Thursday, November 30, 2006

Making e-Learning Accessible

Texas has a new law that requires all government web sites to be accessible. We believe that this law also applies to online education provided by state governments. This really isn't new. The laws have been on the US Government books for a long time. But, it sometimes take a while for these things to trickle down.

I'm intersted in this because it's been a concern of mine for a long time. I wrote the first Special Needs policy for the Virtual High School when we first got it going. I've been talking about equity and access for years.

The virtual schools have begun to pay attention to the issue, but most of them don't have policies about course design to insure accessibility. Public organizations should have been thinking about the access issues for a long time, but some haven't, or don't thoroghly understand the issues. It's not a single issue, there are a number of them.

There are many resources on the web to help. Here are just a few of my favorites:

Watchfire is a free service that will provide an accessibility report on any single web page entered on the site.

The National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) has a variety of resources including MAGpie which is a free tool for adding captioning and audio descriptions to rich media.

Rose & Smith Associates

We've started a formal consulting business, Rose & Smith Associates. We (my partner Alese Smith, and I) have been consulting with organizations on e-learning for a number of years. We thought it was time to formalize the pactice and formally take advantage of each others expertise.

helped pioneer the first national virtual high school, defining online community-building and national online standards. She is an accomplished online curriculum and course designer/developer, and consults with universities and learning institutions to develop and offer professional development programs that teach the philosophies and skills for successfully transforming face-to-face courses to the online venue. She is co-author of Essential Elements
which has been used as a text for online course development in a number of college programs.

Recently we have co-authored a chapter for a book ISTE will publish this summer. The title for the book What Works in K-12 Online Eduction and our chapter is What works in K-12 Online Discussions.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


I've been a little quiet for a while. We decided to move from Wilmington, NC to the Austin, TX area. So, we put our house on the market and got an offer within 3 weeks. That done we packed up and found a rental house in Cedar Park, TX (actually in the ETJ of Cedar Park, but that's a whole other topic) and moved a couple of weeks ago. We're now getting settled in a rental house (we want to learn about the area before we make major decisions like where to really live) and learning about the area.

We're trying to make connections with folks in the eLearning community, but this week lots of educational technology folks are at the NECC conference in San Diego.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

SCORM and Learning Object hype

I thought the front page story in eSchoolNews on SCORM by Robert Brumfield was interesting, but I found it reflected the hype that I see going on in the education community. I'd like to see an article written with a bit more caution in the message. I've been watching this concept develop since the early days of the IMS. And I was initially taken with the idea as well. It sounded like something that would be wonderful, and conceptually I think it is, and it is an important step. But many of the folks who are "gung ho" on SCORM are reacting to the promise not the practicality.

I had an interesting conversation with an industry representative on the IMS Council. He said, that while they had to talk about the specifications and give them lip service, the leader in the online platform industry was not going to make it easy for their clients to jump ship to cheaper platforms. It just didn't make good business. I've watched as programs have had to change their CMS for a variety of reasons and its always a painful process. And, it always a major undertaking.

The folks I know, who design good online courses, provide a great deal of instruction in their courses for the participants about how to navigate their particular platform. If SCORM were to require that the discussion area has a standard name, the communications tools were always the same, and navigation was always the same then interoperability would be easy to accomplish. We ran into this when we were working with PBS TeacherLine, and had developed a set of professional development courses to run on Blackboard. TeacherLine then decided to use Desire2Learn. They were able to port content from Blackboard and that was nice, but since we had all the original files on the server it wouldn't have been difficult to rebuild the courses in the new platform. What took the time, was reading all the instructions and making the conversion to the structure and naming conventions in the new platform. Yes, it is possible to write a course that just has the content without the directions and reverences to where a participant needs to go to make a posting. But, some folks will get lost. We're not yet at the point where everyone has so much familiarity with online courses that directions can just say, "go post" and everyone will know what to do and where to do it.

If SCORM is hype, the concept of Learning Objects is bigger hype. Again the promise of Learning Objects is that anyone will be able to assemble a course like building a house of Lincoln Logs. But, when I hear speakers talk about learning objects, my first question is always to ask how the speaker defines learning objects. I'm most interested in learning object granularity. I have found many speakers don't have a good definition, and no idea about granularity. But the range of definitions I have gotten from folks who are thinking about the issue, ranges from units of instruction that "must" include an assessment, to single pieces of material (i.e. a graphic or a page of text.) We developed materials for Teachscape, and within their platform, with a set of materials developed by a single developer, or with a group of developers working with a common vision it was possible to modularize the content in a way that provided the Site Facilitator with some of the flexibility to arrange materials in a way some learning object advocates have described. I think learning object repositories developed and used by an organization do have great potential -- because there will hopefully be a common definition on the granularity and on the design standards, but the notion of a course developer grabbing learning objects from across the world and dropping them into a SCORM complaint CMS and that they will be able to then offer the course without any further work is science fiction. That's not how good courses, either on-ground or online are developed.

Friday, March 10, 2006

23rd Annual Essential Schools Conference

I was asked to fill in for Sara Lawrence Lightfoot as a keynote speaker for this conference. I was very last minute so I put together the presentation but 1.) I didn't know the audience -- and since this is the 23rd annual meeting there are some folks who have been coming for a long time. 2.) I had to go with content that I knew. We decided the topic would be: Effective Schools Need Effective Teachers: Learnings from Research on Online Teacher Professional Development.

I'll put a link on this site to the final version of the presentation -- which got assembled on the flight out to Scottsdale, AZ where the conference was. But in the mean time, here are the recommendations for next steps from the session:
  • Look at your school/district teacher retention data. (of each 100 teachers who enter the profession, only 32 are still teaching after 5 years)
  • Put the head of professional development on the Superintendent's Cabinet
    • Make it clear to the Head of Professional Development that they are working to improve student learning.
  • Begin the process of building learning communities.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


I was at the COSN conference this week. I was on a panel to talk about the Learning Spaces 2010 report from the Emerging Technologies Committee. I was the project manager for that report.

High Tech Backpack of Today - Digital Learning Spaces of Tomorrow
Essential Skills: Leadership & Vision, Planning & Budgeting, Education & Training and Ethics & Policies

Digital Learning Spaces are created and activated by the technology infrastructure of schools as well as the devices students and teachers carry. During this session Emerging Technologies Committee members will share their vision of future learning spaces in an elementary classroom, an integrated math/science learning space and a virtual school that help students connect, create and collaborate. Before educators ban a new technology, consider the possibilities-make the most of the learning potential in students' high-tech backpacks!

  • Karen Henke, CoSN's Emerging Technologies Committee Chair & Writer, Nimble Press (Moderator)
  • Douglas Levin, Director, Education Policy, Cable in the Classroom
  • Tom Rolfes, Education I.T. Manager, Office of the Chief Information Officer/NITC, State of Nebraska
  • Raymond Rose
We were one of the few presentations I heard, that said anything about making a difference for students. Many of the sessions were interested in the buisness aspects of educational technology. And COSN has been focused on Total Cost of Ownership and ROI for technology. I think they've perhaps moved to far in the direction of buiness and forgotten that the reason for schools is to educate students. On a shuttle bus to the METRO I overheard some participants saying that a concern for student achievement was missing especially from the general sessions.

I went to a session about online teacher professional development (oTPD) and was listening in particular for information about how success was measured. What I'm hearing is still a lack of connection between teacher professional development -- either online or on-ground -- and student achievment. We need to make that link. It's not enough to get a bunch of smily-face evaluations from partipants. There needs to be some objective measures to see if the professional development really did make any difference to student learning.