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Education for a Digital World
Education for a Digital World:
Advice, Guidelines, and Effective Practice from Around the Globe
Project Leader
Sandy Hirtz
Senior Editor
Sandy Hirtz
Dr. David G. Harper
Copy Editor
Sandra Mackenzie
Contributing Editors
Paul Beaufait, Richard S. Lavin, Joseph Tomei, Kevin Kelly, Sylvia Currie, David Kaufman, Alice Ireland, Randy
Labonte, Patricia Delich, Don McIntosh, June Kaminski, Madhumita Bhattacharya, Natasha Boskic, Nathan Hapke,
Kirsten Bole, Dan O’Reilly, Niki Lambropoulos, Julia Hengstler, Elizabeth Childs, Susan Crichton and Ruth Cox
Dan McGuire—Copyright
Sandra Mackenzie—Style Guide and Chapter Template
Kevin Kelly—Chapter Maps
In appreciation to …
• Learning & Instructional Development Centre, Simon Fraser University
• BCcampus
• Commonwealth of Learning
BCcampus and Commonwealth of Learning, 2008
Any part of this document may be reproduced without permission but with attribution to BCcampus and the
Commonwealth of Learning.
CC-BY-SA (share alike with attribution)
Chapter 16 cannot be reused commercially and cannot be altered, transformed or built upon.
ISBN: 978-1-894975-29-2
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Chapter Abstracts / v
Introduction / 1
Part 1: The Impact of Instructional Technologies / 3
Emerging Technologies in E-learning / 5
Patricia Delich, Kevin Kelly, and Don McIntosh
Virtual Design Studios: Solving Learning Problems in Developing Countries / 23
Kris Kumar
Challenges Confronted and Lessons (Un)Learned: Linking Students from the University of Ghana and
Kwantlen University College / 31
Charles Quist-Adade
Addressing Diversity in Design of Online Courses / 41
Madhumita Bhattacharya and Maggie Hartnett
Mobile Learning in Developing Countries: Present Realities and Future Possibilities / 51
Ken Banks
The Impact of Technology on Education / 57
Mohamed Ally
Part 2: Preparing Online Courses / 67
Learning Management Systems / 69
Don McIntosh
Exploring Open Source for Educators: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore – Entering OS / 95
Julia Hengstler
Quality Assurance by Design / 111
Niki Lambropoulos
General Principles of Instructional Design / 131
Peter Fenrich
Accessibility and Universal Design / 143
Natasha Boskic, Kirsten Starcher, Kevin Kelly, and Nathan Hapke
Articulation and Transfer of Online Courses / 181
Finola Finlay
Planning Your Online Course / 191
June Kaminski and Sylvia Currie
Assessment and Evaluation / 213
Dan O’Reilly and Kevin Kelly
Education for a Digital World
Part 3: Implementing Technology / 245
Understanding Copyright: Knowing Your Rights and Knowing When You’re Right / 247
Dan McGuire
‘Open Licences’ of Copyright for Authors, Educators, and Librarians / 255
Julien Hofman and Paul West
E-learning Standards / 267
Randy LaBonte
Leadership and E-learning: Change Processes for Implementing Educational Technologies / 277
Randy LaBonte
Building Communities of Practice / 287
Shawn Berney
Part 4: E-learning in Action / 307
Instructional Strategies / 309
Peter Fenrich
Media Selection / 321
Peter Fenrich
Computer-Based Resources for Learning / 341
Peter Fenrich
Computer-Based Games for Learning / 353
Alice Ireland and David Kaufman
Evaluating and Improving Your Online Teaching Effectiveness / 365
Kevin Kelly
Part 5: Engagement and Communication / 379
Tools for Online Engagement and Communication / 381
Richard S. Lavin, Paul A. Beaufait, and Joseph Tomei
Techno Expression / 413
Kevin Kelly and Ruth Cox
Social Media for Adult Online Learners and Educators / 429
Moira Hunter
Online Collaboration: An Overview / 441
Paul A. Beaufait, Richard S. Lavin, and Joseph Tomei
Identity in Online Education / 461
Joseph Tomei, Paul A. Beaufait, and Richard S. Lavin
Supporting E-learning through Communities of Practice / 475
David Kaufman, Kevin Kelly, and Alice Ireland
Looking Forward: Stories of Practice / 489
Susan Crichton and Elizabeth Childs
Contributors / 503
Education for a Digital World
Chapter Abstracts
Part 1: The Impact of
Instructional Technologies
Dr. Charles Quist-Adade
Dr. Patricia Delich, Kevin Kelly, and Dr. Don McIntosh
Emerging technologies can have a far-reaching effect on
how teachers teach and learners learn. The ability to
harness these technologies in the design of online classrooms can impact the engagement of teaching and
learning by creating more options for learners to connect with course content as well as to other learners.
This chapter identifies several emerging technologies,
describes how they will impact education, and explores
the challenges that could arise due to the nature of current technology adoption models in education.
Dr. Kris Kumar
Emerging technologies are moving the leading economies forward and, at the same time, enabling the developing world to leapfrog from their current status
straight into the forefront of development. If they do not
catch up with fast-growing potential technologies, the
digital divide may leave them further behind than ever
before! This chapter highlights the important role upcoming instructional technologies can play in Africa,
Asia and elsewhere through the innovative use of Internet, Podcasting, Skype communications and desktop
audio and videoconferencing. Studios for product design and architectural design need to be more than
normal classrooms; they must provide design and
drawing and modelling infrastructure, pin-up boards,
and an inspirational environment. Connected global
digital design studios can provide the digital equivalent
of traditional studios, thus enabling global interactive
and collaborative design more easily and accessibly. This
chapter concludes with further thoughts on newer instructional technologies.
While Canadian communications scholar Marshall
McLuhan put us all in a “global village,” the benefits of
the village appear to elude a sizeable number of the villagers as the digital divide between the technology-haves
and technology-have-nots grows ever wider and wider.
Knowledge and ideas flow in a uni-directional, Northto-South (from the Global North to the Global South)
fashion, with little going in the opposite direction. A
lopsided flow of knowledge, values and ideas creates an
atmosphere of mutual suspicion and recrimination, with
some of the villagers complaining of “cultural imperialism” and others fending off such charges by saying they
are only promoting the ideas of “democracy.” But for
the cultures of the “global village” to flourish in a tolerant, mutually beneficial fashion, it is imperative that
there be real sharing of ideas, knowledge, and values.
There is no better forum to address the ever-increasing
need for mutual understanding and mutual respect
across cultures and national borders than via collaborative learning. The British Columbia–Ghana Online
Collaborative Learning Project (BCGOCLP) did just
Dr. Madhumita Bhattacharya and Maggie Hartnett
The move towards globalization of education will be
successful only if we can find the ways and strategies
where people could collaborate and integrate to bring
“Unity in Diversity”, which is of utmost importance for
world peace, sustainability of our rich cultures and progress together towards a better future. To address the
emerging challenges and issues towards globalization of
education we need instructional systems and supporting
technologies which will give considerations to learner
characteristics, dynamics of interactions and pedagogical principles for effective learning in a global context. It
is not only diversity among people but also tools, tech-
Education for a Digital World
Chapter Abstracts
nologies and strategies which are constantly changing.
This chapter will include the possible ways of instructional and interaction design, modes of delivery and
approaches to assessment, giving consideration to differences among the learners. This chapter will discuss
guiding principles to address diversity in a constructive
way through analysis of the impact of learning activity
systems on the learning process.
Ken Banks
This chapter talks about how mobile phones are being
used today, in a rather restricted technical space, in mobile learning initiatives in places like Africa, and then
looks at what will become possible as new and higherend phones work their way into these markets.
Dr. Mohamed Ally
This chapter provides a brief history of technology in
education, outlines the benefits of using emerging technologies in e-learning, provides design guidelines for
developing learning materials, describes the support
required for these technologies, and discusses future
trends in e-learning.
Part 2: Preparing Online Courses
Dr. Don McIntosh, with contributions from Kevin Kelly
and Randy LaBonte
The Learning Management Systems chapter is a nontechnical look at the features and capabilities of learning
management systems for both corporate training and
formal education use. It considers open-source systems
as an alternative to commercial proprietary ones. It discusses the processes of needs analysis, selection, and
implementation of the systems choices. Case studies are
provided for illustration. It also describes technical and
development standards and associated software such as
course development/authoring tools, Learning Content
Management Systems and virtual classroom tools.
Education for a Digital World
Julia Hengstler
This chapter presents an overview of open source and
free software with reference to programs of interest to
educators. It distinguishes between the Free Software
and Open Source Movements, describes why these types
of software should be of particular interest to educators,
highlights the importance of the General Public Licence,
summarizes key challenges to adoption of freely sourced
software, reviews common misperceptions about this
software and provides a methodological framework for
the potential adoption of such software. Citations include personal communications from Free Software
Movement founder, Richard M. Stallman.
Niki Lambropoulos
A shift from the Industrial Age to the Information and
Collaboration Age is evident in the changes in our lives.
E-learning has become accessible to a wider population,
providing flexible ways to learn, but it has not reached
its potential. This chapter insists upon the importance of
ensuring quality in the early stages of e-learning design.
The design process must acknowledge the dual persona
of the e-learner, as a learner and as a user of a system.
This ongoing process is based on three pillars: the identification of a pedagogical focus or an existing problem;
the integration of the design phases (analysis, design,
development and use) unified by real-time evaluation;
and awareness of the importance attached to e-learning
communities in order to enhance collaborative learning,
imagination, and co-creativity. Such a process provides
information and feedback for proactive decision-making
to support all participants in e-learning. Quality assurance by design helps e-learning to evolve and meet the
requirements of the 21st century.
Peter Fenrich
This chapter describes the instructional design process
which is defined as a systematic, repetitive process of
activities aimed at creating a solution for an instructional problem. It provides details and practical guidelines for completing the process. The instructional
design process entails conducting a needs assessment,
goal analysis, subordinate skills analysis, and learner
analysis. This process also entails writing complete
learning outcomes at the highest appropriate level based
Chapter Abstracts
on a revised Bloom’s taxonomy. The learner will ultimately be able to apply the skills learned in creating
effective courses. This content will remain valid in the
future in that the instructional design process is based
on solid principles supported by years of research.
Natasha Boskic, Kirsten Starcher, Kevin Kelly, and
Nathan Hapke
Great efforts have been made to give every student equal
access to high-quality learning and to remove barriers
for people with disabilities. However, most of these efforts are focused on the traditional, face-to-face classroom experience. Less attention is devoted to those
taking courses fully online and their ability or inability
to cope with web-based interactive content. While standards and guidelines have been developed to support
and assist with accessible web design, their primary focus has been on technical specifications, assistive technologies, or legal issues. Fewer studies have been
conducted to investigate how that “accessible” content is
perceived from a learner’s perspective and how helpful it
really is. As distance learning adapts to new technology,
instructors should be innovative in their relationship
with students and in methods for developing educational content, accommodating the diverse needs and
learning styles which will be beneficial for all, regardless
of their (dis)abilities.
and few provide evaluators at receiving institutions the
tools they need to make confident decisions. This chapter aims to fill that gap.
June Kaminski and Sylvia Currie
Where does the process of planning a course begin?
Where does it end? What does a course plan look like,
and how does it differ from a course design? This chapter provides an overview of the broad considerations in
preparing an online course plan. A plan is a starting
point for moving forward with the design, implementation, and evaluation of an online course.
Who will you work with to design the course?
Who will take the course and why?
What do we know about the learners?
How do instructor styles factor into the planning?
What are the main components of the course?
How will the course be organized?
Even the most open-ended learning activities begin
with a plan. However, a plan will and should be refined
and adjusted during implementation. In this sense a
plan evolves, but it continues to provide a sidebar of
sorts, or something to guide the decisions about the
design work that needs be carried out. A plan can be
both an ongoing reality check and a way to focus on
important elements of course design.
Finola Finlay
Dan O’Reilly and Kevin Kelly
Students are increasingly mobile, moving between postsecondary institutions and carrying their accumulated
credits with them. They expect that they will receive
appropriate transfer credit for relevant courses they have
taken and be able to apply that credit to fulfill program
requirements in the institutions they attend. Online
learning has had a significant impact on mobility and
transfer: students can and do access high-quality courses
from all over the world. However, this virtual mobility
creates challenges for post-secondary institutions. The
articulation agreements used by institutions and systems
to generate and record transfer credit arrangements
have traditionally been negotiated locally and have concerned the assessment of courses offered in the familiar
face-to-face classroom environment. Few resources exist
that will assist practitioners at sending institutions to
ensure the successful articulation of their online courses,
This chapter reviews some of the basic issues of evaluation and assessment relevant to both online testing and
authentic assessment techniques. While WebCT version
4.1 is the primary example, the information can be applied to most online platforms used in a lab setting.
The chapter begins by detailing some of the more
important security issues for online testing, ones that
generally are not covered in most reference material. It
looks in detail at some third-party software, namely
NetSupport and Excel, for managing computer labs.
NetSupport provides a means of monitoring every computer in a lab from one workstation. Excel, through its
web query function, provides a means of collecting data
from any page in WebCT in order to monitor activity on
that page. Detailed examples are provided for both
packages. The quiz settings relevant to monitoring a
WebCT quiz in a computer lab are discussed in detail.
Education for a Digital World
Chapter Abstracts
Here, the discussion focuses on WebCT 4.1 and a computer lab environment. The chapter ends by describing
other ways to evaluate student performance, such as
using rubrics and peer review to evaluate writing assignments submitted electronically, or asking students
to submit items within an electronic portfolio.
Part 3: Implementing
Dan McGuire
This chapter features an explanation of the ethical and
legal requirements that must be met before using copyright material in your online course.
locomotive to lay the groundwork for the industrial
economy, and in much the same way in today’s information age the Internet was born from the standardization of TCP/IP, HTTP, and HTML protocols for the
World Wide Web. The historical emergence of standards for railway track gauge, as well as telephones,
videotape/DVD formats, and HTML, typically started
with proprietary technology that did not integrate with
other technologies. End-users and consumers of the
technology demanded changes that led to interoperability,
enabling several products designed to serve common
needs to coexist. This convergence of technologies provides the groundwork for the development and description of standards that provide end-users with assurance
of longevity and consistency. Given the initial costs for
developing e-learning programs, establishment of standards for e-learning is driven by similar demand for
consistency and longevity of use by the end user.
Dr. Randy LaBonte
Julien Hofman and Paul West
An open licence, as defined in this chapter, is a licence
granted by someone who holds copyright in material,
allowing anyone to use the material subject to the conditions in the licence but without having to pay a royalty
or licence fee.
There are many different open licences, some for
computer software and some for other forms of material. Each has its own terms, conditions and vocabulary.
This chapter is an introduction to open licence language
and to the open licences that are important for authors
and educators. It is not legal advice. Individuals or institutions thinking of committing themselves to open
licensing should get professional legal advice about the
implications of the licences they are considering using.
Dr. Randy LaBonte
Standards exist for many things, from safety standards
in the home for construction and manufactured goods
to standards of practice for professionals. The systemic
implementation of new technologies and delivery of
online courses requires adoption of standards and
specifications in both the development of e-learning
content and its delivery through e-learning technologies.
Standardizing the gauge of a railroad track enabled the
Education for a Digital World
It is one thing to have innovative technology and preach
about its ability to transform and revolutionize learning;
it is another to actually make this happen within traditional, structured education and training environments.
Sound leadership and change management skills are key
to implementing the use of new educational technologies to
support e-learning programs and foster transformation.
While leadership, reform and change management have
been well studied and documented in the literature, little
has been written about the role leaders play in the success or failure of e-learning program design, development and implementation. Traditional theoretical and
practical constructs do not adequately reflect emerging
e-learning environments, yet one theory, transformational leadership theory, does provide insight into fundamental assumptions about change, control, order,
organizations, people and leadership in e-learning program
implementation. Promising research affirms the critical
role of leadership in systemic change for e-learning design, development and delivery, and confirms that without a clear vision combined with collaborative
leadership organizations could end up committing precious resources to the development and deployment of
courses for e-learning without much success.
Chapter Abstracts
Shawn Berney
This chapter focuses on the development of collaborative technologies that underpin a community of practice. The bottom-up approach provides the foundation
for greater understanding of these emerging collaborative spaces. Concepts that underpin online engagement
and evolving digital communication standards are addressed. These concepts provide the basis for examining
operational and social processes, including administrative and technological frameworks, as well as leadership
techniques. Modelling techniques are then described to
show how to integrate foundational concepts with social
and operational processes. These modelling techniques
encourage interdisciplinary communication and broad
engagement in community planning and development.
Part 4: E-learning in Action
jects. The chapter explains how each medium relates to
learning and describes how media can affect a learner’s
motivation. The strengths and weaknesses of each medium are presented with respect to the different learning
outcome classifications, as previously discussed in
Chapter 10, General Principles of Instructional Design.
This chapter also provides ideas on how to keep the
message clear.
Peter Fenrich
This chapter focuses on the viability of virtually teaching
lab, shop, and other practical skills. Topics include how
educational technology may support learners, problems
with “live” labs, instructional design, controlling real
equipment, and how lab tests can be handled, as well as
some thoughts on articulation and the future of online
labs. The instructional design topic will address learning
outcomes that focus on important skills, content areas
that will be stronger or weaker than traditional labs, and
strategies for effectively teaching lab skills online.
Peter Fenrich
An instructional strategy describes the components and
procedures used with instructional materials to have the
students achieve the learning outcomes.
This chapter first introduces instructional strategies
and discusses strategies for verbal information, intellectual skills, psychomotor skills, and attitudes. The
chapter then describes how to sequence learning outcomes and then how to motivate learners in online
courses. Instructional events, the foundation for course
design, are then presented. After this a variety of instructional strategies are discussed that can support
learners beyond the more common online strategies that
are described in other parts of this book. The chapter
closes with some comments on developing and selecting
instructional materials.
Dr. Alice Ireland and Dr. David Kaufman
This chapter gives you a broad introduction to the use of
computer-based games for learning. We start with basic
terms and move on to look at why these activities can be
powerful learning tools, drawing on current learning
theory, game research, and recent experience. After presenting examples to spark your own learning-game
ideas, we discuss factors that make learning games effective. The chapter closes with tips for successfully getting started using games in your learning context.
Kevin Kelly
Peter Fenrich
A major part of the instructional design process is selecting the appropriate media mix to effectively teach
the learning outcome(s). Selecting the best media mix
can increase learning and maximize cost-effectiveness.
Some concepts are extremely difficult to teach without
the correct media mix.
This chapter introduces the different media categories: text, audio, visuals, video, animations, and real ob-
“Teaching effectiveness” is a broad term used to describe
an instructor’s ability to impact student success. It is
usually defined according to several factors, such as how
well an instructor organizes a course that contains relevant material, how well he or she knows the course material, how clearly he or she communicates with
students, how frequently he or she provides timely feedback, and other such criteria. In classroom situations,
effectiveness definitions sometimes include the instructor’s enthusiasm or disposition. During fully online and
Education for a Digital World
Chapter Abstracts
blended learning courses, students often need greater
amounts of structure and support to succeed because
online course activities usually require students to take
greater responsibility for their own learning success.
Therefore, many of the criteria mentioned above take on
even more importance when evaluating online teaching
Part 5: Engagement and
Richard S. Lavin, Paul A. Beaufait, and Joseph Tomei,
with contribution from David Brear
This chapter combines two sections on relatively new
technologies, blogs and wikis, with a third on digital
storytelling, to introduce the possibilities of creating sets
of many-to-many relations within and between classes,
and to encourage educators to take up blogs, wikis, and
digital storytelling in their classrooms as a way of returning to a state of “beginner’s mind”. These tools are
not only powerful in and of themselves, but may have an
even greater potential when used together. The first
section on blogs argues that they may be the best allround tool for computer-mediated communication
(CMC), allowing learners and educators alike to build
their online identities in a semi-enclosed space from
which they can venture out on their own terms to engage with others. The following section on wikis points
to possibilities of using these powerful tools for collaboration, suggesting that in many cases wikis work better
when learners and educators already have a solid foundation in blogging. This section outlines work that attempts to merge the functions of blogs and wikis, and
highlights issues associated with usability and flow. The
third section takes up digital storytelling, to walk educators through the process of planning and creating
their own stories, and to prepare them to teach their
students how to do the same. The process of assembling
various media and pieces of information into a story
encourages deep learner engagement, and can be a wonderfully effective way to master curricular content, while
helping to encourage development of computer literacy.
Blogs, wikis, and digital media are but a narrow selection of the tools for online engagement, but we feel they
cast a wide enough net to familiarize readers with some
of the options that now exist.
Education for a Digital World
Kevin Kelly and Dr. Ruth Cox
This chapter lays a foundation for online teachers to
recognize K–12 and postsecondary students’ needs to
express their ideas and viewpoints, both within and outside the context of their coursework. There is a human
at the other end of each web page, discussion thread,
chat entry, blog, or wiki contribution. We outline specific strategies to create a safe environment for techno
expression, and offer specific examples of how educators
can model and encourage this expression through various technological means. We also describe various tools
that instructors can use to facilitate the process. This
chapter complements Chapters 25, 26, and 27 related to
instructor and student engagement by looking at course
design, effective online practices, and technological tools
that give students opportunities to express themselves.
Moira Hunter
Social media allows working adult learners to be connected, and encourages them to use all four language
skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking.
The cluster of technologies in one support does not
overload the learner in their immediate need to learn
what they need and to access their learning environment
at any time, and anywhere.
The online environment engages the learners in discussion, collaboration, exploration, production, discovery and creation.
Adult learners have the choice to create and develop
their own personal learning environment.
Paul A. Beaufait, Richard S. Lavin, and Joseph Tomei
In this chapter we explore the notion of collaborative
learning from theoretical as well as practical perspectives. Our first step is to distinguish collaborative from
cooperative learning, because much so-called collaborative learning, although collective and often cooperative,
is not necessarily collaborative. We attempt to clarify
what we may be failing to do when attempting to foster
collaboration, prior to formulating clearer ideas of what
else is possible, and what is transferable to online learning and working environments. With rapid development and expansion of technological infrastructures,
possibilities for harnessing technology to enable collabo-
Chapter Abstracts
ration are expanding. Yet, as we move to take advantage
of these possibilities, we encounter new challenges and
discover unexpected complexities in fostering collaborative endeavours online. The chapter concludes with
stories and reflections representing online educational
collaboration from learners’ and educators’ perspectives.
Joseph Tomei, Paul A. Beaufait, and Richard S. Lavin,
with contributions from Tod Anderson, Kathryn Chang
Barker, Karen Barnstable, and Lynn Kirkland Harvey
In this chapter we suggest that identity is the base from
which learners’ engagement with content, as well as
communication with others, begins. As students establish their identities, they have to negotiate and engage
with other students, and in online courses channels for
negotiation and engagement are necessarily different
from those in traditional classrooms. The power of online classrooms arises not simply out of their time- and
space-shifting potentials, but also from the potential for
diverse sets of many-to-many relationships as students
engage with each other. Many of the lessons that we aim
to teach students are not simply to do with mastering
course content, but also involve understandings of issues
involved in working with others and collaborating towards shared goals. Deliberate appraisals of learners’
identities in online environments can help us realize
these aims. This position is supported by Tod Anderson’s summary of secondary student participation in
online learning, which provides a snapshot for technological understanding from a locale that might represent
a best-case scenario—or at least a fairly advanced one—
in which the technologies in use have to a large extent
been adopted from higher education. We note that secondary schools face many of the same issues that tertiary
and adult educators began grappling with years ago and
continue to face today. These observations provide a
springboard into a wide-ranging discussion of online
learners’ identities, underscoring the necessity for considering learners’ identities from the very beginning of
online work, rather than just as a concern of secondary
and tertiary educators. The chapter concludes with a
concrete example of identity construction and a possible
end point to online education in the form of Kathryn
Chang Barker and Karen Barnstable’s discussion of eportfolios.
Dr. David Kaufman, Kevin Kelly, and Dr. Alice Ireland
This chapter examines the theoretical and practical aspects of community of practice (CoP). It presents a
practical guide to developing and maintaining your own
CoP. It also provides an overview of the conceptual
foundations of CoPs. Case studies throughout the
chapter describe the conception, growth, challenges and
triumphs of several CoPs in action.
Dr. Susan Crichton and Dr. Elizabeth Childs
Much of the contemporary literature about online
and/or blended learning casts it as innovative, and talk
abounds about leading edge technologies supporting
teaching and learning opportunities for K–12 education,
post-secondary education, and corporate training. Typically, both are about flexible access and increased
learning opportunities.
In the K–12 or post-secondary educational environment, these learning options enable students to complete work that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.
Initially, this audience included students with an extended illness or disability who were now able to complete course work that otherwise they would miss or be
required to take again. It also included rural students
who were unable to have access to courses required for
post-secondary entrance. Increasingly, this audience has
expanded to include any student who is working towards their personal learning goals and needs access to
courses and/or content at their pace and in their timeframe.
Education for a Digital World
Enlisting the practice-based knowledge of educators to
address the aspirations and goals of today’s informationsavvy students is surely a key to providing enriching
experiences using learning technologies.
Faculty, instructors, staff, administrators, policy makers and governance bodies have their own unique perspectives on the role of learning technologies within
higher education and each has a sense of what would
constitute an enriching experience. That experience
might include highly flexible and engaging course offerings, convivial tools for instructors, more learners for
academic departments, increased recognition and reputation for an institution, more mobility for learners between programs and across institutions—items with
specific success indicators, depending on viewpoint.
But despite the proliferation of information and
communication technologies (ICTs) within the higher
education sector, ICT use in higher education may not
yet have made as significant an impact on the fundamentals of teaching and learning nor revolutionized
classroom practice as predicted, according to a report on
tertiary education from the Organisation for Economic
Cooperation and Development (OECD, 2005).1 Instead,
the report pointed to administrative services such as
admissions, registration, fee payment, and purchasing as
areas of measurable ICT impact. ICT use may have
changed the nature of the learning experience for many
learners, providing convenient access to information
resources from libraries and online databases, and it may
have relaxed the time, space, and distance constraints of
education. But the fundamentals of how higher education institutions teach or the ways that learners learn has
remained largely unchanged—until now.
How do we currently approach the enrichment of
teaching and learning using ICTs? Are there emergent
models of practice arising from educator experiences
that may apply broadly to ICT applications for teaching
and learning? Are there best practices with learning
technologies emerging from particular institutions or
jurisdictions that could have wider application across
OECD (2005). E-learning in tertiary education: where do we
stand? Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Paris.
the higher education sector? How has the proliferation
of ICTs, and particularly mobile technologies, been incorporated by educators into their practice in diverse
communities around the globe?
This book addresses these questions. It was collaboratively developed and edited by experienced practitioners in the higher education sector. It is the output of
ongoing discussions among practitioners who participated in an online community of interest that stimulated
dialog among and between interest groups that shared a
common vision of providing best practice knowledge for
the benefit of their peers. This is a book that had its
roots in the organic discussions of practitioners and
became a larger work through their collective intention
to disseminate their knowledge more broadly.
The book addresses issues of learning technology use
in five sections that deal with:
The impact of instructional technologies
Creating online course
Implementing technology
E-learning in action
Engagement and communication
In Part 1, the book provides a view of the many ways
in which information technologies can be configured to
suit the diverse range of situations in which learning can
take place, including descriptions of emergent approaches such as those afforded by social networking
technologies and collaboration tools. Part 1 also flags
issues of diversity, as well as the challenges and opportunities for ICT use in the developing world.
In Part 2, the book provides insights into key design
issues in the creation of online courses, including matters of instructional design, assessment and evaluation,
diversity, accessibility, quality assurance, and the impacts associated with making technological choices in an
instructional context.
In Part 3, the book explores issues of leadership and
change management with chapters that discuss copyright and licensing, the implementation of learning
management systems, the use of emerging open source
tools and open educational resources, and the development and maintenance of standards of practice. It em-
Education for a Digital World
phasizes the building of communities of practice as a
means of sustaining innovation in the context of a dynamically evolving instructional ecosystem.
From the action perspective, in Part 4 the book provides chapters on instructional strategies, selection of
media, the use of games, and the evaluation and improvement of instructional practices.
In Part 5, the book deals with the tools for engagement and communication and their use as a means for
expression, as well as for giving voice to learner identities and communicating their stories. The authors discuss the power of communities of practice as a tool for
sustaining change and maintaining colleague support as
we look forward to what may be next on the learning
technologies horizon.
In a paper describing the creation of a national
e-learning strategy for New Zealand, Higgins (2002)
described the “way forward” as a learner-centred approach that encompassed the complete range of interactions between learners and the higher education system.
“E-learning can deliver many benefits, but only if
learner-centred opportunities are developed that ensure
it is an effective educational tool. This means giving
learners much greater choice in how their learning is
delivered, enabling them to interact easily with teachers
and access appropriate levels of administrative, educational, and technical support. It means designing our
systems in ways that best fit the circumstances and
needs of our learners.”2
What Higgins was describing was the need for a
technological approach to the issues of access, choice,
Higgins, A. (2002). Creating a National E-Learning Strategy
in the Open Learning Environment: A New Zealand Case Study.
Distance Education Association of New Zealand. Available:
Education for a Digital World
flexibility, and mobility within the higher education
system using ICTs and learning technologies that can
enhance the functional aspects of the entire higher education ecosystem. It is from an ecological perspective
that the authors of this work present emerging practitioner knowledge for enriching learning and teaching
using learning technologies. In this book, the authors
have described and evaluated instructional approaches
that draw upon technological innovations with the
power to change teaching and learning practices in
positive and transformative ways.
