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E-Learning Quality – Building the Framework

This is a repost from my old business site: Excellence in e-Education (xlents.com). That site is being shut down and I am preserving those items that I don’t want to have disappear. Originally posted on January 12, 2011.


Barry Dahl presenting an e-Quality workshopWhat does the word “quality” mean in the context of online learning?

How do you recognize quality when you see it?

What steps can we take to improve our quality of online teaching and learning?

The main focus of this workshop deals with the questions related to “quality” in online learning. Quality means very different things to different people when it comes to online learning. In this workshop we focus on three different aspects of e-Learning quality:

  1. Quality of online learning
  2. Quality of online teaching
  3. Quality of online course design

We start this workshop by looking at models of good practice on online learning course design. This helps set the stage for the later pieces that focus on the quality of the learning and the quality of the teaching.

A wiki containing links to a large number of online resources is shared with attendees for their use during and after the workshop.

For a more active workshop, we also encourage the formation of teams to work on specific projects during the workshop. Some examples of group projects include the following:

  1. Peer review group of faculty for improving course design (create process for assessing quality of design)
  2. Course design rubric creation (create tool for assessing quality of course design)
  3. Learning assessment project for online students  (quality of online learning assessment)
  4. Develop formal expectations for faculty teaching in online courses (quality of teaching baseline)
  5. Online student end-of-course evaluation instrument and process
  6. Faculty evaluation process and instrument creation (quality of online teaching)

Replacement Teachers Coming Soon to Wisconsin

Green Bay Packers fan and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker doesn’t hate all unions and union workers …

just when it comes to educating your kids and people working in most of the other public-sector jobs. Even he felt compelled to respond to all the guffaws on the Interwebz about his love for the union of football referees.

The Governor didn’t want Replacement Refs hurting his prospects for growing the number of jobs for people hawking Packers gear around the Cheese State.  Well Governor, if you think the Replacement Refs were bad for the state, just wait a few years and we’ll all start to see the impact of the Replacement Teachers in Wisconsin.

Replacement refs and the Green Bay Packers

We do need to be fair to the man. He isn’t against all public employee unions. He graciously spared the police and fire unions, as well as the State Patrol Troopers and Inspectors from his mighty sword.

But teachers and other education workers (low-life, scum, bottom of the public employee barrel) lost most of their collective bargaining power. In particular, his Budget Repair Bill limited “collective bargaining to the base pay rate.” There will be no bargaining over pensions, health insurance, or any other issues besides base pay.

On the bright side, Walker’s plan will save the state even more money than he envisioned. This is what is happening and will continue to happen:

  • Teachers and other people employed at educational institutions will leave their jobs for greener pastures.
    • I can hear many of you chanting in unison: “good riddance.”
    • You also say that you don’t believe this, that it’s made up of idle threats. Please read to the bottom.
  • Those who remain in their jobs will no longer use the employer-provided health insurance options – BECAUSE THEY CAN’T AFFORD TO.

There’s lots of people out there who say that public employees don’t need unions because they don’t need to be “protected” from their employers, which is the government in one form or another. Think again.

And I don’t give a damn about what FDR said back in 1937 about public service unions. This is 2012, and times are different. More to the point, politicians are different. There’s not an FDR in sight.

I’m sure that many are rolling their eyes and thinking that I’ve bought into the liberal talking points – hook, line, and sinker. Let me tell you why I believe this. To illustrate the point, let’s look at the health insurance “benefits” for the School District of Superior, Wisconsin, where I happen to live.

Before Walker’s axe fell, school district employees had annual health insurance deductibles set at $1,500 for a family. Drug co-pays were included whether you had hit the deductible max or not. Once the deductible was met, other health costs were shared on an 80 percent-20 percent co-insurance split, with a family paying up to maximum of $4,000 out-of-pocket in a given year. Those were the terms for the last contract that was collectively bargained, which ended June 30, 2012.

On July 1, the new “Employee Handbook” went into effect and changed the family deductible to $6,000 per year; and eliminated the drug co-pay provisions until that deductible of $6,000 has been incurred. Let me make sure that you understand what I’m saying. There is absolutely no payment by the insurance company on your behalf until you have paid the first $6,000 in health care costs incurred during the year out of your own pocket.

When you have a $6,000 deductible, all that you basically have is catastrophic care insurance. A reasonably healthy family of four that has normal health care needs during a year will likely end up somewhere in the $4,000 – 6,000 range (Note 1) for the total cost of health services consumed. Your health insurance won’t pay a dime for any of that. Almost makes you want to get really, really sick. (Note 2)

The school district announced that the changes in health insurance would save the district $1.5M each year. That savings is based on the assumption that all employees would continue to use the new health insurance if they were using the old. That assumption is very faulty. Many employees can no longer afford the insurance, thereby reducing the employer’s cost of premiums (fewer insured, fewer premiums paid to ins co.) and saving them even more money. So, sing hallelujah! The school district budget crisis has been solved, and then some! No pity needed for the employees who have seen their compensation package severely reduced – no pity since they are the scum of the earth. They deserved it, right?

Let’s also take a look at the societal cost of this “benefit” (quotes marks intentional). The cost of the family insurance premiums comes to a total of approximately $15,000 per year, paid jointly by the employer and employee  If you have $6,000 in health costs, then you have paid (and your employer, on your behalf) a total of $21,000 for $6,000 in health care.

No wonder the insurance companies love the Governor.

I wonder how many Tea Party supporters there are in the ranks of school employees?  I’ve met a few, so I know they’re out there. How do you like your Governor now? How terrible do you think collective bargaining is now? How much do you love your health insurance coverage?

(Note 1) I took the $3,470 average out-of-pocket health care costs for a family of four and inflated it to the estimated $4K-6K range based on the fact that they would have to pay more for drugs since co-pays wouldn’t kick in until after the deductible is met. How much more depends completely on the type of drugs needed, and on whether they would continue to purchase the drugs they NEED given that they are so expensive. One migraine sufferer told me directly that she would just have to go without her migraine-fighting medicine.

(Note 2) There is a second option for school district employees. Known as the “low-deductible” plan, you can get a more reasonable deductible and drug co-pays IF you have over $6,500 (teachers) or $7,500 (secretaries, for example) deducted from your salary. This “low-deductible” plan is even less affordable than the one mentioned above.

One last thought to chew on. Maybe you think that teachers are overpaid and under worked. You’re entitled to your opinion. This change also affects school secretaries, custodians, food service workers, and many other employees who make as little as $20K per year, before taxes and “benefits” deductions. If your take home pay is $14,000 a year, how easily can you afford $6,000 in out-of-pocket health care costs? I know, I know, it’s not your problem.

So, you’re right. Public employees do NOT need collective bargaining, because nothing bad could ever happen to them. Right?

Another Online Personal Calling Card

I recently took a look at Vizify – another of the many ways to have your profile available online.

Vizify personal page for Barry Dahl

It’s pretty interesting, although I can’t quite do everything with it that I would like to. Still, it has some promise. Click the graphic to view my page.

Live in Minnesota? No Coursera For You!

From the “You Can’t Make This Crap Up” category:

Laura Gibbs (via Steve Krauss) shared a tidbit about the Coursera Terms of Service, as shown below:

Notice for Minnesota Users

Coursera has been informed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education that under Minnesota Statutes (136A.61 to 136A.71), a university cannot offer online courses to Minnesota residents unless the university has received authorization from the State of Minnesota to do so. If you are a resident of Minnesota, you agree that either (1) you will not take courses on Coursera, or (2) for each class that you take, the majority of work you do for the class will be done from outside the State of Minnesota.  😉

Coursera Students - learn legally

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s hilarious. Minnesota OHE went out of their way to contact Coursera to tell them to keep their cotton-pickin’ hands of those Minnesota residents, or so I’m guessing. This, without a doubt, stems from the ongoing melodrama surrounding state authorization for online education – see WCET summary.

Interesting that the Minnesota OHE apparently reached out to Coursera to inform them of the state statute. Also interesting that Coursera seems to have no interest in paying the fee that the MOHE would require to make this “legal.”  Gotta wonder if they have done the same with Udacity, EdX, and the Siemens/Downes/etc Connectivism MOOCs such as the EdFuture MOOC ready to get started on October 8. I’m guessing they haven’t.

Here’s the beginning of the statute:

136A.61 POLICY.

The legislature has found and hereby declares that the availability of legitimate courses and programs leading to academic degrees offered by responsible private not-for-profit and for-profit institutions of postsecondary education and the existence of legitimate private colleges and universities are in the best interests of the people of this state. The legislature has found and declares that the state can provide assistance and protection for  persons choosing private institutions and programs, by establishing policies and procedures to assure the authenticity and legitimacy of private postsecondary education institutions and programs. The legislature has also found and declares that this same policy applies to any private and public postsecondary educational institution located in another state or country which offers or makes available to a Minnesota resident any course, program or educational activity which does not require the leaving of the state for its completion.

This looks like a business opportunity. I live in Wisconsin, but only five minutes away from the Minnesota border. People living in Duluth cannot take these courses unless a majority of the work they do for the class will be done from outside the State of Minnesota. My plan would be to open up a coffee shop in Superior with cheap coffee and free wifi so that all Coursera students can gather together to do their homework. Of course, cheating will be strictly prohibited!!

D2L FUSION12 – Guide for First-Timers

Are you a first-time D2L FUSION attendee? Hang onto your hats. It’s always a blast. But that’s not what this about.

More importantly, are you a first-time visitor to Sun Diego? That was not a typo. Just to get you in the mood, click the play button below.

I lived there for about a year when I was on a bit of a walkabout between high school and college. I’ve visited many times since and it is absolutely one of my favorite cities. San Diego probably has the most stable climate of any place I’ve ever lived or visited (okay, in the U.S., that is). Not too hot, not too cold. Want snow? Don’t go there. Want 100 degrees? Don’t go there. According to Wikipedia, San Diego gets an average 41 days per year where some precipitation falls, compared to 110 days for the rest of the United States. Sun Diego gets 267 sunny days per year on average (after the morning fog burns off), compared to 213 elsewhere. In any given year, you can expect 2 or 3 days when the temperature gets above 90 °F (32 °C), which is 36 days below the U.S. average. You can expect zero days below 32 °F (0 °C) in San Diego, while the national average is 88 days per year. Most importantly for FUSION on July 16-20, average high temperatures in July  are 76 °F (24 °C).  One week out from the start of the conference and the forecasted temps are for a high of 70 and a low of 65, with a 10% chance of rain.

The conference hotel is located right by the San Diego harbor, very close to an area known as the Embarcadero. Here’s a few things you might want to check out while you’re there.

For those of you who will be transportation-challenged (no wheels):

  1. Petco Park – Padres vs. Astros – Monday night social event for FUSION12! (.3 mile) I’m a huge Padres fan, but I’ve never watched a game from the Western Metal Supply Building in left field. That’s where you’ll find me on Monday night.
  2. Harbor Cruise – (1.4 miles) Tuesday night social event with a Sunset Cruise and dinner!
  3. Tin Fish Restaurant – (.4 mile) Very close to Petco Park and Omni Hotel. Best fish tacos ever!!Tin Fish - tacos
  4. Gaslamp Quarter – (.5 mile to the start – many blocks wide and long) Get insulted at Dick’s Last Resort, or check out House of Blues. I plan to spend some time at The Tilted Kilt just outside the right field entrance to Petco Park (map) – if you go there, you’ll know why it’s my favorite.
  5. Ferry to Coronado and see the Hotel Del. This is also one of the cleanest and most picturesque of the beaches in the area. Take the 15-minute ferry ride from landing behind  the Convention Ctr (.2 mile from hotel to ferry landing) and then in Coronado take the trolley (or a cab) from the ferry landing to the beach and hotel all the way cross town. If you have wheels it’s only 4-5 miles over the Coronado Bridge and then explore on your own.Hotel Del
  6. USS Midway Aircraft Carrier – (1.3 miles) Remember the Tar Heels vs. Spartans basketball game? This is the place. Take a tour and you have a good chance of having a docent who actually served his country on the Midway.
  7. Martime Museum and Star of India sailboat – (2 miles) I’m not a big museum guy, but this could be right up your alley.
  8. Tool box skyline – You’ll see this from the harbor cruise, or just by walking around. Flat head screwdriver, Phillips, hex-shaped Allen wrenches, maybe a chisel, maybe some Vice Grips.
  9. Kansas City Barbeque – (1 mile) This was the setting for sleazy bar scene in the movie Top Gun. Odd place, but fun. Top Gun barbeque
  10. Seaport Village and the Embarcadero – (.4 mile to 1 mile) Still there on Friday, 7/20? If so, the Peking Acrobats perform at 7:30 ($$$) at Marina Park South (Note, the hotel is located very close to the Embarcadero Marina South Park and there is also a North Park very close by (.8 mile). There’s usually interesting things happening there, and several homeless people to dodge. Seaport Village is less sketchy.)

For those with transportation – or willing to just jump in a cab, cost be damned:

  1. San Diego Zoo (3 miles) Yep, still one of the best zoos anywhere.San Diego Zoo koala
  2. Del Mar Race Track – (21 miles) Opening day is Wednesday, July 18. Races start at 2 PM. Attn: Kyle Mackie! The One and Only Truly Fabulous Hat Contest starts 11:30 AM.
  3. San Diego Wild Animal Park (37 miles) Now called the Zoo Safari Park, but I’m staying old school.
  4. La Jolla Beaches– (14 miles) For the rich and famous.
  5. Slater’s 50/50 Burgers by Design – (5 miles) I’ve never been there, but the 50% ground bacon, 50% ground beef burger has captured my attention.
  6. Black’s Beach  – (18 miles) Only for the very adventurous. If you have to ask what that means, don’t go to Black’s Beach!
  7. Balboa Park (2.5 miles) The 2012 Shakespeare Festival runs at Old Globe Theater on Sun, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri nights at 8PM with three choices: Richard III, As You Like It, Inherit the Wind (okay, that’s not by WS).
  8. Mission Beach – (8 miles) This is a very active beach. Lots of people and lots of things going on. Great people watching, too.Stone Brewery
  9. Tijuana – (16 miles) If you have a huge life insurance policy and a death wish, this is a great place to visit. Otherwise, stay away. (Not really joking about this)
  10. Stone Brewery Tour (Escondido – 37 miles) For the beer aficionados, this would be worth the trip. The home of Arrogant Bastard Ale and Ruination IPA.

That should keep you busy. Don’t forget to attend a few sessions at FUSION. Especially mine.

For my last piece of FUSION advice, take your pick from your favorite Sergeant from Hill Street Blues (yes, that was NYC, I know):

  • a) Hey, let’s be careful out there! or
  • b) Let’s do it to them before they do it to us!

NOTE: since no one leaves blog comments any more, I’ve resorted to reposting stuff from other places:

Slideshow on Using D2L Intelligent Agents

This is an update to a slideshow that I did a few years ago about using the Intelligent Agents in Desire2Learn. They have more functionality now than they had then.

I also call them Secret Agents since they seem to be unknown to many people in the D2L User Community.

I think they’re pretty useful. I do recommend that most of the time you have the agent send you (the instructor) an email with a heads up about something, and then you can decide whether to follow-up with the student(s) or not. Direct emails to the students can work, but might not always be the best choice (they don’t come from your email address and can cause “reply to” problems).

Discussion Facilitators Wanted at #FUSION12

Wanted: Discussion Table Facilitators at FUSION12

Added June 21: Thanks to all the volunteers! We are good to go. See you in San Diego.)

Going to #D2L #FUSION12 in beautiful Sun Diego this July? Got something you’d like to talk about? I have about a half dozen spots open for Birds of a Feather discussion leaders on Monday morning, the first day of the conference. The rest of the conference kicks off at 12:50 that day (see schedule here), but we’re going to have 25-minute table discussions from 10:00 to 11:30.

If you would like to host/facilitate one of those tables, we’d love to have you join us for the action. Suggest the topic that you’d like to discuss, and tell me a little about your plan for doing so – and we’ll see how good we can make this. We’re planning to have about 15 tables and up to 150 people in attendance.

It’ll go something like this:

  • 10:00-10:25  First discussion
  • 10:25-10:30  Switch tables
  • 10:30-10:55  Second discussion
  • 10:55-11:00  Switch tables
  • 11:00-11:25  Third discussion

Just to be clear, you’ll lead the same discussion topic three times, with different people each time. I’ll come up with some sort of reward for you if you volunteer to be one of the table leaders. Email me to let me know that you’re interested and also give me one or more ideas for discussion topics that you’d be willing to lead. TIA.

Another Banana for Picmonkey Collages

For various different reasons, I seem to make a lot of collages out of digital photos. One reason is that I put together the annual yearbook at the local elementary school, and there’s no better way to get lots of kid faces on a page than with a collage. I also take lots of photos at family events and have several family members who beg me to make them a collage of the various shots. So I do. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I know. For those who make them, Picmonkey has good functionality and incredible ease of use.

Picmonkey (see previous post here) has picked up where Picnik left off (after Google bought it and effectively killed it) by releasing their collage functionality within the past few days. The video below shows a short tutorial of most of the features. It’s only slightly different from the Picnik functionality for collages, and I kind of like how they have added the ability to add a box here or there on the fly.

Picmonkey has great functionality, although you can’t yet integrate your photos with Flickr, Picasa, Photobucket, or any similar service. That is one thing I miss about Picnik. The other thing is the ability to load photos into the basket (maybe on Picmonkey it would be a barrel, get it?) where you can combine them together by dragging and dropping onto layers. Picmonkey is free and doesn’t require (or even allow, at this time) users to have an account. Just come and go as you please.

And here’s an example of the finished product. Click image to enlarge.

D2L FUSION over the years

Feeling at Home in Kitchener

Queen's Landing in KitchenerWhile getting started in my new job at Desire2Learn, I enjoyed an extended stay in the Kitchener/Waterloo area to get oriented to the company and meet some of the hundreds of new employees (new to me, anyway). Rather than tell you about the great corporate culture that they have developed at D2L (here’s a recent story (May 2012) about that), I want to tell you about where I stayed while I was there. This isn’t the normal kind of post that I make at this site, but it may prove interesting for other remote D2L employees as well as anyone else who might be traveling to Kitchener.

Queen’s Landing Guest House is a great Bed & Breakfast and only about a 20 minute walk from D2L Headquarters in the Tannery Building. Your hosts are Wilma and Brian Skipper. They share their beautiful home with people like me who enjoy a home away from home. This home was built in 1920, and “features ten foot ceilings, large porches, stained glass windows, etched french doors, hardwood floors and walnut trim.”

Read the full post … including the first recipe I’ve ever posted on my blog, along with many more pictures and more info about Queen’s Landing.

Ready to Start at D2L

Just a little recording as I prepare to leave for Kitchener, Ontario to start my new job.