Two year olds and ice cream

As a creator of online education for emergency medical services, I am routinely tasked with creating one hour modules focused on specific topics.  Over the past two years, I have built lessons focusing on endocrine emergencies, TRIAGE tactics, and infectious disease.  The module that has caused the most problems though is a course I built using another educators content focusing on medical math.

The goal of the course was to create a module that would review relevant math concepts including medication administration, drip rates, and measurement conversions.  The content provided by the other instructor was thorough and focused with good objectives providing a ready means for learner evaluation.  This course was my first using the Articulate Storyline software which worked well and allowed for a great deal of design flexibility. The course was completed on time and within allowed resources.

So what was the problem?  I never considered how the user would navigate the course and fill in the quiz questions.  While there were some successful completions, most of the student reviews were disappointing with frustration at how the answers were graded.  You see, I used fill in the blank questions which require students to answer in a specific way.  I did not anticipate how many issues would be created by this decision.  One student identified the course as “…similar to watching a 2 year old eat ice cream, it’s messy, but eventually gets the job done”.  Sigh.

Since the course was first published, I have taken it off line three times to perform various re-writes and adjustments.  Each time the course improves, but it keeps having issues and is consistently our lowest rated module.  What could I have done different?  I believe being more diligent about identifying the users and what their capabilities are would have been a great first effort.  I have come to understand, based on this experience, that my implementation strategy was not effective.  I should have tested the course more thoroughly among the target user group.  This would have identified how the answers should have been formatted and avoided a great deal of repeat work and frustration.  I also should have spent more time in Step 3, “…document, in high resolution, everything you are going to be building” (Greer, 2010).  By having a clear understanding how the finished product should work and look, I could have avoided many issues.

In retrospect, I learned a great deal from building and maintaining this course.  I have since been much more diligent about meeting the user’s needs and ensuring the course is clearly defined.

 

Resources

Greer, M. (2010).  The project management minimalist:  Joust enough PM to rock your projects.  Laureate special edition.  Retrieved form http://waldenu.edu

Making Distance Education Better: A Reflection

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Creating quality distance education courses has become, and will continue to be, a moving target.  The rapid advances in technology, especially in communication methods and authoring tools, will push how students expect to receive information on their own terms while instructors will have to be aware of how that same information will need to be published.  Fortunately, distance education is being more readily accepted throughout the professional world as stated by Dr. George Siemens (n.d.) which will assist in acceptance of standards and best practices for the education and professional world.  As instructional designers, we must accept the fact that this area of education is still relatively new and developing.

            “Distance education practitioners and researchers have always been concerned with how much interactivity a distance course could provide for students, since interaction is considered a necessary ingredient for a successful learning experience” (Beldarrain, 2006).  Creating true interactive learning communities requires instructors who recognize the benefits and limitations of the online learning environment.  This ability will evolve as students grow with technologies that allow them to reach peers throughout the world. International workgroups will no longer be seen as unique.  Instead, a truly global perspective will be applied to learning and developing opinions.  To accomplish this, instructors should be “…cautioned against modeling distance education courses after traditional lectures, but instead should include interaction as the foundation of effective distance education practice” (Beldarrain, 2006).

            As I continue my development as a distance education instructional designer, I find defending my profession to be an ongoing task.  Traditional educators see very little benefit to moving content online and broadening access for non-traditional students.  There appears to be a perception that education must be endured instead of experienced. I frequently see this with physicians and senior medical educators.  Their concern over a lack of interaction among online students is mitigated when I point out there is generally very little interaction in their face to face courses (usually due to the instructor’s demeanor and presentation etiquette).  This is a fine line to walk, but generally a demonstration of the technology helps to alleviate concerns, especially for webinars and virtual classrooms.  I also concede that there are some subjects that must be presented face to face, particularly those that are heavy in hands on skills.  In those cases, I recommend presenting the orientation and introductory material online so the student is better prepared to enter the hands on session.

            These efforts and experiences underscore the importance of being a proper steward for both of my professions.  The world of distance education needs me, and all of my peers, to build content that meets the “…extent of level to which university learners have considered, involved, and entrusted their current academic assets to produce the new educational offering” (Gambescia & Paolucci, 2009).  This requires me to meet the same levels of academic integrity that traditional education has met while incorporating innovative, interactive technologies and techniques.  Some of these efforts will be less than effective, in which case I will need to accept criticism and adjust the method of instruction to better meet the needs of students and faculty.  I also need to convince my emergency medical services peers that online education can provide a viable resource to obtaining and keeping the certifications and educational requirements dictated by professional boards.  To accomplish this, I will need to create relevant, interesting content that will have to be continuously updated as new research adjusts the medical professions views on providing care.

