Virtual School Meanderings

March 18, 2013 e-Newsletter – 3/18/13

From earlier today…


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Planning and Managing Distance Education Systems: Telecommunications 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. In the last two weeks, I discussed Hardware and Software Systems Levels which are at core of the model. In this article I will focus on the basic characteristics and key personnel of Telecommunications 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 four system levels as well.


University Business Models and Online Practices: A Third Way

Higher Education is in a state of change, and the existing business models do not meet the needs of stakeholders. This article contrasts the current dominant business models of universities, comparing the traditional non-profit against the for-profit online model, examining the structural features and online teaching practices that underlie each. It then offers a third option for existing non-profit universities that would enable them to continue offering multiple value propositions while increasing efficiency and quality of outcomes. This involves emphasizing online instruction, separating research from teaching, and adopting a more complex structure based on differentiated faculty roles that would enable economies of scale along with the benefits of research-informed instruction.

Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration

Evaluation of the State Authorization Processes for Distance Education

In this article, the process of obtaining state authorizations for distance education at George Mason University is presented. The purpose of the paper is to provide guidance to those four-year public universities that deliver distance education programs. In order to attract students from multiple states, the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE)’s “program integrity issues” announced in Fall 2010 has created some confusion as to how best to maintain compliance. Although changes in the program integrity processes that were required by the USDOE have been placed on hold, state regulations regarding the operation of higher education institutions are still in place. Therefore, George Mason University continues to seek approval from all states in which we have noted online student enrollment. In this study, we present the process of obtaining state authorizations over the last year, including challenges, variability of state authorizations, a status report on Mason compliance processes, and, future plans regarding the state authorization processes. The article is meant to help guide university leaders who must allocate resources wisely in an arena with multiple fixed constraints.

Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration

The Dialogic Potential of ePortfolios: Formative Feedback and Communities of Learning Within a Personal Learning Environment

This paper reports on the findings of a study into the use of ePortfolios as personal learning environments (PLE) by a group of students pursuing Master’s degrees in Education. The qualitative study explores the potential of the ePortfolio to support learners in engaging in formative peer and tutor feedback as well as in developing a learning community. Within this study, the ePortfolio is presented as an alternative to the discussion forums based in the institutional virtual learning environment (VLE), as it combines the individual, reflective benefits of the PLE with the communal, social benefits offered via the discussion forums. Data were collected of the interactional content that students created through the ePortfolio (blog posts and responses to others’ posts) as well as through a focus group interview with the participating students that explored the learners’ perceptions of the ePortfolio as a support mechanism for their study on a specific module. The findings of the study indicate that while in many ways learners’ online interactions through the ePortfolio were similar to those described in VLE discussion forums, there were several key advantages to positioning this dialogue within a PLE, including encouraging deep rather than surface approaches to learning and providing the opportunity to construct a personal and re-traceable narrative of the individual’s learning journey.

International Journal of ePortfolio

Improving the Quality of Evidence-Based Writing Entries in Electronic Portfolios

The problem investigated in this study was whether entries written to an electronic portfolio by preservice teachers improved in quality after an intervention was deployed. The study also compared portfolio metadata to writing quality scores to determine whether there was a relationship. Participants included a convenience sample of 11 undergraduate students enrolled in a teacher education program. Primary analyses focused on comparing portfolio entries, written before and after the intervention, using a repeated measures design. Secondary analyses involved calculating correlations between writing quality and portfolio metadata. Results showed that writing improved at a statistically significant level, t(10) = 4.99, p < .001, d = 3.16, 95% CI = 1.91 to 5.00. In addition, statistically significant correlations were found between writing quality and the number of unique terms shown on portfolio tag clouds, r = .60, N = 11, p < .05, d = 1.50, as well as writing quality and the total number of portfolio entries, r = .72, N = 11, p < .05, d = 2.08. These findings suggest that the intervention improved writing quality on entries made to electronic portfolios and that metadata predicted the quality of portfolio content.