From the perspectives outlined in this book there is a
wealth of available practitioner knowledge on the use of
learning technologies that requires additional dissemination. This book is one potential creative outlet. And,
as the authors have demonstrated through their approach to disseminating their work online, the power of
ICTs may only now be emerging in the hands of practitioners who actively dialogue with their peers on relevant issues as a means to elevate the use of learning
technologies to a transformative plane in the higher
education sector.
David Porter
Vancouver, BC, Canada
[email protected]
Part 1:
The Impact of Instructional
Emerging Technologies
in E-learning
Patricia Delich, Kevin Kelly, and Don McIntosh
Creativity is an important part of modern teaching and learning. It makes sense to take
students’ ideas and upgrade them using emerging twenty-first century technology. – Scott
Education for a Digital World
1 – Emerging Technologies in E-learning
Learning outcomes
After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
• Identify several different emerging technologies.
• Incorporate emerging technologies in teaching and
learning activities to engage learners.
• Explain how emerging technologies will affect education, and vice versa.
• Identify the challenges organizations face in adopting
emerging technologies.
As the capacity of the Internet evolves and expands, the
potential for online teaching and learning also evolves
and expands. The increasing number of new technology
tools and expanding bandwidth are changing all facets
of online activity, including e-learning. As technologies
become more sophisticated and as they begin to converge
(for example, cell phones becoming multimedia-capable
and Internet-connected), educators will have more options for creating innovative practices in education.
The shift occurring in the Web from a static content
environment where end users are the recipients of information—defined as Web 1.0—to one where they are
active content creators—defined as Web 2.0—can be
described as a transition to a more distributed, participatory, and collaborative environment (Wikipedia,
2005). Web 2.0 is considered to be a platform where
“knowledge-working is no longer thought of as the
gathering and accumulation of facts, but rather, the
riding of waves in a dynamic environment” (Downes,
2005, para. 14). Web 2.0 is defined not only by technologies such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, vodcasts, RSS
feeds, and Google Maps, but also by the social networking that it enables. As these communication-enabling
technologies conjoin text, voice, and video using CoIP
(communications over Internet protocol), they will provide a seamless integration with cell phones, personal
digital assistants (PDAs), and computers (Yarlagadda,
2005). Web 2.0 technologies can bring people together
in ways Web 1.0 did not.
At the beginning of any technological change, several
definitions often encompass a new concept. This is also
true with Web 2.0. In an interview with Ryan Singel
(2005), Ross Mayfield, CEO of a company that creates
wiki software, offered this simple definition: “Web 1.0
was commerce. Web 2.0 is people” (Singel, 2005, para.
6). Tim O’Reilly, who wrote one of the seminal articles
on Web 2.0, saw it as an “architecture of participation”
Education for a Digital World
(O’Reilly, 2005, para. 26) and “not something new, but
rather a fuller realization of the true potential of the web
platform” (para. 88). Web 2.0 is centred on communication—the ability to interconnect with content, ideas,
and with those who create them. Social networking is a
key phrase for Web 2.0. The Web 2.0 framework sets the
stage for a student-centred collaborative learning environment. Using existing communication tools in a way
that encourages collaboration can be a step in the direction of incorporating the spirit of Web 2.0 philosophies
in online learning environments.
A parallel can be drawn between the shift from Web
1.0 to Web 2.0 and the shift many instructors are making in online learning from an instructor-centred (Web
1.0) approach to a student-centred (Web 2.0) approach
where students have more control over their learning.
The effects of Web 2.0 may influence how online courses
are conceptualized, developed, and taught. The use of
Web 2.0 technologies and philosophies in education and
training are sometimes referred to as “e-learning 2.0”
(Cross, 2005; Downes, 2005; Wilson, 2005).
Currently, Web 2.0 technologies are just beginning to
affect online teaching and learning. As the Web becomes
more interactive, instructors will want to incorporate
these technologies effectively. It is likely that Web 2.0
technologies will affect student-to-student communications in project-based learning, as it will affect ways in
which instructors conceptualize, develop, and teach their
courses. Incorporating Web 2.0 technologies and philosophies can make courses more student-centred.
Web 2.0 technology emphasizes social networking.
Online learning environments can be used for enhanced
communication among students, as well as between
students and the instructor. Creating learning opportunities that harness the power of Web 2.0 technologies
for collaborative learning, distributed knowledge sharing, and the creation of media-rich learning objects can
further the scope of what students can learn by “placing
… the control of learning itself into the hands of the
learner” (Downes, 2005, para. 12). These tools provide an
avenue for students to spend more time on task, from
sharing ideas and their understanding of the course
content to collaborating in creating artifacts that represent
their learning, whether in a traditional or an online classroom.
A few ways Web 2.0 technologies can support project-based learning include: blogs for journaling assignments, wikis for creating content in collaborative group
projects, podcasts for audio-based assignments, vodcasts
for video-based assignments, and RSS feeds for syndication. The creativity and remixing of technologies is an
exciting new direction for both instructors and students.
1 – Emerging Technologies in E-learning
Several chapters in this book address these ideas in
greater detail.
Creating online courses in which students construct
their own meaning with hands-on activities may radically change how teaching and learning is designed.
Delivering an online course with content created by
either a publisher or an instructor alone is no longer
considered an effective strategy. Students working in
environments that shift learning to knowledge construction rather than by assimilating what the instructor
delivers will create courses that “resemble a language or
conversation rather than a book or manual” (Downes,
2005, para. 32).
Web 2.0 technologies and their use in teaching and
learning are currently in a nascent state. Further research on the adoption and use of Web 2.0 technologies,
and their effects on teacher philosophies with respect to
teaching and learning, will deepen our understanding of
how to use these technologies to design courses that
engage and retain students.
Defining today’s emerging
For some instructors, integrating technology into their
teaching can be an overwhelming task. Adding the word
“emerging” can make these technologies seem impractical, unnatural, or counter-intuitive, as well as implying
hat the technology is transient. Although technology is
constantly changing, using it for instructional goals can
make a difference in a successful adoption and implementation.
As the authors of this chapter, we firmly believe in the
use of technology for teaching and learning purposes. In
this section, we will describe several currently emerging
technologies. Johnson (2006) provides a list of emerging
technology links on his website. Using his list as a base,
we provide definitions, as well as examples of how these
technologies can be used in teaching and learning. The
list below is not in any particular order.
Digital storytelling
Storytelling is one of the oldest teaching methods. By
using digital video cameras and software such as iMovie,
almost anyone can extend a story’s reach to a much
wider audience. In education, instructors can ask students to create digital stories to demonstrate knowledge
of a topic. Websites such as the Center for Digital Storytelling emphasize that the technology is “always secondary to the storytelling” (Banaszewski, 2002, para.
18). See Chapter 25, Tools for Online Engagement and
Communication, for more information on digital storytelling.
Online meetings
Synchronous meetings of online classes can be facilitated by the use of web conferencing/virtual classroom
tools such as WebEx, Wimba, Elluminate, Skype, Microsoft Live Meeting, Adobe Breeze, Centra, and Interwise.
These technologies add presentation and group interaction tools. Most of them provide both voice and text
chat functionality. Their synchronous nature appeals to
many people and complements other asynchronous
activities. Huge savings in travel costs can be realized by
conducting meetings over the Internet. For a geographically
widespread class or working group, occasional online
meetings can help to keep people on track and provide a
valuable opportunity for synchronous discussions.
Communities of practice
Much of social computing revolves around the formation of communities of practice, which are groups with
a common interest. With technologies that ease the
sharing of experiences, information, and resources,
whether across the hall or around the world, many
communities of practice are developing spontaneously,
or are intentionally created by an individual or organization to meet a specific purpose. Communities of practice use social computing tools and often form as a result
of the availability of the tool. They can contribute greatly
to the dissemination of knowledge and skills within an
organization, as when, for example, the group serves as
mentor to a new member.
Communities of practice are not a technology, but
rather a learning theory that can make use of many of
the emerging technologies available today. For more
information on communities of practice, see Chapter 30,
Supporting Learning Through Communities of Practice.
Personal broadcasting
Personal broadcasting tools include: blogs (web logs),
moblogs (mobile blogs), vlogs (video blogs), podcasts,
vodcasts (video podcasts), and RSS feeds with uploaded
images from cell phones. Instructors can use these technologies to bring diverse elements into a course to assist
in meeting a variety of learning styles. These technologies can also be used for updating students on current
activities and projects.
Podcasting and videoblogs can assist learners whose
learning style is primarily auditory. Some uses include
recording lectures for students to review, providing
more clarity for difficult concepts, and supplementing
Education for a Digital World
1 – Emerging Technologies in E-learning
lecture information such as, for example, guest lectures
and interviews.
RSS feeds allow students to selectively download updates from targeted sources, personalizing the information and news they want to receive. Tools such as
Suprglu allow multiple RSS feeds on one Web page.
Stead, Sharpe, Anderson, Cych & Philpott (2006) suggest the following learning ideas for Suprglu:
• Aggregate all of a student’s production in one page.
• Bring a range of different search feeds together for
easy viewing.
• Create a class site that aggregates whatever content
feeds you are providing for students.
• Create a collaborative project site.
• Bring teacher lesson plans or ideas together on one
page (p. 37).
Personal broadcasting technologies give students an
opportunity to participate in the creative construction of
knowledge and project-related work. People can share
their broadcasts on their own websites or through sites
that specialize in specific types of broadcasting, such as for blogs or for vlogs.
YouTube’s tagline captures the essence of personal
broadcasting: “Broadcast Yourself.”
Wikis are a type of website that allows visitors to easily
add, remove, and otherwise edit the content. This ease
of interaction makes wikis an effective tool for
collaborative authoring. In a short time Wikipedia
(Wikipedia, 2006d) has become a primary reference tool
for many students, though by the readily editable nature
of its information, it cannot be considered authoritative.
Wikis can be useful as a tool for students to build their
own knowledge base on specific topics and for sharing,
comparing, and consolidating that knowledge.
Educational gaming
Despite the vast interest in video and computer games,
the educational game market still has a long way to go.
Many people have heard of Warcraft, a strategy game,
and Halo, a battlefield simulation game, but how many
people have heard of Millie’s Math House, a learning
game? However, as Web 2.0 puts more power in the
hands of mere mortals, teachers will start making better
learning games than the commercial game producers.
These games will also take advantage of new technologies. For example, low-cost virtual reality gloves give
middle school students the ability to play “Virtual Operation.” John Shaffer (2002) describes a variety of edu-
Education for a Digital World
cational learning experiences that virtual reality could
present to middle school, high school and even college
Several renowned organizations have turned to educational games to attract young people to their disciplines or movements. The Nobel Foundation uses
educational games on its website to teach different
prize-winning concepts in the areas of chemistry, physics, medicine, literature, economics, and world peace.
The Federation of American Scientists has created engaging games that ask players to discover Babylon as
archaeologists and to fight off attacks as part of the human immune system. Instructors do not have to be
game designers to incorporate existing educational
games into their curriculum. They may want to play the
games first, both to make sure they address course concepts and to have fun!
Massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs)
Interacting online within the same game environment,
hundreds, if not thousands of people gather together to
play in MMOGs. In Worlds of Warcraft, one popular
game, players can choose roles as a human, elf, orc, or
other creature that works with others to accomplish
goals. In the future, students will choose whether they
will play as red blood cells, white blood cells, viruses, or
anti-viral drugs to learn how viruses affect the body, and
how to stop them. Currently, gamers seek treasures to
score points and gain levels in an MMOG called Everquest. In the future, students will use MMOGs in an
online environment depicting the historical period to
seek answers to instructors’ questions about World War
II such as, “How did women influence the end of World
War II?”
Extended learning
Also known as hybrid or blended learning, extended
learning mixes instructional modalities to provide an
ideal learning solution, using e-learning and classroom
training where each is most appropriate. It may also be a
mix of synchronous and asynchronous technologies.
Using both online and in-person methodologies allows
instruction to be designed to address diverse learning
styles, as well as meet the course’s learning objectives.
For example, learners might use e-learning for the basic
content, but meet face-to-face in a laboratory, or in a
Intelligent searching
Google and other search engines are already the most
used learning tools around. Many people use them daily
to do research and to find all kinds of information.
1 – Emerging Technologies in E-learning
Some librarians have noticed that students are not
learning how to use journal databases and other sources
of materials because of their over-reliance on Google.
Search engines will evolve to provide more concept- and
context-sensitive searching. Currently these have emerged
in specific content areas such as Google Maps, Google
Scholar, a self-adapting community system using
Gnooks, video and audio using Blinx and StumbleUpon,
which uses ratings to form collaborative opinions on
website quality.
Intelligent searching will use such tools as vision
technology (for images), natural language processing,
and personalization by users to make them more usable
and useful. uses what it calls ExpertRank
(, 2006). This technology ranks pages based on
the number of links that point to it rather than by how
popular it is. Known as subject-specific popularity, this
technology identifies topics as well as experts on those
topics. Search engines will also become learning and
content management systems that will help us organize,
catalogue, and retrieve our own important information
more easily.
Webcams and video from cell phones
Digital cameras, video cameras, webcams, and video
from cell phones have become almost ubiquitous as
ways to capture personal history. But they have gone far
beyond that and have become a means of communication. People have captured events like weather, subway
bombings, and funny incidents that have become part of
television entertainment and news. Thanks to sites like
Flickr and YouTube, online videos have become a pervasive online feature.
Examples of educational uses include: a source of
data for student projects, a way to practise skills, document events, record interviews, and add video to
videoblogs (vlogs). Instructors might use them to emphasize or explain important or difficult-to-understand
concepts. The use of video provides learners with an
alternative medium for grasping concepts when text or
images alone don’t convey the necessary information.
(Lightweight, tactical integration of multi-sourced applications.) “A mashup is a website or web application
that seamlessly combines content from more than one
source into an integrated experience” (Wikipedia, 2006a,
para. 1). Mashups take advantage of public interfaces or
application programming interfaces (APIs) to gather content together in one place.
Tracking the Avian Flu, which tracks global outbreaks, is an example of how content is integrated with
Google Maps. Top City Books is another example; this
site shows the top 10 books in a city for eight subjects. is a comparison-shopping site with
customer reviews, information on deals, and more. It
uses APIs from,, and A9
and gathers information from and
Cookin’ with Google aggregates several databases.
Type in a few ingredients you have on hand and Google
searches databases with recipes containing those ingredients and presents a list of recipes you can consider
cooking for dinner tonight.
Social computing
Social computing is the essence of Web 2.0. It is the use
of technologies such as wikis, blogs, and podcasting by
individuals and groups to create content, instead of simply being content recipients. Web 1.0 was about downloading; Web 2.0 is about uploading.
Forrester Research describes social computing as
“[e]asy connections brought about by cheap devices,
modular content, and shared computing resources
[that] are having a profound impact on our global economy and social structure. Individuals increasingly take
cues from one another rather than from institutional
sources like corporations, media outlets, religions, and
political bodies. To thrive in an era of social computing,
companies must abandon top-down management and
communication tactics, weave communities into their
products and services, use employees and partners as
marketers, and become part of a living fabric of brand
loyalists” (Charron, Favier & Li, 2006, para. 1).
In an e-learning context, social computing is about
students becoming the creators as well as the consumers
of content. In a formal setting, students can be encouraged
to use social computing technologies to share their experiences and collaborate on assignments and projects. In
informal situations, people will be able to find great
treasuries of information on almost any imaginable
topic and contribute their own knowledge to it.
A new category of software has emerged called social
networking software. This web-based software assists
people to connect with one another. Examples of social
networking software include Flickr, MySpace, Facebook,
YouTube, Plaxo, and LinkedIn.
Peer-to-peer file sharing
In a peer-to-peer (P2P) network, files are shared directly
between computers without going through a server. P2P
applications are usually web-based and use peer-to-peer
file sharing. Some examples include online meeting
(web conferencing), instant messaging, Skype, Groove,
Education for a Digital World
1 – Emerging Technologies in E-learning
Festoon, and BitTorrent. “P2P merges learning and
work, shedding light on team processes that used to
disappear when a project’s participants dispersed. For
example, P2P applications can create an audit trail”
(Cross, 2001, para. 13).
Despite the copyright controversy around music file
sharing on Napster, Kazaa, and others, P2P is a useful
technology that offers opportunities for e-learning. P2P
file sharing can support students working together on
collaborative projects. Having one central location for
group members to access and edit a master copy of a
shared document can help with version control. Another benefit in collaborative work is the ability to view
and mark up a master copy instead of sending documents as attachments through email. This can help
avoid confusion over who has the master copy and the
problem of edits accidentally missed or overwritten. P2P
technologies also enable chatrooms and online groups,
where students can talk synchronously about their project. Using a P2P application such as Groove, students
can create a shared virtual office space for group projects
(Hoffman, 2002). P2P technologies can possibility encourage project-based learning.
Another technology related to both P2P and podcasting is swarmcasting. Because files are transported
across the network in smaller packets, swarmcasting is a
more efficient way to send large files such as video files.
Swarmcasting provides the possibility of Internet broadcasting much like a television station does (,
Mobile learning
Also called m-learning, this represents an evolution of
e-learning to the almost ubiquitous mobile environment
for laptop computers, cell phones, PDAs, iPods, and
RFID (radio frequency identification) tags. Technologies like GPS and Bluetooth will also enable the adoption of m-learning.
Learning will be in smaller chunks and designed as
just-in-time (performance support) to accommodate
wireless form factors, the flood of available information,
and multi-tasking users. It is an opportunity for people
to learn anytime, anywhere. An executive heading to a
meeting can brush up on his or her facts, and students
can study for an upcoming test or access information
needed for a research project.
Using mobile devices for learning is the logical next
step for e-learning. It will require some new strategies—
smaller chunks of information, shorter modules, efficient searching for learning objects, and an orientation
to performance support rather than information dumps
(Wagner, 2006).
Education for a Digital World
Examples of m-learning include:
• SMS (text messaging) as a skills check or for collecting feedback
• audio-based learning (iPods, MP3 players, podcasting)
• Java quizzes to download to colour-screen phones
• specific learning modules on PDAs
• media collection using camera-phones
• online publishing or blogging using SMS, MMS (picture
and audio messages), cameras, email, and the Web
• field trips using GPS and positional tools (Stead et al.,
2006, p. 12)
Mobile learning is already making an impact. In a
recent survey conducted by the eLearning Guild, Pulichino (2006) reported that 16 percent of the responding
organizations are currently using mobile learning and 26
percent expect to do so over the next 12 months. He also
observed that colleges and universities are ahead of corporations in its adoption.
Context-aware environments and devices
Environments and devices that are tuned into the needs
of those using them and automatically adjust to the
situation are considered to be context-aware. Everyday
devices such as phones, personal digital assistants
(PDAs), and multimedia units equipped with built-in
software and interfaces can be made context-aware. The
strength of this technology is its ability for learners to
extend their interaction with an environment. One example is the integration of student services with a PDA
device. A student points a PDA to a computing device,
and the PDA captures the information about the service
which is beamed into the PDA. For more information
on context-aware environments and devices, use a
search engine with the parameters “Cooltown + HP.”
Augmented reality and enhanced visualization
Augmented reality (AR) is an evolution of the concept
of virtual reality. It is a hybrid environment, which is a
combination of a physical environment with virtual
elements added by computer input. This computer input augments the scene with additional information.
While virtual reality strives for a totally immersive environment, an augmented reality system maintains a sense
of presence in the physical world. Augmented reality’s
goal is to blur both worlds so the end user doesn’t detect
the differences between the two.
Augmented reality may use some of the following
1 – Emerging Technologies in E-learning
Display technologies:
• high-definition, wall-sized display screens
• three-dimensional displays
• handheld mini-projectors
• glasses-mounted, near-to-eye displays
• flexible, paper-like displays
• full-face virtual-reality (3D) helmets
Multi-sensory inputs and outputs (see Stead, Sharpe,
Anderson, Cych & Philpott, 2006):
• speech
• smell
• movements, gestures, and emotional states
• tangible user interfaces using the direct manipulation
of physical objects
• handheld PCs for user input and data
• GPS (global positioning system) units
• wearable sensors
Examples of augmented reality applications include:
image-guided surgery in medicine
movie and television special effects
airplane cockpit training
computer-generated images for engineering design
simulation of major manufacturing environments
Augmented reality is most often used to generate
complex, immersive simulations. Simulations are powerful learning tools that provide a safe environment for
learners to practise skills and conduct experiments.
Integrating the physical world and computer input is
obviously an expensive technical challenge, and it is
mainly a research field at this time. Up to now, the potential training applications are limited to medical, military, and flight training; but as costs come down, the
possibilities for simulations in all fields are limited only
by the imagination.
Many research projects are being carried out in this
area. For more information on augmented reality, see
Sony’s Computer Science Laboratory (http://www.csl and the thesis abstract at
Smart mobs
Rheingold, the author of Smart Mobs, considers smart
mobs to be “the next social revolution” (Rheingold,
2006, para. 1) combining “mobile communication, pervasive computing, wireless networks, [and] collective
action” (para. 1)
Two well-known examples of smart mobs involved
events in the US as well as in the Philippines: “Street
demonstrators in the 1999 anti-WTO protests used dynamically updated websites, cell phones, and ‘swarming’
tactics in the ‘battle of Seattle.’ A million Filipinos toppled President Estrada through public demonstrations
organized through salvos of text messages” (Rheingold,
2006, para. 2).
In education, instead of smart mobs protesting a political decision, smart study groups will form to prepare
for quizzes or to provide feedback about written assignments before submitting them for a grade.
• Emerging Technology Links:
• Center for Digital Storytelling:
• Suprglu:
• Nobel Prize:
• Google Maps:
• Google Scholar:
• Gnooks:
• Blinx:
• StumbleUpon:
• Flickr:
• YouTube:
• Tracking the Avian Flu:
• Top City Books:
• Cookin’ with Google:
• MySpace:
• Facebook:
• Plaxo:
• LinkedIn:
• Augmented Reality:
• Smart Mobs:
• For a list of the latest mashups, go to: and
• For a list of social networking links go to:
Education for a Digital World
1 – Emerging Technologies in E-learning
Technology in education:
looking at fiction to find real
In his “lost novel,” Paris in the 20th Century, science
fiction author Jules Verne predicted gasoline-powered
automobiles, high-speed trains, calculators, the concept
of the Internet, and several other technologies invented
well after 1863. Verne believed strongly that humans could
realize all such predictions: “Anything one man can
imagine, other men can make real” (Verne, n.d., para. 1).
As scientists in various fields may have taken their cues
from Jules Verne, we too can get some ideas about the
future of technology and education from science fiction.
Looking at some science fiction within the past 15
years, we will start with predictions that are less farreaching than those contained within Jules Verne’s
works. For example, in 1993 a low-grade action movie
called Demolition Man depicted a teacher in the year
2023 talking to distance learners who attended class via
individual video monitors placed around an empty table. The students’ heads, as shown on the monitors,
followed the instructor’s movements as he paced around
the room. Most or all aspects of this scenario are already
possible with today’s videoconferencing solutions, high
bandwidth connectivity, and cameras that use infrared
beams to automatically follow a moving subject. Three
years ago, Florence Olsen (2003) depicted immersive
videoconferencing solutions with virtual students
beamed into another classroom hundreds of miles away.
In some cases, perhaps, Moore’s Law—computerprocessing power, measured by the number of transistors on integrated circuits, doubling every 18 months—
makes it more difficult to look too far into the future
because the future arrives so much more quickly.
At the same time, when we read Neal Stephenson’s
The Diamond Age, we can see the potential to realize
some of his predictions in less dramatic fashion. For
example, when people first study sign language, they
may dream about signing in full sentences, even though
they cannot yet sign in the waking world. In this scenario, the brain contains the previously learned phrases
in a mental “database” and stitches them together in
new ways during the dream. Soon some instructional
designer will put a comprehensive set of sign language
video clips into an online database that will allow anyone to learn full sentences quickly by typing text and
watching the dynamically generated compilation of the
sign language equivalent. Additionally, education and
technology have been combined to create tutoring soft-
Education for a Digital World
ware that learns what you know and steers you to specific lesson components that will fill your learning gaps.
These “intelligent tutors” exist for math, accounting,
physics, computer science, and other disciplines.
A final set of educational predictions in science fiction is too far out to tell if they are possible. In 1999, a
film called The Matrix strongly contradicts William Butler Yeats, who said, “Education is not the filling of a pail,
but the lighting of a fire” (Yeats, n.d., para. 1). In the
film, the characters plug a cable into the back of their
heads and go through “programs” that embed knowledge and skills directly into their brains. The lead character, Neo, becomes a martial arts expert in hours
instead of years. Another character, Trinity, learns how
to pilot a helicopter in seconds. In reality, humans have
had little success linking computers to the brain. Recent
developments, such as real-time brain control of a computer cursor (Hochber, Serruya, Friehs, Mukand, Saleh,
Caplan, Branner, Chen, Penn & Donoghue, 2006), allow
us to believe that some day Matrix-style education may
be possible. By then, hopefully, we will have mastered
how to teach higher level thinking skills, since this futuristic just-in-time learning presumably will let us skip
over lower level skills.
Imagining technology in
education tomorrow
Following Stephenson’s example from The Diamond Age,
we will imagine how emerging technologies from the
foreseeable future can help us meet instructional needs
in the online environment. Being educators, we will start
with the instructional needs when making predictions.
To do this, we will focus on needs related to helping
students successfully meet the learning objectives: sharing resources, facilitating activities, and conducting assessment strategies.
Almost all online instructors begin the teaching and
learning process with sharing resources with students.
Currently, this process requires instructors to create new
and/or find existing resources that relate to the topics
being studied and then to disseminate them to the students. Unfortunately, some end the process with just
sharing resources instead of going further to facilitate
interactivity or to assess student performance. Students
may miss opportunities to participate in robust, collaborative learning experiences. Here are some ways in
which we think the resource sharing process will change.
1 – Emerging Technologies in E-learning
User-created content
Learners will not only have the opportunity to add value
to structured courses through the use of emerging technologies such as blogs and wikis; many of them will create their own content which can be massaged and
developed through group participation. Ordinary people
will become creators and producers. Learners will truly
begin to take control. Examples can be seen at the website called Wifi Cafés, where Internet users can add the
locations of their favourite Internet cafe to an open list,
and Current TV, where people—mostly nonprofessionals—create television segments and shows.
Similarly, students, parents, teachers, and others will
continue to create and disseminate educational content
on a large scale. Instructors will require students to create content to share with their peers.
User-created content provides a challenge, in that it
will be difficult to verify the accuracy of each educational
resource. Educators often comment that Wikipedia, while
very useful, is made by experts and non-experts alike,
potentially decreasing its credibility. While research conducted by Nature magazine determined that Wikipedia
comes close to the Encyclopedia Britannica in terms of
accuracy of science entries (Giles, 2005), it also shows
that collaborative approaches to knowledge sharing require facilitation and editing. No matter what printbased or online source students use to substantiate their
course work, they should use multiple sources to check
the validity, reliability, and potential bias of information.
To counter this problem, educators will adopt a practice used by eBay and other commercial websites (see
the description of similar rating systems in Intelligent
Searching above). Namely, people can rate individual
pieces of educational content. Users who share educational content will have a dynamic profile that changes
each time someone rates their contributions. For example, someone with high ratings would have the title of
“trusted content provider”. Experts would have an equal
opportunity to check the accuracy of user-created content.
The “Long Tail”
In October 2004, Chris Anderson of Wired magazine
published an article outlining the long tail of business.
The term “long tail” refers to a statistical concept of the
very low part of a distribution where the population
“tails off.” The long tail marketing idea is that the Internet is capable of reaching tiny markets, which were previously ignored by marketers because they were too
expensive to reach. Online companies can use the Web
to sell a vast range of products from mainstream popular
items right down to the singularity of one unique unit
(Anderson, 2004). Statistically, the sum of the less popular
items can outnumber the sum of the popular items.
This “long tail” will also apply to learning. More resources—commercial, instructor- and user-created—are
already increasingly available for learners who have, up
to now, been somewhat marginalized. English as a second language, international learners, gifted, learning
disabled, and physically challenged students, and people
with behavioural disorders will all benefit. For example,
a website that offers resources for learning disabled students is An excellent site for gifted
students is
In general, more user-created educational content
becomes available every day. Of course, these usercreated resources will draw fewer learners than popular
websites like Discovery School or the Exploratorium.
However, the accumulated total of learners who use the
less popular educational resources—the long tail—will
outnumber the learners who visit the popular sites.
How instructors approach the design of their courses is
profoundly affected by their teaching styles (Indiana
State University, 2005). The lecture-based approach to
teaching is most often used in on-campus courses, and it
is what instructors are most familiar with. Findings from
research have shown that the lecture-based approach
often fails to engage students in online courses (Ally,
2004; Conrad, 2004; Gulati, 2004). Instructors unfamiliar with other instructional strategies need time to explore them while conceptualizing how they will design
their online course.
The opportunity to design, develop, and teach in a
new medium opens the door to learning new pedagogies. Applying new approaches may affect how instructors perceive their teaching role. In distance
education this role shift is often described as a transition
from a lecturer to a facilitator (Brown, Myers & Roy,
2003; Collison, Elbaum, Haavind & Tinker, 2000;
Conrad, 2004; Maor & Zariski, 2003; Young, Cantrell &
Shaw, 2001). This transition is a process that takes time
and support, and often it isn’t considered when instructors are asked to develop an online course. During
the development process, instructors are often surprised
at how much is involved in course development and in
conceptualizing their role and how they will teach. If the
design of the support infrastructure takes this transitional process into consideration, it can positively influence how instructors view their role and, subsequently,
how they design their course. This in turn may also affect student success rates in online courses.
