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Monday, November 28, 2011

Reality Television-Inspired M-Learning: “Life Is Our Laboratory” Approach

Effective design for mobile learning courses requires a major shift in how one thinks of the learner's relationship to the content. Interactivity takes on a whole new dimension, as students create content to share and critique in close to real time. The key is to avoid sending students down a path where they will be more or less duplicating what the others have done. They need to be able to apply their knowledge and skills and to process them so that they make sense in real-life applications or simulations / scenarios.

One must keep in mind, too, that the new iPad, Kindle Fire, and other e-readers mean that students are likely to be able to read texts on the fly and develop more robust, course-related content more easily and conveniently than in the past.

Where does the student create content to upload and share "in the wild" with their mobile device (tablet, smartphone, handheld)? What are the best methods of sharing?

Protected social networking

Discussion prompts

Research repository (a thread in a discussion board area, or a location within social networking sites)

Shared photos / media

Portfolios / Final Projects / Lab Reports - (portfolio sites -- can use Faceb00k-type social networking for sharing collaborations)

Interviews / Observation: can be a combination of audio, video, graphics, and text files which can be uploaded within an LMS or in a dedicated social network site

Presentations (PowerPoints / KeyNote slides, potentially animated using captivate)

Implications for Instruction

Student-developed content is exciting, dynamic, and encourages interaction; it also encourages creative development of content.

  • Originality is paramount. Avoid plagiarism.
  • All students must be mindful of the fact that fellow students' work may or may not be accurate; just because it's on the web (posted in a site) does not make it credible; nor are all the links and resources necessarily reliable. It's a great opportunity to practice critical thinking skills.
  • Students will need clear guidelines re: size of files and where to upload.
  • Content guidelines – be sure to let students know what’s not okay.
  • Privacy issues when gathering information and sharing information
  • Social Construction of Reality – what is real? Who decides?
  • Simulacra okay? Use faux persona, etc. when dealing with actual persons / places / products could be too sensitive.

Reality TV-inspired Mobile Learning

Psychology / Sociology

Example: Real Housewives of (fill-in-the-blank)

Your own: Social Relation Drama


Example: History Channel programs

Your Own: “History Needs a ReDo!”

Go to historical sites and ask tough questions / debunk and challenge current beliefs. Find out what most people think.

Biology / Animal Behavior

Example: Fatal Attractions (When pets become predators/ exotic pets turn on their owners)

Your own show: "Biting the Hand... Can You Trust Your Companion Animal?" (Chronicle the life of your own pet … is there any reason to start fearing your own Siamese cat, Chihuahua, Laborador retriever, pit bull?)

Earth Science / Environmental Science

Example: Swamp People on the History Channel (

Your own show: Meet the Frackers – show different sides of the controversy surrounding hydraulic fracturing in shale gas wells

Criminal Justice

Example: Steven Seagal - Lawman

Your own show: Quirky Laws! (Research laws that are on the books and which reflect the life and times of communities in transition. Do they apply today? Why? Why not?)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Identity in Social Media: Constructions or Meltdowns

We've all read the cautionary tale about the pre-teen who is "friended" by someone who also seems to be a similarly angst-y pre-teen or "tweener" - whose middle school pressures are almost as bad as the new-found distrust of and distaste for one's parents. The "friend" turns out to be a much older predator, and the outcome is tragic.

Some may have read about or watched the film, Catfish (dir. Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman, 2010), which had to do with a young NYC filmmaker, Nev Schulman, who (along with his filmmaker buddies) decided to film himself falling in love with the older sister of an 8-year-old artistic prodigy whose paintings, while definitely in the "outsider art" realm and "realist primitivism," started to have a following on Facebook. To make a long story short, the cast of characters - the mother, the 8-year-old, the older sister -- that the filmmaker interacted with were completely fictive. The NYC filmmaker, who said he wanted to meet his new-found love on her horse farm in the upper peninsula of Michigan, claimed to be devastated (and he filmed himself finding out the truth).

Not surprisingly, the film was met with a surge of skepticism -- the filmmaker was accused of orchestrating the entire thing, and the woman, whose schizoid inventions populated the web, was viewed as a rather pathetic attention-seeker and reality avoider.

The bigger picture is this: What do you do when almost everything in the virtual world is just that -- virtual, and a construction -- and yet the feelings that are lived by the people behind the avatars are real?

This applies to online learning as well. Although you go by your own name in the online classroom, you are, in essence, creating an avatar, or an alternative proxy self by which you interact. You also go through progressive collective socialization, which may, in the end, either help you or hinder you as you make your way through the discussion boards, collaborative activities, and interactions with your instructor.


In the virtual world, individuals often craft identities in isolation and they project them into cyberspace. They are not constrained by the reality checks of a circle of friends, family, or co-workers, and their socialization process is utterly different than in a regular community or cohort group. This is potentially liberating, but also potentially isolating.

