Jeff Francis, M.Ed. Educational Technology

Research and Practice in Distance Education Portfolio

Goal 1. To be knowledgeable about research in aspects of distance education and the use of telecommunications in educational and other settings.


Research Synthesis
Responses to selected chapters from Theory and Practice of Online Learning
Tu and Corry Summary


Research is essential to understanding education. It is vital to see various theories put forth, contrasted and opposed. And then to see those theories put into practice and tested in real world situations. However, the amount of research in distance education is staggering. It is impossible to deeply examine all of it. One can either to keep a narrow focus and look deeply, or broadly examine the field but barely scratch the surface.

Since it is impossible to look both wide and deep, I favored a two pronged approach. Deeply scrutinize one source, while taking a cursory look at many others. Or to look at it another way: touch on the overarching field of online learning, while making a concerted investigation of a single topic within that field.

For the sweeping, broad view, we studied one text in depth: Theory and Practice of Online Learning. I expressed my findings and reactions in a variety of formats (both written and narrated presentation) and engaged my classmates in a lively dialog of the topics contain within.

Throughout this study I encountered new ideas and became more familiar with several I was already acquainted with. One that immediately struck a chord with me was connectivism. Learning has been changing (and is continuing to change). With the assistance of technology, we have nearly instantaneous access to information. We no longer need to fill our brains with facts, we can use them to form connections. As David Allen (productivity guru and author of Getting Things Done) said, “The mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”

As a part of this paradigm shift in education the role of the instructor is changing. My mission is not to force feed my students material, rather it is to facilitate their ability to build connections and apply information they can easily retrieve. The research outlined the importance of interaction and engagement and methods for encouraging these. I can apply the ideas of connectivism and interaction even to my traditional courses to meet the next generation and help them become life-long learners.

For the narrow view, I researched many scholarly articles on offering one-on-one instruction online. Their field of music instruction typically has very low faculty to student ratios. One of the reasons for this is that applied music instruction (both instrumental and vocal) is still primarily administered via one-on-one face-to-face music lessons. The initial push for online courses seemed to be in larger lecture courses, where the disconnect between teacher and student would be felt less. Because of this, I have seen very little progress (at least at USC) of online music courses. I see similarities to many aspects of audio engineering and production. Many of the tools and techniques require physical demonstrations, high quality audio feedback and instructor guidance. I was curious to see what research I would uncover as I began exploring this topic.

I did find several somewhat successful implementations of distance applied lessons. One of the primary roadblocks that kept appearing was latency - the time lag in distance communication. Even though this can be less than a second, it drastically affects two musicians trying to play together. Another obstacle that must be worked around is the physical disconnection, e.g. not being able to move a student’s hands to the correct position. While applied music does not lend itself to seamlessly to distance learning, there are still lessons to be learned. Online learning has the ability to foster community, engagement, and interaction in a way that face-to-face learning does not.

With the background of what has worked well and and what has not, I hope to make greater inroads into using distance learning in situations that have traditionally relied upon face-to-face one-on-one instruction. With a creation of a learner and mentor community, an always available archive of online lessons, and the ability to offer expert instruction anywhere, perhaps online offerings will no longer be a mere substitute, but rather even better than face-to-face.

Anderson, T. & Elloumi, F. (Eds.). (2008). Theory and Practice of Online Learning, 2nd edition, Athabasca, AB, Canada: Athabasca University.

Goal 2. To critically evaluate examples of distance education implementation in educational and business settings.


Online Course Evaluations


The first order of business when evaluating is to determine the ideal and what components go into it. Working as a group we developed a scoring rubric for evaluating learning management systems. This built upon the research I was doing concurrently and caused me to look further into what are the essential components of an online course. The rubric encompassed all aspects of learning management systems, including the design, layout, content, community, and accessibility.

We used this to rubric to evaluate two online courses, one from MIT and the other from Yale. In the Yale course I first firsthand the limitations of trying to repurpose a lecture course for online delivery - the “talking head” doesn’t work by itself. While the professor was engaging and the technology well-done, the course was completely one-way. There needs to be interaction, communication, and community.

I discovered quite quickly that courses must be DESIGNED for online delivery. They must be purpose built, not simply put online for the sake of being online.

Developing the LMS rubric and critiquing other online offerings made me realize that I need to improve the online usage of my face-to-face courses. By making them a blended course, I have the chance to use the online portion to create a community of engaged learners. But I have to be cognizant of and committed to good design practices.

Goal 3. To construct effective delivery of courses, topics, or training by using existing CMS tools.


Online Course Development


Before I became a student in the EdTech program, I had used the BlackBoard learning management system as an instructor, for traditional courses and only in the most rudimentary way. As a student in online courses, I began to see the potential of an LMS. I experienced community and active knowledge building in discussion forums, saw the ease of group communication, and learned to use various tools such as wikis. This encouraged me to use BlackBoard more as an instructor, so I was somewhat familiar with the CourseSites LMS (which is built on BlackBoard). But I had never build a solely online course.

Designing, developing, and implementing an online course using a LMS was quite a task - not to mention that had to be ready within a week. We had to make a plan for the design and divide up the work amongst our group. Once again, when we hit a wall in the beginning, ADDIE came to the rescue. We began with an analysis of needs, prospective learners, and our desired outcomes. This definitely focused our design and made the rest of the process flow smoothly.

Throughout the design and implementation, I could hear portions of the research ringing in my head: planning and structure is important...clear communication is community...engage learners, etc. The material from Theory and Practice of Online Learning was invaluable in our design, helping me plan for community building, fostering interaction, and creating group activities for learners.

I even learned from the content of our course - in writing the Design a Lesson activity I created an example model. In the process I set up and tested a mobile student polling system that can be accessed thru a website, twitter, and texting. This is something I can use in the classroom and during presentations to engage students or an audience.

I hope to expand my use of BlackBoard to build community among my students and encourage them to form knowledge networks and create their own meaning. I also hope to use the skills and knowledge I have gained to further develop blended learning and possibly completely online courses. I am exciting to rethink audio engineering education for distance learning.