Education for a Digital World
1 – Emerging Technologies in E-learning
As instructors design or redesign their courses to
incorporate emerging technologies they may find that
their role and that of their students change. In the example of an online course where there is “no there
there,” a student cannot sit passively at the back of the
classroom. To be present and seen in an online class,
students must be active and involved. Similarly, an online instructor cannot stand in front of the class and
conduct a lecture. Because the online environment differs from a physical classroom, the instructor’s role
changes as well. For some instructors, shifting from a
lecturer to a facilitator role can be a major change in
teaching style. Facilitating interactivity in an online
course places the instructor alongside the students instead of in front of the classroom.
Designing courses with activities that encourage collaboration, communication, and project-based learning can
help instructors step out of the lecturer role. Web 2.0
technologies can be a resource for instructors as they
construct new modalities in how they teach and how
their students learn. Interactivity can be stimulated by a
variety of techniques, ranging from posing questions to
be discussed in groups to involving students in projects
that include the creation of wikis, blogs, and podcasts.
able students to demonstrate the knowledge, skills, and
attitudes to evaluate themselves using methods that they
choose (for more, see Chapter 11, Accessibility and Universal Design).
Forum participation via cell phone
An e-portfolio is a digitized collection of documents and
resources that represent an individual’s achievements.
The user can manage the contents, and usually grant
access to appropriate people. Currently, there are a variety of e-portfolio types with varied functionality. Eportfolios are increasingly being used for coursework
and other assessment purposes.
While electronic portfolios exist today, very few, if
any solutions have reached their full potential. Administrators want a tool that allows them to aggregate student results for accreditation audits and other
institutional assessments. Principals, deans, and department chairs want a tool that lets them assess program effectiveness via student work. Namely, they want
to see if students can achieve program objectives, and, if
not, where the department, college, or school falls short.
Instructors, advisors, and counselors want to assess student performance and to guide students through the
learning process over time. This could be throughout a
four-year period at a university, or during a particular
degree program. Finally, students want to be able to
bridge to careers by using electronic portfolios to demonstrate their skills, knowledge, and attitudes that pertain to job opportunities.
Emerging technology will enable us to make such a
tool, or a collection of tools, and integrate them with
other infrastructure pieces that improve workflow. For
In the future, learners will use cell phones to participate
in threaded discussion forums. Instructors and students
will use cell phone web browsers to navigate and read
threads. Text-to-voice software will read threads to users, giving options such as press 1 to reply, press 2 to
hear next message, press 3 to hear previous message, etc.
Teachers and learners will use cell phone text message
capabilities or voice-to-text software to dictate the thread
content. The latter concept requires voice-to-text technology to improve.
For students who prefer it or who don’t have a computer, this technology has the potential to provide more
flexibility for learning. ClearTXT is a good example of a
company that has already started working in this direction. However, voice recognition software still needs to be
dramatically improved.
Chapter 14, Assessment and Evaluation, discusses various assessment strategies, so we will focus on how
emerging technologies will enable instructors to assess
student performance in new, more authentic, ways. As
audio, video, and computer applications improve, it will
be easier to assess certain knowledge, physical skills, and
even attitudes. Virtual reality technologies will also en-
Education for a Digital World
Voice recognition and intelligent tutoring applications
Today, students can record MP3 audio files to demonstrate proficiency in speaking another language. Tomorrow, students will be able to hold conversations with
intelligent tutoring programs that use voice recognition
software to analyze their phrases before responding,
making corrections, or changing levels of difficulty to
accommodate their needs. In non-language situations,
instructors can use the same combination of applications to assess law student responses in mock court cases
or drama student responses during readings.
At other levels, voice recognition and intelligent tutoring will provide multiple avenues for assessing students’ true abilities, reducing the overemphasis on
standardized, written tests. Primary school students can
demonstrate proficiencies such as spelling aloud or reciting poetry, and secondary students, by answering
questions about government or literature.
Electronic portfolios
1 – Emerging Technologies in E-learning
example, students transferring from a two-year community college to a four-year university can use an electronic portfolio to demonstrate required competencies.
By this means a student can avoid taking unnecessary
classes, and advisors can help the student plot a course
after a quick review of the materials and reflections.
Some of the challenges raised by this idea revolve
around the electronic portfolio process, rather than the
tool or tools. For instance, organizations may need to
clarify what constitutes evidence of competence or even
what learning objectives and prerequisites are critical in
a particular field. Electronic portfolios may very well
inspire changes to long-standing articulation agreements
that will not work in the future.
Whether a classroom is on ground or online, for the
learning environment to be stimulating, reinforcing,
easy to access, relevant, interactive, challenging, participatory, rewarding, and supportive, it should provide
input, elicit responses, and offer assessment and feedback. In an online learning environment, these elements
are even more critical because learners are working outside of the usual classroom social environment.
The Internet itself has always had the capacity to be a
learning medium. Services such as Google and Wikipedia
are probably used more frequently as learning tools than
any formal courses or learning management systems.
Web 2.0 provides new opportunities for learners
through participation and creation. In a 2.0 course, instructors will no longer be able to rely simply on presenting material; they will be involved in a mutually
stimulating, dynamic learning environment.
E-learning 2.0 is the application of the principles of
Web 2.0. Through collaboration and creation, Elearning 2.0 will enable more student-centred, constructivist, social learning with a corresponding increase in
the use of blogs, wikis, and other social learning tools.
Rosen (2006) offers a perspective of what a 2.0 course
would look like: they “should never be a hodge-podge
assembly of old methodologies delivered through new
technologies. They should be a true ‘2.0 course,’ rather
than a self-propelled PowerPoint presentation or CBT
training presented on a PDA. 2.0 courses provide justin-time training. They are used as a resource—not a
one-time event. A 2.0 course lasts 15 to 20 minutes, runs
smoothly on any configuration of device (high resolution, portable) or PDA, and delivers smoothly on all
versions of web browsers. Finally, 2.0 courses incorpo-
rate the best-of-breed techniques from web design and
instructional design” (p. 6).
The term e-learning
Distance learning, distributed learning, online learning,
e-learning, virtual learning, asynchronous learning,
computer supported collaborative learning, web-based
learning . . . these are a few of the many terms used to
describe learning in environments in which students
and instructors are not physically present in the same
location. In burgeoning fields, it is commonplace that a
variety of terminology is used to describe a new phenomenon. Clark and Mayer (2003) chose the word
e-learning and described its functionality:
[T]he “e” in e-learning refers to the “how”—the
course is digitized so it can be stored in electronic
form. The “learning” in e-learning refers to the
“what”—the course includes content and ways to
help people learn it—and the “why”—that the
purpose is to help individuals achieve educational
goals. (p. 13)
The term e-learning, as well as some of the other
terms, will eventually disappear. Electronic delivery will
become just one of the options which we will consider to
optimize learning for people.
What we call broadband today is just a beginning of the
kind of network access we will see in the future. Universities are connected by a fibre optic network that works
up to 10 gigabits/second. That is 10,000 times faster than
the typical broadband download of 1 megabit/second.
There will be a next generation of broadband which will
enable speeds 10 times greater than we have now and
enable downloading of high definition movies and TV
shows, VoIP, video telephony, full resolution streamed
video and audio and the creation of unimagined learning environments.
Learning management
E-learning 2.0 will be a challenge for learning management systems (LMS, also called course management
systems). At the time of this writing, most LMS solutions are designed for Web 1.0, with minimal capability
for a fully functioning interactive environment. Nevertheless, LMS vendors will gradually incorporate Web 2.0
capabilities. At this time, education LMS solutions are
ahead of corporate solutions in this respect. In the immediate future, LMS solutions will continue to be primarily administrative tools and only secondarily real
Education for a Digital World
1 – Emerging Technologies in E-learning
learning tools. Users will be challenged to find ways to
use them so that they facilitate learning. For more information on learning management systems, see Chapter 7, Learning Management Systems.
Eventually, we will be able to find almost anything
online. Ten years ago, a colleague said that everything
current and worthwhile was already online. This is more
true now with Project Gutenberg and Google Books
putting libraries of books online, universities making
their course materials available (e.g., MIT’s Open
CourseWare), communities creating knowledge repositories with wikis, and blogs making almost everyone’s
opinions available whether we want them or not.
The challenge will be for learners (all of us) to manage information overload. Much of this will happen
beyond the scope of any locally installed learning management system. Google and other search engines will
evolve to provide tools for people to manage it all.
Content will be organized as reusable learning objects, much as they are in learning content management
systems but on a much broader scale. Wikis and folksonomies may help solve this. Simply put, a folksonomy is
a collaborative method of categorizing online information so that it can be easily searched and retrieved. More
commonly, it is called tagging. This term is often used in
websites where people share content in an open community setting. The categories are created by the people
who use the site. To see how tagging operates, go to sites
such as Flickr or Learning object repositories
such as ARIADNE and learning object referratories
such as MERLOT facilitate the exchange of peerreviewed learning materials in a more structured way.
Personalization and context-aware devices such as
GPS (global positioning system) units will also help.
Personalization is the ability of a website to adapt to its
users, like does when it suggests other
books you may like, or for the user to adapt the website
for his or her own purposes like Google does when it
allows you to customize what you see on its website. RSS
feeds are a way of personalizing information you receive
from the Internet. GPS units can locate the user so that
information can be customized for that location. For
example, a user who lives in Chicago but is visiting New
York would receive weather information for New York.
Wifi Cafés:
Current TV:
Discovery School:
Education for a Digital World
• Project Gutenberg:
• Google Books:
• MIT’s Open CourseWare:
• Flickr:
There are, however, some barriers to the adoption of
these emerging technologies. While learners may embrace them, it may take longer for institutions and corporations to adopt and implement them. Administrative
policies as well as an organization’s culture can slow
down or halt their adoption. Some policy makers may
misunderstand the usefulness of these technologies in
teaching and learning. As learners adopt new technologies, they will take more control over their own learning,
which may challenge the status quo. This may gradually
influence corporations and institutions to accept this
new paradigm of learning. The consequences of not
serving the needs of learners to keep up-to-date with
these new ways of learning challenge the relevance of
formal training and learning in our organizations.
Perceptions about the quality of certain technologymediated instructional activities or environments provide additional challenges. As a prime example, the USbased College Board questions “whether Internet-based
laboratories are an acceptable substitute for the handson culturing of gels and peering through microscopes
that have long been essential ingredients of American laboratory science” (Dillon, 2006, para. 3). While emerging
technologies allow us to extend nearly unlimited possibilities to those who previously did not have access to
them, there may always be a group of people who feel
online instruction cannot replace direct experience. Who
would not want to see lions and zebras in their natural
habitat in Africa instead of going to a zoo or watching a
video clip online? Similarly, if it were possible to set up
expensive chemistry labs in every school or college, then
the virtual environments would not be necessary. They
would only serve as a way to refresh knowledge, rather
than to obtain it. An alternate solution may be to allow
students to learn virtually, but to require them to demonstrate proficiencies in person as appropriate (e.g., before moving to a certain level of difficulty).
Intellectual property (IP) rights and digital rights
management will be major challenges. Short-sighted,
1 – Emerging Technologies in E-learning
large corporations who expect to profit from sales
(particularly in the entertainment sector) will fight
widespread distribution of their product. Solutions like
Creative Commons licensing will become the new way
of doing business. See Chapter 15, Understanding
• Creative Commons:
• Creative Commons Worldwide:
“Web 2.5, Web 3.0, Web 4.5, Web n: whatever it is,
I’m enjoying the ride. The pieces are coming together. Glue, indeed.” (Cross, 2006).
Traditional teaching and learning methods and institutions will not go away. They will still be necessary to
provide research-based knowledge, structure, and social
context for learning. The new technologies will not replace traditional learning but complement it. The history of technology shows us that few technologies
replace previous technologies; instead they emerge to
coexist and complement them. Television did not kill
radio or movies. The Internet has not replaced books.
The new technologies discussed in this chapter will be
used primarily for extending the ability to create, communicate, and collaborate.
With Web 1.0, almost everyone was a consumer. Only
technology wizards had the power to create. Now that
online technologies have advanced, Web 2.0 enables
almost anyone to be a producer as well as a consumer.
Pushing this to education, Web 2.0 tools such as blogs
and wikis create a level playing field, where faculty, parents, and even students compete with vendors to produce educational content. Going beyond Web 2.0,
technology will raise the bar yet again so that everyone
can produce educational activities and assessment
strategies that incorporate or go beyond the static content.
With this new equality, we face some familiar challenges. Web 1.0 brought us information overload. It still
is not easy for everyone to consistently and quickly find
the information they seek online. The same holds true
for Web 2.0 information, if not more so, since there are
so many more information providers. As the quantities
of both producers and products grow, quality becomes
more difficult to distinguish as well. Instructors today
do their students a great service by asking them to consider validity, reliability, and bias of online information.
Looking forward to Web 2.5, Web 3.0, and beyond, we
will rely on context-sensitive searching, intelligent
searching, peer review ratings, and content expert review ratings to separate the digital chaff from the digital
wheat. Finding instructional content and activities to
meet almost any learning objectives will continue to
become easier, but finding quality instruction will take
more effort.
In many countries around the world today, communication by cell phones is ubiquitous. Trends in mobile
and social computing will make it possible for learners
to create and interact with learning communities. For
example, using course rosters as “buddy lists” in connection with wireless, mobile devices such as personal
digital assistants (PDAs), students will be able to identify
if their peers are nearby on campus. Someone in a large
section class with more than 100 students will be able to
use technology to create a sense of community. The
social computing phenomenon will move beyond using
static Web pages to share party pictures with peers to
using digital storytelling to share competencies with
future employers. Instead of smart mobs protesting a
political decision, “smart study groups” will form to
prepare for quizzes or to provide feedback about written
assignments before submitting them for a grade.
Communication challenges in education will include
infrastructure, resources, and freedom of speech. Maintaining an adequate communication infrastructure for
learning means setting up wireless networks throughout
a campus or even throughout a metropolitan area. This
work is expensive, labour intensive, and requires a great
deal of planning. Educational organizations do not always have the right amount of resources to keep communications running smoothly. Chapter 26, Techno
Expression, covers bridging the gap between allowing
freedom of expression and setting boundaries to restrict
inappropriate behaviour. Despite the power of emerging
technologies in education, this balance is difficult to
With both current and emerging technologies, people
sometimes collaborate without the intention or knowledge of doing so. Mashups, for instance, require multiple parties to play a role, but only the person who creates
Education for a Digital World
1 – Emerging Technologies in E-learning
the final product really knows what pieces were required
to make it work. Even people who make APIs to enable
others to use their tools do not know how they will be
used. The makers of Google Maps probably did not predict WeatherBonk (, a popular
mashup that lets people view real-time weather on top
of a detailed satellite map. Similarly, wikis require contributions from several parties to be successful. The
strength of Wikipedia is in the number of people who
contribute ideas and who police the site. For evidence of
the power of collaboration, note the number of Wikipedia references in this collaboratively written book!
The future of collaboration involves repurposing the
emerging technologies to meet educational goals. Instead of weather map mashups with live webcams, we
will see underground railroad map mashups with links
to writings from former slaves and re-enactments. Students in certain cities can see if their neighbourhood had
any homes that participated in aiding slaves get to the
Northern states.
Collaboration poses its own challenges. If not facilitated well, it can devolve into anarchy or, at the very
least, into the specter of unmet potential. While constructivist theory has become more popular, completely
unguided group learning can lead to large groups of
people who collaboratively teach each other with misinformation and groupthink. Facilitating educational
collaboration requires both structure and flexibility. You
can provide structure by defining expectations, writing
clear instructions, setting deadlines for each assignment
or project component, and being consistent in how you
facilitate online collaboration. You can provide flexibility by allowing students to take turns moderating online
discussions, giving students choices about which project
they pick or which group they join and being willing to
move in new directions that emerge during the collaborative exchanges.
Teaching and learning still relies on people—expert
learners and beginning learners—more than technology.
Other notable emerging
technology sites
• The publisher O’Reilly holds an annual Emerging
Technology Conference:
• EDUCAUSE: Emerging Technologies and Practices:
Education for a Digital World
• EDUCAUSE: The 7 Things You Should Know About
series provides concise information about using
emerging technologies in education:
• NMC Horizon Report and Project Wiki:
• Gartner’s 2006 Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle
Highlights Key Technology Themes:
API. Application programming interface. A small
software program that enables one computer program or
application to exchange data with another.
Asynchronous. Literally, asynchronous is the opposite of synchronous, and means “at different times”. In a
learning context, this refers to communication that happens when people are not together at the same time as
they are in a traditional classroom. Examples include
self-directed learning modules, email, and discussion
groups. Asynchronicity has the advantage of offering
communication at the convenience at the learner, the
opportunity to consider responses carefully before sending and the ability to track and revisit discussions.
Augmented reality. A combination of a real environment experienced by the user with virtual elements
added by computer input that augment the scene with
additional information.
Blog. An abbreviation of web log, a blog is an online
journal/commentary with simple automated contentcreating facilities, links, and response mechanisms.
Blogs often use RSS feeds (see RSS) so that readers can
subscribe and receive new content as it is published.
CoIP. Communication over Internet protocol that
enables enhanced streaming capability for voice (VoIP)
and video.
Communities of practice. Groups of people (within
organizations or around the world) with similar interests and goals who get together (physically or electronically) to share information about their common interest.
Context-aware environments and devices. Environments and devices that are tuned into the needs and
environments of those using them and automatically
adjust to the situation are considered to be contextaware.
Creative Commons. A licensing system developed by
Lawrence Lessig and others at Stanford University.
Creative Commons (CC) licences allow a content crea-
1 – Emerging Technologies in E-learning
tor to decide how published work may be copied, modified, and distributed.
DRM. Digital rights management; the protection of
copyrighted digital content to prevent unauthorized
viewing, copying or distribution.
E-learning 2.0. The application of the principles of
Web 2.0 to learning, specifically the collaboration and
creation aspects leading to more student-centred learning.
E-portfolio. An e-portfolio is a digitized collection of
documents and resources that represent an individual’s
achievements. The user can manage the contents and
usually grant access to appropriate people. There are currently a variety of different types of e-portfolios with
varied functionality. E-portfolios are increasingly being
used for coursework and other assessment purposes.
Extended/hybrid/blended learning. A mix of classroom, self-directed, synchronous, and asynchronous
approaches designed to optimize the learning for the
subject matter and learners.
EPSS. Electronic performance support system. See
performance support.
Folksonomy. Derived from “folk” + “taxonomy”, a
folksonomy is a way of categorizing data on the web
using tags generated by users. Folksonomies are used on
collaborative, social websites for photo sharing, blogs,
and social bookmarking. Social bookmarking websites
are services that allow users to store their favourite websites online and access them from any Internetconnected computer. Users tag their favourite websites
with keywords. These are then shared with other users,
and build into folksonomies of the most popular sites
arranged under different categories.
GPS. Global positioning system: a satellite-based location technology that can determine position down to a
few metres. GPS modules are used for in-car navigation
and in handheld navigation devices and can be added to
PDAs and laptops. Location-based services that make
use of the technology are being developed for education.
Learning management system (LMS). Computer
software designed to manage the organization, delivery,
and tracking of online courses and learner performance.
They are sometimes called virtual learning environments (VLE) or course management systems (CMS).
Corporate learning management systems are also designed to manage classroom instruction.
Learning content management systems (LCMS).
Content management systems specifically designed for
managing learning materials. Typically, they include a
searchable learning object repository or database.
Learning objects. Small chunks of information (text,
graphics, modules, video, audio, etc.) that can be used
for learning. Usually discussed in the context of reusable
learning objects and learning content management,
which refers to the storing and cataloguing of learning
objects so that learners and instructional designers can
access, reuse, and adapt them.
M-learning. Mobile learning: learning delivered
through mobile devices such as wireless laptops, cell
phones, PDAs, etc.
Mashups. “A mashup is a website or web application
that seamlessly combines content from more than one
source into an integrated experience” (Wikipedia,
2006a, para. 1).
Massively multiplayer online game (MMOG). An
online game that can be played simultaneously by many
MMS. Multimedia messaging service (MMS) is a
technical standard to provide for the addition of rich
media (audio, video, etc.) to text messaging.
Moblogs. Blogs posted to the Internet from mobile
devices such as PDAs and cell phones.
Peer-to-peer sharing. In a peer-to-peer (P2P) network, files are shared directly between computers without going through a server.
Performance support. Performance support refers to
providing information to working people when they
need it in order to do their jobs effectively. This is
sometimes referred to as just-in-time training. Tools
may include job aids and electronic performance support systems (EPSS) that enable people to access relevant
information online.
Podcast. Podcasts are audio files that can be easily
distributed via the Web and downloaded to computers
and personal audio players. Podcasts are often syndicated (via RSS) so that users can subscribe (usually for
free) to a particular service and download new content
automatically. The software required is available for free
or at little cost, making this form of broadcasting extremely accessible.
Referratories. Referratories link to other sites for
information and content, as opposed to a repository,
which contains the actual content.
RFID. Radio frequency identification: a generic term
that refers to wireless technologies that are used to provide information about a person or object. The term has
been popularized with the emergence of RFID tags: inexpensive, miniature wireless chips with antennae that
can be embedded into objects. It is used mainly in the
distribution and inventory business for tracking the
location of shipments and parts.
RSS. Really simple syndication: a set of XML-based
specifications for syndicating news and other website
content and making it machine-readable. Users who
subscribe to RSS-enabled websites can have new content
Education for a Digital World
1 – Emerging Technologies in E-learning
automatically ‘pushed’ to them. This content is usually
collected by RSS-aware applications called aggregators
or newsreaders. Some Web browsers now have these
newsreaders built in.
Simulations. Simulations in e-learning are attempts
to create a level of reality in a computer environment so
that learners can practise skills, solve problems, operate
expensive machinery, or conduct interactions in a safe
Smart mobs. A smart mob is an electronically interconnected group that behaves intelligently or efficiently
because of its exponentially increasing network links.
This network enables people to connect to information
and other people, allowing a form of social coordination
(Wikipedia, 2006b, para. 3).
SMS. Short messaging service (SMS) is a technical
standard that provides the capability for text messaging
via cell phones.
Swarmcasting. “Swarmcasting enables web content,
especially rich media (video) files, to be sent across the
Internet more efficiently than traditional routes. The
content or original file is broken into much smaller
packets, which are then distributed to any computers
that have requested them” (Stead, Sharpe, Anderson,
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Education for a Digital World
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Academic Exchange Quarterly, 5(4), 11.
Virtual Design Studios:
Solving Learning Problems in
Developing Countries
Kris Kumar
Department of Industrial Design and Technology
Faculty of Engineering and Technology, University of Botswana
Gaborone, Botswana, Africa
Scenario in
Problems and
Way Forward
Design Studios
Virtual Design
Education for a Digital World
2 – Virtual Design Studios
Learning outcomes
After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
• Describe the onset of the digital revolution by
emerging technologies.
• Argue the need for design studios in design studies.
• List the benefits and limitations of conventional studios.
• Describe additional advantages offered by virtual
• Detail the steps by which potential users would post
their designs and developments, and communicate with
their supervisors and other designers across the globe.
The onset of digital outreach with emerging technologies in developing countries is akin to the industrial
revolution in Europe. In the scenario of education, the
revolution led to the emergence of distance learning
universities, some of which have since become among
the top education providers. Their emergence in the
Western world was followed by more open universities
in Hong Kong, India, Australia, Sri Lanka, and other
countries. Digital revolution is more than a buzz phrase;
it is bringing the previously neglected continent of Africa into the sphere of higher education. It is expected to
bridge the digital gap by employing better and cheaper
means as “weapons of mass communication” (Tapscott and
Williams, 2008), such as e-learning, videoconferencing,
podcasting, and virtual studios, etc.
A special area of learning is how to design and display
their progress of designing and development in a studio.
Design studios are expensive to build and most African
and Asian universities cannot afford them although they
have courses of study on industrial design, interior design, textiles and leather design, and so on. This chapter
dwells on the creation of virtual design studios and
demonstrates how virtual design studios may replace
conventional studios because they provide an extended
connectivity, in addition to enabling the functions of a
conventional studio. In doing so, Afro-Asian universities may collaborate among themselves, as well as with
the advanced countries in the world. It may also enable
them to pursue collaborative design projects and enhance export potential, both of which are so important
for the developing countries to bring about two-way
globalization. The fact that e-learning can deliver more
training to more people at more places in less time and
at less cost with less supervision makes it worthwhile to
explore the possibility of e-designing.
Education for a Digital World
It is unfortunate that Africa has had the least per
capita enrollment in tertiary education. A study reported by UNESCO Global Education Digest (2006)
puts it at 3.5 percent, stating it as 1.9 million against a
world figure of 81.7 million enrollments. It is also noted
that scientific articles worldwide rose by 40 percent
whereas the same fell by 12 percent in Africa during the
period 1988 to 2001 (Adekanmbi, 2007). However, the
UNESCO Institute for Statistics (2006) observed that
African students are the most mobile in the world,
mainly in search of better educational facilities, with one
out of every 16 students studying abroad.
Digital divide estimates reported by International
Telecommunications Union (2007) show that during the
ten-year period, 1994 to 2004, some figures in developing countries (with 83 percent population) compared to
those in advanced countries (with 17 percent population) are as follows:
Developing Countries Advanced Countries
Internet users/100
Increased from 0.03 to
Mobile telephone
Increased from 0.19 to
users/100 inhabitants 18.8
From 2.18 to 53.8
From 5.2 to 76.8
It reveals the fact that the digital gap continues to widen,
despite newer initiatives and emerging technologies.
Whether or not the digital divide can now be arrested
with the latest technologies and innovative use of the
same is, therefore, an open question. An attempt is made
to project the optimism in the developing world.
The scenario in developing
It is necessary to understand the scenario in Afro-Asian
countries. Although they differ appreciably in their policies and plans most of them are committed to improving the life and education of people by legislating several
different national documents. Almost all national institutions have formulated vision, mission, and values
statements. For example, in Botswana, there is the longterm vision document Vision 2016: Prosperity for All
(1997), which is being implemented and monitored in a
phased manner. Alongside it are the National Education
Policy, National ICT Policy and University Policies on
Shaping the Future, as well as a Computer-aided Learning, Digital Outreach Policy, etc. At the time of writing,
the Botswana National Development Plan 10 is being
2 – Virtual Design Studios
created, and the University is including digital learning
and outreach. The University’s Vision and Mission
statements are available in the Annual Calendar (2007).
Likewise, policy documents committing themselves
to higher education and national development exist in
almost all African and Asian countries. Some are, however, short of ground realities, mainly due to lack of
financial resources. In Africa, design courses are offered
at several universities in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, and elsewhere. All
design courses require actual or virtual design environments. It is, therefore, important that all of them be
aware about evolving technologies and their relevance to
their own developmental priorities.
There are some networks in Africa which become
active every now and then. For example, the Southern
African Regional Universities Association (SARUA, 2005)
is an association for the 63 publicly funded universities
located in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). SARUA aims are to:
• promote, strengthen, and increase higher education,
training and research through expanded interinstitutional collaboration and capacity building initiatives across the region;
• promote universities as major contributors towards
national and regional socio-economic development.
Another well-established network is the African University Network (AFUNET), also known as the Global
Virtual University (GVU, 2000), which was created as a
practical response to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Plan of Action. It is designed to
enhance the capabilities of African universities to take
advantage of the opportunities associated with the
emergence of global information society, akin to the
National Science Foundation in the US. Despite challenges of operation, it holds promise to integrate the
African continent into the global information society
and economy. The AFUNET project is currently handled by the Association of African Universities (AAU),
which has also set up a parallel Research and Networking Unit.
Developing countries are also catching up with the
emerging pedagogical paradigms. In this aspect, students
appear to be ahead of teachers! One may summarize the
paradigms from the students’ perspective (Thomas, 2007)
as follows:
Students wish to:
• maximize their learning by interaction and
communication with others than by reading
alone. They appear to use all available resources, particularly the Internet by click-click
and ‘thinking together’.
• become more active, flexible and ubiquitous in
their sociological environment.
• construct new knowledge by engaging in
learning on their own.
It appears that the new type of learner expecting the
learning context to be interactive, collaborative, and
socially exciting, looking for learning materials in flexible format is already born. This paradigm shift is conducive to the spread of virtual learning. Once facilities are
made available, students are keen to engage themselves,
even by working beyond their normal timetable.
The University of Botswana, with an enrollment of
15,000, provides a good example of the students’ willingness for e-learning. Though WebCT was launched in
2002 with only 21 online courses, it did so with considerable drive by the Centre for Academic Development.
Students began to ask for more online courses, thus
urging lecturers to work, resulting in 450 courses on
WebCT/Blackboard format in 2007. The university is
also moving towards online journals, digital repositories,
and virtual sites in the wake of the digital revolution. In
doing so, academics are keeping abreast of the latest
developments in their fields by accessing information,
writing articles and publishing papers online.
Design practice is a very important component of all
design-related programs, and one or more design studios should be provided for this purpose. Every student
needs to be allocated a seat in a studio, where he or she
may work any time of the working day.
Figure 2.1 A typical design studio in an institution
Education for a Digital World
2 – Virtual Design Studios
Figure 2.2 A bamboo design studio at IIT Mumbai
A design studio in an institution, as shown in Figure 2.1
and a special materials (bamboo) design studio shown in
Figure 2.2 are large enough spaces to accommodate 20
to 30 students with provisions for the following:
• sketching, drawing, writing, modelling, etc.
• pin-up boards, display stands, whiteboards, and easels with charts, etc.
• free movement to comment and critique by fellow
students, staff, and visitors in an informal environment individually or in small groups.
Design studios in industry, Figures 2.3 and 2.4, may
look a bit different, that is, with just one or two designs
being studied in great detail from several different
points of view, such as shape, form, aerodynamic profiling, general appeal, ergonomic suitability, turning
wheel, braking system of a new motor car.
It costs a great deal of money to get space and infrastructure to make a good studio. And then, there is always a risk of loss and vandalism of expensive items.
Moreover, it cannot be open all day and night and one
has to come to the studio to do anything; one may be
living several kilometres away so that by the time one
arrives, some ideas may have already evaporated or gone
with the wind! Therefore, with all the advantages of a
real studio, there are associated problems and limitations, including the following:
fixed place and limited time for access to the studio
safety and security problems from within and without!
requires more funds for updating every time
no provision for distance and open learning
no scope to expand for larger number of students
no interaction with students elsewhere, i.e., outside
the institution and
• no access to/by design professionals except by special
Figure 2.3 Boontje Design Studio France
The concept of a virtual studio is not new, and some
studies have been reported by authors (Wojtowicz, 1995,
Al-Qawasmi, 2005, and Chen et al. 1994). The latest
studies, however, reveal that there have been a number
of limitations which must be overcome (Mather, Simoff
& Cicognani, 2006). The infrastructure of a virtual studio
should not only match but also outsmart the infrastructure of a real-life studio in terms of the following:
• provision for sketching, drawing, printing and computer modelling, etc.
• virtual pin-up boards, displays, writing surfaces, space
for models and exhibits in a pleasing environment
• free access to comment and critique by fellow students,
staff and visitors whenever and wherever they like!
Figure 2.4 Acura Vehicle Design Studio
Education for a Digital World
One such virtual studio created at the university Web
link (Kumar, 2007) is shown in Figure 2.5, with gardenlike entry and similar interiors with five different designs posted in it; one of them is shown in Figure 2.6.
2 – Virtual Design Studios
• allowing interaction with students located anywhere
across the globe and
• permitting free access to/by design professionals by
shared login and passwords
Figure 2.5 A general view at the entrance of a virtual design studio
A number of telephone systems are becoming available
which can be used to interact instantly between the designers. Web phone and cell phones can be used to advantage. A recent leap forward with Skype offering freeof-cost one to one or a group telephone conferencing
opens up a new possibility. A number of staff members
in Africa are already employing it to converse with
counterparts in other design institutions. A recent Skype
advertisement proposes free business conference calls,
and goes as follows:
Talk to more people at once: Conference call the
easy way. Start a ten-person call or invite others
into a call you are already having. Perfect for business and when you need to chat to a few friends at
once. Catch up on the latest news!
The new arrival, Iphone, advertised as “breaking the
mould”, is indeed a welcome addition in Africa and Asia
as elsewhere. Likewise, the onset of podcasting is being
felt through the Internet, both on PCs and Macs. Examples of real dialogues are as follows:
Interaction with Julien in France
Professor: Bonjour Julien, Are you there?
Julien: Oui, Prof, I am here! You like my new design of
the kiddies’ potter’s wheel?
Professor: Ya, but does it suit the kids’ anthropometrics
and likes/dislikes?
Julien: But then, I must decide the type of design and
then select a group of kids (8–12 years) to measure
their dimensions and the pulling force to find if they
can pull-start the wheel or I shall have to use a battery
just like starting a car!
Figure 2.6 Design details contributed by Julien on the Potters’ Wheel from France
Virtual studios are likely to be more flexible than reallife studios by permitting the following:
• any place and any time; 24/7 access
• completely safe and secure, since there no removable
• not requiring any more funds for updating and for
larger number of designers
Interaction with Sepopo in Botswana
Professor: Dumelang Sepopo, can I see your progress on
the coin sorter?
Sepopo: Yes, Prof (showing three models) I have to decide which of these is the best to go ahead!
Professor: Don’t you think that the spiral slope design
would take less space compared to the linear slope
Sepopo: So, that’s the best one because the third design
appears so complicated to me.
Education for a Digital World
2 – Virtual Design Studios
Interaction with the Professor from Netherlands
Jan: Morning Prof! I see you online! Look at this “special” coffin design!
Professor: Ehe, Jan, can it be assembled quickly before
Jan: Ya, that’s the idea! Over 100 sheets can be transported by a pick-up van, stored in a small space and
assembled one only when ordered by the customer!
Professor: Impressive! This design has a great business
potential! You can become an entrepreneur!
Jan: No Prof, you know, it is an industry sponsored
project; I am paid to design it!
(Edmonds, 1994), using Tryst compressed video system,
We are managing a project trial of desktop compressed video conferencing to deliver its curriculum of distance education to school based
Their early indications of its immense capability to offer
enhanced learning opportunities, enabling more group
work and social interaction between students, have
taken place over the years.
Podcasting is becoming increasingly popular in Africa and Asia as in the rest of the world (Wikipedia,
2008). Podcasts, collections of digital media distributed
over the Internet, often employ syndication feeds, for
playback on portable media players, e.g., iPod, MP3
player, and PCs. Several thousand podcast episodes can
be stored in iTunes stores and retrieved at will, enabling
us to use them in teaching, learning, demonstration, etc.
Requirement of podcasting equipment, mechanism of
podcasting, and practical examples are available at various websites, e.g., Podcasting Tools (2008).
Desktop web camera installed on computers and adequate
bandwidth made available, it is easy to confer with one
another in vision in real time, as shown in Figure 2.7.
It is quite possible today that a professor, carrying a
laptop equipped with web camera and two-way audio,
can interact with design students via videoconferencing
while traveling abroad, simply by plugging the USB cable into the Internet socket in the hotel room. For example, I would still be able to log on to the UB Web link
and interact with my design student Mr. Nyati in Botswana as follows:
Prof: Dumelang Nyati! Can you hear me?
Nyati: Yes, Prof (showing the model) I can hear you and
see you. U look sleepy!
Prof: It is the time difference; I just woke up to talk to
you while you are awake! The model looks good!
What diameter, weight and speed of the rotating
Nyati: Not yet, I have to work it out by way of an experiment. Ask me tomorrow, when you wake up, Prof!
Several open schools and universities across the world
are committed to employing videoconferencing. For
example, Roger Edmonds from the Open Access College
Education for a Digital World
Figure 2.7 Examples of Desktop Videoconferencing
Problems and the way forward
Despite the information technology boom, several universities in developing countries are not taking advantage. Some of the documented problems and proposed
solutions are as follows:
2 – Virtual Design Studios
Some Problemsa in
Developing Countries
Proposed Way Forward
Inadequate financial resources
Finances should be created by careful budgeting and by seeking funds through collaborative projects with advanced countries.
There is not enough digital
support for academics
Yes, but we are the ones to generate resources, as above!
Depth of IT skills a limiting
True; academics should attend short courses
and/or learn the same from the websites.
Lack of time and workload
These are universal problems; we should be
active 24/7 to overcome this problem.
We don’t know what we
don’t know
If we realize this fact, we have no excuse to
relax. Let us conduct awareness sessions for
staff members.
Students don’t take it
This is not true; students are ahead of the
lecturers in IT skills and in their desire to
work seriously and long hours.
Lack of knowledge about
infrastructure and support
Computers with multimedia software,
sound, video, graphics, and storage of
several GB, double, etc. are required.
Vandalism and loss of
expensive equipment from
Better security arrangements, vigilance and
stakeholders’ cooperation.
Ayitayo, 2007; Kabonoki, 2007
It is proposed to undertake a comprehensive effectiveness study in order to establish whether or not a virtual
studio is as good, worse, or better than a real-life studio.
Such studies are indeed necessary in the advanced
countries, which are going full stream with the new
technologies. An effectiveness study, similar to the one
conducted by the author (Kumar, 1999 and 2000), is
proposed to be conducted in Afro-Asia as to whether
virtual design studios are making any difference. The
techniques of the control group vs. experimental group,
together with observational studies, will be employed. It
is intended that a null hypothesis that “a virtual studio is
no better than a conventional studio” would be the
starting point so that all the pros and cons of both come
into play. Instruments of data collection will be based on
the following:
observing students’ assignments
conducting pre- and post-tests
analysing responses to a questionnaire
conducting interviews of students
comparing students’ portfolios and reports
asking staff for their reflections
soliciting peer opinions and assessment.
While virtual studios offer enormous possibilities, there
are still some challenges which must be met with before
implementation. The challenges include understanding
and appreciation of the senior bureaucrats and technocrats like Directors of Information Technology on the
one hand and Director of Research on the other. These
are the management problems to be solved. While the
former needs to establish a link with enhanced bandwidth and capacity, the latter may permit a special grant
to conduct a comprehensive effectiveness study.
Construction of a virtual studio poses a special challenge because one has to use several different softwares to
make an interactive site, where several designers can access and contribute to one another. Dreamweaver and
Macromedia Flash, together with Freehand appear to be
leading us to explore further with AutoCAD 200 Plus
and Adobe Photoshop. We are also exploring the use of
3D Max versions 4 and 5. One has also to settle for a
different pedagogical paradigm which requires a change
of mindset. A studio experiment (Al-Qawasmi, 2005, p.
205) was helpful in understanding the success in operating their computer-aided architectural designs studio
and ARC 225 virtual reality in architecture.
Parallel models are being conceived to launch product designs from multiple locations with maximum
permissible flexibility. Clearly, such a range of expertise
is beyond a single individual in any one area, whether
education, information technology, engineering, or design. It is, therefore, essential to constitute multidisciplinary teams under a well-conceived project to be
funded by the universities wishing to get involved. I
must add that the University of Botswana and the African Network of Open Universities have shown positive
interest in the project, and they are in the process of
identifying partners in Europe and other countries. Interested staff members should seek research grants in
order to procure the items necessary for carrying out the
experimentation and further study.
The author wishes to thank his colleague Botumile Mataka, who assisted in developing the website and all the
five design students who agreed to upload their designs
for the experimentation.
Acknowledgments are due to the authors of the following websites from where illustrative images were
captured through Google search:
Education for a Digital World
2 – Virtual Design Studios
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Tertiary Distance Education: Mitigations for Digital
Scholarship at the University of Botswana, Digital
Scholarship Conference, University of Botswana, 12–
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Art, Design and Communication in Higher Education, Vol. 4, No. 3, Intellect Ltd. 2005.
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Mitchell, W., Nagakura, T. and Papazian, P. (1994).
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Tapscott D., and Williams A.D. (2008). Wikinomics retrieved on 2 February, 2008 from http://www.gurteen
Thomas P. Y. (2007). Facing the Challenges of Emerging
Technologies and Pedagogies: Future Directions,
Digital Scholarship at the University of Botswana,
Digital Scholarship Conference, University of Botswana, 12–13 December, 2007.
UNESCO Education Digest (2006). Comparing Education Statistics across the World, Retrieved on 2 February
UNESCO Institute for Statistics (2006). African Students the Most Mobile, Retrieved on 2 February 2008
Vision 2016: Prosperity for All (1997). Long-Term Vision for Botswana, Presidential Task Group, Government Press, Main Mall, Gaborone.
Wikipedia (2008). Retrieved on 3 February 2008 from
Wojtowicz, J. (1995). Virtual Design Studios, University
of Hong Kong Press, Hong Kong.
Challenges Confronted and Lessons
(Un)Learned: Linking Students
from the University of Ghana and
Kwantlen University College
Charles Quist-Adade
Kwantlen University College
Surrey, BC, Canada
… for the cultures of the “Global Village” to flourish in a tolerant, mutually beneficial
fashion, it is imperative that here be real sharing of ideas, knowledge, and values. – Charles
Quist-Adade (2008)
Education for a Digital World
3 – Challenges Confronted and Lessons (Un)Learned
Learning outcomes
After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
• Understand the steps and processes in setting up a
partially online and webconferencing course.
• Know the challenges and difficulties in setting a
webconferencing course.
• Be aware of the technologies needed in setting up a
webconferencing course.
… the course was conceived on the basis of two
ideas—“Classroom without Walls” and “Global
Village”. – Charles Quist-Adade (2008)
This chapter presents preliminary overview and findings
of a pilot course webconferencing course on Globalization involving largely students and instructors in Canada and Ghana.3 The overview will focus more on the
planning and implementation stages of the course than
on the delivery and content. It will highlight the challenges confronted, lessons learned, and lessons unlearned throughout the more than two years planning
and implementation of the project, whose principal objective was to create geographically distributed collaborative learning and teaching between students and
faculty in developed and developing countries.
The undergraduate and graduate course on Globalization (Sociology of Global Inequalities), which was
implemented in the Spring of 2008 (from January 7 to
April 21), was conceived on the basis of two ideas—
“Classroom without Walls” and “Global Village”. It was
designed, using a unique interactive multimedia approach
to link students and faculty in two international locations—Ghana and Canada. The course, through the
integrative information and educational technologies,
aimed to break the boundaries of time, space, and distance thereby facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the students at the three sites. What is more, it
sought to create a “networked collaborative learning
environment” for students and instructors at the University of Ghana and Kwantlen University College in
British Columbia, Canada.
The partially online course used a mixed mode delivery approach, combining synchronous video-audio
streaming (videoconferencing), real chat, online materi3
It must be said here that one Canadian student took the
course from India, where she is currently based.
Education for a Digital World
als, pre-packaged online materials, as well as asynchronous chat sessions. The course had a classroom component at each of the host sites that was supported by a
course website. Interaction between learner and lecturer
was primarily through text messaging and online chats
during synchronous lecture sessions. Students also had
to use online chat sessions and discussion forums with
teaching assistants.
The course had a mix of synchronous and asynchronous activities (i.e., some activities took place at the same
time, same place; some at the same time, different place;
and some at a different time, different place). The course
provided continuous feedback, high levels of interaction
and an emphasis on student work and group projects.
In all 31 undergraduate students from Kwantlen University College (KUC) and six graduate students from
the University of Ghana, Legon (UGL) took the course.
The preliminary study showed that while the preparatory stage was quite daunting and the project leader had
some harrowing experiences in finding collaborators,
accessing funding, the overall benefits of the project to
both students and instructors were quite substantial,
making the efforts and sacrifices worthwhile.
“While Canadian Communications scholar Marshall McLuhan put us all in a ‘Global Village’, the
benefits of the village appear to elude a sizeable
number of the villagers as the digital divide between the technology-haves and technology-havenots has been growing ever wider and wider”.
– Charles Quist-Adade (2008)
While Canadian Communications scholar Marshall
McLuhan put us all in a “Global Village”, the benefits of
the village appear to elude a sizeable number of the villagers as the digital divide between the technology-haves
and technology-have-nots has been growing ever wider
and wider. Knowledge and ideas flow in a unidirectional, North-to-South (from the Developed World
to the Developing World) fashion with little going in the
opposite direction. A lopsided flow of knowledge, values, and ideas creates an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and recrimination, with some of the villagers
complaining of “cultural imperialism” and others fending off such charges by saying they are only promoting
the ideas of “democracy”. But for the cultures of the
“Global Village” to flourish in a tolerant, mutually
beneficial fashion, it is imperative that there be real
sharing of ideas, knowledge, and values.
3 – Challenges Confronted and Lessons (Un)Learned
Globalization has been described as an ideology and
practice of corporate expansion across borders and a
structure of cross-border facilities and economic linkages, which focus on the imperialistic ambitions of nations, corporations, organizations … and their desire to
impose themselves on various geographic areas (Ritzer,
2003). While this description may sound cynical, and
points to the vulnerabilities of the concept, it is imperative to extend and expand the intellectual realm of Globalization on the crest wave of the ever-evolving
information revolution to the benefit of students and
countries worldwide.
There is no better forum to address the everincreasing need for mutual understanding and mutual
respect across cultures and national borders than via
collaborative learning.
Formal education systems, in the developing world in
general and Africa in particular, are taxed by minimal
resources and extensive responsibilities. A “conspiracy”
of factors—limited financial resources, the brain drain
which has affected tertiary institutions the most, the
dearth of information communication technological
(ICT) facilities, among many others—makes clear the
need for new and alternative approaches. While the use
of ICT may increase the likelihood of improved learning
only so much, its capacity to alter the status quo is unparalleled. “Using technology to attract and facilitate
connections and interaction among communities, regardless of where they are located or who they are, can
promote flows of information and knowledge, creation
of ideas and initiatives, and ultimately a healthier society” (African Universities Initiative, 2005).
This project will offer Canada a fine opportunity to
play its part in bridging the digital gap between a developing country and a developed one, while facilitating
mutual enrichment of the life experiences of Canadian
and Ghanaian students, improving and innovating pedagogical methods of educators in Canada and Ghana.
The course will be guided by the more benign conceptualization of globalization as “the worldwide nexus
of practices, expansion of relations across continents,
organization of social life on a global scale, and growth
of a shared global consciousness” (Lechner, 2003, p. 72).
It will be a cost-effective and innovative way to exchange
knowledge across continents, allowing for the “interpenetration of the global and the local,” which will bring
about unique outcomes in different geographic areas
(Ritzer, 2003, p. 73) As a micro academia in the global
academic world, it will offer the best opportunity for
both students and faculty to contribute to the global “stock
of knowledge” through an active cross-fertilization of
cross-cultural ideas.
Already, increasing numbers of institutions of higher
learning and non-profit organizations in collaboration
with ICT companies have developed free resusable online resources which allow for the sharing of academic
knowledge, pedagogical practices, course resources not
only between institutions, but also between students and
educators in different countries. The Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (MIT) has perhaps one of the
leading global collaborative learning projects. MIT’s
Open Courseware (OCW) provides free, searchable access
to MIT’s course materials for educators, students, and
self-learners around the world. The Singapore-MIT
(SMA) is a classic example of how collaborative learning
and teaching can revolutionize the global exchange of
knowledge and help train innovative leaders of the
world. In the words of Professor Schmalensee, SMA
“joins students at the National University of Singapore,
Nanyang Technological University, and MIT in a virtual
classroom taught—via Internet2—by professors from all
three universities. SMA was founded in 1998 to promote
global engineering education and research while providing students with unlimited access to exceptional
faculty expertise and superior research facilities. While
students may sit in classrooms at different sites, they
share course lectures, online materials, and research
opportunities with over 90 faculty—half from MIT.”
MIT has expanded its project to include Korea and
Mexico and it’s now eyeing Africa, precisely Ghana
In Canada, BCcampus has developed a leading edge
technology that allows the free searchable access to
courses across the Province. Through BCcampus, students, educators and self-learners can access services,
resources, and online courses from several participating
institutions. In addition, users have access to the Online
Learner Community, an online community that provides users opportunities “for collaboration, general
interest, and special event use”. Through its SOL*R, BC
public post-secondary educators can license, contribute,
and access free online learning resources. As a repository portal, SOL*R facilitates the sharing, discovery,
reuse, and remixing of course material—including
course outlines, lecture notes, best teaching practices,
etc. from a wide variety of disciplines and subject areas.
Connexions is an environment for collaboratively developing, freely sharing, and rapidly publishing scholarly
content on the Web. Its Content Commons contains
educational materials for a variety of users, including
Education for a Digital World
3 – Challenges Confronted and Lessons (Un)Learned
children to college students to professionals, which is
organized in small modules that are easily connected
into larger courses. All content is free to use and reuse
under what it calls “Creative Commons attributable”
licence. Connexions’ philosophy is “Sharing is good”.
Guided by this philosophical principle and informed by
the logic that people need not re-invent the wheel, the
creators of Connexions have made it possible for people
to share their knowledge, so “they can select from the best
ideas to create the most effective learning materials”.
Carnegie Mellon
Another online learning project with a huge potential
for shared global learning and instruction is the Carnegie Mellon Online Learning Initiative (OLI) project. The
project which grew out of collaboration among cognitive scientists, experts in human computer interaction
and seasoned faculty aims to increase access to education, “enhancing the quality of instruction and providing a model for a new generation of online courses and
course materials that teach more effectively and appeal
to students more powerfully than anything in existence
today”. The project is unique in that it adds to online
education the crucial elements of instructional design
grounded in cognitive theory, formative evaluation for
students and faculty, and iterative course improvement
based on empirical evidence. OLI courses include a
number of innovative online instructional components
such as: cognitive tutors, virtual laboratories, group experiments, and simulations.
Open University
The United Kingdom’s Open University is one of leaders in the field of online learning. In fact, OU is the pioneer in the field, having been making learning materials
freely available as early as 1969 through its partnership with
the British Broadcasting Corporation. The OU’s OpenLearn was launched in 2006 to open access to education
for all and it is designed for distance and elearning. It now
boasts of 700,000 users globally. It incorporates videoconferencing technology, FlashMeeting for seminars and
collaboration, Compendium (knowledge maps), MSG (instant messaging), as well as self-assessment tools.
Education for a Digital World
Open source software and
operating systems in Africa
According to a recent survey of ICT and education in
Africa commissioned by the World Bank, there is a
growing interest in free open source software (FLOSS)
in Africa. The Free and Open Source Software Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA), Bokjang Bokjef in Senegal,
and LinuxChix Africa are examples of organizations
promoting the use and development of FLOSS in Africa.
At the same time, the report noted substantial drawbacks with regard to the dearth of skilled personnel
available to support such systems.
As a recent Elluminate report The Impact of Synchronous Online Learning in Academic Institutions
… noted that distance learning can be an isolating experience. Consequently, transitioning from simply delivering courses to providing a total experience is a central
to distance learning. Creating online communities will
help foster a sense of connectedness. The report also
notes hat increasing numbers of institutions of higher
learning and governments have concluded that “it’s time
for academia to blend pedagogical structure with sound
business decision-making. It’s also time to change mindsets and approaches to move online education from
current trend into the mainstream”. This explains why
all over Canada and the rest of the world, institutions of
higher learning are introducing elearning as a supplement or a complement to traditional teaching modes.
Course description and
The course examined different types of inequality and
the historical, as well as contemporary roots of these
inequalities throughout the world. It focused on the
relationship between globalization, inequality, and poverty; the fate of cultural diversity in a globalizing world;
and issues of gender, ethnicity, the environment, social
justice, and human rights. It also discussed several development patterns and trends that influence peoples of
various countries in the global system from a comparative and cross-cultural perspective. Different regions of
the world, including Africa, Asia, Europe, and the
Americas were examined from both a substantive and
theoretical perspective.
The course was based on the premise that globalization is dialectical process with local and global interests
colliding, coalescing, negotiating, and negating each
3 – Challenges Confronted and Lessons (Un)Learned
other. In other words, globalization was perceived as the
master trend reshaping social life everywhere, while
social outcomes were shaped through interaction with
other processes as well. The course was interdisciplinary,
combining perspectives from sociology, anthropology,
political science, economics, and philosophy to explore
the meanings of globalization and its central processes
and institutional structures.
The course sought to develop a conceptually grounded
understanding of the various aspects of globalization,
particularly, economic, political, social, and cultural.
The main objectives were to introduce students to: (a)
the main topics and debates related to globalization; (b)
the conceptual and empirical tools available to frame
discussions of globalization topics; and (c) the multifaceted ways in which globalization manifests itself and its
complex impacts on individuals and collectives and
multiple ways individuals and collectives are challenging
and shaping globalization in the contemporary world.
The beginnings
The course was conceived in the Fall of 1998 when I was
a lecturer at Wayne State University. I received a School
of Liberal Arts’ innovative Global Curriculum research
grant. The aim of the grant was to encourage faculty to
design courses with an eye to linking students and faculty of Wayne State with students and faculty in different parts of the world. With a modest seed grant I began
an intensive research into long distance learning. Also,
began to look for collaborators in Ghana, South Africa,
and Kenya. I continued my research when I moved to
Central Michigan University in the Fall of 2003.
Looking for collaborators was quite daunting. After
several “blind” emails and phone calls I was able to get
in touch with a couple interested ones but lost contact
with them somewhere along the line. Many of those who
I maintained more or less longer links with preferred the
traditional methods and eventually lost interest in my
proposal. Their greatest fear, I gathered, was change.
They appeared comfortable with “what they have,” i.e.,
the hassle-free traditional mode of pedagogy. Many of
these referred me to colleagues who they suggested might
be interested. These in turn suggested others who might
be. Two constant questions I was asked were “How is
the technology going to work?” “We do not have even
one computer in our entire department, how are we
going to train our students to take a course that is computer-based?” The electronic aspect was quite intimidating to most of them, even to me at first. Just thinking
about how to link technology-savvy students in ICT-rich
Canada with their technology deprived counterparts in
Ghana was mind-boggling, to say the least. Despite the
challenges, I decided against giving up. Thus, when I
moved back to Canada4 and to Kwantlen University College in the Fall of 2005, I decided to pursue the project.
Looking for funding for the project proved even more
daunting. After applying to several external funding
agencies with no success, I had to settle for a modest
internal funding. In the Spring of 2006, I received a $500
Technology Innovation grant from Kwantlen University
College Information and Education department grant to
purchase two webcams and a pair of headsets. In the
same year, I received Kwantlen University College’s
Office for Research and Scholarship travel grant. In the
Summer of 2006 I travelled to Ghana where I met several potential collaborators at the University of Ghana
and to assess the level of technological readiness of the
country’s premier university. Professor Kojo Senah, who
is the current chair of the Sociology Department, signed
onto my proposal, cautiously. While I was aware of the
yawning digital divide between the Global North and
Global South, I was not prepared for what I saw. For
example, the entire Department of Sociology had only
two computers—one for the secretary and the other for
the head of the department.
On my return, I teamed up with Afretech, a Delta,
BC-based NGO which supplies used computers to various
African countries to collect and ship 40 used computers
from Kwantlen University College to the Sociology Department of the University of Ghana. In 2007, I went
back to Ghana to follow up on the project. I met with
the Director of the Information Technology Directorate,
Mr. Emmanuel Owusu-Oware, who enthusiastically also
signed on to the project. He immediately assigned his
deputy, Ms Ama Dadson and Mr. Patrick Kuti, the directorate’s web-developer to work with on the project.
He has made available UGL’s a well-equipped lab for
It is pertinent to mention that the University of
Ghana, Legon has had Internet connectivity some time
now. In fact, UGL is one of the participant institutions
taking part in the African Virtual University (AVU) project. The AVU was set up in 1995 under the auspices of
the World Bank as “a satellite based distance education
project whose objectives are to deliver to countries of
Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), university education in the
discipline of science and engineering, non-credit/continuing education programs and remedial instruction”
I moved to Central Michigan University in 2003, after a
decade of teaching at the departments of Communication
Studies and Sociology and Anthropology.
Education for a Digital World
3 – Challenges Confronted and Lessons (Un)Learned
VU.htm) .
From August 2007 to October 2007, Patrick and I
tried a number of course delivery systems, notably
Adobe Connect, Elluminate, and Yugma. We tried Adobe
Connect first, because Kwantlen University College has
just purchased a licence for it. Unfortunately, we had a
hell of time with it. In fact, about half of the trial period
was spent on Adobe Connect. Most of the time, I could
hear and see Patrick. However, he could hear and see me
some times, but other times he could not. There was
constant feedback and delays in the audio transmission.
At this stage, I decided to “hit” the Internet, sending
blind messages asking for suggestions. It was through
one such blind message that I got in touch with Sandy
Hirtz of BCCampus, who offered not only to be my
course assistant gratis, but also offered her Elluminate
virtual meeting room for the course. Prior to that, had awarded me its Global Collaboration Grant, which consisted of one Member Office
with a capacity of 25 users. In addition, Elluminate, a
web-conferencing company offered me a four-month
free trial and training beginning in May 2007.
The near miss
After frantic efforts throughout the summer, after my
return from Ghana, to link up with my collaborator, Dr.
Senah, Dr. Akosua Darkwah also of the Sociology Department of UGL, was suggested as a replacement. Dr.
Senah had been quite busy teaching and also attending
conferences in Europe. My several emails and phone
calls were not returned. My attempt to seek my colleagues input in crafting the course syllabus proved futile. When all seemed to be lost, I managed to reach Dr.
Senah, eventually. He then suggested I contacted Dr.
Darkwah, who he said teaches a graduate course in
Globalization. This was mid-December 2007. Thankfully, Dr. Darkwah readily accepted the challenge. Her
biggest headache was how to get in touch with her 12
graduate students, who because of the closure of the
UGL due to the African Cup of Nations Soccer Tournament, were scattered all over the country. In the end,
with dodged determination, she managed to get six of
the students to enroll in the course. Had Dr. Darkwah
not agreed at the last moment to team up with me, the
project would have been a non-starter, and for this I am
deeply indebted to her.
Education for a Digital World
Concurrently, Information and Educational Technology
(IET) Department was building course website on
Moodle for the project. Meg Goodine of IET was a consultant for the project. She assigned Sue Birthwell of IET
to assist the University of Ghana Online Collaborative
Learning Project in the following ways:
• Production of course (i.e., identifying and engineering course content for digital delivery format)
• Administration of tech support for faculty, students;
• Maintenance of course (content management)
• Administration of delivery of course from KUC to
Ghana using course management system (Elluminate)
• Consultation, training: faculty preparation for online
teaching and course facilitation
Course format
The class met twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays.
The instructors lectured on Thursday and devote Monday
to laboratory work, where students complete assignments, held discussions, and conducted collaborative
research for their group projects. The labs were supervised by the course assistants—Kaelan Wong at the
KUC site, Patrick Kuti at UGL, and Sandy Hirtz at a
“virtual site.”
Course requirements and
Exams covered class lectures and discussions, assigned
readings, and audio-visual presentations. There were
two take-home exams—a mid-term and a final.
