Online Education Technology

Distance learning as a form of education has been developed before computer network advent, gradually increasing the range of used technologies. First they introduced a so-called case-technology: well-structured training materials were completed in a special set (“case”), which was then sent to a student for independent study. Over time, paper pamphlets and books were supplemented by records on magnetic media and CD-ROM, and teachers began using television technology conduct classes and lectures. Students still had to periodically attend full consultation of teachers (tutors) or instructors in specially created remote (regional) training centers.

The World Wide Web provided basis for network technology development to share knowledge, providing students and teachers with electronic books and libraries, convenient testing systems, as well as means of communication. Internet not only combines all previously known tools of training, but also significantly expands their list, has a significant impact on information culture in educational environment.

Types and forms of learning via the Internet

Most of learning centers can be divided into three groups according to the degree of “immersion” into the Internet.

The first group includes institutions, which work is based entirely on Internet technologies. A choice of course, its payment, training students, transfer of control tasks and their verification, as well as passing interim and final examinations are carried out via the Web. Such training centers are sometimes called “virtual universities” and not numerous because of high requirements for software program equipment and staff training, as well as the need for substantial initial investments.

Second, the largest group is represented by schools combining a variety of traditional forms of full-time and distance learning with modern innovations. For example, some universities transfer a part of their program courses into virtual form, and distance learning centers at the same time do not abandon the practice of classroom examinations. There may be many options here, but in each case only a part of educational process is computerized.

The third group includes learning centers using Internet only as internal communication environment. Their websites offer information on training programs (plans), seminars, and library catalogs.

Courses proposed in virtual learning systems can be divided into two types: credit and non-credit. “Credit” is a course approved at an accredited academic institution. A student passes it as part of curriculum for any degree and uses it as a step on a way to get a degree. (Each course has its own weight in credit hierarchy).

“Non-credit” courses include those designed to obtain additional or post-graduate education (e.g. for training) and not leading to a degree.

In fact, institutions offering non-credit courses form a system of “open education”. They emphasize the value of training program as it is, not caring about prestige of diplomas issued or weight of credit.

A Lesson in Education Technology From a Very, Very Old Tradition

In Okinawa, Japan, women have been diving for pearls for more than 2,000 years. Traditionally dressed in only a loincloth, they would dive to depths as deep as 120 feet to find the oysters and mussels that produce pearls. This work was largely done by women because they were better able to endure the cold of the depths they were diving (Women’s bodies distribute fat more evenly then men.) The work was very dangerous, as you might expect, exposing them to predators, harsh environments and shallow water blackouts.

In the 1960s, they were approached by a firm selling scuba gear. The company demonstrated that one person with the right gear could gather as many oysters as an entire village of women in a day. The results were enticing, but they also raised a number of very significant questions including which women would use the gear, and how would the profits be divided. A town counsel was called and everyone discussed the pros and cons of buying scuba gear. In the end, the decision was made reject the use of scuba and continue with their tradition.

Today these Ama Divers, as they are called, still dive for pearls, though largely for the benefit of tourists rather than for the pearls they gather. Even scuba divers couldn’t compete with the advancements in pearl culture, where thousands of oysters could be grown in shallow depths and tricked into growing pearls in a confined area where they could be easily harvested.

So what does this have to do with education? Look just about anywhere in the education industry and you will find wholesale attempts to introduce as much technology into the classroom as quickly as possible. There are even watchdog groups that report on the school boards that are acting the quickest to engage in these technologies. Blog after blog extols the virtues of employing the latest technological masterpiece, while those who are slower are looked down on as archaic and anachronistic. Some of these programs have good empirical data to back them up, many do not. Some programs are developed by wonderful people with altruistic motives, but many are being promoted by new non-profits that are little more than shells for large corporations who stand to make fortunes if their particular technology becomes the new standard.

With all the hype and hyperbole that is flying around right now, it is virtually impossible to find a voice that will ask the tough questions about whether or not these technologies make good sense. Unlike the Japanese Ama Divers, there are few town council meetings to carefully consider what makes sense and what does not. One of the reasons the Common Core standards, good as they may be, are getting such resistance at the grass roots level is because the proponents have A) used a top-down approach, and B) have not been completely forthcoming about who the stakeholders are and who will profit when these technologies are adopted.

