to such topics as cognition, pefception and concept formation, and from this perspective analyzes properties of different forms of electronic media with respect to teaching online. Assertions like "text is text" in this paper demonstrate a certain distance from the material, and I don't think the author grasps that online media, for a variety of reasons, can become immersive in a way that traditional media cannot, and that this has an impact not only on the types of cognition, but whether a cognitivist (symbol-based) approach is warranted at all. By Patrick J. Fahy, Theory and Practice of Online Learning, February 21, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The Development of Online Courses
None of this paper will be a surprise to anyone with experience in the field, but the author provides a good overview of the resources that need to be in place before an institution should think about designing online courses, a review of the staffing (or skill set) requirements, and some discussion on organization. By Dean Caplan, Theory and Practice of Online Learning, February 21, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Copyright Issues in Online Courses: A Moment in Time
This is a disappointing paper that, while attempting to represent copyright in a Canadian perspective, draws a great deal on international sources, including U.S. court rulings. Strictly party line, the paper does not (other than a caricature in the first sentence) consider the possibility that other views exist. It is ditressing to see a paper recommend that a permission form be completed merely to create a link to an online resource, a complete omission of Creative commons and other automatic permissions, no mention whatsoever of open access publishing (ironic, considering the source), and a drive-by endorsement of site licensing. By Lori-Ann Claerhout, Theory and Practice of Online Learning, February 21, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Teaching in an Online Learning Context
Over the last ten years or so Terry Anderson has contributed a great deal to our understanding of the mechanics of online learning. He has always, in my view, fostered the transfer of traditional teaching to the online environment, drawing this out (especially in his work with Walter Archer) as a process of creating 'presence' online. This paper is more a summary of this approach than anything, but a clear and accessible summary. In the first part of the paper Anderson discusses the role of discourse and the blending of two opposing views of e-learning: synchronous participation in (something like) a classroom setting, and asynchronous 'independent study' modes of learning. Turning to student grading, he considers the worth of assigning weight to participation in online discourse and surveys some frameworks for this sort of assessment. Finally, he looks at the role of the teacher as the provider of direct online instruction and the establishment of 'teaching presence'. By Terry Anderson, Theory and Practice of Online Learning, February 21, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Supporting the Online Learner
Good overview of the many support systems required for online learners in a traditional institutional setting, including learner readiness assessment, career expectations and counselling, administrative and technological support, study skills and program advice, library, assistance for the disabled, an ombuds service, participation in student and university governance, and satisfaction monitoring. By Judith A. Hughes, Theory and Practice of Online Learning, February 21, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The Quality Dilemma in Online Education
Charts the history of Quality (with a capital Q, c.f. Michael Dolence and Donald Norris - "What is required is a shift from a provider-driven, industrial-age model of higher education, in which productivity is measured by throughput, output, workload, and resources won"). The second half of the paper surveys quality standards from four jurisdictions. By Nancy K.Parker, Theory and Practice of Online Learning, February 21, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Towards a Unified e-Learning Strategy
Seb Schmoller links to more responses to the British 'Toward a Unified E-Learning Strategy' report: British Computer Society (BCS), British Learning Association (BLA), Learning and Teaching Support Network / Institute for Teaching and Learning (LTSN/ILTHE), NAACE and Publishers' Association (PA). By Seb Schmoller, February 21, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Calendar for Australian Schools
This item offers an example that shows that more than just cantent can be syndicated, as the Australian calendar, listing more than "300 significant Australian and international days, weeks, years and decades," is available not only on the web and on paper, but also as an RSS feed. A one-line Javascript would also be nice, but I didn't see that. By Various Authors, EdNA, February, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2004 Stephen Downes
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