Three quizzes were given over the course of the semester. The quizzes were short tests that primarily evaluated
students’ retention of readings. Students took the quizzes online in the course of the day, in their free time.
The quizzes were activated from 08:00 A.M. until 23:55
P.M. (PT). The quizzes, which comprised multiplechoice and true-or-false questions and short questions,
were for only the Kwantlen University College students.
Dr. Darkwah gave her graduate students replacement
assignments, commensurate with their level.
3 – Challenges Confronted and Lessons (Un)Learned
WEEKLY ELECTRONIC (E-) ESSAYS AND CHAPTER SUMMARIES: Each student was required to provide a summary/synopsis of a chapter from the course
main text (G & L), in no more than 300 words, and write
a 200-word reaction essay of the week’s assigned reading/chapter, for a total of 500 words or roughly oneand-a-half single-spaced page. Each essay was to begin
with a brief synopsis (summary) of the central assumptions and premises of the reading followed by the student’s answer to the chapter issue question. For example,
the issue question for chapter five is “To what extent did
early globalization affect peoples of the world?”
Students were encouraged to react to the lectures,
class discussions, the readings, videos, other students’
essays, and the course as a whole. Meaningful reactions
could be used as bonus points. I examined each student’s
reaction to determine whether or not it merited a bonus
point. Students earned up to 10 bonus points, i.e., 10
reaction submissions. All reactions were posted at OUR
Introductory presentation
On the first day of class, each student was asked to post a
brief background and a photo at the course website. This
was to give instructors an opportunity to know the students and indeed also for the students to know one another, particular students in the remote sites.
Group projects
The group project was made of two parts—Research and
By the third week of the semester, participants in the
course were assigned to a global collaborative research
team called Global Virtual Teams.6 Each Global Virtual
Team consisted of five persons (four from KUC and one
from UGL.) Each Virtual Team was assigned one of five
stakeholder perspectives: (1) global private sector; (2)
international organization; (3) developed country national government; (4) developing country national government; and (5) non-governmental organization (nonstate actors or NGO). These Global Virtual Teams were
tasked with a research problem and a role-playing exercise. Each global virtual team was expected to develop a
4,000–5,000 word e-essay/paper and a 15-minute (Address to Humanity) presentation on the following research questions:
• What is Globalization?
• Why has it attracted much controversy, supporters
and detractors?
• How has globalization contributed to the wealth and
poverty of nations? Identify the problems and promises of globalization.
• What roles should governments, individuals, civic
society, the UN play in this?
• Propose three ways in which valued resources such as
energy, food, shelter, medicine, etc., can be equitably
and justly distributed.
• The paper must be based on one of the areas to be
covered in the course listed below.
Fifteen-Minute Address to Humanity:
Mock UN Assembly Meeting: The Global Virtual Teams
were expected to present a summary of their paper to an
imaginary United Nations session devoted to Globalization. This was done during the four weeks of the term/
Social Justice
Economic Development
Indigenous Peoples
Foreign Policy
Global Climate
Global Health
International Conflict
The Media
Human Rights
Racial/Ethnic Minorities
Senior Citizens
Course evaluation
Each student was expected to prepare a two to five-page
evaluation of the course and its approach that should be
submitted in electronic format.
These assignments were adapted from Professor Derrick
Cogburn’s seminar course on Globalization and Information Society.
An adaptation of Global Syndicate approach used at the
University of the Witwatersrand.
Education for a Digital World
3 – Challenges Confronted and Lessons (Un)Learned
The course takes off
The course started on January 7, 2008 at 8:00 A.M. PST
and 4:00 P.M. Ghana Time and 8:00 P.M. in Bangalore,
India, with 35 students at Kwantlen University College,
six students in Ghana, and one student in Bangalore,
India. Initially, we anticipated twice the number of
Kwantlen students taking the course from UGL. This
was not to be, because the University of Ghana was
closed due to the African Cup of Nations Football (Soccer) Tournament that was held in Ghana in the months
of January and February. Thus, six graduate students
ended up enrolling in the course, instead of about 70
potential undergraduate students.
The course was held in labs equipped with computers, projectors and screens at both sites—KUC and
UGL. I had two course assistants, Kaelan Wong, a
Kwantlen University College science major, and Sandy
Hirtz of BCcampus. Dr. Darkwah was assisted by Mr.
Patrick Kuti, webmaster for UGL. The lone student in
Bangalore in India—Laura Johnson accessed the course
through a computer terminal.
Division of labour
Dr. Darkwah and I agreed at the planning stage that we
divided the lecture and discussion sessions between us. I
was to lead the lectures and discussions for the month of
January and Dr. Darkwah was to take over in February. I
was to take over in March and April. The lab sessions
were conducted by course assistant Kaelan with assistance from me and Sandy.
A virtual interactive classroom was the first of its kind at
Kwantlen University College. Naturally, day one was
filled with anxiety and uncertainty, but also anticipation
and excitement. Neither I nor my students and course
assistants had any idea what to expect. I did my best to
assuage the fears and uncertainties of my students by
assuring them that the course was a steep learning curve
for all of us—instructors, course assistants and students.
Sandy Hirtz is an expert in Elluminate, being the
BCcampus Online Community Producer. Kaelan took
training courses in Elluminate and Moodle during the
Summer. I had gone through my own training a year
ago, but to what to extent the amount of training will
come into play could only be gauged when interacting
with the students. Both programs seemed straightforward
enough. The interface was laid out in a user-friendly
Education for a Digital World
format. Icons were for the most part appropriately assigned.
The first day was devoted to familiarizing students
with the “bells and whistles”—the technological aspects
of the course. This was done superbly by course assistant
Sandy Hirtz of BCCampus. It was decided that it would
be best if there was some way to record each lecture and
have them posted online for student access. This would
allow students to revisit the lecture should there be a
technological failure that day. The first attempt was
made by utilizing a digital video camera to record the
lecture and then uploading it online. This method had
to be abandoned due to the large file size of digitized
two-hour lecture recording. The Moodle server was
unable to host such a large file. Other programs were
looked at as a possibility to record the lecture but in the
end, the built in recording tool in the Elluminate program was used due to its simplicity and ease of access for
students. Recordings were saved via the Elluminate website and a link was provided to each recorded lecture.
For the most part, Elluminate showed very little
problems with execution. PowerPoint lectures were
loaded onto the whiteboard in the program and students
from both BC and Ghana can view them on their own
computers. The audio was clear, although there was
some delay when transmitting from Ghana. Due to this
problem, audio output was only limited to one set of
speakers. Multiple speaker outputs from different computers produced a garbled effect in that each computer
were receiving the audio at different rates. The web
camera was available for use to see students from both
sides of the globe. This, however, was rarely utilized. The
whiteboard was also used when students were asked for
their input during lectures. A blank whiteboard would
be put up and students would type in their ideas so that
everyone can see it. Most students actively participated
during these sessions. During lab sessions, students used
the whiteboard to communicate with their fellow group
members as well as compile their lab work.
There were complaints from a number of students
that the whiteboard was not a very effective method for
placing text. First of all, since its functions mirrored that
of Windows Paint, it is limited in its word processing
capabilities. Students have suggested that it should have
a built in word processor for working on collaborative
lab work. Also, frustration arose when students wanted
to save their lab work and be able to edit it at home. The
whiteboard can only be saved as a whiteboard file and so
it was not compatible with other word editing software.
Also, the file can only be opened in Elluminate.
The only option that students had was to use the
“print screen” function and save an image of their work.
3 – Challenges Confronted and Lessons (Un)Learned
This, of course, was not editable in Micrsoft Word. In
addition, even though the print screen function was an
instant solution for those who are more adept with
computers; novice users found it to be both confusing
and frustrating. These students resorted to using the
whiteboard for brainstorming ideas and having one
group member, taking the ideas and typing it in an alternate word processing program. Some students avoided
using Elluminate during labs and, instead, used Messenger to communicate with their group. So, there was a
mix bag of reactions from the students.
There was also apprehension when it came to using
the microphones to communicate with the class. Students were each provided with headsets that had built in
microphones but only a couple of students actually used
it. When asked to participate in such discussions, students did not readily volunteer.
In Moodle online assignment submissions, one of
most frequent problems encountered was that students
tend to forget and spend long periods of time typing up
their assignment in Moodle, only to have it “disappear”
when the time out feature dissipated their work into
virtual oblivion. Also, only one student can submit their
work at any one time and the submission text box cannot be utilized by another student until they are done.
Project hits a snag: Internet
The course hit its major snag in the second month of
February. In February, it was it was Professor Darkwah
of Ghana’s turn to deliver the lectures via Elluminate.
The first lecture held on February 7, went fairly smoothly.
However, the second lecture on February 14 was another matter altogether. The African Nations Football
(Soccer) Tournament had come to an end and the University of Ghana students have returned to campus.
With thousands of the students using the email, the
network was overloaded and overwhelmed. Thus, Dr.
Darkwah and her students could not connect to Elluminate. The solution was to have Dr. Darkwah record her
lectures using audacity and have them posted on
Moodle for the Canadian students. But this was not to
be, as Dr. Darkwah’s lecture did not record. And this
was a huge blow, because the students really enjoyed Dr.
Darkwah’s lecture. Several of them made unsolicited
complimentary comments after her first lecture and
were anticipating her subsequent lectures. The second
lecture lasted no more than 30 minutes when she was
cut off. At this juncture, it became clear that until the
problem of connectivity was solved, we both must conduct our lectures separately. Thus, for the rest of February, the lectures were conducted at the separate sites. My
lectures were posted at Moodle for the Ghanaian students. Dr. Darkwah has promised to re-record her lecture own lectures and have them posted at Moodle.
Course content
Students in general, thought that the course content was
intriguing. Issues regarding globalization, poverty, inequities, etc. were put under a magnifying glass by a combination of articles, videos, and lectures. Students
showed educational growth in their essays as their “eyes
were opened” to the other side. Students were taught to
look past the obvious when examining such issues.
Student reactions
During the first few lab sessions, there were many students who expressed frustrations with using Elluminate
and Moodle. This was understandable. Students’ training in both programs was short—one class session or
three hours. Although students were constantly assisted
and “re-trained” throughout the first few weeks, there
was not enough time to really learn to use the programs,
especially, Elluminate. In short, there was not enough
training time to enable students to learn to use the programs competently and comfortably. One suggestion is
that perhaps having a structured training session during
the first two lectures to train the students in both
Moodle and Elluminate. This will alleviate student frustration and confusion. Most students expressed the view
that they were “confused most of the time” but they
were happy with the timely responses to their inquiries
and the availability of a course assistant to bridge the
gap between them and the course instructor. They were
further put at ease when they were told that this method
of course delivery was new to both faculty and students
and that any confusion and frustration that they were
experiencing was to be expected. They were encouraged
to voice their opinions throughout the duration of the
semester. In fact, in my first lecture, I told the students
that since the course was technology-intensive, it was
going to be a steep learning curve for both students and
instructors, and that there were likely to be technological
glitches and blackouts.
Education for a Digital World
3 – Challenges Confronted and Lessons (Un)Learned
“It is my hope that as they leave the course and the
semester, each student can confidently declare to
her or his family and friends: ‘Guess what, I entered the virtual classroom and came out at the
pinnacle of the future classroom without walls with
a better understanding of the wired world and the
global village’.” – Charles Quist-Adade (2008)
At the time of writing this chapter, the course has just
cruised through mid-stream. Six weeks more remain
before the course wraps up. It is still uncertain if Dr.
Darkwah and her students can connect with us via Elluminate. The maiden launch of this method of course
delivery did pose several problems in regards to technological barriers and students’ handle on Elluminate
and Moodle. My colleague and I did experience varying
levels of frustrations and disappointment. The course
assistant at the UGL site, Patrick Kuti certainly had more
than his fair share of disappointments and frustrations.
I am more than convinced that if I had had luck with
funding, the course would have more successful than it
was. For example, if we had extra dollars, it would have
been possible for Dr. Darkwah to conduct her lecture
from Busynet, a private Internet provider when the University of Ghana network was facing connectivity problems. Nonetheless, many students were excited to be a
part of this experience. To many, the sheer thrill of connecting and sharing a classroom, albeit virtual, with a
fellow student as far away as Ghana and India is itself a
veritable learning and life changing experience.
While I suffered a couple paroxysms of frustration
and angst during the planning stages and techno-shocks
during the first half of the course, I must state emphatically that I have enjoyed every moment of the journey so
far. It was a huge learning curve for everyone but even
more so for the students. As they learned to embrace
this course, it became increasingly apparent from their
essays, Internet discussions, and voluntary comments to
me and my course assistant, Kaelan that, they are likely
to take away from the course more than they anticipated. It is my hope that as they leave the course and the
semester, each student can confidently declare to her or
his family and friends: “Guess what, I entered the virtual
classroom and came out at the pinnacle of the future
classroom without walls with a better understanding of
the wired world and the global village.”
Education for a Digital World
African Virtual University
/case_studies/soc_inc_african_VU.htm Retrieved February 23, 2008.
African Universities Initiative http://www.worldcomputer Retrieved
February 23, 2008.
/OnlineCommunities.htm Retrieved February 23,
Carnegie Mellon OLI: Retrieved
February 23, 2008.
Cohen, Moshe, and Margaret Riel (1989) The Effect of
Distant Audiences on Students’ Writing, AERA Journal, pp. 132–159.
Cogburn, D. L. (1998) Globalisation, knowledge, education, and training in the information age. International Forum on Information and Documentation 23,
4, 23–29.
Education with Technologies (2005). http://learnweb
Elluminate: Retrieved February 23, 2008.
Farrell, Glen, and Shafika Isaacs. 2007. Survey of ICT
and Education in Africa: A Summary Report, Based
on 53 Country Surveys. Washington, DC: infoDev/
World Bank. Available at
/en/Publication.353.html Retrieved February 23, 2008.
Lechner, F. (2003). Cited in The Globalization of Nothing, George Ritzer, Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge.
UK Open University: Retrieved
February 23, 2008.
Ritzer, G. (2003). The Globalization of Nothing. Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge.
The Impact of Synchronous Online Learning in Academic Institutions Retrieved February 23, 2008.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2005).
/degree.shtml Retrieved February 23, 2008.
University of Michigan.
Retrieved February 23, 2008.
Addressing Diversity in
Design of Online Courses
Madhumita Bhattacharya* and Maggie Hartnett**
* Athabasca University, Canada
** Massey University, New Zealand
. . . everybody who is human has something to express. Try not expressing yourself for
twenty-four hours and see what happens. You will nearly burst. You will want to write a
long letter or draw a picture or sing, or make a dress or a garden. – Ueland (1987)
Education for a Digital World
4 – Addressing Diversity in Design of Online Courses
Learning outcomes
After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
Within any group of people there will be many aspects
of diversity. Whether the focus of investigation is a
sports team, a school class, a work group within an organization, or a group of online learners, these groups
are made up of individuals who differ on at least some
dimensions of diversity (Maznevski, 1994). While many
would acknowledge that no two persons are alike in
every respect and therefore can be regarded as diverse
relative to each other, it is the similarities between some
specified group of people and differences to other groups
that has been the focus of much research on diversity
(Cox, 1993; Hofstede, 2004; Thomas, 1995; Triandis,
1995b). Indeed it is this ability to identify meaningful
distinctions that make diversity a useful and extensively
studied concept (Nkomo, 1995).
• Demonstrate the knowledge and understanding of
the emerging issues of diversity for online learning.
• Explain different definitions of diversity with references from literature.
• Identify the different parameters of diversity.
• Analyze different learner characteristics and their
online behaviour.
• Prioritize different parameters of diversity according
to their importance for designing online courses.
• Design learning environments to sustain motivation
in online courses.
“In the life of the human spirit, words are action,
much more so than many of us may realize who
live in countries where freedom of expression is
taken for granted. The leaders of totalitarian nations understand this very well. The proof is that
words are precisely the action for which dissidents
in those countries are being persecuted”. – Carter
The world is shrinking rapidly. The Internet has brought
the world together in ways that nobody would have expected. You can now attend a college halfway around
the world, with students from any country with Internet
access. People will telecommute to their jobs more in the
future, while their companies compete globally ( Many countries around the world are experiencing increasing diversity amongst their populations
(Wentling & Palma-Rivas, 2000). While this is having a
major impact on organizations within the business sector (Thomas, 1995), higher education institutions are
also feeling the effects of increasing diversity within
student populations (Smith, 1995). The last decade in
particular has seen an increasing trend towards globalization (Farrell, 2001) particularly with the introduction
of the World Wide Web and the Internet. As a result the
tertiary education landscape has changed considerably
as institutions seek new and innovative ways to meet the
needs of a growing and increasingly diverse student
population (Rumble & Latchem, 2004). Online learning, or
e-learning, is an increasingly popular method being used
by institutions to meet the requirements of the changing
learning landscape (Dimitrova, Sadler, Hatzipanagos &
Murphy, 2003).
Education for a Digital World
Defining diversity
That diversity is a complex issue is reflected in the difficulty in defining what diversity is (Smith, 1995). In order
to make some sense of the countless potential sources of
diversity among groups of people numerous definitions
have arisen. Within organizations diversity is “typically
seen to be composed of variations in race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, physical abilities,
social class, age, and other such socially meaningful
categorizations” (Ferdman, 1995, p. 37). In other words
diversity measures are assumed to capture a perception
of similarities and differences among individuals in a
group or organization (Wise & Tschirhart, 2000).
Wentling and Palma-Rivas (2000) point out that
there are many definitions of diversity that range from
narrow to very broad. Narrow definitions of diversity
tend to focus on observable or visible dimensions of
difference (Milliken & Martins, 1996) which Lumby
(2006) asserts are likely to evoke bias, prejudice, or the
use of stereotypes leading to disadvantage. These include
ethnicity, race, gender, disability, and age. Indeed much
of the organizational diversity research has tended to
focus on the identification of differences between the
cultural majority and particular minorities in the workplace with regard to race, culture, and gender (Thomas,
1995). As a result of this somewhat narrow focus some
argue that the term diversity should only pertain to particular disadvantaged groups (Wise & Tschirhart, 2000).
A direct consequence of this is the current politicised
nature of the discussion which has seen diversity become synonymous with affirmative action where diversity is seen as a means of fostering the recruitment,
4 – Addressing Diversity in Design of Online Courses
promotion, and retention of members of a particular
group (Thomas, 2006).
Not all agree with this view and argue that the definition of diversity is much broader and is continually
changing and evolving (Smith, 1995). Broader meanings
of diversity tend to encompass a greater variety of characteristics that are not immediately observable or public.
These include dimensions such as educational background, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, values,
ethnic culture, education, language, lifestyle, beliefs,
physical appearance, economic status, and leadership
style (Cox, 1993; Lumby, 2006; Thomas, 1995, 1996;
Wentling & Palma-Rivas, 2000). Still others take account of additional dimensions such as political views,
work experience/professional background, personality
type and other demographic socioeconomic, and psychographic characteristics (Gardenswartz & Rowe, 1998;
Thomas, 1995; Wise & Tschirhart, 2000).
Maznevski (1994) differentiates between two main
types of diversity characteristics, namely, role-related
diversity such as occupation, knowledge, skills, and
family role; and inherent (to the person) diversity such
as gender, age, nationality, cultural values, and personality. In contrast, McGrath, Berdahl & Arrow (1995)
developed a more comprehensive framework of diversity attributes using clusters.
What these different definitions highlight is the
breadth and variety of understanding of what diversity is
and can encompass. Thomas’ (1996, pp. 5–8) definition
of diversity is an attempt to reflect this broadness as well
as acknowledge that any discussion about diversity must
make explicit the dimensions being explored. He defines
diversity as “any mixture of items characterized by differences and similarities”. Key characteristics of diversity include:
• Diversity is not synonymous with differences, but
encompasses differences and similarities.
• Diversity refers to the collective (all-inclusive) mixture
of differences and similarities along a given dimension.
• The component elements in diversity mixtures can
vary, and so a discussion of diversity must specify the
dimensions in question.
Lessons from the literature
A significant diversity dimension that has received considerable attention and research is that of culture (Cox,
1993; Hofstede, 2004; Triandis, 1994). Much of the drive
for this has come from the increasing types and degrees of
diversity occurring within organizations in an increas-
ingly globalized marketplace and the need to manage
this process to achieve effective functioning of work
groups (Maznevski, 1994).
Historically the definition of culture has been contentious, resulting in numerous definitions by researchers (Erez & Earley, 1993; Triandis, 1996). Shweder and
LeVine (1984) and D’Andrade (1984) defined culture as
a shared meaning system within a group of people.
Hofstede (1980), on the other hand, described culture as
a set of mental programs that control an individual’s
responses in a given context. Still others (Triandis, 1972;
1995b) have viewed it as consisting of shared elements
of subjective perception and behaviour where the subjective aspects of culture include the categories of social
stimuli, associations, beliefs, attitudes, norms, and values, and roles of individuals who share a common language and live during the same historical time period in
a shared geographical location. Triandis (1996) also
identified subjective culture as being a function of the
ecology (terrain, climate, flora and fauna, natural resources) linked to the maintenance system (subsistence
and settlement patterns, social structures, means of production) within which it is situated.
Even though there are multiple definitions most
agree that culture consists of shared elements “that provide the standards for perceiving, believing, evaluating,
communicating, and acting among those who share a
language, a historic period, and a geographic location
(Triandis, 1996, p. 408). It’s important to note that most
countries consist of hundreds of cultures and subcultures (Triandis, 1995b) and that culture is not synonymous with nations, although it is often discussed this
way in the literature (Erez & Earley, 1993).
One of the most widely used and quoted studies on
culture is the seminal work of Hofstede (1980; Hofstede,
2001), which studied cultural differences in a large multinational organization with data from more than 40
countries. He developed a five-dimensional model that
took account of cultural variation in values. According
to this research, the five dimensions on which culture
vary are power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism versus collectivism, masculinity versus femininity, and long-term versus short-term orientation.
Power distance describes the way in which members
of the culture accept inequality of power, that is, the
unequal sharing of power; uncertainty avoidance reflects
the degree to which a culture emphasizes the importance of rules, norms, and standards for acceptable behaviour; individualism versus collectivism relates to the
degree to which individuals are integrated into primary
groups or in-groups (Triandis, 2001); masculinity versus
femininity refers to the division of roles based on gender;
Education for a Digital World
4 – Addressing Diversity in Design of Online Courses
and long-term versus short-term orientation highlights
the predominant focus of people within the group,
namely the future or the present (Hofstede, 2001, p. 29).
Of these five dimensions most of the variance in the data
was accounted for by the individualism and collectivism
(I-C) dimension. Since the publication of the original
work in 1980 a multitude of research and theory has the
I-C dimension as a focus (Church, 2000; Triandis, 2004).
Triandis (1995b) defines individualism as “a social
pattern that consists of loosely linked individuals who
view themselves as independent of collectives; are primarily motivated by their own preferences, needs,
rights, and the contracts they have established with others; give priority to personal goals over the goals of others; and emphasize rational analyses of the advantages
and disadvantages to associating with others”. Collectivism on the other hand is “a social pattern consisting
of closely linked individuals who see themselves as parts
of one or more collectives (family, co-workers, tribe,
nation); are primarily motivated by the norms of, and
duties imposed by, those collectives; are willing to give
priority to the goals of these collectives over their own
personal goals; and emphasize their connectedness to
members of these collectives” (p. 2). These differences
can be summarised as:
• A sense of self as independent versus self that is connected to in-groups. Markus and Kitayama (1991)
view this as independent versus the interdependent
• Personal goals have priority versus group goals have
• Social behaviour guided by attitudes, personal needs
and rights versus social behaviour guided by norms,
obligations, and duties (Church, 2000; Triandis, 1995b)
In addition to these general contrasts the following attributes tend to be reflective of the I-C dimension (see
Table 4.1).
It is important to note that to this point the terms
individualism and collectivism and the corresponding
attributes refer to the cultural level where the unit of
analysis is the culture (i.e., between culture analyses) and
individualism is the opposite of collectivism (Hofstede,
1980). To make the distinction between the cultural and
individual level of analysis (i.e., within-culture analyses),
Triandis Leung, Villareal & Clack (1985) used the terms
idiocentrism and allocentrism (I-A) that describe individual personality attributes (Triandis and Suh, 2002, p. 140).
Table 4.1. Attributes of individualist and collectivist cultures
internal causes
external causes
Prediction of behaviour more accurate
based on
internal dispositions
such as personality
traits or attitudes
social roles or norms
Identity & emotions
relationships & group
membership; other
emphasize abilities
emphasize effort
see themselves as
stable and the environment as changeable
see their environment
as stable and themselves as changeable/
self-reliance, hedonism, sociability, interdecompetition, emotional pendence, family
detachment from inintegrity
curiosity, broadminded, family security, social
creative, having an
order, respect for tradiexciting and varied life tion, honouring parents
and elders, security and
Social behaviour
personality more evident
influenced by behaviour
and thoughts of others;
shifts depending on
Attitudes towards
personal business is
personal business is also
business of group
• direct
• emphasizes content
and clarity
• frequent use of “I”
• message is indirect
and reliant on hints,
eyes bodies, etc.
• emphasizes context
and concern for feelings and face-saving
• frequent use of “we”
Conflict resolution
more direct
obliging, avoiding,
integrating, & compromising styles
prefer attitudes and
behaviour are consistent
• contextual and
focused on welfare of
the collective
• linked to adherence
of many rules
promotion based on
personal attributes
promotion on the basis
of seniority & loyalty
Sources: (Church, 2000; Triandis, 1995b; Triandis and Suh, 2002)
Education for a Digital World
4 – Addressing Diversity in Design of Online Courses
Idiocentrics emphasize self-reliance, competition,
uniqueness, hedonism, and emotional distance from ingroups. Allocentrics emphasize interdependence, sociability, and family integrity; they take into account the
needs and wishes of in-group members, feel close in their
relationships to their in-group, and appear to others as
responsive to their needs and concerns.
At the individual level of analysis idiocentrism and
allocentrism are often orthogonal to each other meaning
that individuals can and often do exhibit attributes of
both. In addition idiocentrics and allocentrics are found
in all cultures (Triandis & Suh, 2002). It’s also been
found that idiocentrism tends to increase with affluence,
leadership, education, international travel, and social
mobility; is more likely if migration to another culture
has occurred; and in cases of high exposure to Western
mass media. Allocentrism is more likely if individuals
are financially dependent; of low social class; have limited education; undertaken little travel, socialized in a
traditionally religious environment; and acculturated in
collectivist culture (Triandis & Trafimow, 2001, cited in
Triandis, 2006). Additionally allocentrism and idiocentrism attributes are dependent on context (Triandis,
1995a). Triandis (2006) also notes that globalization is
essentially compatible with individualism and idiocentrism.
This has the effect of complicating the discussion about
I-C cultures and in turn the discussion on diversity.
Ferdman (1995) also discussed the gap between
group differences and individual uniqueness using the
concept of cultural identity. He argued that “culture is
by definition a concept used to describe a social collective”
(p. 41) but that values, norms and behaviours ascribed
to a particular culture are expressed by individuals who
vary in their image of the group’s culture as reflected in
individual-level constructions. In other words diversity
does not just apply to differences between groups but
also within-group differences and the “concept of cultural identity suggests that simply having some representatives of a particular group may not adequately
reflect the full range of diversity” (p. 56). Cox (1993)
argues that many individuals belong to multiple groups
and that group identity develops when there is an affiliation with other people who share certain things in
common. Indeed “various group identities play a part in
how we define ourselves” (p. 43) and how we behave as
individuals. The growing recognition that globalization
is giving rise to more multicultural or complex hybrid
identity development of young people is a case in point
(Lam, 2006). This in turn “shifts our understanding of
culture from stable identities, categorical memberships,
and holistic traits to ways of acting and participating in
diverse social groups and the heterogeneous sets of cul-
tural knowledge, skills, and competence that are required in the process” (p. 217).
While some have warned against describing both
cultural and individual characteristics using a broad
dichotomy such as I-C (Church & Lonner, 1998) and
that different selves are accessible in different contexts
(Trafimow, Triandis & Goto, 1991), given the accumulated research in this area and continuing dominance
the I-C dimension it seems an appropriate and valid
dimension to consider when attempting to address issues of diversity in the online learning environment.
Other paradigms of diversity
In the design of online learning environment it is not
only the diversity among people which is of utmost importance it is also the diversity among available resources
and technologies, subject area, methods of assessment,
and capabilities of both faculty and students to handle
the technologies and their expectations from each other
and from the course (Bhattacharya and Jorgensen,
In reality all the parameters or aspects of diversity are
intermingled and intertwined with each other. The ideas
or solutions can not be presented as stand-alone to address a single aspect of diversity; they are as complex
and interlinked as a kaleidoscope, with the pieces connected to all the other pieces and to the whole. They
interact with one another, and in that interaction change
the dynamics. Make one small twist on the kaleidoscope,
and the pieces shift into another pattern (Thomas and
Woodruff, 1999). Therefore knowledge about diversity
and the related issues are useful for developing online
learning environments, but are not enough to design
courses which will suit individual needs, expectations,
interests, and so on. There are definitely no simple solutions or ideal conditions for designing online courses to
address the issues of diversity.
In the following section we have identified some of
the design principles for creating online learning environments to cater to diversity and discussed some of the
innovations we have tried in this regard. Our motto is to
“address diversity through variety”.