            Today’s instructional designer for distance education works in interesting times.  While distance education is becoming more readily accepted, the ability to deliver that content is also expanding rapidly.  Traditional instructional techniques must be recognized and accounted for while incorporating new technologies and techniques. The professional challenge is exciting and will continue to be so long as those of us who have taken on this role build courses that meet the needs of our students, and exceed the needs of our faculty.

Resources

Beldarrain, Y. (2006).  Distance education trends:  Integrating new technologies to foster student interaction and collaboration. Distance education 27(2).  139-153

Gambescia, S., Paolucci, R. (2009).  Academic fidelity and integrity as attributes of university online degree program offerings.  Online journal of distance learning administration XII(I).

Siemens, G. (n.d.).  The future of distance education [online video].  Retrieved August 18, 2013 from http:/waldenu.edu

Building an online learning environment

Creating a distance education program can be an excellent addition to the corporate training environment.  The ability to reach out to employees and provide educational materials round the clock can have a significant impact on training and certification.  The challenge is to create a program that can meet the needs of the students and trainers while also meeting corporate goals.

The assignment this week was to provide our fictional training manager some guidance on how to setup his online educational environment.  This is all based on the fact that he is “frustrated by quality of communication among trainees in his face-to-face sessions” (Walden, n.d.).  I approached this by first advising the manager to evaluate why he was having communication issues in the classroom.  If his ability to foster communication in the classroom is limited, then just moving everything online is not going to help.  He needs to take the time to determine where the basic instructional problem lies and address that first.

Let us assume though, that has already been addressed and he is proceeding with his plan.  The next steps focus on determining who his learners are and what their capabilities are, what technological needs he will have, and how his content will be designed.  Finally, a few wise words are provided that will hopefully guide him in the creation of his environment.

Converting to an online environment

 

Walden University (n.d.).  Application:  Converting to a distance learning format.  Retrieved August 18, 2013 from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_3396926_1%26url%3D

 

Knowledge is power

On a personal level, I struggle with understanding the criticism of open courses within traditional educational systems.  In the prehospital provider world, EMTs and Paramedics are required to maintain their certification through continuing education credits, or CEs.  There are typically one hour courses that are either paid for one at a time, or are provided free of charge as a sort of marketing effort by tertiary care centers.  Each level of prehospital provider must meet specific re-certification requirements every two years in order to maintain their state and / or national certifications (If you want to see the recertification requirements, click here).  This is the system I work within and think it is a great method of maintaining competency and experience, while introducing new content to experienced providers.  The only drawback is the content can get stale after a few re-certification cycles.

Title screen shotFortunately there are a variety of new educational opportunities developing within the distance education environment.  One of these I have used extensively is Kahn Academy.  Described as “…a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere” (Kahn Academy, 2013), this website has literally thousands of short educational videos that can work as foundational knowledge for more complex topics.  I have also found them to be a valuable resource as alternative perspectives of complicated issues.  I recently built a one hour CE course on allergies and anaphylaxis that included two Kahn Academy videos (according to their fair use policy).  These videos succinctly described the immune system and how inflammation occurs which contributes to anaphylaxis.  As a learning experience, this ability to efficiently impart information is extremely important.  Also, the narration provided by Salman Kahn, meets a design expectation of equivalency theory to “…make equivalent the learning experiences of all students no matter how they are linked to the resources or instruction they require” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, Zvacek, 2012).

The specific example I have described is one reason open courses are useful to the adult learner, but it is a very narrow view of the larger issue.  To get a better perspective, I think you have to consider why people take open courses in the first place.  One article posted on the Time magazine website sought to illustrate the global enrollment in open courses.  When the author asked her online classmates where they were from, she received responses that “…includes students who say they are from Paraguay to Pakistan, India to Ghana, Indonesia to Iraq, to Morocco, to Nigeria, to Australia, to Serbia, and the list goes on” (Webley, 2012).  So accessibility to advanced knowledge certainly seems to be a demand, but Ms. Webley asked “…why are all these people taking a course that provides nothing more than a certificate of completion?” (2012).  The responses were varied, but most focused on personal development within a related field, like computer science.

This accessibility to advanced knowledge, regardless of overall usefulness on a personal level, is what seems to drive enrollment.  Borje Homberg considers this as one of his eight parts of distance education theory.  “Society benefits from distance education, on the one hand, from the liberal study opportunities it affords individual learners, and, on the other hand, from the professional / occupational training it provides” (Simonson, et al. 2012).  This concept is reinforced by one of Ms. Webley’s classmates in her “Securing Digital Democracy” course:

 “Nnenna Nwakanma, who lives in Cote d’Ivoire, said she is in charge of an organization that recently used an online voting system for its elections. She also works as a consultant on policy, human rights and citizen engagement in developing nations. “Having been critically involved in some democracy and election initiatives, I was not just keen to get a handle on the security aspects of democracy, but also to share and learn from others,” Nwakanma wrote” (Webley, 2012).

