Research and distance learning

Ann pointed me to an interesting article from Inside Higher Ed that deals with adding a human element to online learning.  Douglas Hersh is Dean of Educational Programs and Technology at Santa Barbara City College and shares his experiences going from Blackboard to Moodle, specifially focusing on a real-time video application they now run inside the open source system.

Hersh contends that this ‘human element’ via the real time video and audio (implemented with Skype) helps keep students involved and adds a much needed level of social presence to the course experience.  While I do agree with most of this, the article also draws in another very good point from Reggie Smith, president of the United States Distance Learning Association. Smith reinforces the idea that real-time video and audio can be great, helpful tools, it’s the overall design of the coruse that has the larger impact and dictates success or failure.

Also worth noting is that Hersh conducted research on his own course students (n=145) looking at satisfaction and a few other variables.  His research showed that students were more satisfied when using the video-rich features that allowed direct, real time interaction.  I applaud all researchers’ efforts towards this type of data collection and reporting, but I am starting to find that the instructor plays such a big role in the outcome of this type of research and represents a variable that is very difficult to control.  I’ve seen folks here at PSU try and replicate methods from different professors but end up with vastly different results.  The context or discipline of the course also has a big impact on this, especially when we examine tool.

Time to get back to work on that meta-review of technology-enhanced learning environments!

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