Learning environment design
Success indicator or effectiveness of any learning environment design is judged by students’ satisfaction and
success rate. Both satisfaction and success depend on
sustaining interest and motivation for learning. Much
Education for a Digital World
4 – Addressing Diversity in Design of Online Courses
research is needed to identify the different motivating
factors for learning and the strategies for sustaining
learners’ motivation in online courses. Most of the online courses are attended by the students who are busy
professionals, or who do not have access to face-to-face
education. These students are highly motivated to learn,
although they have different motivations or objectives
for learning. So our challenges are to sustain students’
motivation in the online environment, provide challenges, provide support, and facilitate learning. One of
the primary aspects of sustaining interest in online
courses is to provide opportunities for interactions.
People are, above all else, members of social groups and
products of the historical experiences of those groups
(Wood, 2004).
Some of the basic principles of instructional (interaction) design are:
• Design and use learning activities that engage students in active learning.
• Provide meaningful and authentic learning experiences
that help learners apply course concepts and achieve
course objectives.
• Use strategies that consider the different learning
styles of students.
The teacher as the leader and designer of the learning
environment must possess and inculcate fundamentals of
embracing diversity (Sonnenschein, 1999) which include:
• Respect—for others, for differences, for ourselves.
• Tolerance—for ambiguities in language, style, behaviour.
• Flexibility—in situations that are new, difficult and
• Self-awareness—be sure you understand your reactions and know what you bring to the diverse workplace (learning environment).
• Empathy—to feel what someone different from you
might be feeling in new and strange surroundings.
• Patience—for change that can be slow, and diversity
situations that might be difficult.
• Humour—because when we lose our sense of humour, we lose our sense of humanity, as well as perspectives (p. 9).
The instructor or designer has to be creative, and use
several different activities and interactivity to engage students and enhance their learning experience in an online
course. These could be done through introduction of case
studies, reflective journals, research reports, eportfolios,
wikis, blogs, podcasts, simulations and games, authentic
group projects through problem-based or inquiry-based
Education for a Digital World
learning, tests, quizzes, synchronous chat and asynchronous discussion forums, audio-videoconferences via
Internet, etc. The instructor will have to develop strategies and techniques for establishing and maintaining
learning communities among distance learners through
the use of learning technologies. This will help to overcome the isolation that students can experience when
taking an online course and also provide opportunities
for collaboration and sharing knowledge and expertise.
We have conducted online collaborative problembased learning for distance students. It was initially very
difficult for the students to adapt to the new learning
environment. By the end of the course, students realized
that much learning had taken place by working in collaborative groups and participating in synchronous and
asynchronous interactions using Internet tools. Student
reflections revealed that the learning environment allowed them to choose their own problem to work on.
They could schedule their work in negotiation with
other group members. Students felt a sense of ownership
of their work. Some students indicated that they were so
involved in finding solutions for a problem or resolving
an issue that at times they forgot that they were doing
the activities for a course assignment. Assessment was
done for the acquisition of higher order cognitive skills,
e.g., critical thinking, decision-making, reflection, problem solving, scientific, and research skills. Self reflection,
peer assessment and feedback are also a part of the peerbased learning process. In the process students also acquired valuable social and interpersonal skills through
collaborative activities (Bhattacharya, 2004).
We have introduced e-portfolios in various courses
and programs over the years. E-portfolios allow students
to integrate and identify the links between the various
activities they do in and outside of their formal education. Students can bring in their personal experiences
and demonstrate how they have applied the knowledge
and skills acquired in actual practice through eportfolios. Developing e-portfolios and reflecting on the
activities allow students to learn about their strengths,
weaknesses, interests, and provide them directions for
future. It also provides opportunities for teachers to
learn about their students: their motivations, their previous experiences, their background, their skills, their
attitudes, etc. Students can personalize their learning,
and develop communication, organization, presentation, and design skills through development of eportfolios (Bhattacharya, 2006).
In recent times we have used a combination of
freeware for conducting interactive sessions in our online courses. Students were consulted before combining
and using the technologies. A quick survey revealed the
4 – Addressing Diversity in Design of Online Courses
pros and cons of different technologies. Students and
faculty agreed upon a set of tools which would work for
them. The process of selecting tools, particularly criteria
for selection, preferences, and justifications for using
particular tools provided useful data for identifying tools
and technologies to mashup to suit different purposes.
Examples include Skype, Googledoc, Googlechat, or
Skypechat for collaborative group assignments for an
online and distance education course. WebCT discussion forums were used for asynchronous interactions
among group members. In this course all the synchronous interactions were recorded for future reference and
In this chapter we have discussed different approaches
to designing online courses to address the issues of diversity where diversity is viewed as a strength to be exploited rather than a problem to be solved.
We envisage that in the near future mashups of different technologies will be easier, and students will be
able to create their own learning environment by dragging and dropping different tools into one common
platform, and access their personalized learning environment with one login.
The online learning environment should be flexible
with respect to time and pace of learning. It should provide different forms of active learning and ways of assessment, and give control and choices to the learner. It
should allow for the synthesis of formal, informal, and
non formal learning to address the issues of diversity.
There is a major issue in that everyday informal
learning is disconnected from the formal learning that
takes place in our educational institutions. For younger
people there is a danger that they will increasingly see
school as a turn off—as something irrelevant to their
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Education for a Digital World
Mobile Learning in Developing
Countries: Present Realities and
Future Possibilities
Ken Banks
Education for a Digital World
5 – Mobile Learning in Developing Countries: Present Realities and Future Possibilities
Learning outcomes
After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
• Strategize ways in which mobile technologies can
help close the digital divide.
• Use devices such as mobile phones and iPods to
promote learning in developing nations.
• Compare the benefits to learning of mobile devices
with those offered by the traditional classroom.
For every personal computer in a developing country
there are roughly four mobile phones. Although many
of these are likely to be older or low-end models, today’s
high-end devices have the equivalent processing power
of a personal computer from the mid-1990s. In comparison, personal computers today have more number
crunching ability than all the computers that took the
Apollo rocket to the moon 25 years earlier. The boundary between mobile phones, handheld game consoles,
entertainment devices and personal computers is becoming increasingly blurred, with devices such as the
Blackberry, Symbian-driven smartphones, GPS-enabled
mobile phones, Ultra Mobile PCs, and Nokia’s N-Gage
breaking new ground. Technology continues to advance
at a remarkable pace, opening up new opportunities few
people would have considered a few short years ago.
Figure 5.1 South African phone shop (source:
Education for a Digital World
Ultra-mobility: a new way to
Mobility—and increasingly “ultra mobility”—is the buzzword of the day. According to the CEO of OQO, a
manufacturer of Ultra Mobile PCs, “Ultra mobility is the
ability to access all of your information, get in touch
with anyone you want to, collaborate with anyone, and
run any application you want from anywhere on the
planet”. Convergence is making this possible, with music players, wi-fi connectivity, video cameras, GPS units,
and live television capable of running on a single device,
often a mobile phone. The days of carrying a separate
phone, camera and music player are over. Indeed, many
people are beginning to question use of the word phone
at all, preferring to refer to these new gadgets as mobile
communication devices, or digital assistants.
M-learning is a term regularly used to describe the
many possibilities opened up by this convergence,
whether it be exam results by mobile phone, lecture
podcasting via iPod, or structured language games on a
Nintendo. These are still early days, and while examples
of m-learning in action are continually on the rise the
benefits have already begun to be studied and documented. In “Mobile technologies and learning: A technology update and m-learning project summary”, Jill
Attewell highlights a few examples of her own. According
to her findings, m-learning is helping students improve
their literacy and numeracy skills and to recognize their
existing abilities. It also encourages both independent
and collaborative learning experiences and helps learners identify areas where they need assistance and support. It can help combat resistance to the use of
information and communication technologies (ICT) that
can help bridge the gap between mobile phone literacy
and ICT literacy, and it can remove some of the formality from the learning experience which engages reluctant
learners. It can also help learners remain more focused
for longer periods.
Revolutionizing learning in
developing countries
Further studies are painting a picture of today’s youth
becoming increasingly comfortable and accepting of their
new digital lifestyles, powered by always-on technology
such as mobile phones, enriched by portable entertainment
devices such as iPods, digital cameras, Sony PSPs, and
Nintendo’s Gameboy. Friendships are made, maintained,
5 – Mobile Learning in Developing Countries: Present Realities and Future Possibilities
and lost online, often in virtual worlds and on social
networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Bebo.
Much of what we are seeing today—generally out of the
classroom but increasingly in it—is technology-driven,
but this technology is not universally accessible to all.
download and play games, keep in contact with friends
and family via instant messenger (IM), watch streaming
video and live TV, and use as much data, SMS or voice,
as they like with a cheap all-inclusive price plan. The other
lives in the land of less. He or she uses a shared phone,
lives in an area not covered by a data network of any
kind, has a sporadic signal, a phone incapable of playing
games or video, and has to think twice before sending an
SMS or making a voice call because of constant concerns
over airtime credit, not to mention worries over how the
phone will be recharged if the main electricity doesn’t
come back for days.
“Teachers open the door, but you must enter by
yourself”. – Chinese proverb
Figure 5.2 Mobile learning is increasingly a way of life in developing nations.
In contrast, the living and learning environments in
developing countries can often be quite different. Where
mobile technology may prove a complementary extension to teaching methods in the West, for example, improving or enriching the learning experience, in many
developing countries it offers the hope of revolutionising
learning altogether, even taking it into areas previously
starved of reliable or regular education services. This is
particularly true in rural areas, which may be characterised by a lack of fixed telephone lines, poor roads and
unreliable electricity, poor postal services, few if any
personal computers, few teachers, and most likely no
Internet access.
What many of these communities will have, however,
is mobile network coverage and, if not their own
phones, at least access to one. Learning by distance is
nothing new in many developing countries, and the
mobile phone has the potential to unlock it yet further,
expanding its reach and delivering richer, more appropriate, more engaging and interactive content.
But despite the promise, problems remain. Imagine
two mobile phone users. One lives in the land of plenty,
and owns an iPhone. He or she can access the Internet
via free wireless connections dotted around the city,
Figure 5.3 Text messaging is a powerful tool both for social networking and for
learning. (Source:
Mobile learning: a tentative
step towards Utopia?
During Spring 2007, I was invited to the 16th International World Wide Web Conference in Banff, Canada. I
was there to take part in two separate tracks, although
the topic was the same—how the mobile phone might
help close the digital divide in the developing world. My
talk on the first day was more general, discussing the
delivery of targeted information—health messages,
wildlife alerts, or market prices, for example—via text
message (SMS)—and the importance of understanding
the complex cultural issues which surround technology
adoption in places like sub-Saharan Africa, where I have
done most of my conservation, development and technology work. On the second day I sat on an expert panel
discussing something a little more specific—access to
Education for a Digital World
5 – Mobile Learning in Developing Countries: Present Realities and Future Possibilities
the Internet via mobile devices under the conditions
faced by a developing country.
I started my panel discussion with a short description
of what I considered to be Utopia, the ideal conditions
under which we’d all like to be working. It went something like this: “Everybody, everywhere wirelessly communicating and accessing a whole range of personally
relevant information whenever they like, using a wide
variety of compatible devices at high speed and low cost.”
This, of course, isn’t realistic anywhere, let alone in
many developing countries, at least not yet. But the specific problems of web delivery in these places are not
dissimilar to those faced by anyone looking to work with
mobile technologies in the developing world. And, as
you would expect, the m-learning community is not
exempt. Ageing handsets, limited functionality, lack of
bandwidth, issues of literacy and cost are just some of
the barriers, and there are many. It is these barriers that
I propose to discuss a little later in this chapter.
But for now let’s imagine that we are living in Utopia
and almost anything is possible. The sky’s the limit!
What would that look like? Given a high-end mobile
device—mobile phones, personal digital assistants
(PDAs), pocket PCs, and even things like iPods—what
could we do? More to the point, what would students
require it to do to make their learning experience more
engaging, enjoyable, and productive, assuming these are
key objectives? Would their mobile learning experience
be largely based on video lectures? Collaboration with
other students via online blogs and wikis? Playing games
and “learning by doing”? Schooling in a virtual world
with virtual classmates, teachers and desks? Pitting students against one another through online spelling and
math competitions? Mobile-delivered examinations? All
of these? More?
Some of these things, of course, are already happening. The University of California in Berkeley recently
began posting entire lectures on YouTube and, of
course, YouTube content is accessible via mobile devices. A lecturer at Bradford University in the UK early
last year went as far as abolishing traditional lectures
altogether in favour of podcasts, in his words “freeing up
more time for smaller group teaching”. And children
can learn to count, spell or even play guitar using Javabased mobile games, downloadable from the Internet or
directly onto their phones via a carrier portal.
Three projects
The closer you are to the optimum device and network
conditions the more things become possible. Three proj-
Education for a Digital World
ects highlighted below take advantage of some of these
optimum conditions, but use the technology in slightly
different ways and aim at subtly different target audiences. The first, wildlive!, sets out to raise awareness of
wildlife conservation among the general public, whoever
and wherever they may be. The second, Freedom
HIV/AIDS, was more specific, targeting members of the
public in developing countries particularly at risk for
contracting the disease. The third, Dunia Moja, is a lecture and class-based education tool aimed at a controlled
group of students taking a particular university course.
As 2002 came to a close, a visionary team at Fauna &
Flora International, a Cambridge (UK) based conservation organization, began looking at ways emerging mobile technology could be used to promote their
international conservation effort. A new breed of handset was coming to market, with colour screens, Internet
access, video capability, cameras, and the ability to play
games. wildlive! was launched in the UK in 2003, and
then across Europe in 2004, and adopted a combined
web- and WAP-approach, meaning that it provided
conservation content on the Internet and mobile phones.
News, diaries, discussions, and other information was
added to the website, which was then rendered for mobile devices accessing via the Vodafone network. A
community of interest was created, allowing users to
contact others with similar ideas and views, and a wide
range of conservation-based resources and downloads
were made available online. Among this innovative
range of content were five mobile games which taught
users about gorilla, turtle, and tiger conservation while
they roamed around a mixture of environments. Another was a 500-question quiz based on zoology and
biology. The project received considerable attention, was
nominated for an award, and is still seen as groundbreaking today.
Originally developed for the Indian market, Freedom
HIV/AIDS was launched on World AIDS Day, 2005,
and sought to use mobile phones to take HIV/AIDS
education to the masses. A number of games were developed including “Penalty Shootout” and “Mission
Messenger”. In the shootout game, the player was given
points for saving penalties, and received tips on how to
avoid HIV/AIDS transmission. At the same time it
sought to dispel myths surrounding the disease. In the
second game, the player “flies” across the African continent distributing red ribbons and condoms, spreading
5 – Mobile Learning in Developing Countries: Present Realities and Future Possibilities
messages of HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention, transmission, and safety. The games, originally developed for
the Indian market, have been translated into a number
of African languages.
Dunia Moja, or one earth in Swahili, seeks to use “mobile technologies to connect international students and
faculty to stimulate learning and debate in environmental sciences”. This innovative project, piloted in
2007, was a collaboration between Stanford University
and three African academic institutions—the University
of the Western Cape in South Africa, Mweka College of
African Wildlife Management in Tanzania, and Makerere University in Uganda. The project used high-end
PDAs to allow students to download and watch video
lectures from academic staff in each of the partner universities, and contribute to the discussion and debate
through mobile blogging to a central website. The
course was centred around global environmental issues
and their impact on the African continent and the
United States, and brought local perspectives and viewpoints to bear on the course topics. Faculty and students
from the four participating institutions electronically
shared course materials, exchanged information, and
contributed their own course content. In m-learning in
developing countries, Dunia Moja is a pioneering first.
As these three interventions (and there are many
more out there) show, much is possible if you have
higher-end devices and a fast, reliable data network at
your disposal. In the land of plenty the sky really is the
limit. In the land of less, however, we have fewer choices.
“Character cannot be developed in peace and
quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering
can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired,
and success achieved”. – Helen Keller
The challenges ahead
Furthering the advance of m-learning in developing
countries is governed by a combination of five key constraints, four of which are technical. (Other nontechnical constraints such as literacy, culture, and language, are not covered here). Depending on the target
area, none or all of these may apply. I consider these
issues to be as follows.
Although growing at a phenomenal rate, mobile ownership in many developing countries is still relatively low,
and nowhere close to the near 100 percent penetration
rates that we see in many mature markets. If educational
establishments begin to embrace mobile technology to
any significant extent, then issues of ownership and
access to handsets by students need to be addressed to
ensure that, in the words of a recent American president, “no child is left behind”. Putting learning tools in
the hands of children in developing countries is a key
objective of MIT’s One Laptop Per Child project. Many
people believe that the mobile phone would be a better
tool to work with. The debate continues.
Where pupils do own, or have access to, mobile phones,
more often than not—and this is particularly the case in
many rural areas—these phones will be either older models,
or lower-end handsets with limited functionality. In
order to develop appropriate teaching tools, the reality
of the target market needs to be considered. The wider
community should most likely consider ownership and
use of PDAs and Pocket PCs as non-existent.
Higher-end handsets with data capability are only useful
in areas where the mobile network can service them, and
where costs of data access are not prohibitive. In many
cases neither of these are a safe bet. By way of an example, during a recent one-month visit to Uganda working
with Grameen, I was able to connect to the Internet using my phone approximately 10 percent of the time.
Mobile phones may be ubiquitous, highly portable, shareable, immediate, and always-on, but there also limitations that challenge even the most talented mobile
applications developers—small (and generally lowresolution) displays, awkward text input methods, slow
data access (if at all), and issues of battery life, among
others. On top of all that, the mobile industry has historically suffered from a lack of standards, with different
manufacturers supporting different video and audio
formats, no standard screen size and resolution, lack of
regular support for Java and/or Flash, incompatible
browsers (if at all), and a wide array of memory sizes. All
of this fragments the platform landscape, making developing an m-learning application a real challenge.
Education for a Digital World
5 – Mobile Learning in Developing Countries: Present Realities and Future Possibilities
“A project is complete when it starts working for you,
rather than you working for it”. – Scott Allen
Despite these issues, however, there is still much that
can be done. Text messaging, or SMS, is universally
available to mobile owners the world over, and it is relatively cheap, direct, and gets around many issues of literacy. Although based more in the administrative side of
education, a number of African countries allow students
to obtain their exam results by SMS or check whether
they have successfully enrolled in a course.
In 2005, the University of Cape Town piloted the use
of mobile phones to help administer a number of their
courses. Text messages were sent out to students whenever re-scheduling and cancelling of classes was necessary, whenever there were computer network problems,
and when test results became available. According to a
spokesperson at the University, “At a superficial glance,
with its concentration on administrative functions, the
project does not seem remarkable, particularly as the
developed world moves into sophisticated m-learning.
The importance of the project, however, is that it illustrates a set of principles useful for the introduction of
this technology into the third-world environment, or
into any institution making first steps into m-learning”.
In other African countries SMS is being used to alert
parents if their children haven’t turned up for school or
by children who find themselves the victim of bullying.
During an online discussion towards the end of 2007
about the potential of mobile technology in e-learning, a
number of initiatives were discussed, including the texting
of homework to students, or the ability for students to
text in their homework answers, or for SMS to be used
as a reading aid. With some children living far away
from their nearest school, such initiatives could be
revolutionary. And with products such as FrontlineSMS,
implementing such projects need not be expensive or
technically out of reach. Today such talk is still more
about blue sky thinking than the sky being the limit. But
it will not always be this way.
Ironically, technological conditions aside, m-learning
is particularly well suited for use in developing coun-
Education for a Digital World
tries. M-learning is useful as an alternative to books or
computers, which are generally in short supply. It is
empowering in situations where students are geographically dispersed, again a common scenario, and it is particularly helpful in getting students up to speed who may
have previously felt excluded or who find themselves
falling behind and need to catch up quickly.
Mobile technology has revolutionized many aspects
of life in the developing world. The number of mobile
connections has almost overtaken the number of fixedlines in most developing countries. Recent research by
the London Business School found that mobile penetration has a strong impact on GDP. For many people,
their first-ever telephone call will be on a mobile device.
Perhaps, sometime soon, their first geography lesson
will be on one, too.
Further information on Ken’s work can be found at—“Where technology meets anthropology, conservation and development.”
“UC Berkeley first to post full lectures to YouTube” at,
October 3, 2007
“Podcast lectures for uni students” at
May 26, 2006
“wildlive!” at!.htm
“Freedom HIV/AIDS” at
November 30, 2006
“Dunia Moja” at
“FrontlineSMS” at
The Impact of Technology on
Mohamed Ally
Athabasca University
If we value independence, if we are disturbed by the growing conformity of knowledge, of
values, of attitudes, which our present system induces, then we may wish to set up conditions of learning which make for uniqueness, for self-direction, and for self-initiated
learning. – Carl Rogers
Impact of technology on education
History of instructional technology
Emerging technologies in
Mobile learning
Same place
Same time
Design for
Design for
Education for a Digital World
6 – The Impact of Technology on Education
Learning outcomes
After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
• Trace the history of instructional technologies in education.
• Select the best emerging technologies in e-learning.
• Develop design guidelines for learning materials to be
delivered via emerging technologies.
• Provide support for learners taking courses at a distance using emerging technologies.
• Identify trends in e-learning and emerging technologies.
Learners. educators, and workers in all sectors are increasingly using emerging technologies such as cell
phones, tablet PC, personal digital assistants (PDAs), web
pads, and palmtop computers. As a result, these tools
make learning and training materials accessible anywhere, anytime.
Today, the trend is towards learning and working “on
the go”, rather than having to be at a specific location at
a specific time. As learners become more mobile, they
are demanding access to learning materials wherever
they are and whenever they need them. This trend will
increase because of ubiquitous computing, where computing devices, wireless connectivity, and transparent
user interfaces are everywhere.
Educators must be prepared to design and deliver
instruction using these emerging technologies. In addition to delivering learning materials, emerging technologies can be used to interact with learners, especially
those who live in remote locations. At the same time,
learners can use the technologies to connect with each
other to collaborate on projects and to debate and discuss ideas.
This chapter provides a brief history of technology in
education, outlines the benefits of using emerging technologies in e-learning, provides design guidelines for
developing learning materials, describes the support
required for these technologies, and discusses future
trends in e-learning.
The history of instructional
technology in education
In the early ages, before formal schools, family members
educated younger members with one-to-one coaching
Education for a Digital World
and mentoring. Early instructional technologies were
sticks to draw on the ground and rocks to draw on walls.
Information was not recorded permanently. With the
invention of paper and the printing press, information
was recorded, and learners could refer to documents as
needed for learning. The paper revolution was followed
much later by the invention of computer hardware and
the software that makes computers do what we want,
including developing electronic learning materials.
In the early 1960s, these learning materials were designed and developed on mainframe computers. In the
1970s, computer-based training systems used minicomputers to teach. With the invention of the microcomputer in the late 1970s and early 1980s educators
and learners had more control over the design and delivery of learning materials. As learners determined for
themselves what they wanted to learn, the instructor’s
role changed from that of a presenter of information to
that of a facilitator. The microcomputer revolutionized
the way educational materials were developed and delivered. The instructor was able to design learning materials using authoring systems, and learners were able to
learn when and where they wanted.
Rumble (2003) identified four generations of distance
education systems: correspondence systems; educational
broadcasting systems; multimedia distance education
systems; and online distance education systems. In early
distance education learning materials were mailed to
learners and the learners mailed assignments back to the
instructor. The first attempt to use computers for instruction was by the military, who designed instruction
to train military staff. About the same time, educational
institutions started to use broadcast television to deliver
instruction to learners. With the invention of the microcomputer in the 1970s, there was a shift to microcomputer-based learning systems. Because the different
microcomputer systems then in use did not communicate with each other, there was limited flexibility in developing and sharing learning materials. Also, the early
microcomputer systems did not provide features such as
audio, video, and special effects. As instructional technology improved, educators developed learning materials in less time and with more control over the product.
Until the late 1970s, educational institutions used
face-to-face classroom instruction. This was followed by
a shift to a more individualized format using self-study
workbooks, videotapes, and computer software. As technology advanced, the group-based classroom mode shifted
to the one-to-one mode of delivery. The combination of
the Internet and mobile technology has moved elearning to the next generation, allowing educators to
design and deliver learning materials for learners living
6 – The Impact of Technology on Education
in remote locations, or who cannot attend face-to-face
schools for other reasons. The available computing power
of these technologies allows educators to better meet the
needs of individual learners.
Benefits of using emerging
technologies in e-learning
Because of the rapid development of information technology, there is a shift from print-based learning to elearning to mobile learning (m-learning). M-learning
refers to the use of electronic learning materials with
built-in learning strategies for delivery on mobile computing devices (Ally, 2004a). Mobile devices offer many
benefits. Thanks to wireless technology, mobile devices
do not have to be physically connected to networks to
access information. They are small enough to be portable, allowing users to take the devices anywhere. Users
can interact with each other to share information and
expertise, complete a task, or work collaboratively on a
Benefits of emerging technologies for education:
• Education is scaleable, since educational institutions
do not have to build classrooms and infrastructure to
hold face-to-face classes. To accommodate more learners, educational institutions need only expand the
network and hire more instructors to facilitate additional courses.
• Electronic learning materials are easy to update. Because
learners use their mobile devices to access the learning materials from a central server, they can receive
these updates as soon as they are made.
• The same learning materials can be accessed by students from different regions and countries.
• Learners can complete their education from any location as long as they have access to the learning materials, possibly through a wireless connection.
• Because learners can access the learning materials
anytime, they can select the time they learn best to
complete their coursework. This increases the success
rate in learning, and facilitates informal learning.
• Designers of learning materials for emerging technologies can leverage the computing power of the technology
to personalize the learning experience for individual
• Since learning with emerging technologies is learnerfocused, learners will be more involved with their
learning, and thus motivated to achieve higher level
• For businesses, mobile learning can be integrated into
everyday work processes, which promotes immediate
application. The emerging technologies allow workers to access learning materials for just-in-time
• Because most learners already have mobile technology, educational institutions can design and deliver
courses for different types of mobile technology (Ally
& Lin, 2005).
Mobile technologies such as Blackberries, Treos,
iPods, and cell phones are being used in the classroom
and in distance education to reach out to students and
to deliver learning materials to students. Instructors are
taping their lectures and making them available for students to listen whenever they like. Providing lectures
and learning materials in audio format is important for
some subject areas such as when learning a language and
English Literature. The mobile technologies are also
used to connect to students to inform them when course
requirements are due and informing them on updates to
courses. Mobile learning technologies can be used in any
discipline that can be broken down into small segments
of instruction. This will allow students to complete one
segment at a time. In addition to playing a support role
in classroom instruction, mobile technologies can play a
major role in distance education by delivering instruction anywhere and at anytime. Books and course information will have to be formatted for reading on
computer and mobile devices screens. A good example
of how this is being realized is the screen on the one
hundred dollar laptop (OLPC, 2006). Information on
the screen can be read in daylight as well in the dark.
The small screens on the mobile devices are becoming
more advanced for reading. As with the development of
the virtual screen, students will be able to project information and images on a surface that is the same size as a
regular computer screen.
However, before these benefits can be realized, the
learning materials must be designed specifically for
emerging technologies.
Design principles for developing
learning materials for emerging
In developing learning materials for any technology,
learning theories must be used for effective and efficient
Education for a Digital World
6 – The Impact of Technology on Education
instruction. This section will address theories and design
principles for emerging technologies.
Early learning materials development was influenced
by behaviourist learning theory. Behaviourists claim
that it is the observable behaviour of the learner that
indicates whether or not they have learned, not what is
going on in the learner’s head. Early instructional methods, such as the teaching machine, were influenced by
behaviourist theory. The teaching machine taught by
drill and practice, and transferred the repetitiveness of
teaching from the instructors to the machine.
Cognitive learning theory influenced the development of learning materials with the introduction of
computer-based instruction. Cognitive psychologists see
learning as a process involving the use of memory, motivation, and thinking, and that reflection plays an important part in learning. Cognitivists perceive learning
as an internal process and claim that the amount learned
depends on the processing capacity of the learner, the
amount of effort expended during the learning process,
the quality of the processing, and the learner’s existing
knowledge structure. Cognitive theory was influenced
by information processing theory, which proposes that
learners use different types of memory during learning.
As technology emerged, there was more emphasis on
learner-centred education, which promoted the use of
constructivist theory in the development of learning
materials. Constructivists claimed that learners interpret
information and the world according to their personal
reality, and that they learn by observation, processing,
and interpretation, and then personalize the information
into their own worldview. Also, learners learn best when
they can contextualize what they learn for immediate
application and to acquire personal meaning. The
learner-centred approach allows learners to develop
problem-solving skills and learn by doing rather than by
being told.
They are many instructional design models for developing learning materials. Dick et al. (2001) proposed
a design model with the major components being design, development, implementation, and evaluation of
instruction. Another widely used model is by Gagné et
al. (1991) who claimed that strategies for learning
should be based on learning outcomes. Gagné specifies
nine types of instructional events:
gain the learner’s attention;
inform the learner of the lesson objectives;
stimulate recall of prior knowledge;
present stimuli with distinctive features to aid in perception;
• guide learning to promote semantic encoding;
Education for a Digital World
elicit performance;
provide informative feedback;
assess performance; and
enhance retention and learning transfer.
Most of the current and past instructional design
models were developed for classroom and print-based
instruction rather than for learner-centred instruction
and e-learning. New instructional design models are
needed to develop learning materials for delivery on
emerging technologies.
According to Jacobs and Dempsey (2002), some
emerging influences that will affect future instructional
design include object-oriented distributed learning environments, the use of artificial intelligence techniques,
cognitive science, and neuroscience. Below are guidelines for educators to develop learning materials for
delivery via emerging technologies.
• Information should be developed in “chunks” to facilitate processing in working memory since humans
have limited working memory capacity. Chunking is
important for mobile technologies that have small
display screens, such as cell phones, PDAs, etc.
