Ted Talk: John Green: The nerd’s guide to learning everything online

“Some of us learn best in the classroom, and some of us … well, we don’t. But we still love to learn — we just need to find the way that works for us. In this charming, personal talk, author John Green shares the community of learning that he found in online video.” – TED Talk Summary

Guest Post: The Debate Over Online Education: University Professors Weigh In

Guest Post by: Jim Hinton

The debate over online education has been going on for a while now. It has its proponents and its detractors, with good arguments on both sides. One thing that seems to stand out fairly strongly in the debate is that it seems that university professors don’t seem to be on the side of the proponents.

One example is Harry R. Lewis. The former dean of Harvard’s undergraduate college, he believes that online education is seriously lacking in its ability to serve the underlying purpose of education. In an interview with The Atlantic, he expressed concern with the asynchronous nature of online education. “Part of the process of education happens not just through good pedagogy but by having students in places where they see the scholars working and plying their trades.”

Some scholars, however, have certainly started to express favor for the online educational model. Some of these supporters of this new frontier in education are professors at one of America’s oldest institutions of learning, Rutgers University. Rutgers has been using the “virtual world” of Second Life as a platform for nearly a decade.

Naedav Lipkin has been a guest lecturer within that program for Rutger’s School of Communication and Informatics. He ties the online learning environment with the increasingly computerized work space many students will move on to after graduation.

“Second Life is sort of what it sounds like. It’s a second life. It’s a virtual space that looks like a game but in many ways is just a social meeting place,” he explained. “’Self and Society in Virtual Contexts’ has always been a class designed around using Second Life as a platform for experiences in virtual worlds. Anywhere where people are congregating, meeting, doing things online, this class is all about understanding those things and how they can be appropriately integrated into a job.”

Dr. Sharon Stoerger, director of Rutgers’ Information Technology and Informatics program, has spoken in favor of this implementation.

“When virtual worlds are implemented into a course, it provides an instructor the ability to overcome challenges that cannot be met by other technological systems and increases the potential for experiential learning,” she wrote. “In particular, students can meet with each other or other users and through using an array of communication tools, voice chat and text chat, they are able share and gather information, build networks, and perform higher order learning tasks.”

Following its experimentation with using Second Life as a platform to instruct some classes, Rutgers elected to expand to a full online education program for some of its offerings. In 2011 Rutgers began offering several degrees as 100% online options, including 11 Masters degrees ranging from an MBA through to Music Education.

Dr. Antonius Bittmann is the Associate Vice President of the Online Programs Division of Continuing Studies. In discussing the decision Rutgers made to offer some of its degrees through the online format, he expressed enthusiasm for the innovations online education is bringing.

“It means new ways of reaching students,” he explained. “It means new ways of educating students. New ways of defining Rutgers as an educational institution. New ways of teaching students that they are members of a global community. The new technologies are very much part of this innovation and a part of achieving those objectives.”

Dr. Laura Curran agrees. She directs the online Masters of Social Work program. She particularly favors the role of online education in the lives of older, non-traditional students. “You get to work on your own schedule, it’s flexible, it’s easier to combine online with all the other responsibilities that folks who are now returning to school attempt to juggle.”

So far, the results have been overwhelming. Rutgers boasts 65,000 students enrolled in their traditional programs. However, as of 2014, Dr. Bittmann proudly stated that the 100% online programs had 45,000 students. It’s not just all those students who seem convinced either. The Association of American Universities inspected Rutgers and maintained its fully accredited status.

In the end, though, it is the students themselves who are the final arbiter of the success or failure of online education. One of Lipkin’s students summarized her conclusion succinctly. “We are now in this technological age where you might be working with someone that’s not even in the same country as you. So being able to communicate with people and work in groups via the Internet is very, very important.” The professors at Rutgers, it seems, are onto something.

Guest Post: How to Create an Effective and Productive Method of Math Learning

Guest Post By: Jacky Wilson

Is there a possibility to eliminate the bell curve in learning mathematics? Imagine a person at a dinner party just nonchalantly announcing, “I’m uneducated”. It’s a hypothetical situation that will never happen, of course; the embarrassment would be too great. However, it’s not uncommon for an adult to say that, “I am not good in math”. That’s mainly because we have formed a common opinion that math ability is hereditary, as if there’s a “mathematics gene” that you either gain from predecessors or you don’t.