Certainly there is nothing wrong with coming up with something new and making a profit on it; it’s the American way. However, using healthy political contributions to get the support of legislators in bellwether states in exchange for support for new programs is certainly less desirable.

This doesn’t mean we need to be reactionary; it just means that we need to examine the new technologies that are introduced, checking the validity of their claims carefully before we purchase them. It also doesn’t mean we need to reject a promising new technology, as the divers did, if that technology can produce better results at a lower cost. What it does mean is that teachers and parents alike should ask the requisite questions to make sure we are getting the best bag for the buck.

Progress and technology are wonderful tools when balanced with careful consideration and forethought. Let’s do the due diligence before we head down a rabbit hole that could take years to escape. It’s our future we are betting on here, and that is certainly worth our full attention.

Future Possibilities – Education Technology

Laptop and PDA’s

Individuals in the business world have been utilizing the power of the laptop and handheld for years now. The educational community has just started to utilize these tools in their schools. Many teachers have begun to use laptops and handhelds to create lesson and assess student achievement. Students with exceptionalities are also utilizing laptops and handhelds to assist them in their studies.

The future could have every student and staff carrying a laptop or handheld throughout the day. This phenomenon is already occurring in most post secondary institutions and as the cost of these technologies go down the more likely it is that every student will soon be booting up at the beginning of each instructional day.

Online textbooks

The financial burden the cost of textbooks put on the education system is staggering. New textbooks are purchase every couple of year only to be replaced a few year later with the new cutting edge book that is not much different from the previous. Many companies are beginning to create CD-ROM and online versions of their books.

In the future we will probably find school boards paying a yearly subscription to the textbooks of their choice, which will allow their student to have unlimited access to the books via the internet or downloaded directly to their on their laptops at a fraction of the cost of providing a physical text for every student. Publisher need not fear this will not be the end of the book as we know it since we all still enjoy curling up with a good novel and love flipping through our favourite picture book.

Using the Experts

It is already possible to watch a live feed of Elephant Seals from California and have students ask questions to an onsite marine biologist. However, this could occur more effortlessly and regularly in the future.

Teachers could have access to thousands of experts around the globe and be able to utilize their expertise and knowledge when teaching specific topics. Students would be able to ask questions via video conferencing and perhaps even witness live experiments and studies happening around the world.

Virtual Reality Experiments, Activities and Field Trips

Virtual worlds such as Second Life are beginning to make it possible to create your own digital self (avatar) to travel and experience the world of cyberspace. Currently people are creating stores, team, games, homes and companies in these virtual worlds. Even corporations and educational institutions are experimenting within cyberspace.

In the future a teacher could take their class on a tour of the Amazon rain forest or the Great Barrier Reef within cyberspace and allow each individual student to explore using their own avatar. This may seem a little far out, but believe it or not it is already happening.

Instant assessment and feedback

With the use of laptops and handhelds teachers are already beginning to be able to record their instant assessments of students instantly. Not only are the teachers able to document student’s achievements quickly but with the help of virtual educational communities they will be able to give instant feedback to the student, parents, other teachers and administration.

Worldwide collaboration

World wide collaboration has already begun as students communicate with others around the world via email, video conferencing and instant messaging. Many collaborative projects are also occurring in the shape of online collaborative websites know as wikis. These sites allow anyone that has permission to add and edit the sites information. The most popular wiki, Wikipedia, is use by many internet surfers today.

The future possibilities of worldwide collaboration are mind boggling. Students studying Africa could be teleconferencing with a classroom of children in Botswana. A student writing an essay on the holocaust could have an instant message conversation with a holocaust survivor. An Art lesson on Picasso could begin with a question and answer period with his granddaughter. This is not very far fetched as many universities have been using these types of technologies to enhance their lectures and programs.

Streamlined Administration

Departments of education and school board are beginning to realize the power of streamlining educational data. Marks, reading levels, medical history, achievements, learning disabilities, attendance and many other important data about students is beginning to be compiled into streamlined databases that will help educators understand their students better and customize their lessons to improve achievement.

The Future is Now

Even though many of these technologies are available today, and are beginning to be used is some classrooms around the world, it gives us an idea of where we are heading. What educators and administrator need to remember is that we need to make sure that we keep the art and the human aspect in education and not let technology and ourselves turn it into an exact science that suffocates creativity and unique teaching styles. The possibilities endless we only need the creativity and willingness to embrace these new tools.