Trends and Issues Related to Online Learning and Teaching
George Lorenzo is writer, editor and publisher of Educational Pathways, a newsletter that covers online learning in higher education, now in its 5th year of publication. George has conducted research and written reports for the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (on electronic portfolios) and for the Sloan Consortium (on the business of online learning, and, most recently, on the Sloan Semester). He is also the author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Your MBA Online,” published in July 2005. In these capacities he has interviewed well over 700 educators and students in the field of online learning and teaching.
Q. What pulled you into Higher Education, enough to start a publication, and where do you see this taking you?
A. Seven years ago I was taking a graduate seminar course in communications in which a guest speaker came in and spoke about the Open University. I was fascinated. As a freelance writer, I wrote a story about online MBA students and found that people were interested in reading about online teaching and learning. I wrote more. After dealing with the ups and downs of publication editors, I decided to become my own editor and publisher.
Q. Between putting out the newsletter, conducting research, and writing longer analytic pieces, what do you like to do best and what do you think contributes most to the on-going developments in distance and eLearning?
A. I love doing all three and feel that by interviewing educators who know an awfully lot more about this stuff than I could ever imagine, and then synthesizing what they say in a way that is easy to understand, I am helping to move this revolution along.
Q. Do more people read your newsletter online or in its traditional form? And what is your feeling about the benefits of online learning – is it about the computer or about something else?
A. Actually the people who read EdPath read it on airplanes in hard copy, as they are typically very busy administrators who want information that condenses down the big picture into easily digestible articles. Online learning is not about the computer . Simply put, it’s about getting access to great content and having people interacting and learning form each other in a flexible format.
Q. ePortfolios, I’ve heard you speak about ePortfolios with reverence, like they the Next Big Thing in Education. Please elaborate?
A. Rather than elaborate, I will simply refer you to the papers at the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative website that covers ePortfolios, as it has lots of great information about ePortfolios. I will say, however, that I believe the key benefit of ePortfolios is that they provide an easy mechanism for students to reflect on their academic work and build knowledge over time by sharing their work and insights with faculty and colleagues who can offer constructive feedback. In short, ePortfolios make students think a lot more about what they are actually learning and how they might apply that learning now and into the future.
Q, If you were running a medium sized university with about 10,000 enrollments and a distance education program, what technology would you choose. What would your approach be to eLearning?
A. I’d start getting into streaming media and web conferencing tools, because the new technology is now able to condense this stuff down and make it move very efficiently across the pipelines at 56K. Plus, these technologies help make learning more interactive in a more personal way through audio and visual. I’d also get into mobile learning – the new generation of students love their iPods, for instance. Finally, in addition to providing modern content taught by innovative faculty, an overall approach to running any kind of distance education program would have to entail a strong effort to provide the best student services possible as well as a sophisticated marketing strategy that informs students about how online learning is really just as good as face-to-face learning. You’d be surprised at how many potential students still don’t understand what online education is really all about and how effective it really is.
Q. Are there any other issues related to online teaching and learning and educational technologies, in general, that you are seeing as important to report on?
A. Everything surrounding what information literacy and information fluency mean today is a very big topic. A new generation of students are Googling their research, instead of going to the scholarly research that one can’t find so easily on Google. For instance, I think there are many more problems related to plagiarism today. In K-12, students now customarily go online and copy and paste information so easily without appropriately attributing their research. This is a problem, I think, that is going to grow larger. Another topic I think that needs to be addressed by the online learning world is the formation of some kind of emergency online education network that will go into effect when a disaster hits – such as what happened with Hurricane Katrina, and how many educators came to the aid of students in the Gulf region who wanted to continue their education online as their physical campuses were forced to close.