About ten years ago, I left UCLA in the middle of my Ph.D. work and since that time, have always had mixed emotions when contrasting the relative calm of the academic classroom with the storm of a tech company’s cubicle. Needless to say, it felt ironic to recently come full circle and return to academia. This last year at Oregon State University has been somewhat cathartic, but also surprising in terms of just how relevant E-learning has become to the academic context … and ”yes,” I had my doubts at first when I realized that some of the clouds forming over the technology industry years back have also cast a shadow over university campuses.
It was a wonderful surprise to find that many of our department’s E-learning projects focus on translating practical, research-based content for a broad cross section of the population into some type of format that can be easily understood by as many members of this audience as possible. In other words, deliverables really seem to matter to our end users and ease of access is a major factor with each project. While many projects in private industry seek to package specific proprietary information for product usage (learning software or otherwise), our projects tend to run the full gamut of content area variation (viticulture, gerontology, energy usage, gardening, canning, etc.) and are oftentimes topics that are “near and dear” to our audience. So, while our work may not be as readily classified as workplace centric, I do feel that E-learning projects that mature under the umbrella of university Extension entities can be helpful artifacts that contribute to the larger dialog of what can be deemed as both efficacious and scalable within the world of instructional technology.
To demonstrate how some of this confluence between content variation, personal/professional development, serving end-users and media comes together, I thought providing some examples would be the most efficient approach. Please note that most of the headers include a live link to the course or example–just hover your cursor over the text and click.
Overview: An assistant professor wanted to broaden the reach of her “Aging Well” classroom-based courses by making the content available in an online format. Where possible, we tried to ensure the user experience was as straightforward and accommodating as possible based on the characteristics of our audience. AARP sponsored this course and funding came from the USDA for its development.
Tools/Platform: PowerPoint, Adobe Presenter, Fireworks, Sony SoundForge
In support of this project:
Aging Well blog to help encourage discussion of course-related topics
2. Portland Metro Area Master Gardeners Ning Site (Virtual Community)
Overview: Our group worked with several key faculty members and created a customized Ning site (using CSS, unique header). We did a basic needs analysis and populated the site with features and media that we felt would be welcomed by this audience. We then worked with this group to help ensure that there were volunteers who could help provide momentum as the community got underway. Since this site went live, the community has added numerous new features such as a Twitter widget, links to Google calendars/documents, Photosynth panoramas and many other innovative enhancements that allow gardeners to post photos and then diagnose or discuss these more collaboratively while online.
Tools: Ning, Fireworks, CSS, some Dreamweaver
3. Oregon State University BeaverTurf Ning Site (Virtual Community)
Overview: The primary stakeholder, a professor of Turf studies at Oregon State, wanted to more efficiently help foster professional relationships among golf course superintendents in the Pacific Northwest. We built a customized Ning site for his end users and “seeded” his site with videos, RSS feeds from relevant Turf groups and other assets. We also added a new Ning application to allow the group to do turf-based product reviews as this was one of many items end users requested via our needs analysis. He will also be feeding blog content into the site and we added the Twitter feed filter application to populate one page with the latest Twitter activity around turf-related key words.
Tools: Ning, Fireworks, CSS, some Dreamweaver
4. Pachyderm Presentations
This “do-it-yourself” multimedia development tool is yielding some wonderful online presentations. We offer some basic training on how to use the tool and then let faculty loose to shape their own Pachyderm story. Please note the examples below are still under development.
Ganti Murthy from the department of Biological and Ecological Engineering explains bioethanol production for the rest of us.
Sarah Griffith’s Pachyderm, “Art about Agriculture”
What did I learn about E-learning development when I worked at Netflix six months ago? Before I share some thoughts, let’s look at the numbers. Just this year, Netflix sales have topped 910 million dollars with 414 full-time employees at the helm. Seem improbable? Welcome to the 21st century and the consumer side of information management as a service—as these numbers suggest, it can be extremely profitable. Sure, Netflix also pays workers who ship DVDs and answer customer service lines, but the main focus of the 414 full-time employees is ultimately to tame the customer-facing website that enables the latest movie titles to land in your mailbox or play on your computer.
Is it possible to design viable E-learning courses at a company like Netflix where business moves at the speed of light? The quick answer is “yes,” and “no.” Having an amazingly short development timeline constantly forced me to isolate the most important steps of the deliverable creation process and collapse as much of my process around these key areas. Content review, prototype evaluation, user testing? Check, check, and check. High-end aesthetic treatment, dynamic navigational scheme, lots of formative evaluation? Not so much. A lightning fast development model is usually the only option on the table for an environment that is adverse to process and time expenditure since its web-based “storefront” reorients itself as quickly as a desert landscape in a windstorm. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this business model: Who doesn’t love the service that Netflix brought to the market?
Here’s a PowerPoint presentation I posted to Slideshare about how the generations in the U.S. move through time, from 2000 – 2030, based on Census Bureau population data and projections:
Don’t look now, but perhaps the next industry to be undone by robots is education. OK, maybe not. After watching a video clip of the HRP-4C’s Frankenstein-like ambulation, you can more easily conjure up images of terrorized children running out of their classroom when the new substitute teacher shows up with lesson in head.
OK, so visions of robot faculty may seem fanciful and far-fetched, but virtual “mediators” of E-learning or web-based environments have become more prominent as the technology behind avatars has become more powerful and affordable for the average user (US News story).
So, why the initial hesitation and angst when you hear “avatar”? Perhaps it’s Clippy, the talking paperclip.
We recently began a project called, “Mastery of Aging Well: A Program for Healthy Living”. The funding for this project came from the USDA and the principle investigator and content provider is a very well-respected associate professor tied to OSU Extension. From a very pragmatic standpoint, the PI’s stated goal at the beginning of the project was to take her content and represent it in a more compelling, web-based format that would incorporate multimedia. This was an exciting prospect for our group as we have graphic artists, photographers, videographers, journalists, editors and a few instructional designers. We chose to develop two separate tracks for the content: One option was what was termed “Tier 1″ and would represent a pared down version of the content and very little user interaction. “Tier 2″ would reside within OSU’s E-campus site and would cost the user a fee for access to this more robust set of media assets, i.e. videos, interactive games and other user-centric tasks that focused on knowledge retention and assessment.
So, after selecting Adobe Presenter as the most appropriate (and efficient) authoring tool to port the content into a web-based format, we began to think through some of the instructional design considerations for our baby boomer target audience: