Sunday, December 06, 2009

Oxford University Online Courses

Oxford University's Department for Continuing Education appears to provide the equivalent of the Cambridge University Online Courses. There are short introductory courses of 10-weeks for undergraduates, advanced diploma and postgraduate courses, as well as specalised professional development courses. An example of the undergaduate program is the one year Advanced Diploma in Data and Systems Analysis. One interesting professional development course offered is in Effective Online Tutoring (a problem with providing online edcuation is where to get trained tutors and one solution is to use the system itself to tran them).

Unlike Cambridge, Oxford provides an online demonstration of how their courses are presented. Oxford uses the same Australian developed Moodle Learning Management System, as I have used for developing courses at the Australian National University and the Australian Computer Society. They use the same structure of giving the student a summary of a topic, have them do some further reading and then report what they have found and discuss it in a forum online.

One limitation with the Oxford courses is that while the University of Oxford offers short undergraduate and postgraduate coruses, it does not offer undergraduate degrees or MBAs via distance or online learning. Perhaps this limitation will disappear over time, as the University gains experience and confidence in online education.

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Cambridge University Online Courses

After suggesting to my colleagues at the Australian National University School of Computer Science (SoCS) we use an e-Oxbridge educational model, I thought I should check to see how Oxford andr Cambridge apply e-learning. A quick web search found the Cambridge University Institute of Continuing Education, which offers online courses specialising in adult and non-traditional learners. The Institute clims: "unparalleled level of online support and direction from experienced and enthusiastic tutors", whichfits with the Oxbridge model of education. However, these are short general interest and proessional devlopment courses, not full degree programs.

An example is "The global climate challenge: policy technology and the future" (COV007), an 11 week course costing £165.00 and offering 10 credits at level 4 of the Framework for higher education qualifications. The award requires participation in online discussions, a Personal Statement of Learning (e-Portfolio) and assignments. Six such courses would be required for an undergraduate "Certificate of Continuing Education" (Postgraduate courses are at FHEQ Level 7).

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Offline guides to teaching online

Teaching Online: A Practical Guide, by Susan Ko and Steve Rossen (Routledge, 2008 paperback 339 pages, ISBN: 978-0415996907) provides a useful guide for those new, and not so new to Internet based education. About half the book is devoted to the technicalities of getting courses online and the other to the educational and social issues of interacting with students and encouraging them to interact with each other. One problem with such books is that they have to either deal with specific online tools, which not be the ones you have, or deal in generalities. This book takes the latter course, not naming products and giving a general guide. As a result it can be a bit vague on some of the details.

"Tutoring Online" by Tim Brook and Stephen Wall (CIT Solutions), 2001 is a more modest 50 page booklet on the same topic. It gives more specific details for Widows based systems and concentrates on tutoring online, not the production of courses. Unfortunately, the publisher CIT Solutions (the commercial arm of the Canberra Institute of Technology), do not seem to have done much to promote the book. I couldn't find it for sale on or elsewhere online. CIT, or the authors, could use something like for print on demand, as I did with my Green ICT course notes.

Both the books Teaching Online and Tutoring Online suffer from the quality of the print-on-demand process used to produce them. This does not allow colour, or high quality diagrams. One solution would be for the authors to providing a companion web site with supplementary materials. Also to avoid the general nature of the technology descriptions they could use the open source Moodle e-learning system as example. They could also provide examples online using Moodle.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Digital Education Revolution Not Sustainable

Julia Gillard, Minister for Education, addressed the Australian Computers In Education Conference, 1 October 2008. She talked about the Government's $1.2 billion Digital Education Revolution strategy being about more than computers for students. She said this was a matter of equity and national economic survival. The minister also mentioned "sustainability", but in an economic sense, not environmentally or educationally.

The Minister outlined four priorities:

  1. universal access to high quality computers.
  2. computers must be networked.
  3. compelling educational content
  4. teacher training.