• Content should be broken down into learning objects to allow learners to access segments of learning
materials to meet their learning needs. A learning
object is defined as any digital resource that can be
re-used to achieve a specific learning outcome (Ally,
2004b). Learning materials for emerging technologies
should be developed in the form of information objects, which are then assembled to form learning objects for lessons. A learning session using a mobile
device can be seen as consisting of a number of information objects sequenced in a pre-determined way, or
sequenced, according to the user’s needs. The learning object approach is helpful where learners will access learning materials just in time, as they complete
projects using a self-directed, experiential approach.
Also, learning objects allow for instant assembly of
learning materials by learners and by intelligent software agents to meet learners’ needs.
• Use the constructivist approach to learning to allow
learners to explore and personalize the materials
during the learning process. Learning should be project-based to allow learners to experience the world by
doing things, rather than passively receiving information, to build things, to think critically, and to develop problem-solving skills (Page, 2006). Mobile
technologies facilitate project-based learning since
learners can learn in their own time and in their own
6 – The Impact of Technology on Education
environments. For example, as learners complete a
project they can use wireless mobile technology to access just in time information and the instructor as
Simple interfaces prevent cognitive overload. For
example, graphic outlines can be used as interfaces
and as navigational tools for learners. The interface
should allow the learner to access learning materials
with minimal effort and navigate with ease. This is
critical for emerging technologies since some output
devices are small.
Use active learning strategies that allow learners to
summarize what they learn and to develop critical
thinking skills. For example, learners can be asked to
generate a concept map to summarize what they
learned. A concept map or a network diagram can show
the important concepts in a lesson and the relationship between them. Learner-generated concept maps
allow learners to process information at a high level.
High-level concept maps and networks can represent
information spatially, so learners can see the main
ideas and their relationships.
Learning materials should be presented so that information can be transferred from the senses to the
sensory store, and then to working memory. The
amount of information transferred to working memory depends on the importance assigned to the incoming information and whether existing cognitive
structures can make sense of the information. Strategies that check whether learners have the appropriate
existing cognitive structures to process the information should be used in emerging technologies delivery. Pre-instructional strategies, such as advance
organizers and overviews, should be used if relevant
cognitive structures do not exist.
There should be a variety of learning strategies to
accommodate individual differences. Different learners will perceive, interact with, and respond to the
learning environment in different ways, based on
their learning styles (Kolb, 1984).
According to Kolb, there are four learning style types:
(1) Divergers are learners who have good people skills.
When working in groups, they try to cultivate harmony
to assure that everyone works together smoothly.
(2) Assimilators like to work with details, and are reflective
and relatively passive during the learning process.
(3) Convergers prefer to experiment with, and apply
new knowledge and skills, often by trial and error.
(4) Accommodators are risk-takers, who want to apply
immediately what they learn to real-life problems or
Examples of strategies to cater for individual learning
preferences include:
• Use visuals at the start of a lesson to present the big picture, before going into the details of the information.
• For the active learners, strategies should provide the
opportunity to immediately apply the knowledge.
• To encourage creativity, there must be opportunities
to apply what was learned in real-life situations so
that learners can go beyond what was presented.
• The use of emerging technologies will make it easier
to cater to learners’ individual differences by determining preferences, and using the appropriate
learning strategy based on those preferences.
• Provide learners the opportunity to use their metacognitive skills during the learning process. Metacognition is a learner’s ability to be aware of their
cognitive capabilities and to use these capabilities to
learn. This is critical in e-learning, since learners will
complete the learning materials individually. Exercises with feedback throughout a lesson are good
strategies to allow learners to check their progress,
and to adjust their learning approach as necessary.
• Learners should be allowed to construct knowledge,
rather than passively receive knowledge through instruction. Constructivists view learning as the result
of mental construction where learners learn by integrating new information with what they already know.
• Learners should be given the opportunity to reflect
on what they are learning and to internalize the information. There should be embedded questions
throughout the learning session to encourage learners
to reflect on, and process the information in a relevant and meaningful manner. Learners can be asked
to generate a journal to encourage reflection and
processing. Interactive learning promotes higherlevel learning and social presence, and personal
meaning (Heinich et al., 2002).
Intelligent agents should be embedded in the technology to design instruction and deliver the instruction
based on individual learner needs. An intelligent agent
gathers information about learners and them respond
based on the what was learned about the student. For
example, if a learner consistently gets a question on a
concept wrong, the intelligent agent will prescribe other
learning strategies until the learner master the concept.
As the user interacts with the system, the agent learns
Education for a Digital World
6 – The Impact of Technology on Education
more about the learner. This is critical, as learning materials may be accessed by people globally. These agents
can be proactive so that they can recognize and react to
changes in the learning process. As the intelligent agent
interacts with the learner, it gains more experience by
learning about the learner and then determining the
difficulty of materials to present, the most appropriate
learning strategy based on the learner’s style, and the
sequence of the instruction (Ally, 2002). The intelligent
learning system should reason about a learner’s knowledge, monitor progress, and adapt the teaching strategy
to individual’s learning pattern (Woolf, 1987). For example, the intelligent system could monitor learning
and build a best practice database for different learning
styles. It could also track common errors and prescribe
strategies to prevent similar errors in the future.
• Establish standards of quality control and quality
assurance to ensure the learning materials are of high
• Assess skills and expertise of team members, and
provide the appropriate training if needed.
• Start with a small project to build success before
moving on to larger projects.
• Ensure proper support during the implementation of
the learning systems.
• Maintain the learning materials to ensure they are
current, and address any problems with the delivery
Planning for implementing
emerging technologies in
When instruction is delivered to learners at a distance,
learners must have adequate support to be successful.
Instructor can use synchronous or asynchronous communication tools to communicate and interact with
learners. In synchronous learning, support is provided
in real time, using two-way text, audio, and/or video.
The learner and the instructor are able to interact with
each other synchronously. In the asynchronous mode,
there is a delay in communication between the instructor and learner. For example, in computer conferencing
learners post their comments in real time while other
learners and the instructor may respond at a later time.
Hence, as instructors move from face-to-face delivery to
e-learning, their roles change drastically, shifting from
that of dominant, front-of-the-class presenter to facilitator, providing one-to-one coaching to learners, and
supporting and advising them. Since the learner and
instructor are not physically present in the same location, the instructor has to use strategies to compensate
for the lack of face-to-face contact.
How should the instructor function in the e-learning
environment? In a study conducted by Irani (2001),
faculty suggested that training for online delivery should
include instructional design, technology use, and software use. Keeton (2004), reported that the areas faculty
see as important for e-learning are those that focus on
the learning processes. The instructor should be prepared
both to facilitate and to provide support for learning.
Good planning and management are necessary for developing and delivering successful learning materials.
E-learning development projects tend to be interdisciplinary, requiring a team effort. No one person has the
expertise to complete the development project. The different types of expertise required include subject matter,
technical support, instructional design, project management, multimedia, and editing. Educational organizations should be thinking long-term and, strategically,
to make sure that learning systems are aligned with the
goals of the institution.
Some of the factors that lead to successful e-learning
• Involve key players form the start of the project. One
group that should be involved are instructors who may
be developers or reviewers of the learning materials.
• Inform stakeholders of the progress so that they will
continue to fund the project.
• Determine team members’ roles and responsibilities
so that they can be productive and cooperative.
• Involve all team members in the project, with team
members interacting with each other.
• Keep learners’ needs foremost in mind during the
development of learning materials.
Education for a Digital World
Providing support in e-learning
using emerging technologies
• Instructors must be trained to be good facilitators of
e-learning. The instructor has to facilitate learning by
modelling behaviour and attitudes that promote
6 – The Impact of Technology on Education
learning, encourage dialogue, and demonstrate appropriate interpersonal skills. Good facilitation skills
are important to compensate for the lack of face-toface contact in e-learning and to connect to the
learner and create a high sense of presence (Hiss, 2000).
The instructor should be trained to recognize different learning styles and adapt to them. An effective
e-learning instructor must recognize that learners
have different styles and prefer certain strategies (Ally
& Fahy, 2002).
The e-learning instructor should understand the importance of feedback, and be able to provide effective,
constructive, and timely feedback to learners (Bischoff, 2000). Learners should feel comfortable and motivated by the instructor’s enthusiasm about the
course materials. Learners can be motivated by challenging them with additional learning activities, and
by emphasizing the benefits of what they are learning.
The e-learning instructor must be able to advise
learners when they encounter academic and personal
problems during their studies. The instructor has to
acknowledge the problems and, in some cases, address them. For personal problems, the learner
should be referred to a professional counselor. One of
the key competencies for training instructors is deciding when to help a learner with a problem and
when to refer the learner for professional help.
The e-learning instructor must interpret learners’
academic problems and provide resolutions. This implies that the instructor has the expertise to solve
content problems. The instructor solves these problems by staying current in the field, interpreting
learners’ questions, communicating at the level of the
learner, providing remedial activities, and following
up on help provided. Interaction with learners requires good oral and written communication skills.
E-learning instructors are required to develop and revise courses on an ongoing basis. Part of the tutoring
process is to provide written feedback. The instructor
needs good listening skills to understand what the
learner is saying in order to respond appropriately. A
training program for e-learning instructors must include effective listening skills. As part of the tutoring
and coaching process, the instructor needs to know
how to ask questions to elicit information from learners and to diagnose their problems.
Instructors must be trained in using e-learning technologies to develop and deliver learning materials.
This is critical, as the instructor must model proper
use of the technologies for the learners. Instructors
should be patient, project a positive image, enjoy working with learners, and be a good role model.
With learners at a distance, some in remote locations,
one way to connect them is to use of online discussion
Well-moderated discussion sessions allow learners to
feel a sense of community and to develop their knowledge
and skills in the subject area. The moderator should have
good written and oral communication skills, be a good
facilitator, be able to resolve conflict, and should be an
expert in the subject field. Below are some specific
guidelines for moderating online discussion forums
using emerging technologies.
• Welcome the learners to the forum, and invite them
to get to know each other.
• Provide appropriate feedback to forum postings.
Learners expect the instructor to be subject matter
experts, and to provide feedback on their comments
and questions on the course content. Foster dialogue
and trust with comments that are conversational.
• Build group rapport by encouraging learners to share
ideas and help each other. Learners could, perhaps,
form small groups to address certain issues and report back to the larger group.
• Respond to learners’ questions promptly. In synchronous conferencing, learners will see or hear the responses right away. In asynchronous computer
conferencing, as a guideline, the instructor should
post responses to questions within twenty-four hours.
• Set the tone of the discussion. Providing sample
comments is helpful for new learners to model their
own comments. Keep the forum discussion on topic.
Some learners might stray off topic during the discussion. If learners want to discuss another topic, create
another forum where participation is voluntary. If a
learner continually stays off topic, the instructor should
consult with the learner individually.
Emerging trends in the use of
emerging technologies in
Educators need to develop innovative models of teaching
and delivery methods tailored to emerging technologies.
Future learning systems should contain intelligent agents
to duplicate one-to-one tutoring. Multiple intelligent
Education for a Digital World
6 – The Impact of Technology on Education
agents could also monitor learners’ progress, and cater
to individual needs and styles. Intelligent learning systems will allow learners to be more active and will place
more responsibility on them in the learning process.
Research is needed on how to empower learners to learn
on their own and how to activate learners’ metacognitive
Content will be designed as small chunks in the form
of information and learning objects. This will allow intelligent agents to prescribe the most appropriate materials based on learner’s learning style, progress, and
needs. The intelligent agents will assemble these chunks
into a larger instructional sequence so that learners can
achieve the learning outcomes of the lesson. More work
is needed on how to develop learning objects and how to
tag them for easy retrieval by intelligent agents.
Future technologies will use intelligent agents to assemble courses and modules of instruction immediately
by accessing learning objects from repositories. Because
of the changing nature of content, models are needed to
develop learning materials in as short time as possible
using techniques similar to rapid application development (Lohr et al., 2003). Smart learning systems in
emerging technologies will be able to assemble unique
courses for each learner, based on the learner’s prior
knowledge, learning preferences, and needs.
Pervasive computing is making it possible for computing power to be included everywhere, thanks to tiny microprocessors and wireless access. As a result, educators must
design for pervasive computing where learners will access
learning materials using everyday objects and environments. For example, learners might be able to access course
materials using kitchen appliances, or their clothing.
The trend in hardware development is towards virtual devices, such as the virtual keyboard and virtual
screen. With these devices, learners are able to turn on
the device, use it, and then turn it off. For example, for
input into a computer, a learner can press a button to
turn on a virtual keyboard on a temporary surface, use
it, then turn it off. When developing learning materials
for emerging technologies, educators must design for
delivery on these virtual devices.
this is the one hundred dollar laptop that is being developed by a multidisciplinary team of experts, including
educators (OLPC, 2006). The one hundred dollar computer is a global device that will be used by learners
around the world since it is affordable.
E-learning materials must be modular to allow for
flexibility in delivery. Modular learning materials allow
learners to complete a module of instruction at a time
rather than an entire course. The learning time for a
module of instruction is between two to four hours. The
content must be broken down into small chunks and
developed as learning objects. The modular format allows the segments of instruction to be tagged and placed
in learning object repositories for easy retrieval by learners and instructors. When designing learning materials
for emerging technologies, educators must think globally and must design for the future so that the materials
do not become obsolete.
Learning systems of the future must develop intelligent systems to relieve tutors from routine decisionmaking so that they can spend time on issues concerning the learning process. Intelligent systems will be able
to design, develop, and deliver instruction to meet
learners’ needs. For example, an intelligent agent will be
able to identify learners who need extra help and provide an alternative learning strategy. The intelligent
agent should anticipate learners’ requirements and respond immediately to take corrective action or to present the next learning intervention based on learners’
characteristics and style to maximize learning benefits.
In other words, the intelligent agent should form dynamic profiles of the learner and guide the learner to the
next step in the learning process.
One of the major challenges educators will face is
how to convert existing learning materials for delivery
on emerging technologies rather than redeveloping
courses from scratch. It is important to develop learning
materials in electronic format so that the information
can readily delivered by newer technologies.
As we continue to use such technologies as cell phones,
PDAs, palmtops, and virtual devices for everyday activities, educators will need to develop and deliver learning
materials on these devices. Educators must proactively
influence the design and development of emerging
technologies to meet learners’ needs. A good example of
Advance organizer. A general statement at the beginning of the information or lesson to activate existing
cognitive structure or to provide the appropriate cognitive structure to learn the details in the information or
the lesson.
Education for a Digital World
“Real learning occurs when learners learn by doing
and making things”. – Ally
6 – The Impact of Technology on Education
Artificial intelligence. The use of computer systems,
software and models to imitate human thought and
reasoning when completing a task.
Asynchronous communication. Information sharing
and interaction between individuals take place at different times, as in sending emails, where messages are sent
and then read at a later time.
Behaviourist learning theory. Views learning as a
change in behaviour, and explains learner behaviour in
terms of external physical stimuli and responses, rather
than what the learner is thinking.
Cognitivist learning theory. Focuses on what a
learner is thinking in terms of processing information
for storage and retrieval.
Computer-based training. Use of a computer to deliver instructions to learners using a variety of instructional strategies to meet individual learners’ needs.
Concept map. A graphic outline that shows the main
concepts in the information and the relationship between the concepts.
Constructivist theory. Knowledge is constructed by
the learner through experiential learning and interactions with the environment and the learner’s personal
E-learning. Learning that takes place off-site using a
variety of delivery technologies such as, Internet and
mobile devices. Learners can access the material anywhere, and at anytime.
Emerging technologies. Technologies that are becoming ubiquitous, and use the power of the computer
to design, deliver, and provide support to learners with
different needs.
Information object. Digital information stored in
chunks in a digital repository and tagged for retrieval to
meet users’ information needs.
Instructional design. A systematic approach to designing learning materials based on learning theories
and research.
Intelligent agent. Computer software that gathers
information and adapts to the user’s needs to help the
user complete a specific task. As the user interacts with
the system, the agent learns more about the learner.
Interface. The components of the computer program
that allow the user to interact with the information.
Just-in-time. The opportunity to access learning
materials as required for immediate application.
Learning object. Any digital resource that can be
used and re-used to achieve a specific learning outcome.
Learning style. A person’s preferred way to learn and
process information, interact with others, and complete
learning tasks.
Mentoring. A mentor and learner relationship where
the mentor serves as a role model and instructor for the
learner to model and learn from during the learning
Metacognitive skills. Learners use their metacognitive skills to assess their level of achievement, determine
alternate strategies, select the most appropriate strategy,
and then re-assess the level of achievement.
Mobile computing device. A portable device that can
be used to access information and learning materials
from anywhere and at anytime. The device consists of an
input mechanism, processing capability, a storage medium, and a display mechanism.
Mobile learning (m-learning). Electronic learning
materials with built-in learning strategies for delivery on
mobile computing devices.
Multimedia. A combination of two or more media
used to present information to users.
Network diagram. A diagram that shows the relationship between concepts. The concepts are shown as
nodes with interconnecting lines.
Online learning. Use of the Internet to deliver instruction to learners using a variety of instructional
Pervasive computing. Use of computer devices to access information from interconnected networks using
wireless technology.
Rapid application development. A process that uses
a team of experts to develop learning materials in a short
Reflection. The ability to encounter information and
make it part of one’s existing cognitive structure. Reflection results in the creation of knowledge.
Support. The use of synchronous and asynchronous
technology by a tutor to interact with learners at a distance.
Synchronous communication. Interaction between
individuals where information is sent and received at the
same time as in audio conferencing or online chat.
Training. The process by which individuals acquire
knowledge, attitudes, and skills to perform specific tasks.
Ubiquitous computing. Computing technology that is
invisible to the user because of wireless connectivity and
transparent user interface.
Working memory. The place where information is
processed before being transferred to long-term memory.
The brevity of short-term memory requires information
to be processed efficiently before being transferred to
long-term memory.
Education for a Digital World
6 – The Impact of Technology on Education
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Adapting and Delivering Electronic Course Materials
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Education for a Digital World
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Hiss, A. (2000). Talking the talk: Humor and other
forms of online communication. In K. White & B.
Weight (Eds.), The online teaching guide: A handbook
of attitudes, strategies, and techniques for the virtual
classroom. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Irani, T. (2001). Going the Distance: Developing a
Model Distance Education Faculty Training Program. Syllabus Magazine, August 2001.
Jacobs, J.W. & Dempsey, J.V. (2002). Emerging Instructional Technologies: The Near Future. In A. Rossett
(Ed.), The ASTD E-Learning Handbook. Columbus:
Keeton, M.T. (2004). Best online instructional practices:
Report of Phase 1 of an ongoing study. Journal of
Asynchronous Learning Network, 8(2), 75–100.
Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as
the source of learning and development. Englewood
Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Lohr, L., Javeri, M., Mahoney, C., Gall, J., Li, K. &
Strongin, D. (2003). Using rapid application development to improve the usability of a preservice
teacher technology course. Educational Technology
Research and Development, 51(2), pp. 41–55.
OLPC (2006). One Laptop Per Child. Retrieved July 23,
2006, from
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Rumble, G. (2003). Modeling the costs and economics of
distance education. In M.G. Moore and W.G. Anderson (Eds.), Handbook of Distance Education, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJ: pp. 703–716.
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Mass: Addison-Wesley.
Part 2:
Preparing Online Courses
Education for a Digital World
Learning Management Systems
Don McIntosh7
Trimeritus eLearning Solutions Inc.
With contributions from Kevin Kelly and Randy Labonte
Education for a Digital World
7 – Learning Management Systems
Learning outcomes
After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
• Describe the functions of learning management systems (LMS) for formal education and corporate
• Conduct a needs analysis, select an appropriate LMS
for your environment and manage the implementation and change process successfully at least 50 percent of the time. A higher success rate will depend
upon the political environment and the diligence of
the needs analysis and research that is done.
“I truly believe that the Internet and education are
the two great equalizers in life, leveling the playing
field for people, companies, and countries worldwide. By providing greater access to educational
opportunities through the Internet, students are
able to learn more. Workers have greater access to
e-learning opportunities to enhance and increase
their skills. And companies and schools can decrease costs by utilizing technology for greater
productivity”. – John Chambers, CEO of Cisco
Systems (Chambers, 2002)
Learning management systems (LMSs) are electronic
platforms that can be used to launch and track elearning courses and enhance face-to-face instruction
with online components. Some also manage classroom
instruction. Primarily they automate the administration
of learning by facilitating and then recording learner
activity. They may or may not include tools for creating
and managing course content. As the systems grow, they
also add new features such as e-commerce, communications tools, skills tracking, performance management
and talent management.
LMSs have evolved quite differently for formal education and corporate training to meet different needs.
The most common systems used in education are
WebCT, Blackboard (these are now effectively one) and
Moodle. They often use the term course management
system to describe themselves. The term course management system, however, is easily confused with content management system, so we will use the term LMS
to describe the solutions for both educational and corporate environments. We will distinguish between them
Education for a Digital World
by discussing corporate or business LMS versus education LMS. Education LMSs are also known as virtual
learning environments (VLE).
This chapter will be a non-technical look at the features of these systems and the processes of selecting and
implementing them. It will address the different functionalities of the systems and consider open-source
systems as an option to commercial proprietary ones. It
will discuss needs analysis to help you begin the process
of selecting an appropriate system, and the change management process to address the implementation issues.
Case studies will be provided for illustration. Open
source systems will be discussed in Chapter 8, Exploring
Open Source for Educators.
Occasionally certain vendors and products or services
are mentioned by name. These are not intended to be
endorsements in any way but simply to serve as familiar
examples. We do not endorse any products or services.
Vendors and products that are mentioned are usually
the best known or the ones with the greatest market
penetration. There is no single “best” solution. The ideal
solution is the one that fits your needs and environment.
Learning management:
the two cultures
There are two main thrusts in formal learning: academic
education, and corporate training (including government and the non-profit sector). In educational institutions, the learning model uses courses of fairly long
duration (weeks to months) for the long-term educational benefit of the learner. In corporate training, the
model is usually short courses (hours to days) for immediate updates, with specific focus on job functions
and objectives. Some corporations try to emphasize the
importance of their training services by calling them
“universities” such as McDonald’s University and General Motors University. As part of their long-term development plans, many businesses also provide support
for their employees to attend educational institutions for
longer courses and degree programs. For centuries, both
systems have relied upon classroom-based, instructorled facilitation in which a live teacher leads the process.
Distance learning by correspondence has been with
us now for many decades. When e-learning became a
reality over 10 years ago (first on CD-ROM and then
over the Internet), it extended the opportunities for distance learning, and new options and models became
possible. The education and corporate training models
have evolved separately and somewhat differently.
7 – Learning Management Systems
In the online education environment, it is generally
assumed that an instructor leads the course, is available
by chat (synchronous), via email and discussion groups
(asynchronous), and sometimes via virtual classrooms.
In the corporate online learning environment, there is a
high degree of dependence on self-directed learning
often using courses that have been purchased off-theshelf from third-party vendors. Only occasionally is an
instructor present. As a result, the communication/collaboration tools for email, chat, and group activity are well developed in education LMSs while they
are less so in corporate LMSs.
Education LMSs are primarily for the delivery of instructor designed online learning and include course
content creation (or course authoring) capability as well
as some tools to manage the content. While corporate
LMSs provide features to help manage classroom instruction, the e-learning is often assumed to be primarily asynchronous, self-directed courses. Many of these
courses are purchased from off-the-shelf courseware
vendors. As a result, corporate LMSs do not typically
include course authoring or content management features. The larger corporate vendors do often offer suites
of tools that do include these capabilities.
In most educational institutions, computer systems
for registration already exist, so the features for this in
education LMSs are limited while many corporate LMSs
offer full capabilities for managing classroom learning
from registration to assessment as well as e-learning. It
is highly desirable that in an educational institution, the
LMS can send data to and from the registration system,
and in corporate training the LMS can communicate
with the human resources information system.
The focus of both education and corporate LMSs
often tends to be more on the administration and technical requirements of the organization rather than on
the dynamic facilitation of learning. Some instructors
and designers are frustrated by the constraints (both
technical and learning) of using these systems and
would prefer more dynamic learning support systems
such as student weblogs and learning wikis. (See Chapters 25 and 26 for further discussion of these tools).
Some of the open-source systems, especially when combined with social learning tools, are more studentcentred than the commercial ones.
Online and classroom learning each offer different
advantages for different learners. Many people argue
that classroom learning is better. Some believe that the
classroom offers interactivity—a dynamic exchange of
information, questions and opinions between students
and instructor and among students. Unfortunately interactivity in a classroom often involves a minority of
students who choose to participate, and for others it
may not be interactive at all. We have been conditioned
since the age of five to believe that learning only happens in a classroom. The reality is that we are continuously learning in all situations. One benefit of the
classroom is the social structure and support of schedule, deadlines, the physical presence of the instructor,
and other learners. Self-directed online courses offer the
obvious advantages of time flexibility—they can be done
almost anywhere and at anytime at the convenience of
the learner, and they can be repeated several times if
necessary. Well-designed online courses can be more
effectively interactive than many classrooms in that they
require active learning on the part of each student in
responding to questions, doing an activity, getting feedback—there is no back of the classroom in an online
course—and give them the added flexibility of the freedom from time and place constraints.
There are at least 100 LMSs available for business
and at least 50 available for education. Many of the
latter are open-source. Although they offer different features, it is best not to ignore the LMSs from
the other sector.
Features of education learning
management systems
The original educational learning management system
was probably PLATO, which was developed in the early
1960s. In the late 1970s there were initiatives like the
Open University in the UK Cyclops system and
CICERO project, Pathlore’s Phoenix software, and Canada’s Telidon project. Wikipedia has an extensive listing
of initiatives in its article, History of Virtual Learning
In formal education LMSs were first used to support
distance education programs by providing an alternative
delivery system. They are also now used as platforms to
provide online resources to supplement regular course
material and to provide courses for students who require
additional flexibility in their schedules, allowing them to
take courses during semesters when they are not physically present or are not attending on full time basis. This
also benefits students who are disabled or ill and unable
to attend regular classes.
Education for a Digital World
7 – Learning Management Systems
Education LMSs primarily support e-learning initiatives only. Systems for regular classroom support are
already in place.
The model for an LMS designed for education is that
an instructor creates a course using web-based tools to
upload the necessary materials for the students, and sets
up collaborative tools such as:
• email
• text chat
• bulletin board presentation tools (e.g., a whiteboard
for collaborative drawing and sketching)
• group web page publishing
Students access the course materials on the Web, do
both individual and collaborative assignments, and submit
them to the instructor.
Most education LMSs offer the following features:
Tools for instructors:
• course development tools—a web platform for uploading resources (text, multimedia materials, simulation programs, etc.), including calendar, course
announcements, glossary, and indexing tools
• course syllabus development tools with the ability to
structure learning units
• quiz/survey development tool for creating tests,
course evaluation, etc.
• grade book
• administrative tools to track student activity both as
individuals and in groups
Tools for students:
• password protected accounts for access to course
• course content bookmarking and annotation
• personal web page publishing
• accounts for access to the collaborative tools (email,
discussion groups, collaborative web page publishing)
• access to grades and progress reports
• group work areas for collaborative web page publishing
• self-assessment tools
Administrative tools:
• management of student and instructor accounts and
• monitoring and reporting activity
• e-commerce tools for sale of courses
• communication and survey tools
Some may also offer, maybe at extra cost, some of the
following features:
Education for a Digital World
• learning object management (course content management for reusability)
• e-portfolios
• file and workflow management
• streaming audio and video
• access to electronic libraries
Blackboard now offers an e-commerce module, and
Moodle integrates with PayPal to allow for customers to
pay online.
Although LMSs often claim a learner-centred approach involving active collaboration between the instructor and students, both as individuals and in groups,
there are some social networking tools such as wikis and
weblogs (blogs) that most of these systems do not (as of
this writing) support. There are numerous initiatives
underway to develop add-on tools and to integrate social learning tools with open-source platforms.
In most cases it is assumed that the teacher provides
the content, but some system vendors are now selling
content as “e-Packs” or “cartridges” that can be uploaded by teachers. It is also possible to purchase course
materials from other institutions. Using courses from
other sources, however, may be challenging if they are
not compatible with your LMS, consistent with the instructor’s approach, or accessible by students with disabilities. This may improve with the development and
application of operating and accessibility standards.
The most widely adopted commercial systems are
WebCT and Blackboard. Web CT was originally developed by Murray Goldberg at the University of British
Columbia, beginning in 1995. In 1999 the company was
purchased by Universal Learning Technology of Boston,
and became WebCT, Inc. Blackboard was originally
developed at Cornell University. The company was
founded in 1997 by Matthew Pittinsky and is based in
Washington, DC. WebCT and Blackboard currently
control about 80 percent of the LMS market in higher
education (Sausner, 2005, p. 9). Blackboard purchased
WebCT in 2005, making them the dominant force in the
market. The WebCT products are currently being
merged and re-branded as Blackboard products.
In August 2006, Blackboard received a controversial
patent for certain features in its learning management
technology, and, on the same day, proceeded to sue Desire2Learn (one of its main competitors) for patent infringement. Desire2Learn has denied the allegations in
the law suit, and both Desire2Learn and the Software
Freedom Law Center (SFLC) appealed the patent. In
January, 2007 the United States Patent and Trademark
7 – Learning Management Systems
Office (USPTO) ordered re-examination of the patent.
On February 1, 2007, Blackboard announced its patent
pledge, which is a promise by the company to never
assert its issued or pending course management system
software patents against open-source software or homegrown course management systems.