In particular, school math teachers often are not able to make adequate allowances for the restrictions of working memory and the most important fact is that we need a tremendous amount of everyday practice to gain mastery in just every subject. Children who are weak in studying math usually have difficulty in:

  • Doing arithmetic involving mixed equations
  • Handling word related math problems
  • Remembering the essential math facts and basics

Despite the extensive support for “discovery-based” or “problem-based” math learning, research and studies have shown that the current teaching methods or tactics usually underestimate the amount of unambiguous guidance; “framework” and practice children are most required to combine new concepts in learning. Asking children to invent something on their own before they understand the fundamentals of any subject is like asking them to write a song using guitar before they know anything about its various chords.

The foundation of a good learning in math starts by building confidence, which many great teachers believe should be the first objective of a math teacher. Confidence is the main key that creates attention, which creates rich learning abilities. You may come across different teachers but I am sure you would not have met anyone that will tell you that the student can excel without being confident. But I am really puzzled to notice that I have never seen in any school that follows the same in their math program. Math is the best subject that helps to build confidence. Teachers can take steps to modify their teaching practices in math by solving problems in small steps and raise the bar of confidence in them.

Setting a good groundwork for learning math is very important. When your child is able to do the math more quickly, he/she can enjoy more time doing the extracurricular activities that he/she often missed.


Guest Post: The Value of New Media in Higher Education

Guest Post by: Livia Rusu

Along with the democratization of the Internet that took place back in 1995, not only the information sharing and processing has become easier, but the latest form of internalizing these new means of communication includes blurring the educational barriers.

During the last month, one of the greatest realizations of the new educational media was MIT giving free online access to all the courses, along with which there was set a new trend in the online education. Turns out that it’s unnecessary to measure competition into results exclusively, as the entire educational processes and their liberalization seems to have more and more power on the reputation of educational institutions.

But new media doesn’t only represent the transfer of the printed and TV press into a new, dynamic platform. It means using entirely other methods to maximize the effect of the information. And the latter as we know it incorporates a lot more than mere journalistic experiences and press materials, it represents any valuable source of knowledge provided by an agent with expertise and, why not, educational and informational responsibility.

The function of online educational platforms is not to prove the experts’ technological acquiring, but to ease access to education for a mass of self-educated, self-motivated individuals who wouldn’t have the means to achieve professional development otherwise.

As about the methods, new media seems to have thought of all the possible issues that made education impossible for millions of people during the 20th century. The first and most important is money. Without enough financial support during the entire educational journey, it would have been impossible 20 years ago for anyone to achieve a level of expertise that qualifies someone as a specialist in a certain domain. Today, the only problem that stands is that not everybody has Internet access, and Google already thought of resolving this final stage of worldwide technologization.

While online education isn’t self-sufficient and still has to be completed by a formal/institutional certification at the present time, there are two major benefits that issue from this online liberalization:

–         the people who have already followed (or are following as we speak) an educational route have the possibility to strengthen and stabilize their specific knowledge and be better professionals than their parents;

–          the category of people who wouldn’t have had the financial possibility to follow a higher education program now have the possibility to achieve (at least) a minimum of knowledge.

The official international certification of exclusive online higher education degrees is only a matter of time, and even though some of the online classes known today as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) provided by online platforms and specialists from different famous universities around the world are most probably going to have a fee in a couple of years, this is not entirely bad. Thinking of a large number of people from developing countries who have the educational interest and the academic spirit that it takes to follow a higher education degree, this measure would only do good on the long run.  More specialists would be ready to integrate on the labor market, thus helping the national economy of the state they belong to.

The second problem that the impact of new media in higher education programs solves is space. Along with the cultural boundaries, the spatial ones have always been a problem for the universities. For a long time now it was impossible for a lot of young, talented, motivated people to follow the classes of a popular university, because of the limited number of students per year. This issue no longer exists – the slides with the information, the e-books along with the tasks and requirements for the online class are posted online, and so is the lecture of the professor. Proximity shouldn’t be treated as a sine qua non condition for the students who want to follow a specific educational program, and though it has raised problems during the past two decades. Hazardous information about the student shouldn’t be able to affect his academic career: his God, skin color, sexual orientation or home city doesn’t have to be an issue anymore.

Of course, being completely unconstrained by spatial boundaries also means that the professors would have to differentiate the students using some educationally relevant criteria, such as their interest on the matter, the information accumulated at the end of the lecture, the seriousness with which the tasks were completed. For once, the major achievement of the online classes is that the interest is no longer determined by economic or hazardous factors. Being active online means the student is driven by self-motivation and genuine interest for the domain, as opposed to going to classes because you like socializing, mocking the professor, or you just happen to be around. Being enrolled to a BA because your parents had saved money half of their lives is not quite the most objective indicator of genuine interest and motivation, while deciding for yourself to be online and constantly participating to online classes offers a rather realistic view of the scale of interest the students show in the academic matters.

What we’re assuming is not that the classical higher education programs are filled and completed to the point of redundancy, but that on a large scale there is no such thing as measuring the bona fide interest of the students by their presence, when sometimes the educational route says little or nothing about their true intentions for the future, but of their parents expectations and social standards.

Time. Time is money, some say, but by following this type of sophistical thinking we would get back to ground zero. So time is time – the most valuable resource for anyone who has the most minimal idea of what is relevant in life. Having time means continuously, thoroughly managing one’s every action in order to achieve the maximum of performance with the minimum of resources.

And for a student or for someone during their 20s it is a sophisticated philosophy understanding that, as much of a cliché as it may sound, there’s no short way if you’re interested in a career. Which entails that there will always be a constant undergoing thought process analyzing which task/interest/motivation should better be followed. To put it simply, spending more time doing academic relevant work online requires more dedication than spending more time sitting in an amphitheater. And this is due to the dynamic and integrative methods that require active listening, immediate reaction to stimuli and a responsive, collaborative attitude that you can fake in class.

Although many of the scientists studying the educational environment and the changes that are necessary have a polarized perspective on the matter, there is no war between the typical universities as we know them today and their analogue online replacements. They’re more complementary than they are mutually exclusive, and integrating educational methods with the technological tools can only sharpen the academic performance of both students and specialists.

This is a guest post written by Livia Rusu, who spends a lot of time researching and discussing college education on her blog.



One assignment for my research methods graduate class required me to use the technology/website VoiceThread to reflect upon a well-remembered event prior to our current teaching practice.  I reflected upon my experience of a lockdown drill.

VoiceThread is a great technology that allows a user to upload a video, PowerPoint, or most media files and add audio to it, then other users can comment on the video using audio, video, or text.  Audio comments can be uploaded using a phone or a computer microphone.  Additionally, a commenter can pause the video while still continuing to speak and use a pencil tool with multiple colors to draw attention to an element in the video.

From their website:

Voice Threading:

  1. to communicate ideas using more than one of the senses
  2. to connect with an audience in an authentic and simple manner
  3. a discussion that simulates a live presence

It has great applications for K-12, higher education, and business.  VoiceThread would be a great tool to use for a Flipped Classroom or an online class.  There even an app for the iPad that will allow you to create and edit your VoiceThreads.  VoiceThreads can be embedded using an object code (see below) to websites, linked to on VoiceThread’s servers, and sent in an email.  VoiceThread will even post directly to your Facebook or Twitter account if you give it permission to do so.

However there is a major drawback.  It’s a bit costly.  The single K-12 educator license is $79/year.  Have more than one teacher using it at one school?  You can purchase a school license, which starts at $450/year.  Some features cost more while there are discounts for number of users.  However, if you are not affiliated with a school, individual plans start at $20/month.  There are discounts for teams and companies.

So why is price such a big drawback?  There is a free account, but it is so limiting that it essentially allows you to try it out once or twice and then you have to make a decision to purchase a license or not.  Commenting is always free, but uploading your videos will cost you.  Also, the free account limits you to 25MB per upload, which can be a bit difficult if you have a longer video.  While using my free account, the iPad app seemed a bit restricting as well.  I could not use the microphone on my iPad to record audio over a video that I uploaded using my laptop.  Lastly, the free account restricts a user to only 5 video uploads and does not allow you to delete any video.  Thus, you really need to record video using another program and then upload it once it is completely done, if you want to capitalize on the restricted 5 uploads.

Overall: I really like VoiceThread.  I think it would be excellent with a paid account, but the price point is a bit difficult for me as this is a technology that can only be used with itself (you can’t really use it to add an audio comment to a YouTube video; you can only use VoiceThread commenting on VoiceThread videos).

Below I have embedded the VoiceThread I made for my assignment (direct link here).  This specific video was created by first making a PowerPoint presentation, which I then published to video in order to preserve fonts, transitions, and set slide advancement times.  Then, I uploaded the video to VoiceThread.  While I could upload the .ppx file, VoiceThread could not read the fonts, even after I embedded them into the file.  Thus, this video is actually number 3 of my 5 allotted VoiceThreads.  Once uploaded, I then had to use an external microphone to record my voice because I could not get my laptop microphone to work nor could I use my iPad.

Feel free to comment on the video using VoiceThread or in the comments section on this blog entry.