Since our Australopithecine ancestors learned to shape stones into tools ~3.3 million years ago, hominid relationships and knowledge creation have been mediated by, negotiated through, and expressed in technological innovations, a meandering but cumulative line – from rock to rocket, from Lucy to Musk – that may help us create a new Levant in the orange dust of Mars, in an evolutionary leap that takes us away from home, to where our reliance on technology will be absolute. “Without technology, we are not human” (McGreal, 2017). Without humans, though, and our imperative for social interaction, technology would not exist.
While Russell’s (1999) meta-analysis revealed “no significant difference” in learning outcomes when comparing face-to-face and distance education (DE) contexts (absent pedagogical change), critical differences emerge when technology-enabled pedagogical changes are considered. Interactive online technologies afford pedagogical potential that correlates to improved learning outcomes in DE and blended learning contexts.
In this paper, I explore the pedagogical potential afforded by one interactive technology tool – online discussion forums – for enhanced social presence and learner-centredness, towards improved learning outcomes. Two pedagogical strategies – scaffolding, and forum management – are considered within DE and blended learning. Scope is limited to higher education and professional training contexts.
Conceptual Design for a Distance Education School for Rural Secondary Students in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba
This paper describes a distance education institution for rural secondary students in Canada’s Prairie Provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba), premised on a hypothetical collaborative initiative arising from a Canadian Association of Principals conference where the challenges facing rural education were explored. This hypothetical initiative was advanced through discussions with respective schools districts and provincial associations. A preliminary proposal garnered funding for a market assessment that confirmed a viable niche market (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).
The Open Prairie Lyceum (OPL) concept comprises a federated distance education (DE) school model to serve rural areas, where school abandonment and dwindling enrolments impede students’ learning experiences and access to quality and comprehensive education, and undermine community sustainability (Bennett, 2012; Oncescu, 2013). OPL addresses the economic needs of rural areas by enabling students to develop relationships and gain local work experience, preparing them for higher education, training and careers that may contribute to long-term rural development and revitalization and encourage students to remain in their rural homes permanently (Indiana Partnership for Statewide Education, 2000; Lemoine & Ramsay, 2011; Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).
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Course development and design in distance education (DE) should respond to specific learning outcomes and assessment objectives determined in advance, and should incorporate two fundamental principles that Simonson et al. (2012: p. 153) identify as critical to a student-centred approach: 1) Visual-based instruction (appropriate for and capitalizing on digital media), 2) Engaging students (through collaborative work and social connectedness).
Here is an example of a lesson on a course site within a CMS. This lesson incorporates best practices for visual design (Simonson et al., 2012) with z-layout for web design (Jones, 2010), and applies a linear-designed instruction approach and Unit-Module-Topic organization (Simonson et al., 2012).
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th edition). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Jones, B. (19 October 2010). Understanding the z-layout in web design [weblog]. http://webdesign.tutsplus.com/articles/understanding-the-z-layout-in-web-design–webdesign-28