by James L. Morrison and Clark Aldrich // Vision
Editor James L. Morrison starts this issue by interviewing software developer Clark Aldrich, who shares his Vision of the potential uses of simulation technology in education. The rapid growth of this technology, particularly in the commercial world of computer games, has provided the foundation for new, customized forms of software that enhance learning by simulating real-life problems and situations. One such product is Virtual Leader, a program that Aldrich and his colleagues designed to teach professional leadership skills. Put in the role of a team manager, the user must adopt different strategies to interact effectively with a group of coworkers?¢‚Ç¨‚Äùall of whom have variable aims and agendas. Aldrich outlines the benefits of Virtual Leader, describes other products used in corporate and higher education, and offers advice to readers who want to design their own simulations. While acknowledging the substantial resources necessary for such innovation, as well as the inherent constraints of any artificially constructed learning scenario, he predicts that simulation technology will substantially change the landscape of education within the next decade.
by H. Arthur Woods and Charles Chiu // Tools
Going wireless has appeared as the next advance on the educational horizon. But is it a practical option for teachers who conduct large lecture courses? In their Tools feature, H. Arthur Woods and Charles Chiu point such instructors toward one relatively simple but useful innovation: wireless response pads. During their science lectures, Woods and Chiu post questions designed to gauge comprehension on a screen at the front of the classroom. Equipped with response pads that resemble television remote controls, students answer with the push of a button. Each pad sends its own electronic signal to a central computer that tallies all replies and reports the class-wide results. The tool thus allows for immediate, comprehensive student feedback; it also can be used to stimulate discussion with polling questions. While acknowledging that the technology has certain limitations, the authors tout its affordability and effectiveness. The gap between lecturers and large audiences has just become a lot smaller.
by Pamela L. Anderson-Mejías // Case Studies
The author of our first Case Study reveals how a creative use of traditional print media can provide a solid foundation for online learning. After discovering that students in her distance linguistics course used the required textbook very little (if at all), Pamela L. Anderson-Mejías became concerned; she intended for course materials posted on the Web to complement, not replace, information in the textbook. To promote greater engagement with the latter, Anderson-Mejías adopted a new practice: She allowed students to choose from a list of acceptable texts, with no regard for the selections of their peers. By encouraging different people to use different books, she created "communication gaps" that students filled by comparing their sources in regular online assignments. Anderson-Mejías concedes that this strategy may not lend itself to every discipline, but she reports its notable success in her own classes. Her report is a powerful reminder that the tools of traditional and technology-enabled education need not be at odds.
by R. Thomas Berner // Case Studies
Many instructors who make the move to online teaching are concerned that this medium will undermine student engagement with the subject matter. In our second Case Study, Thomas Berner reports that, to the contrary, students in his online literature of journalism course participate much more actively in group discussions than their classroom-based counterparts. Berner provides an overview of the course evolution, from his limited use of videoconferencing to his eventual embrace of bulletin board technology. Now, after establishing clear guidelines for bulletin board postings, the author maintains a careful balance between his role as moderator and the autonomy of the participants. He has found that this approach motivates students to independently generate and sustain high-quality discussion. If you are about to take a first step toward Web-based instruction, Berner's account will provide some helpful hints for success.
by Grover C. Furr III // Commentary
Most experienced online instructors would agree that they adopted the tools of the trade not in one fell swoop, but in a gradual series of stages. In our first Commentary, literature professor Grover C. Furr III describes the five major phases of technology integration through which he has progressed. He recounts his initial reliance on technology for class management (Stage 1) and then briefly discusses his use of online communication tools to foster interaction, his use of digital texts as primary course readings, and his use of multimedia to record lectures for remote access (Stages 2-4, respectively). Furr then focuses in more detail on Stage 5, in which he began to digitize rare or inaccessible texts so that students could investigate both primary and secondary sources related to the topic at hand. This article traces a progressive pattern of development in the author's teaching, one in which technology, subject matter, and pedagogical goals became ever more intricately and successfully intertwined. Readers interested in advancing on their own paths will appreciate Furr's personal history.
by James Kilmurray // Commentary
In our second Commentary, James Kilmurray argues that online education should more effectively address the needs of working adults. Based on his experience in the field, Kilmurray suggests three crucial avenues for achieving this goal: We must recognize the distinctive characteristics of the adult learning population, institute a shared-responsibility system of instruction that emphasizes self-direction, and support research and experimentation on Web-tailored pedagogy. As the demand for adult e-learning continues to grow, the author notes, it will become all the more necessary for education providers to commit to innovation rather than mere automation. His account provides worthy recommendations for fostering such changeas well as specific tips for instructors who want to make it happen in their own practice.
by Bonnie B. Mullinix and David McCurry // Faculty and Staff Development
Now that online education has become sufficiently widespread, it is possible to gain a more comprehensive view of its various incarnations and the resources that support them. To this end, Bonnie B. Mullinix and David McCurry provide a helpful road map in our first Faculty and Staff Development article. They begin by outlining the continuum that exists between face-to-face and fully online modes of instruction, noting the relative demands that each mode may entail for educators. The authors then provide an annotated "webliography" of resource centers, professional organizations, and other sites that promote the discussion and development of technology-enhanced teaching and learning environments. Mullinix and McCurry conclude that sharing one's experience with others remains a crucial step for those seeking the ideal combination of traditional and online instruction.
by Anne Scrivener Agee, Dee Ann Holisky, and Star A. Muir // Faculty and Staff Development
For many colleges and universities seeking to promote the instructional use of technology, the value of faculty development programs is limited due to their lack of focus. How can such programs offer practical knowledge to educators and simultaneously address the larger goals of the institution? In our second Faculty and Staff Development feature, authors Anne Scrivener Agee, Dee Ann Holisky, and Star A. Muir recommend a "targeted" approach to technology training. At their university, students are expected to master 10 major technology skills before graduation. Faculty workshops address those skills individually, helping instructors learn them so that they can model them more effectively. As a result, faculty development is viewed not merely as an end in itself, but as a way to support specific goals for students through clear alignment with institutional objectives. In this elegant model, everyone benefits.
by Stephen Downes // Spotlight Site
For this issue's Spotlight Site, Stephen Downes reviews BBC Learning, a recently developed Web site that offers online resources for teachers, parents, and students. The site not only encompasses a range of age groups?¢‚Ç¨‚Äùfrom preschool to adult learners?¢‚Ç¨‚Äùbut also provides a wide variety of materials and activities: tips on study skills, foreign language tutorials, lesson plans, specialized newsletters, and a limited (but growing) list of online courses. However, as Downes observes, BBC Learning requires considerable navigation for users to find what they need, and its sheer scope generally outweighs the depth of its individual features. How can such ambitious endeavors make the most of their potential? In Downes's judgment, organizations that want to succeed in the market of informal online learning will have to seek new alternatives to a browser framework.