by Stephen Downes
Apr 30, 2015
Preparing for the digital university: a review of the history and current state of distance, blended, and online learning
George Siemens, Dragan Gašević, Shane Dawson,
This book-length publication will receive widespread attention, coming as it does with a media campaign complete with Gates Foundation backing and a Chronicle article. It's essentially a meta-study (sometimes known as a tertiary study) of the 'literature' in the field if distance education and (to a lesser extent) online learning. There are six chapters, each of which is a separate study, but most of which follow the same methodology of literature search and analysis. The first four studies focus on the history of distance learning, blended learning, online learning, and assessment. The last two look at future research in MOOCs and technology infrastructure.
Having said all that, this is a really bad study. What it succeeds in doing, mostly, is to offer a very narrow look at a small spectrum of academic literature far removed from actual practice. A very narrow range of sources was considered, limited to a few academic journals, and within this search selection was based on titles, keywords and abstract. Most of the leading thinkers in the field are eliminated from the history of the field (though Curt Bonk does well). And the major conclusion you'll find in these research studies is that (a) research is valuable, and (b) more research is needed (see, eg. "To foster quality interactions between students, an analysis of the role of instructional design and instructional interventions planning is essential." p. 40 and throughout ad nauseum). The most influential thinker in the field, according to one part of the study, is L. Pappano (see the chart, p. 181). Who is this, you ask? The author of the New York Times article in 2012, 'The Year of the MOOC'. Influential and important contributors like David Wiley, Rory McGreal, Jim Groom, Gilbert Paquette, Tony Bates (and many many more)? Almost nowhere to be found.
There are two ways to conduct a study of the literature in a field. One way is to use search algorithms and criteria to find a subset of the literature, and read only that. The other way is to spend the time it takes to become broadly familiar with all of the literature in the field, and select the most important of that. This study uses the former method, and the absence of a background in the field is glaring and obvious. For a contrast, one might want to consult Tony Bate's recent work of equal size and far greater value.
Education in the Digital Age
This item (which appears to be a guest post) is a classic example of burying the lede. Skim down to the bottom, where you'll read: "The Conference Board of Canada is doing a five-year study of postsecondary education and skills acquisition... Just think about public education competing with Apple or Google, who could use their massive technology and knowledge assets to provide access to the best professors in the world." An Education in the Digital Age Reference Group has been established to advise the Conference Board; it6's one of a dozen groups focused on education and training in general.
Game of Fear
At some point in the past advertisers decided computers and video games were only for boys, and women have been paying the price ever since. This article describes what one writer called "the nauseating pathology behind Gamergate." I can't read this without getting angry. And every time someone dismisses opposition to media content as mere 'political correctness' I want to wave this in their face, and show them the real cost of what people are doing (except, of course, I can't, because it doesn't impact me directly, and I can barely comprehend it). "Quinn also wants to change the vocabulary we use to describe online abuse. 'These aren’t trolls,' she says. 'And it’s not online bullying. Bullying is something that gets you a pink slip in high school. These are people stalking, sending death threats, trying to get the cops to raid homes. These are criminals.'"
Turnitin Announces Availability of Turnitin Scoring Engine for Automated Writing Assessment
So what can you do if you have a large database of essays that schools have forced students to contribute in order to prevent plagiarism? Well if you're TurnItIn you can use the database to create an automated essay grading system (one which presumably also detects plagiarism). But I find the news release odd. It states: "Turnitin Scoring Engine analyzes the lexical, syntactic, and stylistic features of writing, such as word choice and genre conventions, unlike other automated essay scoring programs that rely on simple metrics like word count." For one thing, it has been very clear for some time that other essay graders do not simply rely on word count. For another thing, Turnitin's description does sound like a word count system. So don't wax too enthusiastic - automated grading is a very competitive field, and Turnitin needs to do much more to establish itself. Image: Tuomo Kakkonen. Via Campus Technology.
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