Virtual School Meanderings

March 11, 2013 e-Newsletter – 3/11/13

From the inbox earlier today…

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Planning and Managing Distance Education Systems: Software Systems

Dr. Farhad (Fred) Saba, Ph. D.
Founder and Editor,

In a previous article in this series, I presented a model of distance education consisting of seven interrelated nested system levels. These system levels have been present in most distance education organizations that I observed, or planned and built over the past 30 years. Last week, I discussed Hardware Systems which is at core of the model. In this article I will focus on the basic characteristics and key personnel of Software Systems as well as the impact of this system level on the other levels. In future articles in this series, I will discuss the other five system levels as well.


Green Curriculum: Sustainable Learning at a Higher Education Institution

The United Nations (UN) constituted 2005–2014 as the decade for educational sustainable development when bridges have to be built between academic institutions and their communities. In this article I will therefore do a literature search from 2005–2011 on what it means to be a sustainable university with a sustainable curriculum by looking at case studies from other higher education institutions in order to begin to give guidelines for such an endeavour in an open and distance learning (ODL) institution. Thereafter I will focus on recommendations on how to transform present study material into a green curriculum by using a qualification in Human Settlements as a case study.

International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning

A predictive study of student satisfaction in online education programs

This paper is intended to investigate the degree to which interaction and other predictors contribute to student satisfaction in online learning settings. This was a preliminary study towards a dissertation work which involved the establishment of interaction and satisfaction scales through a content validity survey. Regression analysis was performed to determine the contribution of predictor variables to student satisfaction. The effects of student background variables on predictors were explored. The results showed that learner-instructor interaction, learner-content interaction, and Internet self-efficacy were good predictors of student satisfaction while interactions among students and self-regulated learning did not contribute to student satisfaction. Learner-content interaction explained the largest unique variance in student satisfaction. Additionally, gender, class level, and time spent online per week seemed to have influence on learner-learner interaction, Internet self-efficacy, and self-regulation.

International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning

On-the-job e-learning: Workers’ attitudes and perceptions

The use of e-learning for on-the-job training has grown exponentially in the last decade due to it being accepted by people in charge of businesses. Few papers have explored virtual training from the workers’ standpoint, that is, the perception they have about the different training methodologies (face-to-face vs. virtual) and the attitudes they have towards on-the-job learning. Training, in this context, is an investment for both the two participating agents: businesses and workers. It seems logical that knowing the perceptions and attitudes shown by the targets of the training is, at least, as important as knowing the advantages for the companies.To analyse workers’ perceptions and attitudes we conducted an online survey of 2,000 employees of the leading European savings bank, CaixaBank (, on training habits, perceptions, motivations, and disincentives of undertaking face-to-face or online instruction.The results reveal that workers perceive e-learning as a more flexible and up-to-date training methodology. On the other hand, face-to-face training continues to be perceived as a more motivating methodology compared to virtuality and with better explanations from the course trainers. As regards motivations given by the workers when it comes to training, there are three main groups of attitudes: those which are more affective and social, those which reveal poor adaptability or fear of the new training requirements, and, finally, those linked to the knowledge society.

Such results state that while the benefits of distance methodology can be clearly identified from the company’s point of view (i.e., as a flexible and efficient methodology to develop the employees’ skills and knowledge), from the employees’ standpoint, the advantages of virtual training are not so clear and depend to a great extent on their attitude towards the use of virtuality.

International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning

A Comparison of Participation Patterns in Selected Formal, Non-formal, and Informal Online Learning Environments

Does learner participation vary depending on the learning context? Are there characteristic features of participation evident in formal, non-formal, and informal online learning environments?

Six online learning environments were chosen as epitomes of formal, non-formal, and informal learning contexts and compared. Transcripts of online discussions were analyzed and compared employing Transcript Analysis Tools for measures of density, intensity, and reciprocity of participation (Fahy, Crawford, & Ally, 2001), and mean reply depth (Wiley, n.d.). This paper provides an initial description and comparison of participation patterns in a formal, non-formal, and informal learning environment, and discusses the significance of differences observed.

Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology

Collaboration indices for monitoring potential problems in online small groups

The purpose of this study is to test the validity and reliability of three collaboration indices (quantity, equality, and shareness) proposed by Jahng et al. (2010). The present study repeated the quantitative assessment of Jahng et al., and performed a further qualitative analysis to identify possible factors that might be associated with the results of the quantitative assessment. In addition, membership trends, in terms of communication connections in whole class discussions, were examined and compared with results from both the quantitative and qualitative assessments. The quantitative assessment results were consistent with those of the qualitative assessment and the membership trends. Therefore, the study concludes that the three quantitative collaboration indices are valid and practical to be used for monitoring and identifying potential problems in small groups in online courses.

Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology

Blogging for Academic Purposes with English Language Learners: An Online Fieldwork Initiative

This research investigated the use of blogs to promote collaboration between teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) teacher candidates and Adolescent English teacher candidates and to sensitize them to the writing demands placed on secondary English language learners (ELLs). Blogs offered an authentic experience for teacher candidates to interact with each other and with ELLs. Qualitative analysis showed Adolescent English teacher candidates’ desired more such fieldwork that would put them into direct contact with ELLs. TESOL candidates reported learning about the demands of high school academic writing through the tasks and the blog responses posted by their Adolescent English counterparts. Affordances and limitations of blogs as a tool in teacher education for ELLs, as well as the need for TESOL and content area teacher candidates to participate in collaborative fieldwork to strengthen instruction for ELLs, are discussed.

Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education

Motives for Lifelong Learners to Choose Web-based Courses

Due to societal changes there is a growing need for distant and adult learning. The reason to participate in education and the choices that students make may differ. In this study the factors age, gender, rate of studies and parenthood have been analysed in order to see how these relate to different motivational factors for choosing a web-based course. The data has been based on a questionnaire, covering 1270 beginner students in the spring semester of 2011 and contains their background characteristics and items focusing on their motives. These could be categorized into four different motives: (1) Format, (2) Content, (3) Economic, and (4) Curiosity. The results showed that Format was regarded as the most important factor for choosing an Internet-based course, followed by Content, Curiosity and the Economic factor. Furthermore, group differences were investigated with respect to age, gender, parenthood and rate of study. The findings show that distant education fulfils an important function for mature students, women and students with children. These groups presumably consider the flexibility that web-based courses provide advantageous. Family situations or working-life obligations may contribute to this. Changes in people’s working lives are likely to continue, which presumably increases the demand for flexible learning situations.

The European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning

Students’ Attitudes towards Technology-Enabled Learning: A Change in Learning Patterns? The Case of a Master’s Course in Political Science

This article sets to explore the attitudes of higher education students enrolled in a political science programme at Master level towards e-learning facilitated by the introduction of a Moodle platform. The students have been surveyed at the end of public management course in the first semester of the programme asking them to evaluate both the contents (resources) available on the virtual learning environment, as well as the type of activities and the general interaction with technology. The objectives of our survey were twofold: first to carry a thorough evaluation of the course in order to collect evidence for further improvement, but also, more importantly, to unravel the established patterns of students’ learning and their attitudes towards a set of technology facilitated type of learning activities. We conclude that the implementation of a VLE is definitely not likely to immediately change existing learning/teaching practice. It is seen mainly as a support and complementing activity of face-to-face course deliveries, but does not yet change the pedagogical underpinnings of the learning practices. On the other hand, a thorough evaluation of students’ attitudes towards technology-enabled learning is crucial for consistently planning course designs and for embedding a quality culture at course level.

The European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning


The New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) have jointly released the NMC Horizon Report > 2013 Higher Education Edition. This tenth edition describes annual findings from the NMC Horizon Project, a decade-long research project designed to identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have an impact on learning, teaching, and creative inquiry in education. Six emerging technologies are identified across three adoption horizons over the next one to five years, as well as key trends and challenges expected to continue over the same period, giving campus leaders and practitioners a valuable guide for strategic technology planning.

Also, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) issued two reports about mobile learning. The firs report titled The Future of Mobile Learning: Implications for Policy Makers and Planners predicts that:

  1. Technology will be more accessible, affordable and functional
  2. Devices will be able to collect, synthesize and analyze massive amounts of data
  3. New types of data will be available
  4. Language barriers will be broken down
  5. Screen size limitations will disappear

These technological breakthroughs can be harnessed to promote distance learning in more personalized and authentic forms. The report also presents analysis on a range of policy issues as where we are today, and what must be done in the next 15 years. These include: Access, Life Skills, Gender Equity, and Learning Outcomes. The report further presents analytical perspectives on enables and barriers of mobile learning and discusses a range of “grand challenges,” such as linking mobile learning analytics to learning theory.

The second report titled Policy Guidelines for Mobile Learning indicates that UNESCO believes that mobile technologies can expand and enrich educational opportunities for learners in diverse settings. Today, a growing body of evidence suggests that ubiquitous mobile devices– especially mobile phones and, more recently, tablet computers – are being used by learners and educators around the world to access information, streamline administration and facilitate learning in new and innovative ways. This set of guidelines seeks to help policy-makers better understand what mobile learning is and how its unique benefits can be leveraged to advance progress towards Education for All. Developed in consultation with experts in over twenty countries, the guidelines below have broad application and can accommodate a wide range of institutions, including K–12 schools, universities, community centers and technical and vocational schools. Policy-makers are encouraged to adopt UNESCO’s policy recommendations, tailoring them as necessary to reflect the unique needs and on-the-ground realities of local contexts.

Farhad (Fred) Saba, Ph. D.
Founder and Editor

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