I may be a little sentimental here, but I have high hopes for the evolution of MOOCs and how our society uses them.  “Knowledge is power.  Information is liberating.  Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family” (Annan, 1997.)

 

Resources

Annan, K. (1997).  Global Knowledge ’97 [online text of speech].  Retrieved August 2, 2013 from   http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/1997/19970623.sgsm6268.html

Kahn Academy (2013).  About:  A free world-class education for anyone anywhere [webpage].  Retrieved August 2, 2013 from https://www.khanacademy.org/about

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., Zvacek, S. (2012).  Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed).  Boston, MA:  Laureate Education, Inc.

Webley, K. (2012).  MOOC brigade:  Who is taking massive open online courses, and why? [online article].  Time U.S.  Retrieved August 2, 2013 from http://nation.time.com/2012/09/26/mooc-brigade-who-is-taking-massive-open-online-courses-and-why/

Fostering a collaborative learning environment

Sharing information across far flung locations has never been easier. The internet has created an environment where information can be easily shared, viewed, and created without consideration of location. So long as the sender and receiver have a connection to the internet, information can be sent. Of course, not every method of sharing is simple to use or intuitive nor do they support the desire of humans to connect with others in a way that puts the discussion into context. Borje Holmberg expanded this concepts by stating “Emotional involvement in the study and feelings of personal relation between the teaching and learning parties are likely to contribute to learning pleasure” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albirght, & Zvacek, 2012). For this reason I wish to present the use of two software platforms that can facilitate a collaborative learning environment: Dropbox and GoToMeeting.

ImageIt’s in the title: “Collaborative learning environment”. The goal is to create an environment and processes that facilitate the collaboration of learners regardless of their location, technology, or the tools they use. Dropbox is an online storage solution that permits the creation of an online storage location where collaborators can share documents, files, and presentations securely and easily. The service automatically synchronizes documents on any device and permits access to shared folders on most mobile devices. Jennifer Carey, Director of Academic Technology at the Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove, Florida discusses how she has implemented Dropbox in her classroom:
        “I use Dropbox in a number of ways. Here are several:
         • To store additional copies of hand-outs. Students know to re-download and print on their own here if they missed a hand-out due to an absence or simply lost it (no one ever asks me for another copy).
         • To distribute PowerPoint presentations – most are too large for email.
         • As a way for students to turn in homework assignments. It’s an easy electronic homework drop (compared to email) and will time stamp submissions.” (Carey, 2012)
There are some drawbacks. Tracking revisions to documents can be challenging, especially if there are a large number of students in any one group (although the “review” setting in many software suites can alleviate some of that concern) and participants can delete files, although the folder manager can control this activity somewhat. Overall, Dropbox is a great method of creating a method of collaboration and sharing.

ImageUnfortunately, sharing documents and presentations is not enough for a true collaborative environment. According to equivalency theory, “…learning experiences should be provided to each learner whether local or distant, and the expectation should be that equivalent outcomes, rather than identical, should be expected of each learner” (Simonson et al., 2012). In order to accomplish this, virtual meetings have been established in a variety of formats. I am choosing to explore WebEx which is teleconference software that permits the creation of online meetings and includes a variety of tools which foster collaboration and sharing across multiple platforms. WebEx services can be accessed from many devices and telephone services. Telecommunications are addressed by permitting video broadcasts and recording of sessions which can the be reviewed at a later date. For software training, a screen can be shared among all participants so demonstrations or IT support can be provided. One example of how WebEx is facilitating collaboration within an organization is presented by Sun Microsystems:

     “’WebEx provides an excellent platform to work interactively with our disparate team members. We’ve been able to simulate real-world scenarios across geographies, incorporate pre-recorded demos into live workshops, and troubleshoot problems in real time’, says Ben Edelstein, Process Architect for the PDM Project” (WebEx, 2007).

The ability of WebEx to create very functional online workspaces is useful for organizations whose employees are geographically separated yet need to communicate and interact in real time.

By combining the WebEx virtual workspace with the cross platform functionality of Dropbox, a very effective collaborative workspace can be quickly created.

Resources
Carey, J. (2012). Dropbox: A superb classroom tool. [Online blog]. Retrieved July 19, 2013        from http://plpnetwork.com/2012/08/10/dropbox-a-superb-classroom-tool/

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a            distance: Foundations of distance education (5th edition). Boston, MA: Person                      Education, Inc.