Each person, as he or she learns to interact with people, develops identity-construction techniques as a part of the socialization process. What are these identity-construction techniques? Where are they used? Many times, the identity construction techniques are used to cope in a world that is often critical and absolute in its insistence upon conformity.

For the average person in a group environment where there is social interaction, the identity-construction process occurs via clothing, gestures, vocabulary, activities, humor, narrative and story-telling. In short, it is a living theater, and the participants and successful group members become skillful actors.

For the unfortunate ones who are not necessarily adept at acting or at picking up cues, or who lack the resources (physical, financial, or emotional) to participate in this kind of socialization, there are consequences to pay for social ineptitude. They are often ostracized or marginalized. For others who are chronically "a beat behind" when it comes to assessing the strategies used by others to modify behavior in order to conform to the dominant ethos, the ability to create a virtual identity in cyberspace becomes very appealing.

Needless to say, cyber identity-creation can become an addiction, particularly as the new "cyber-persona" meets with positive reception to others who believe and respond to the alter ego / virtual identity as though it were real. The positive reinforcement found in this activity exerts a strong pull on a naturally introverted person, and when it is coupled with the cognitive/kinaesthetic "rewards" found in the Internet via sensory stimulation, there is no doubt that the individual will be tempted to retreat even further from the "real" world.

For that reason, in ideal conditions, a student in an online course should have group interactions with people where socialization processes are occurring. In the so-called "real world," the interactions can occur either via workplace interactions or in community activities. It can be very interesting to integrate online activities with in-person activities, in order to close the separation between what can become a fantasy persona and one's real self.

With social networks, it's important to be mindful of socialization processes, and to be aware of what you need to do in order to stay in touch with your group.

It is important to realize that often the person who is "one beat behind" in being able to assess the steps necessary to mold himself or herself into the dominant ethos may be a person who has struggled with social isolation. In other words, their social rejection has not occurred without some degree of psychic pain. If the individual has been punished or subjected to verbal or physical abuse, there could be a latent desire for avenging oneself. And, if the rejection or social ostracization has occurred due to physical appearances, it is quite likely that the individual will create a cyber-persona that possesses the attributes that he or she wishes to have. As a strategy for personal empowerment, building a cyber-persona can be ultimately futile, and the identity is complex and contradictory when one desires to operate as an all-powerful, all-knowing presence who is simultaneously "cool" and indifferent to "cool," who possesses both an omnipresent in-your-face visual presence and an ability to be absolutely invisible.

The proliferation of individuals displaying these psychological characteristics (to varying degrees) is a natural outgrowth of the availability of the Internet, and the ease by which one creates a persona and is able to act out unacknowledged desires. Needless to say, the identity-construction elements, and the virtual-travel abilities (including invading the spaces of others), are most appealing to those who do not flourish in traditional social settings. Ironically, those who are most talented in the cyber-world are the least likely to be comfortable with a guide or mentor. But, they are the ones who need them most. It is imperative that society find ways to provide them with a trusted personal mentor and guide because the damage that misguided identity construction and cyber-travel (hacking, etc.) can do can be quite extensive, with far-reaching consequences.

The trusted mentor-guide presence is more important than ever given the times and current socio-economic situation of global interconnectedness. On a personal level, individuals are likely to have dysfunctional attitudes toward their identity-creation activities in our current setting of fragmenting family structures, eroding communities, disappearing support systems, and increasing isolation.

The mentor-guide in an Internet-based course is a grounding presence, and any person who decides to assume this role will have to be aware that the safety and seeming anonymity of the Internet may give rise to more trust and dependence than the mentor has been prepared for. The learner may project his/her own problems onto the mentor, become dependent, confess personal issues, and become emotionally cathected. Ironically, this can occur without either having any idea of the real appearance of the other. Usually they have never met each other in person and never will.

However frightening this prospect is, it is necessary to look at it as an indication of the positive effects that Internet-based courses can have, if they establish a strong mentor-learner relationship in a safe, guiding environment. The mentor and learner can come to experience the Internet as critical elements in an increasingly inter-dependent (rather than independent) world, which teaches, models, and reinforces mutual caring, compassion, and respect.

The fostering of a positive environment for identity-creation and guided socialization (via the Internet) is very important for successful navigation in a world increasingly focused on appearances and first impressions, where long-term commitments have been supplanted by short-term relationships based on performance and/or convenience, and where human frailty is made invisible or is consumed / cannibalized so that the strong survive.

The online learner exists in a world that mediates itself between the "real" (where the people he/she interacts with are successful actors in the roles accepted by the community), and the "virtual" (where the identities she interacts with have successfully created identities that represent their deepest desires of who / what they would like to be in the world).

Both worlds require adaptation and socialization.

One can use the virtual world / Internet to provide:
-- positive guidance via a mentor
-- increased self-awareness on the part of the learner which allows him or her to contemplate
-- what he/she would do if empowered
-- how she appears in the mirror-space created by the Internet; for the first time she is able to look deeply and see what he or she would like to be, how to be that entity, when the persona is appealing, who the created persona would like to interact with (and how), and what the persona wants to do at various times and places.

