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Notes from e-learning Special Interest Group (SIG) discussion at CHI 2001
Seattle, Washington, April 3, 2001

By / June 2001

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About 80 people participated in the SIG, which was organized and recorded by eLearn magazine's Editor-In-Chief Lisa Neal, Executive Editor Ken Korman, and Managing Editor Marisa Campbell. The event was held as part of ACM's annual CHI 2001 (Computer-Human Interaction) conference. The organizers introduced themselves and described their interest and backgrounds in e-learning. They got a show of hands to see what types of environments participants work in and whether they had ever taken or develop or delivered e-learning. The response was quite varied to both sets of questions, showing the diversity of the group. Lisa and Ken described the format, which was facilitated discussion on "hot topics" related to e-learning, or what issues kept participants up at night. They collected these topics from the participants, starting off with two of their own that they felt especially pertinent for CHI.

Topics for discussion collected from participants:

  • Quality of learning experience
    • the role of standards and why quality is overlooked
    • the importance of considering the many aspects of the user/student experience
    • is the classroom the ultimate teaching experience?
    • longitudinal studies of e-learning impact
  • E-learning out of the office
    • on the one hand handheld/mobile devices are increasingly used for e-learning and on the other hand students want to print their course materials for greater portability
    • how do you encourage students who are offline to take advantage of collaboration and online activities and what does a student have following a course?
  • Communities of practice
    • encouraging and supporting student communication beyond the confines of a course
  • Translating performance art online
    • teacher as performer/actor
  • Motivation & intervention
  • Liberal arts issues
    • the differences in developing and delivering different types of courses online
  • E-learning across cultural boundaries
  • Best practices for large communities
    • how do you determine if a traditional or e-learning environment is better?
  • Design process for curricular support
    • how do people approach the design of the curricula?
    • how do you support the learner?
  • Searchable information for teachers/students
  • Digital literacy
    • what capabilities, skills, and knowledge does being online give you beyond the subject matter of the course?

Notes from discussion:

  • The discussion started off with the first topic, the user experience as an online student. We never really got to the other topics as unique discussions due to the liveliness of the dialogue, although many topics were touched upon in the ensuing discussion.
  • In a university, administrators typically plan an e-learning program without input from or the involvement of faculty and often with too much of their education coming from product marketing.
    • there's very little thought at the decision-making level to usability issues.
    • there's no one-size-fits-all solution with differences based on course topic, class size, and teacher needs/skills.
  • Online design: there's no tool to support good design; it's not integrated and seamless.
    • we're focused on the technology and not on the pedagogy.
    • there are not enough interactive tools; email is still the most heavily used.
  • We need more focus on how to develop useful and usable tools and environments.
    • need really good user requirements of what those tools have to look like.
  • Classrooms are a paradigm
    • why are we using e-learning for things that should not be taught online? Is there anything that cannot be taught online besides courses where there is a physical or safety requirement?
    • some people do not want to replace classrooms with proprietary software.
    • teachers are fundamentally important online and offline.
    • what tools can we give to teachers to help them develop and deliver courses? What training and support do they need?
    • there's a classroom dynamic that can excite and motivate students - a good example of this online is with gaming, where players are highly motivated and there can be lots of sharing and information exchange taking place.
  • Are we using the right tools for the right things?
    • advantages of teaching soft skills online, according to Roger Shank, are that it's less embarrassing to practice online, especially in a single user environment.
    • when is it not appropriate to teach things online? When is the face-to-face interaction needed and when is the online collaboration needed?
  • Hybrid model: there are limitations to what you can do online so combine classroom, synchronous, and asynchronous as best fits the needs of topics and student.
  • What is the best delivery system?
    • very little quality control and usability testing has been going into the designing of courses and the design of e-learning technologies, typically due to time constraints and low perceived importance of usability - this parallels what goes on with design and development of most products. On the UTEST Listserv there are frequent discussions about how to justify usability being an integral part of a schedule but time and budget constraints and lack of management understanding prevent inclusion.
    • when people have a specific goal in mind when they're designing, then it's much easier to optimize.
  • The student experience: some students spend short time periods working on a course, which is different from how the people who created these courses thought it would be accessed.
    • just-in-time (JIT) and just enough (JE) are popular concepts in corporate training but may be detrimental to deep learning which takes place in slow time, not "Internet time."
    • why do people drop out? The most useful data for an e-learning program may be the feedback from dropouts but that's the hardest to get since the student is gone. The current emphasis on JIT/JE may also shift the importance of completing a course to that of accessing the needed parts of a course, having good indices into a course, and having the course available as an ongoing resource.
    • example of an online/offline community is at Georgia Tech.
    • what about people who get others to take their tests for them online? Schools are concerned about cheating and how to prevent it. The best way is to use regional testing centers, to have students work in small teams where they are accountable to each other, or to have projects develop in phases so that there are few opportunities to cheat.
  • Online gaming is a good example of how people can collaborate online to exchange knowledge.
    • children today are used to constant visual stimulation.
    • children who play games are intrinsically motivated.
    • many games are designed to foster collaboration in order to succeed
    • games also often motivate players to master sets of skills in order to progress to "the next level" of play
    • how can e-learning borrow from games and the culture that exists around games and what needs to be done to accommodate the different learning styles that children raised on games and television might have?
  • How can learning be made more accessible to all people around the world (the theme of CHI 2001)?
    • individualized instruction is important. We need to adapt to or accommodate different learning styles.
    • learning styles is more of a state than a trait, and can change from day to day in an individual.
  • Drive demand, don't drive supply.
  • Industry perspective: they are trying to get rid of classrooms because of how much cheaper online courses are.
  • You have to use technology today to get people who are literate in content literacy and IT literacy.
    • but also have to remember that some students (esp. older adults who may be less tech literate, or students w/limited access to computers/internet) will need training in the use of the technology.
  • Think creatively and go back to CHI roots.
    • it's up to designers to educate administrators.
    • a major component of e-learning is not just the topic of a course but learning, working, communicating, and collaborating online, sometimes called digital literacy.


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