WebEx (2007). Sun microsystems strengthens collaboration over distance with WebEx.           [Online document]. Retrieved July 19, 2013 from                                                              http://www.webex.com/fileadmin/webex/documents/enterprise/pdf/high_tech/cs_sun_0407.pdf

Distance Education…A Journey

For me, distance learning became a reality when I took a correspondence course in the mid-90s for a private security career.  I was stationed overseas and thought it would be a good idea to spend a year and a half learning about terrorism, security, and related issues.  I would get a package in the mail with books and a small forest worth of paper assignments and filler material.  I would have four weeks from receipt of the package to return the materials.  I would then wait another month for the next box that contained the next course and the grades from the previous course.  There was little communication with the school since email had not really taken off yet and there was little context for what I was learning.  While educational and somewhat entertaining, I found the whole process to be laborious and frustrating.  This course was truly asynchronous distance education which means “…that instruction is offered and students access it at separate times, or anytime it is convenient to them” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, Zvacek, 2012).

As my professional career evolved, I was exposed to a distance learning course through a local college that utilized a cable channel to simulcast the classroom lectures.  You could watch the lectures in real time or record them to a VCR and then take three exams in the classroom on scheduled days.  This, to me, was a novel approach and allowed me to keep an unpredictable flying schedule while also completing the prerequisite classes for Paramedic school.  Fortunately, the university had invested in full studio setup for the courses so the audio and video were professionally done.  You could email the professor as they were instructing any questions and would receive real-time guidance.  This fit the learning contract that exists between a student and teacher in that “…the student be taught, assessed, given guidance, and, where appropriate, prepared for examinations…” (Simonson et al. 2012).

My personal evolution in distance education has illustrated how important personal dedication, independence, and (to a smaller degree) technology has created new opportunities for self-improvement and development.  Since those humble beginnings, I have completed an Associates of Applied Science, Bachelors of Science, and am now working on a Master Degree using distance education almost exclusively.  The ready availability of always-on internet connections and high speed mobile processing power has eliminated many of the reservations I may have had with attempting to obtain a quality education while also balancing work, family, and social obligations.  Moller, Foshay, and Huett discussed in their article, “The explosive growth of distance education is rapidly transforming post-secondary education” (2008).  Distance education degrees are becoming more accepted by employers, “… attitudes are changing and that the more employers are exposed to online degrees, the more accepting they will be” (Columbaro, Monaghan 2009).  However it should be noted some professions have a strong bias toward traditional degree programs.

Today, distance education has become a central aspect of my profession.  EMTs and paramedics are typically dispersed throughout a region.  This geographical separation makes training a challenge while scheduling issues and shift coverage are important considerations in a dynamic emergency medical system.  As a result, many prehospital agencies are adopting more distributed learning tactics that do not require students to sit in a classroom.  Hybrid courses that combine online lecture with hands on skills labs have become very popular while traditional “badge” courses that every responder must keep current have migrated to a blended learning format.  This is what I believe will become what students expect as an older generation of provider moves up and out of frontline duties and a new, tech-savvy student enters the workforce.  They will be expecting more flexibility in obtaining and maintaining their certifications.  The “sage on the stage” approach will no longer be sufficient.

The challenge for EMS educators will be to move beyond the “gee whiz” aspects of presentation technology and find methods of making the instructional process truly student centered:

“Students must be able to do more than acquire new information in class; they must be taught to manipulate and adapt that information to solve problems in the field. This is the appeal of the student-centered teaching methods now available to virtually every educator through a variety of new low-cost and no-cost technologies.” (Duckworth, 2013)

As educators, we should seek to not only introduce new information, but to also develop the critical thinking skills necessary for proper recognition and treatment of life threatening emergencies.  To accomplish this, distance education will take the form of readily accessible references, case studies, and open methods of communication with clinical specialists.  The future of prehospital education will require not only a solid foundation of medicine, but also the ability to rapidly research, interpret, and apply a world’s worth of information in a mobile environment.

Resources

Columbaro, N., L., & Monaghan, C., H. (2009).  Employer Perceptions of Online Degrees: A Literature Review. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 13(1)

Duckworth,  R., L., (2013).  Student centered solutions for EMS education, part 1. EMSWorld.  Retrieved July 4, 2013 from http://www.emsworld.com/article/10977815/using-technology-in-ems-education

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 2: Higher education). TechTrends, 52(4), 66-70.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.Image

And… We’re back!

It is time to pull out the dusty old WordPress blog and give it a shine!  Welcome to my thoughts, musings, and sarcasm.  Hopefully what I post here is informative and useful…if not, call me on it!

Thanks for you attention.  More coming soon!