However, the Australian Government appears to have left other ICT equipment and support out of the budget. Teachers have pointed out that interactive whiteboards are more educationally useful and should be a higher priority than computers for students. Also the facilities needed for supporting computers need to be considered.

The Australian Government is placing undue emphasis on computers for students. The $1.1B of the $1.2B budget is for the National Secondary School Computer Fund, to provide Year 9 to 12 students with computers. This only leaves 8% of the funds for networking, content and training.

Of the remaining funds, $100 million will be spent on high-speed fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband connections for schools. As the Deputy PM points out this can be used for virtual classrooms, e-books, visual and audio streaming and high definition video conferencing. However, that will require additional equipment in the school not budgeted by the federal government. Also schools in remote areas will not receive this level of network service, as the Australian Broadband Guarantee only provides for 512Kbps download and 128Kbps upload in rural and remote areas.

With almost all the Digital Education Revolution budget spent on computers for students and broadband, there is only 5% left for the most important part of the project, which is curriculum tools ($32.6 M), teacher training ($11.25 M) and support ($10 million).

The example of the Learning Object Repository Network in the Vocational Education and Training sector is a good model for schools to follow in developing and sharing content. However, that system is hampered by the lack of open access to the materials. The Minister should require the use of a Creative Commons type licence on materials developed with the government funding to ensure the content can be widely used, without the need for schools to worry about paying licence fees.

A nationally consistent approach to storing and managing online curriculum content with a Learning Activity Management project and integrated online learning environment is a good idea. These should not be developed in isolation from the initiatives in the vocational and higher education sectors. The same issues are faced by teachers in schools, TAFEs, companies, government agencies and universities. Much the same solutions are being explored from primary schools to universities, with the vocational sector the most advanced in their use of ICT. However, at present the sectors are developing the same techniques independently, duplicating effort and wasting resources.

A major failing of the Digital Education Revolution is that it does not address climate change thus increasing cost and pollution. At ACEC'08 on Tuesday, Mark Winter from Computers Off Australia, outlined how power saving measures could make saving to schools power bills and reduce carbon emissions. The same day Professor Garnaut recommended a reduction of 25% in emissions by 2020. In my report for the Environment Department I pointed out that ICT could contribute 1% of this saving. Instead of doing this, the Australian Government is spending $1.1B increasing Australia's greenhouse gas emissions, when the plan could easily incorporate energy reduction measures. This is disturbingly similar to the plot of this week's ABC TV comedy The Hollowmen: "A Waste of Energy".

A few weeks ago I visited Hawker Primary School in Canberra and looked at their award winning sustainability efforts and e-learning. The students and teachers want to have sustainable computer education facilities and know what to do, but are stopped from doing this by the policies of the ACT Education Department. The students at the school teach sustainability to other schools. The Deputy PM should drop for a lesson from the students on what the Federal Government can do for sustainable computers in schools.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Continuing Education Learning Units for Professionals

The publication Architectural Record provides articles for American Institute of Architects (AIA) Continuing Education learning units . Members read the article (in the paper edition with some materials online) and answer test questions. A recent topical article is "Inside Beijing's Big Box of Blue Bubbles", (Joann Gonchar, July 2008), about the technology in the Beijing 2008 Olympics water cube swimming stadium.

US requirements for architects are for between 8 and 12 hours of Mandatory Continuing Education per year (varies by US state). The Beijing article is about 5 A4 pages (50% illistrations), with ten test questions.

The AIA scheme is much like continuing eduction programs of other professional bodies. However, most do not require a test, just completion of the education activity. As an example, the ACS's Computer Professional (CP) Program requires of thirty hours development a year. Many of the events listed in the ACS calendar qualify, but most do not have a test. The CPEP also has online learning modules with formal assessment, but these are full semester long course units, not something you can do in an hour or so.

Perhaps something between just reading an article or attending an hour long talk and a full formal semester unit is needed. This could be a form of blended learning, with a face-to-face talk and an online component and test. Those not wanting the points could still attend the live event, or read the articles.

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