Such self-knowledge could be a lamp in a dark existence, and could help deal with deeper issues. Not only can the guide-mentor relationship create better citizens, with equipped with new skills and strategies for living in a rapidly changing world, it can also address the problems and underlying factors that give rise to cyber-criminals. Further, the mentor can guide the student to an awareness that can allow her or him to remove the barriers that have been blocking his or progress. This will give learners a new opportunity to develop a vision of themselves or of where they want to be, and to guide themselves to a new understanding of how, and when to take steps along a path to a better existence.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Interview with Peter Bray, Trivantis: Innovators in E-Learning Series

E-Learning design mistakes are insidious and often hard to identify until they’ve basically infected the entire course or program. By that time, it’s extremely difficult (and expensive) to correct. So, the time to make sure that you’re following good design principles is in the initial design of the certificate or degree program (associates, bachelors, or masters). Another good time can be when you’re conducting your periodic updates and revisions in response to instructional materials changes or upcoming accreditation reviews. Welcome to an interview with Peter Bray of Trivantis, a provider of innovative e-Learning software, including the well-known Lectora and Snap!.

What is your name and your relation to e-Learning?

Peter Bray. I am the Chief Marketing Officer of Trivantis Corporation. Trivantis is the leading e-Learning software company with our products as the e-Learning software of choice for Global 2000 companies in over 70 countries.

What are current statistics about the popularity of e-Learning?

The rise in e-Learning around the world is apparent and e-Learning software and services are constantly evolving to keep up with the ever changing industry. For instance, you can see this evolution within our company and the ways in which we introduce new and innovative tools to meet the growing demands of learners, such as Snap! by Lectora and Lectora X.5. Just last year Ambient Insight reported that the US market for self-paced e-Learning products and services reached $18.2 billion – and that revenues will reach $24.2 billion by 2015. Through harsh economic times, the e-Learning industry continues to grow along with the necessity for affordable and easy-to-use software.

Which elements are most effective in e-Learning? Can you point to any studies that support the points?

Effective e-Learning needs to be engaging and grab the attention of the learner. The developer needs to take all learning styles into account when designing a course. To be effective, courses should include various forms of activity and interaction, feedback, branching scenarios and of course, multi-media elements such as audio, video, Flash and narration.

What do most e-Learning programs do right?

E-Learning that incorporates interactivity can be highly effective.

There is software that helps enable interactive content incorporation. For example, Snap! by Lectora one such software program. It enables users to create interactive courses quickly and easily by allowing users to add audio, video, and interaction by means of an intuitive interface.

What are the top 5 mistakes that are often made in the design of e-Learning programs?

I frequently see the following issues in courses:

1. Too much content on a page. There is such a thing as information overload and seeing a long page of text can be overwhelming for learners.

2. Inconsistent navigation and user interface. Keeping the user interface consistent makes it easier to navigate through a course and makes learners feel more comfortable.

3. Clip art. Bland, boring clip art on pages is a snooze for learners…or worse yet, no visual support to the message.

4. Font issues. From font being too small to choosing a bad font style, hard to read text is no-no.

5. Not enough engagement. Too often, we just provide information, but we need to be interacting and engaging the learner.

What are the top 5 mistakes that are made in the deployment of e-Learning programs?

1. Not Considering the Technology of Your Users
. Remember the equipment your audience is using. If they do not have speakers, audio narration is not an option. Find the common denominator; if you build for the least advanced, you can be sure it works for all learners. Also, be sure you know that your audio, video and Flash content functions work correctly everywhere it is used. Plus, don’t forget about mobile!

2. Bad Design. 
When designing your course be sure you know your objective and your audience. Content needs to be designed to meet the need and also to engage the audience. Find out what your audience responds to best and design accordingly. To compensate for lack of an instructor, include easy navigation with audio narration. Also try to anticipate the questions and to provide a ‘facilitator’ to enhance the learners’ experience. Introducing an interesting story or a serious situation can set the tone and get people excited about the course. And most importantly, keep it short. Shorter courses are easier to take and are more likely to help learners retain the key content.

3. Not Enough QA and Testing
. Testing your project is a step that simply cannot be skipped. Preview each page while building your project and catch the mistakes early on. Plan for Murphy’s Law, because you never know what could go wrong – especially when it comes to technology. And, once you’ve tested, test again, because small changes can have large effects on the whole course.

4. No Follow-Up or Feedback
. Following up with the learners will allow you to learn from the course as well, and make the necessary changes for next time. Let the learners tell you how they are doing and what they think of the course. You can use whatever you have access to, but be sure to receive some type of feedback. Once you have all the feedback, act on it. Take others’ suggestions and make your next project even better.

5. Poor Content Management. 
Things change all the time so odds are that your courses will need to be updated. But, if you can’t find the files, don’t have the latest version or need to go to multiple vendors to get pieces of your courses then making changes becomes a nightmare. Keep a repository for all your content and make sure you’re using a tool that enables you to easily update your courses, like Snap! by Lectora.

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