1. Why is media selection important in e-Learning?
Without an instructor presenting the material, as is done in a traditional classroom, the media takes the place of the instructor. This is particularly important in light of research done by R. E. Mayer and others as outlined in this article on the Six Principles of Effective E-Learning: What Works and Why.
In particular, that research found that using gratuitous visuals, text, and sounds can hurt learning, and that the use of conversational tone and “pedagogical agents” can increase learning:
This research also gives key insights in how to use text, graphics, and sound in the right ways to increase learning, and how to avoid using them in ways that impair learning.
(Both images above are from the aforementioned Six Principles of Effective E-Learning article.)
2. Define “new media”?
New media is an umbrella term that encompasses everything from simulated real-time environments, like Second Life, to ubiquitous video sites like YouTube and TeacherTube, to web sites like Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, and many other “social media” sites.
3. Choose a “new media” and explain it’s strengths and weaknesses for supporting e-Learning.
I actually investigated Second Life several years ago, and just recovered my login and username tonight to take another poke around. Originally, I was intrigued by the opportunity to create an environment limited only by my imagination. However, even though I didn’t have to worry about physics in Second Life, the ability to build and create was constrained by another Real Life element – money. In order to build a place of my own, I had to use real money that could pay bills or buy food, and I just wasn’t able to bring myself to pay for “virtual’ real estate.
I spent lots of time flying around, looking at the buildings that others had made, but at the time that I visited, there were no other people with whom I could interact. It was as if the world had ended, leaving the husks of several domiciles, and I was the only one left alive, and gifted with the power of flight.
While my experience could use some updating, I see the following weaknesses and strengths:
Weaknesses include the necessity for each participant to create an account and master the user interface. This requirement also holds for Blackboard or another LMS as well, however, Second Life provides some navigational challenges that are not as common as the interface elements used to navigate an LMS in a web browser.
Another challenge is the cost of generating learning content. In order to do so, real estate must be purchased and resources must either be constructed or purchased. Either way, the cost to create something is in either the objects themselves, or in the time paid to the individuals to create them.
Yet another challenge lies in the learner expectations of the activity. Part of the unique experience of Second Life is the exploration of the environment. Even if you were to get all of your target learners to create accounts and log in, and you had the money to buy your educational real-estate, your learners might get bored very quickly if they were asked to “stay in one place” and absorb the instructional material that you wanted to present.
Instead, a “scavenger hunt” type activity might be more appropriate for the environment. However, creating such an activity would make the complication of mastering the interface even more of an issue, and such an activity would necessitate the purchase of multiple locations for learning content, increasing the expense. Plus, there would have to be a “learning-relevant” reason to spread out the information to multiple locations, otherwise, it would just make the information more difficult to consume, not “more fun”.
There’s a great book called “Ready Player One” which, in essence, is built around the idea of an environment like Second Life being the main educational and entertainment medium in the future. I think it’s an amazing book, and really enjoyed it, which is one of the reasons why I chose to discuss this form of “new media” in this blog post.
In the book, students can interact with the environment using a tactile interface, allowing them to manipulate objects in the virtual world as they would in real life. While that may provide a more intuitive way of interacting with instructional material, the real benefit is the immersion into a visually rich and engaging virtual environment.
It’s clear that just as a video or animation must be designed with sound instructional principles, so would an interaction in Second Life. Not all instructional material is going to be right for that environment, but for certain topics, an immersive virtual environment might be ideal. But in order to generate enough content to make the environment rich, sophisticated yet easy-to-use tools would have to be developed that would allow such things to easily come to life. For instance, let’s take Moby Dick. A Second Life environment could show you images of artwork inspired by the book. It might be more immersive than a web page with the same pictures, but would it really help the reader understand the themes of the book and their significance? A 3D Whale swimming violently through the 3D environment, while a narrator narrates a particularly moving passage from the book, might be exciting to watch, but I question whether this would be regarded as a “seductive detail” – one that is flashy, but doesn’t really enhance learning.
On the other hand, a Second Life virtual environment that reproduces the Periodic Table of Elements exhibit that can be found at the Griffith Observatory (pictured below) might be fantastic. Instead of these elements being locked behind glass, perhaps touching each one could load another virtual environment representing a location where the element was first discovered, complete with its own learning activity. With a traditional web page, you could launch a video, but perhaps the interactive virtual environment has an immersive “seek-and-find” activity. Each activity could let the learner see things from the perspective of the men and women who discovered the elements, giving the learner more context for each element, and more opportunities to reinforce the encoding of knowledge for each one.
4. Explain the term “Mobile Learning” and discuss the importance of “Mobile Learning in the current e-Learning environment and in future e-Learning environments.
“Mobile Learning” refers to the the interaction that a user might have with a mobile device, such as a mobile phone, or small tablet, for the purpose of consuming instructional content. In the current learning environment, mobile learning can involve the use of device-specific technologies – a GPS, SMS text messaging, integrated camera, and email – as tools for engagement. As an example, there’s a site called scvngr (http://www.scvngr.com) that provides a framework for creating scavenger hunts that could be used for mobile learning. The example in the Horton text uses a mobile scavenger hunt to teach learners about architecture. Another idea might have a new employee take pictures of several locations and people: where to go in case a fire alarm sounds, where he or she would go to get resources, and the people to whom they should turn for orientation or help.
In future e-Learning environments, I can see “Mobile Learning” extending to devices like Google Glass. (http://glass.google.com) Not all instruction is ideal for the mobile device platform, however, mobile devices can be used as the means for interacting with a community of inquiry, and can encourage a social constructivist approach, leading to higher-order learning, if used effectively. The mobile device’s importance as an instrument of learning will likely grow in the future, as new devices with new capabilities emerge. As creative instructional designers, it will be up to us to imagine innovative ways to use them. Perhaps by creating augmented reality learning modules, we can give learners a type of “x-ray vision” or “overlay vision” that can label and describe the complexities of our real-world environments. For instance, with a Google Glass type device, you could look at a stick bug, the integrated camera would pass the visual information to a computer-vision algorithm that can recognize the insect, the program would then reconcile the insect’s current position with that of a 3D model of its anatomy, and a graphical overlay could be sent to the viewing device, labeling the parts of the stick-bug’s anatomy, moving the labels in real-time as the bug moves.
5. Explain the term “Virtual Classroom”. Describe how a “Virtual Classroom” can be used in eLearning.
A “Virtual Classroom” is a synchronous virtual environment in which multiple participants are engaged within the same virtual space, explicitly for the purpose of learning.
A “Virtual Classroom” can be used in e-learning in much the same way that a traditional classroom can be used – to deliver lectures and presentations, collect feedback, and engender thought-provoking discussion. It can have some advantages over traditional classrooms, such as the ability to type in a comment to the class while the instructor is speaking, when in real life, the person might have been too shy to raise their hand. Another obvious advantage is the ability to gather multiple students in a space without requiring them to travel. An example of a virtual classroom is Blackboard’s Collaborate, or Adobe Connect, or WebEx Training Center, which I have used in a business context. All three are similar tools, and attempt to provide virtual analogs to real-life classroom participation expressions (raising a hand, expressions of agreement, disagreement of confusion, etc.) There’s a company called InSync Training that offers paid online training courses, but they also offer free “introduction” courses for the purpose of familiarizing yourself with the synchronous user-interface in which the courses will be taught. I thought this was a great idea, because it allows the learner to master the user-interface separately from the online class. When the time comes for the class, I think the familiarity with the tool would allow the content of the online training to be absorbed with less interference.