Building a Foundation for Connected Learning
##AUTHORSPLIT##<--->Out ofnecessity, most institutions offering connected learning programs have focusedon the creation and delivery of course content. Now that institutions andvendors are gaining more experience in this growing field, it is evident thatthe programs need to be far more encompassing. Following are six elementsnecessary to build a truly effective and collaborative connected learning environment.(I use the term “connected learning” to refer to the delivery mechanism and/orthe relationship of connecting populations regardless of their location.)
One: Infrastructure and Support
The first, and perhaps most obvious, element is the foundation— the infrastructure. The network infrastructure must ensure worldwide,high-bandwidth access to course resources for an institution’s students andinstructors. Adequate hardware and software servers must be available to “host”online courses and course components. In addition, support services must beavailable. These should include a student and faculty help desk, onlineassistance and training. Both the servers and the network require experiencedmanagement to ensure a high degree of reliability and quality.
Institutions must also consider that some students will nothave access to state-of-the-art technology. Thus, they should consider takingadvantage of offline software applications that help free up network bandwidthand phone lines. Remote replication applications synchronize updates madeoffline with content already on the server. Also, high bandwidth media such asCD-ROM work in tandem with the Internet for increased speed and seamless coursenavigation.
Two: An Administrative System and Data Sharing
Vital to student services, the data currently housed withinan institution’s administrative system must flow seamlessly in real-timebetween connected learning applications and an institution’s centraladministrative database. Administering connected learning courses becomes straightforward: from single sign-on toregistration to grades, data is entered only once.
Real-time data sharing also improves service to connected-learningrecipients. Students can begin reviewing course materials as soon as theyregister, rather than waiting 24 hours or longer for someone to provide themwith access manually, or for a batch process to update the course roster.
An integrated system also enables an institution to provide connected learning students withthe same level of customer service as on-campus students. For example, mostlearners today do not have remote access to libraries, bookstores, personal andcareer counseling, or technical support. These services are so lacking to remote learners that the U.S. Department of Education has labeled them “orphanservices.” To address this issue, the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications and SCT recentlyreceived a Learning Anytime Anyplace Partnership (LAAP) grant for $700,000 tocreate a host of new Web-based student services.
Three: A Customized Portal
The third critical element is a portal for access to, anddelivery of, course content and associated resources. With a single Web log-onthrough any browser, faculty and students can access the resources and datathey need. For students, this could be the library and bookstore. For faculty, the resources would includeadvanced reporting and grading tools. In addition, all the necessarycollaborative and instructional tools must also be accessible.
This single log-on, coupled with integration to theadministrative database, ensures the security of critical features such asaccessing courses, passing student registration information, posting grades,and tracking progress reports.
Four:Tools for Content Development and Course Management
These tools are the most widely used and available today.Faculty are demanding content development tools that are powerful, yeteasy-to-use, with features like WYSIWYG editing, drag-and-drop reorganizationand customizable learning environments. To help faculty new to connectedinstruction, some software solutions offer outline paradigms that giveinstructors one place to outline their courses, specify objectives, add testsand question banks, define glossary terms, write course content and add richmedia.
Additional faculty resources available today include coursemanagement tools such as statistical reports, templates, style sheets anddynamic assessment engines. Assessment engines are becoming increasinglyimportant as people inside and outside of higher education attempt to gauge theeffectiveness of connected learning. With a built-in assessment engine, facultycan write tests that direct learners to appropriate course materialhighlighting relevant information. When learners offer incorrect responses, theapplication can respond with instructor feedback, and provide appropriatematerials for remediation. Standard course-taking tools include a userinterface, bookmarks, search, and automatic resume. Collaboration tools shouldinclude chat rooms, e-mail and discussion groups.
Five:Learning Object Repositories
Learning object repositories make quality content widelyaccessible and allow institutions and faculty to receive the royalties theydeserve. A searchable, sortable library enables faculty members to share“learning objects” (e.g., a lecture, slide presentation, chart, etc.). By sharing resources, faculty members candecrease their course development time while enriching their curriculumwith existing rich resources.
When sharing with organizations outside the institution, itis necessary to be able to track usage and account for distribution ofroyalties to staff and/or the institution. This issue is particularly importantfor faculty who spend considerable time developing their materials and want tobe compensated for their intellectual properties. This capability can also leadto a revenue stream for institutions that choose to work collaboratively withother institutions or for-profit companies.
Six: AnIntegrator to Take Course Content From the Virtual World Into theAdministrative World
As I stated earlier, many vendors and institutions have puttheir focus primarily on course content. For this reason, some faculty membersare already accustomed to specific software and are reluctant to learn newapplications. Institutions must be able to integrate data from any of theirconnected learning courses — regardless of the content creation product — withtheir administrative system. This integration enables institutions to managetheir connected learning solutions on an enterprise level while offeringfaculty members the flexibility they require.
Peggi Munkittrick has been involved in connected learningsince 1984, when she joined Pennsylvania’s Teleteaching Project as a virtualinstructor. Since that time, she has taught and administered secondary andpost-secondary distance education initiatives using correspondence,audiographic, interactive video, and Web-based technologies. She joined SCT in1999. Learn more about SCT at www.sctcorp.com.
This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.