International Journal of ePortfolio

The Design and Program Evaluation of a Distributed PBL Curriculum for Training Family Doctors in Brazil

Over the past decade Problem-based Learning (PBL) and distance education have been combined as educational approaches in higher education. This combination has been called distributed PBL (dPBL). However, more research is needed to obtain more evidence and deeper insight in how to design and implement dPBL. The present study aims at describing the design and the evaluation results of a competence-based, problem-based, web-based curriculum for training family doctors in Brazil. It focuses on a post graduate course “Clinical approaches for elderly people with dementia” offered by the School of Public Health of Ceará, Brazil. The course is 120 hours long and is available through the Learning Management System Moodle. It was offered to two classes of 30 participants. A self-administered questionnaire with closed and open questions was filled in by the participants of the two classes. The questions included various aspects such as the quality of teaching materials, the adequacy of the chosen educational approach, the technologies used for information and communication technology, the performance of the tutors and the satisfaction of participants. In general, the results indicated that the competence-based approach for curriculum design was adequate for our proposal and the course was highly rated by respondents.

The European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning

Peer Portal: Quality Enhancement in Thesis Writing Using Self-Managed Peer Review on a Mass Scale

This paper describes a specially developed online peer-review system, the Peer Portal, and the first results of its use for quality enhancement of bachelor’s and master’s thesis manuscripts. The peer-review system is completely student driven and therefore saves time for supervisors and creates a direct interaction between students without interference from supervisors. The purpose is to improve thesis manuscript quality, and thereby use supervisor time more efficiently, since peers review basic aspects of the manuscripts and give constructive suggestions for improvements. The process was initiated in 2012, and, in total, 260 peer reviews were completed between 1st January and 15th May, 2012. All peer reviews for this period have been analyzed with the help of content analysis. The purpose of analysis is to assess the quality of the students work. The results are categorized in four groups: 1) excellent (18.1%), 2) good (22.7%), 3) fragmented (18.5%), and 4) poor (40.7%). The overall result shows that almost 40% of the students produced excellent or good peer reviews and almost as many produced poor peer reviews. The result shows that the quality varies considerably. Explanations of these quality variations need further study. However, alternative hypotheses followed by some strategic suggestions are discussed in this study. Finally, a way forward in terms of improving peer reviews is outlined: 1) development of a peer wizard system and 2) rating of received peer reviews based on the quality categories created in this study. A Peer Portal version 2.0 is suggested, which will eliminate the fragmented and poor quality peer reviews, but still keep this review system student driven and ensure autonomous learning.

International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning

A Case for the use of Pedagogical Agents in Online Learning Environments

Progressive multimedia learning tools have been extensively researched over the past twenty years. Two of these tools include intelligent tutoring systems (Graesser et al., 2004; Ma, Adesope, & Nesbit, 2011; VanLehn, 2011) and pedagogical agents (Mayer & DaPra, 2012; Moreno, Mayer, Spires, & Lester, 2001). In this paper we discuss pedagogical agents, which are visible characters in multimedia learning environments designed to facilitate learning (Moreno, 2005; Schroeder, Adesope, & Barouch Gilbert, 2012). Some researchers have expressed reservations that pedagogical agents may not be cost-effective (Choi & Clark, 2006; Clark & Choi, 2005; 2007). However, while it previously may have taken a considerable amount of time and resources to design and implement a pedagogical agent within a learning environment, recent advances in technology make pedagogical agent-based systems more accessible and affordable to educators.

Journal of Teaching and Learning with Technology

Introduction: Understanding social media monopolies

The ubiquitous presence of social media in everyday life has not been met by equally pervasive research efforts for their critical understanding, due mostly to the increasing specialization and fragmentation of academic research. Unlike Us: Understanding Social Media Monopolies attempts to set out a research platform that overcomes both the dominant quantitative analyses and the privacy paradigm in current social media research.

First Monday


Outsourcing Public Higher Ed

A powerful California lawmaker wants public college students who are shut out of popular courses to attend low-cost online alternatives – including those offered by for-profit companies – and he plans to encourage the state’s public institutions to grant credit for those classes.

Inside Higher Ed

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

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