It is hard to say what the effect of this will be on current and potential WebCT and Blackboard customers.
Some will want to go with the market leader regardless,
others will stay with what they have, and many may
move to open-source solutions. Cornell University, the
birthplace of Blackboard, is reconsidering whether
Blackboard is the most appropriate software for Cornell
professors and students.
Some other education oriented systems offered by
commercial vendors:
Odyssey Learning Nautikos
WBT Systems Top Class (now appears to be targeting
the corporate sector)
• Centrinity First Class (now a division of Open Text)
• Geometrix Training Partner (primarily a corporate LMS
but often used by educational institutions for distance
learning programs with a business orientation).
• IBM/Lotus Learning Space no longer seems to be a
viable contender in the education market. It is now
called Workplace Collaborative Learning, and appears to be targeted to the business market.
• Prometheus has been purchased by Blackboard and
no longer seems to be supported.
If you currently are using a commercial education
LMS, you may find costs escalating, and a continual
demand for upgrades. For these and other reasons,
many educational institutions are considering opensource systems as an alternative.
Open-source software is computer software whose
source code is available free “under a copyright license
… that permits users to study, change, and improve the
software, and to redistribute it in modified or unmodified form.” (
software, February 2007). Open-source LMSs are gain-
ing ground in the education market as a reaction to increasing costs for the commercial systems, and because
of the greater flexibility and more student-centred
learning approaches in the open-source systems. Some
instructors, particularly those with technical expertise,
will prefer these systems because of fewer constraints, a
greater sense of control, and and generally better communication tools. Other instructors won’t like them
because they prefer more rule-based systems with full
administrative features.
There are numerous open-source systems available.
Some of the better known ones are:
Although the software is free, open-source solutions are
not without their costs. They need continuous support
and maintenance, which require either a strong and
supportive internal IT group, very dedicated instructors,
or a contract with outside vendors who will do it for
you. Open-source software is maintained by an active
community of users who are constantly upgrading the
code. These code changes can affect the operability of
courses unexpectedly, and require more local maintenance. The “hidden” costs of the time of the IT people
and the instructors may or may not outweigh the cost of
a licence for a commercial system.
There are useful discussions of open-source systems at,
and in Chapters 8 and 12 of this book.
Some educational institutions have built their own LMS,
and have not chosen to market them. Although it is possible for anyone to do the same, it is an expensive process, and it may be vulnerable if one person is the
primary developer. Some of the open-source systems
have been built by an institution or a group of institutions, and then shared. ATutor was developed at the
University of Toronto. The Sakai initiative is a collective
effort by 65 academic partners.
Course development: Course development tools
(also called course-authoring tools) are an integral part
of most education LMSs. Some instructors also like to
use some of their own tools such as web authoring/HTML editors (e.g., Dreamweaver, FrontPage, GoLive), word processing (e.g., Microsoft Word) and
Education for a Digital World
7 – Learning Management Systems
presentation tools (e.g., Flash, PowerPoint). The LMS
should be capable of working with such tools.
Virtual classrooms/web conferencing: Virtual classrooms (also known as web conferencing tools) add
audio, video, and graphics to synchronous classes over
the Internet. Such tools are not usually included as part
of an LMS but are available separately.
Learning content management systems (LCMS)
provide a means of storing developed courseware in
learning repositories (databases) as learning objects
where it can be retrieved and used by others. Most education LMSs have at least some learning content management capabilities.
Most LMSs are primarily administrative tools, and it
is up to the instructors and designers developing the
courses to address the issues of the learning model, but
many of the LMSs lack the tools to support more student-centred learning. The integration of social learning
tools such as wikis and blogs with an LMS can help create a more dynamic learning environment.
Social learning is closely related to social networking
and social computing and is the essence of what is being
called Web 2.0. It is the use of wikis, blogs, podcasting,
etc., by individuals and groups to create content instead
of simply being the recipients. Web 1.0 was about
downloading; Web 2.0 is about uploading.
Web 2.0 is defined not only by technologies (blogs,
wikis, podcasts, vodcasts, RSS feeds, and Google Maps
are a few examples), but also by the social networking
that it enables. Web 2.0 tools can scaffold learning environments for enhanced communication among students
as well as between students and the instructor. Creating
learning opportunities that harness the power of Web
2.0 technologies for collaborative learning, distributed
knowledge sharing, and the creation of media-rich
learning objects can further the scope of what students
can learn by fostering a constructivist environment, and
putting learning in the control of the students. Both
students and instructors are embracing these tools at a
phenomenal rate. Examples are Wikipedia and YouTube. LMSs will need to catch up.
Initiatives to include social learning into LMS include:
• Learning objects is a commercial product, and targets
users of large-scale course management platforms.
• Elgg (February 2007)—open-source
• Drupal (February 2007)—opensource
• MediaWiki (February 2007)
Education for a Digital World
It is interesting to note that the University of Phoenix,
one of the largest e-learning organizations in the world
with nearly 200,000 students online simply uses Outlook
Express newsgroups for its courses, along with other
tools it has developed internally. Other early online universities like Pepperdine University use newsgroups
extensively as well.
Adult and continuing education departments tend
to follow more of a business model. If you are
seeking an LMS for this application and need registration and payment features, consider some of
the more reasonably priced business LMSs (see
Features of corporate learning
management systems
The major business-oriented LMSs manage classroom
and blended learning as well as e-learning, and are intended to function as the full registration systems for
corporate training departments. Some of the larger ones
such as SumTotal Systems, Saba and GeometrixTraining
Partner actually evolved from registration systems. A
few very basic corporate LMSs manage only e-learning, and
then usually only for pre-packaged, self-directed courses.
Corporate LMSs usually offer the following features:
Classroom course management:
• registration
• course scheduling and set-up (instructors, facilities,
• email status notification
• tracking.
E-learning management:
• registration
• delivery
• email status notification
• tracking
• interoperability with third-party and custom courseware
• testing and evaluation
• communication tools.
Blended learning management combines e-learning
course content with classroom activities and communication tools such as discussion groups and virtual classrooms.
7 – Learning Management Systems
Support for e-learning standards such as AICC (Aviation Industry Computer-based training Committee) and
SCORM (Shareable Content Object Reference Model)
to enable interoperability between third-party courseware and the LMS and between different LMSs. These
standards do not guarantee the interoperability, but they
are a step in the right direction. The origin of many of
these standards come from engineering, the airline industry, and the US military who operate on a corporate
training model, so they are less relevant to education
courseware, but may help if you are switching platforms
or making courses available to others using different
platforms. See Appendix D, Course Authoring Tool
Features, and Chapter 17, E-learning Standards.
Competency and performance management:
• Identify needed competencies for individuals and
groups in order to perform the necessary work.
• Track performance for both individuals and groups
and identify where improved performance is needed.
• Link to human resource systems. This is another feature
not directly relevant to an education environment.
Reporting and analytics:
• Ability to generate reports on participation, assessments, etc.
• Includes standard and custom reports.
• Reports generated in graphical form.
• Financial analysis.
• Survey generation and analysis.
• Regulatory compliance tracking.
Multiple language support: Multinational corporations
usually require different languages. Many LMSs provide
for multiple languages now, but this does not necessarily
include true localization which requires adaptation of
the content and design to fit local cultures. True localization is far more extensive than translation and requires substantial additional work.
The following functions are usually offered as separate
capabilities or as part of a suite. Often the course
authoring and web conferencing tools are supplied by
separate vendors.
• Course development/authoring: A means of creating online courses. Many of the tools used in business
are designed for creating interactive, self-directed
courses complete with tests and assessments. Examples of such tools include Authorware, ToolBook,
Lectora, ReadyGo, and Outstart Trainer. Other tools
offer so called rapid e-learning development—con-
version of Word, PowerPoint, etc. documents into
interactive courseware. Examples include Articulate,
Elicitus, Impatica and KnowledgePresenter.
• Virtual classrooms/Web conferencing: Synchronous
instructor-led classes over the Web. Tools include
Microsoft Live Meeting, Elluminate, Adobe Acrobat
Connect Professional (formerly Macromedia Breeze),
LearnLinc, Webex, Interwise and Saba Centra.
• Learning content management/learning object repository: A means of storing developed courseware
in learning object repositories (databases) so that it
can be retrieved and reused. In addition to suites offered by the major LMS vendors, notable others include Eedo, Chalk Media Chalkboard, and Cornerstone
One of the main distinguishing features between corporate and education LMSs is that for most business LMSs
provide fairly complete registration systems for classroom instruction as well as e-learning. Full scale registrations usually already exist in educational institutions.
LMSs sometimes offer e-commerce capabilities that
allow both internal and external people to pay for
courses. These features for managing both classroom
instruction and e-commerce are not usually part of education LMSs. The exceptions to this rule are Blackboard,
which does offer a commerce solution for educational
institutions, and Moodle, which integrates with PayPal
for this purpose.
In the corporate environment, there is a great deal of
reliance on pre-packaged, self-directed courses. Many of
these will likely be generic courseware available from
such suppliers as SkillSoft, Thomson NETg (Skillsoft
now owns NETg), ElementK, and others. The off-theshelf courseware usually covers such topics as information technology (IT) skills, communication skills, business processes, and sales training. In most cases there is
also the need for custom courseware for training on
proprietary products and solutions, and unique situations. It is extremely important that the LMS can work
with all possible third-party courseware and tools used
to create custom courseware.
Most corporate LMSs are limited in their use of
communication tools. Unlike education LMSs, there is
no assumption that an instructor will be available via
email. This will probably change somewhat as businesses
recognize the value of communication tools, communities of practice, mentoring, blogs, wikis, etc.
As corporate LMSs expand their capabilities, they
begin to overlap with human resources functions, with
terms like performance management, human capital
Education for a Digital World
7 – Learning Management Systems
management and talent management becoming frequently used by the major vendors.
The major vendors of corporate LMSs are:
Technical, design, and accessibility standards for elearning are in a constant state of flux. Technical standards continue to be developed to provide for compatibility between systems and courseware, and for the
definition and use of learning objects. See Appendix B,
Standards Bodies and Links, for a list of standards bodies and links. Several different international organizations are working on these standards. The AICC
(Aviation Industry Computer-based Training Committee) standard was developed more than 10 years ago
when the aviation industry (one of the early adopters)
recognized the problem of interoperability among systems. SCORM (Shareable Content Repository Reference
Model) is a collection of technical standards for different
purposes. It is developed by the Advanced Distributed
Learning (ADL) initiative of the US Department of Defense. SCORM was begun in 1997, and the standards
continue to evolve. Many LMS vendors and courseware
vendors claim to be standards-conformant, but that
does not yet guarantee that the systems will be interoperable. Some course designers are against standards altogether, claiming that it constrains creativity and the
facilitation of learning.
GeoMetrix Training Partner
SumTotal Systems
These are the ten largest vendors in the corporate LMS
market. Open-source systems are not yet a major factor
in the corporate environment, but as Linux becomes
more popular this may change.
As with any enterprise software system purchases,
there are generally two approaches—“best-of-breed” in
which companies look for the best possible tools in each
category, and the single vendor approach in which all
the tools are obtained from a singe vendor. The former
can give the organization all the functions it needs while
creating some integration challenges in getting the tools
to work with each other. The latter will probably simplify integration, but may sacrifice some functionality.
Business LMSs typically include classroom registration features and do not include course development tools. Education LMSs are just the
opposite. Education LMSs are also strong on
communication tools.
For a detailed comparison of the features of education and corporate LMSs, see Appendix A, LMS Comparison Matrix.
Corporate LMSs tend to be very expensive for an
educational environment but some of the more
modestly priced ones may be suitable, particularly
in a continuing education application where registration and e-commerce features may be needed.
Education for a Digital World
At least as important as technical standards is the quality
of the instructional design. Instructional design certification is offered by ASTD (American Society for Training and Development. “Designed for asynchronous Webbased and multimedia courses, the E-Learning Courseware Certification (ECC) recognizes courses that excel
in usability and instructional design”. (American Society
for Training and Development, n.d., para. 4)
ISPI (International Society for Performance Improvement) offers numerous publications and awards
addressing design standards for e-learning.
E-learning design can also be certified by eQcheck.
“The eQcheck is designed to ensure that a product will
give satisfactory performance to the consumer. The
standards on which the eQcheck is based are the Canadian Recommended E-Learning Guidelines—the CanREGs, published and copyrighted by FuturEd Inc. and
the Canadian Association for Community Education
(2002)” (eQcheck, n.d., para. 2).
7 – Learning Management Systems
These relate directly to general Web accessibility, particularly for the visually impaired. The initiative is led by
the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World
Wide Web Consortium (
There is also the Web Standards Project, which “is a
grassroots coalition fighting for standards which ensure
simple, affordable access to web technologies for all.”
( In the US, Section 508
of the Rehabilitation Act requires access to electronic
and information technology procured by Federal agencies. See Chapter 11, Accessibility and Universal Design,
where this is discussed extensively.
Claims of standards conformance do not yet guarantee interoperability. Tools and courseware
should be tested with the LMS to be sure.
Course development
Course development is also referred to as course
authoring. Courses made available on the Web are simply collections of web pages designed to help people learn.
They may be a group of resources to which a learner is
referred, or they may be carefully crafted sequences of
learning events that include interactivity, tests and assessments, animations, screen simulations, video, and
audio. It is possible to create web-based learning courses
by using templates or by programming directly in
HTML or Flash but there are course authoring tools
available which are designed to simplify the process.
In education LMSs some course authoring capability
is usually included. Some instructors may prefer to use
additional tools. Course authoring is not usually included in corporate LMSs, but is available separately. as
part of an LCMS or as part of a suite of products.
Course authoring tools like Adobe/Macromedia
Authorware and SumTotal ToolBook have been around
since before the World Wide Web, and have evolved
with it. Not all the tools do everything. The more complex ones require considerable expertise and can benefit
from programming experience. Simpler ones are easier
to use but may be somewhat limited in capability. Some
are tools for converting PowerPoint presentations or
Word documents to web code. They are often referred
to as “rapid e-learning” development tools. Others are
specialized to produce software simulations, or tests,
and assessments.
In education LMSs course development tools provide
the means for teachers to perform the following types of
• Provide and organize resources related to the
learning objectives: Most education solutions allow
instructors to create simple text pages or web pages.
These can be used for a syllabus, a project outline, assignment instructions, grading guidelines, and much
more. LMSs usually provide support for multi-media
materials such as video and audio streaming or modules or simulations built in other software tools. If instructors are using tools such as Dreamweaver, Flash,
or other authoring tools, it is important to obtain an
LMS that supports the code generated by these products particularly for any rich media, interactivity, and
for recording scores on tests.
• Set up communication tools for the students to use:
LMSs often give instructors and students the ability
to send email to one another via the LMS. Instructors
can also set up group areas, discussion forums, wikis,
and other tools to allow students to communicate
about general topics with little to no facilitation by
the instructor or teaching assistant. For example, you
can use a discussion forum as a way for students to
introduce themselves, to provide technical support to
each other, or to continue an interesting discussion if
you run out of time in the classroom. Many LMSs
also provide a calendar to which students, instructors,
and the LMS itself can add events. Students can
schedule study groups, instructors can remind students of special events such as field trips, and the
LMS itself will mark events such as quiz dates or assignment due dates.
• Facilitate and manage online interactivity related
to the learning objectives: Those same communication tools, and several others, can be used to facilitate
online interactivity related to coursework. Depending
on the LMS, instructors can use single-question polls
to gauge student attitudes or knowledge about a
reading, discussion forums to have students analyze a
lab procedure before entering the lab, wikis to have
students collaboratively solve a problem or work on a
project, or chat to let small groups discuss required
field work in real time.
• Assess student performance (skills, knowledge, and
attitudes): LMSs provide avenues for students to
submit assignments and for instructors to evaluate
different types of student performance. For example,
students can submit written essays in several ways,
including, but not limited to, digital drop boxes, discussion forum threads, discussion forum attach-
Education for a Digital World
7 – Learning Management Systems
ments, wikis, or “assignment” modules. Instructors
can require students to use different submission
pathways to create different types of assignments.
You might use a discussion forum to allow peer review, wikis to engage students in collaborative writing
exercises, or assignment modules to make it easy to
collect all the essays. LMSs usually provide tools for
creating and delivering quizzes as part of the courses.
Instructors may also use other tools for this purpose
such as Questionmark Perception, Respondus, Hot
Potatoes, and test banks that publishers provide. If
you plan to use these tools, it is important to be sure
that your LMS can work with the code generated by
these third-party software solutions.
• Assess teaching effectiveness: Many LMSs contain
survey tools to allow instructors to collect feedback
about specific topics, including teaching effectiveness
(see Chapter 24, Evaluating and Improving Your Online Teaching Effectiveness, for more information on
this topic). The different LMSs vary the possibilities
for instructors and students. Some allow anonymous
student responses and some contain specific survey
instruments for teaching effectiveness. If the LMS
does not do everything you want, you can always link
to an external survey tool on the Web. For example,
the Free Assessment Summary Tool (
allows instructors to use a database of more than 350
teaching effectiveness questions, to create twenty
questions per survey, and to download the results as
an Excel spreadsheet, all for free.
Be sure your LMS will work with the additional
tools that instructors are likely to use for course
Course development in
corporate LMSs
Course authoring tools are not usually included as part
of a corporate LMS, but are available separately or as
part of an LCMS.
For corporate training there is a strong reliance on
pre-packaged, self-directed courses. These can be purchased from third-party vendors like Skillsoft, Thomson
NETg (now a part of Skillsoft, making Skillsoft the single
largest vendor of such courseware by a substantial margin), ElementK (now owned by NIIT), and Harvard
Business School Publishing. Generic courseware is avail-
Education for a Digital World
able for learning skills in communication, business,
leadership, management, finance, information technology (IT), sales, health and safety, and more specialized
Most companies also have a need to develop courses
on for unique situations and proprietary products and
services. There are many tools available for this purpose.
Most of these are designed primarily for creating selfdirected online courses, but they can also be used to
develop classroom materials.
Some examples of popular course authoring tools:
• SumTotal ToolBook
• Adobe Authorware, Flash, Dreamweaver, and Acrobat Connect Presenter
• Trivantis Lectora
• ReadyGo Web Course Builder
• MaxIT DazzlerMax
• Outstart Trainer
Course development can be very time consuming.
There is a lot of material already available in Microsoft
Word or PowerPoint. So-called rapid development, or
rapid e-learning tools are designed to quickly convert these
documents to e-learning courses. Examples include:
• Articulate
• Impatica
• Adobe Presenter (formerly Macromedia Breeze Presenter)
• KnowledgePresenter
Most of these tools (with the exception of Impatica)
convert PowerPoint and Word documents to Flash because
it is web-friendly and so widespread. (According to Adobe,
Flash is already installed in 97 percent of browsers.)
Software simulation tools
There are numerous tools designed specifically for the
simulation of computer screens by recording screen
interactions. For example:
• Adobe Captivate (formerly Macromedia RoboDemo)
• TechSmith Camtasia
• Qarbon ViewletBuilder
Many of these also do PowerPoint to Flash conversion.
7 – Learning Management Systems
Test and assessment tools
Most course authoring tools can create and deliver tests
and quizzes as part of the courses. Instructors may also
want use test banks that publishers provide, and/or
other, more powerful tools built specifically for testing.
For example:
• Questionmark Perception
• Respondus
• Hot Potatoes
There are well over 100 available sources for software
that can be categorized as course authoring tools.
When choosing an LMS, be sure that it can support any
third-party generic courseware or content authoring
tools being used. Particular attention should be paid to
the LMS’s ability to launch the courses, and track and
record interactions and responses to quizzes. Support
for standards helps, but it is no guarantee. You should
test the LMS with the tools and courseware that you will
be using. You should also determine how accessible the
file formats are for students with disabilities. (See
Chapter 11, Accessibility and Universal Design, for
more information about accessibility.)
Be careful with rapid development tools. Speed of
delivery can be very important but make sure you
are not just making bad Word or PowerPoint
documentation into even worse e-learning courses.
Virtual classrooms/web
Web conferencing tools can bring a new dimension to
your programs. They add presentations, audio, video,
graphics, synchronous chat and voice interactions to
meetings and classes at a distance. They can effectively
complement online courses where some live interaction
is called for and where there is an immediate need for
new information or skills. Recordings can often be made
to enhance asynchronous distance education programs.
In an education/training mode, they are often referred
to as virtual classrooms.
With a few exceptions, virtual classrooms are not
included as part of an LMS, either for education or business, but are available separately. Some LMS vendors
partner with web conferencing software vendors to integrate the products so they will work well together.
There are more than 50 vendors of these products. In
most cases, these systems can support either corporate
or education needs. Some of the best known include:
Centra Live (now owned by Saba)
Citrix GoToMeeting
Horizon Wimba
iLinc LearnLinc
Interwise Connect
Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional (formerly Macromedia Breeze Live)
Microsoft NetMeeting (free but apparently no longer
Microsoft Live Meeting (formerly Placeware)
Tapped-In (a free text-only based conferencing system)
WebEx Training Center
Licensing of these products varies from annual subscriptions (Elluminate) to pay-as-you-go (WebEx) to
free (TappedIn). If they are only used occasionally, then
the pay-as-you-go option is probably the best choice.
However, that can rapidly get very expensive.
For an extensive list of features of these products, see
Appendix E.
As with any software or instructional approach, it
takes considerable skill to facilitate an online session effectively.
Learning content management
The management of learning content involves saving
developed courseware as learning objects in a learning
object repository (database). It is catalogued using
metadata (descriptive tags) so that it can be easily found
and retrieved by anyone who has access to it. It supports
institutional or corporate reuse of the learning objects.
Systems that do this are often called learning content
management systems (LCMS). They are specialized
content management systems.
Most education LMSs include at least some capability
for content management. Some even call themselves
learning content management systems.
Learning content management is not usually a feature
of the corporate LMS, but some of the major corporate
LMSs include content management as part of a suite of
Education for a Digital World
7 – Learning Management Systems
programs. It is also available separately. Most separate
LCMSs include content authoring and some learning
management features as well.
Performance support: Some corporate LCMSs provide for a feature called performance support. Also
called JIT (just in time) learning, performance support
allows employees to immediately access information
(courses, units, and learning objects) that enables them
to do their job better “in the moment”. For example, if
an employee working on a task cannot remember exactly how to do something, he or she can quickly access
a course, or parts of a course, that will show how to
perform the operation. This requires managing the
course content as learning objects, and making them
easily accessible to all learners. Such systems when available separately are often called EPSS (electronic performance support systems) but are now sometimes
included as part of an LCMS. This is another concept
which does not really apply in the education environment. See Appendix C, LCMS Features.
LMSs that include this capability as part of a suite
Cornerstone OnDemand
Sum Total Systems
Some examples of separate systems are:
Chalk Media Chalkboard
dominKnow LCMS (formerly Galbraith Media)
Be careful about learning content management.
Everyone thinks, “What a great idea—save the
course materials in a way that they can be reused
easily.” But too often it doesn’t happen. Some organizational cultures do not support the value of
sharing. This is a great tool if it is used but an expensive mistake if not used.
Education for a Digital World
Needs assessment
Choosing an LMS is not a technology decision. It is primarily a leadership and change management decision.
No matter what system you adopt, it will change the way
you do things. Even if you adopt a system that supports
your basic learning model, procedures will change. This
is a major decision that calls for a careful assessment of
your needs.
Before you even talk to LMS vendors or open-source
LMS community members, form an expert committee
of people consisting of educational leaders and administrators and instructors—people who understand how
online learning works. Be sure to include some IT personnel to enlist their ideas and support and their understanding of the technology.
Consult with end users, both instructors and students, by questionnaires, surveys, interviews, and/or
focus groups to determine their needs, desires, willingness, and abilities. They can identify the desirable features of the system, and give some indication of the
change management factors that need to be addressed.
Be careful of scope creep. When asking people what they
would like to see, they will tend to ask for everything.
Distinguish between the things that are truly needed and
the “nice-to-haves”.
Consult with people in other organizations like yours
that have already gone through the process. Find out
what they are using and how they like it. Read the literature and attend conferences.
Are you looking at an LMS to initiate e-learning? You
may not actually need to do this. Online courses are just
a collection of web pages that do not require an LMS to
run them. The primary purpose of an LMS is to provide
a working platform and administration for tracking the
results. If you don’t need to track the results, or if instructors will do it manually, then you don’t need an
LMSs tend to constrain people to do things in certain
ways. Some instructors and designers are frustrated by
the constraints (both technical and learning) of using
these systems and would prefer more dynamic learning
support systems such as student weblogs and learning
wikis, and even just email or newsgroups. You may prefer to give them more creative freedom. Wikis and blogs
don’t require an LMS but they are hard to track. Instructors can track activity manually and assign grades
but it limits the analysis you can do, for example to find
out to what degree students participate, how students
perform on individual questions, etc. Wikis and blogs
can be altered easily, so are not ideal for formal assignments (other than perhaps a team assignment to build a
7 – Learning Management Systems
wiki). Individual and team essay assignments are probably best submitted to instructors via direct email messages and attachments. This would still not require an
LMS to track as the instructors would be marking and
tracking such assignments manually.
Obtaining an LMS will change the way you work.
Choosing one is not a technology decision. It is
about leadership and change.
Conduct primary research
Survey, interview and conduct focus groups among your
expert committee, instructors, and students to determine
the primary needs of your system. Don’t ask general
questions like, “What do you need?” or you will get a
wish list that may not be practical. See Appendix F,
Needs Assessment Questions, for suggestions about
questions to ask.
Good educational conferences include:
• Association for Educational Communications and
Technology (AECT) (
• ED-MEDIA (Association for the Advancement of
Computing in Education—AACE) (http://www.aace
• Association for Media and Technology in Canada
(AMTEC)/Canadian Association for Distance Education (CADE) (
• Canadian Association for University Continuing
Education (CAUCE) (
You can expedite the process by attending virtual
trade shows and online demonstrations. Check out the
possibilities at and vendors’ websites.
For reviews of education LMS software, check out
Conduct secondary research
(1) What LMSs are other organizations using?
(a) Is the organization similar to your own, or have
similar needs?
(b) What made them choose that particular solution?
(c) How satisfied are they with it?
(d) What features do they like and not like?
(e) What feedback have they had from students and
(2) What does the literature say?
If you are looking for an education LMS, a good source
of information is the website of the Western Cooperative
for Educational Telecommunications: Online Educational Delivery Applications: A Web Tool for Comparative Analysis ( This website
contains reviews and comparative data on a large number of education learning management systems.
You may also wish to attend conferences where LMS
are featured and profiled.
Good corporate conferences are:
If you are looking for a corporate LMS, you can check
out the reports by Brandon Hall at http://www.brandon, Bersin & Associates at http://www.bersin
.com/ or by using the comparison tool at http://
Other good sources of information include the
eLearning Guild ( and
Chief Learning Officer magazine (http://www.clomedia
Once you have determined your requirements and
have documented them carefully, prioritize them to
determine the critical needs.
Be careful of scope creep. When asking people
what they would like to see, they will tend to ask
for everything. Distinguish between the things that
are truly needed and the “nice-to-haves”.
System selection
• Learning 2007 (formerly TechLearn) (http://www.learn
• Training (
• American Society for Training and Development
(ASTD) (
• International Society for Performance Improvement
(ISPI) (
Now you can begin to research vendors and/or opensource solutions. Looking at different products can open
up new possibilities, but, again, be careful of scope
creep, and of being sold something just because it is the
latest hot item.
Use your documented requirements and priorities to
identify a manageable list of solutions (perhaps 10) from
Education for a Digital World
7 – Learning Management Systems
the more than 100 vendors. An evolving, fairly complete
list of such vendors can be found at http://www.trimeritus
Note that the needs assessment and selection strategies are also part of your change management strategy.
The more input people have in the decision, the more
likely they will adopt it.
Request for proposal (RFP)
Requests for proposals (RFP) follow fairly standard industry forms. At there
is a template specifically for LMS selection but be careful
about templates that are just lists of features. Include
only those features that you really require. Use your
documented requirements and develop use case scenarios and scripts to paint a clear picture of your LMS vision so that a vendor can provide a proposal focused on
your specific environment/culture. Include reporting
functions in your scenarios. Poor reporting capability is
a great source of customer dissatisfaction. Be sure to ask
questions about post implementation customer service
because it is also a key factor in customer satisfaction.
Ask vendors for references especially those for organizations similar to your own.
Ask the vendors from your list to submit proposals.
When you contact vendors, the more clearly you have
identified your requirements, the more attention you
will get from suppliers—they will see you as a qualified
prospect. A full formal RFP process may not be practical in
all situations unless it is required by your organization.
See appendix G for RFP questions for vendors.
Review the proposals
Develop a rubric for scoring the proposals you receive
from vendors. Make a short list of the top three to ten
vendors to be invited to provide demonstrations.
Schedule meetings and demonstrations
Ask your short list of vendors or open-source community representatives (who may be members of your own
organization) to demonstrate their products either at
your location or online. Ask them to demo directly to
the use case scenarios and demonstration scripts you
developed in the RFP. Invite students, instructors, and
IT people to the demos, as well as members of your core
Most vendors will have pre-packaged online demonstrations of their products, but remember that these are
mostly designed to show off the good features of the
product that may not be relevant in your situation.
Use your rubric to have each participant evaluate the
solutions. At the meetings, discuss specific details about
how the vendor provides service, maintenance, etc. Try
to arrange for a free, in-house trial. If possible, run a
small pilot program with a small sample before rolling a
solution out to the entire organization.
Education for a Digital World
Make the selection
Meet with your review team to consolidate the rubrics
and make a selection. The bottom line is selecting the
LMS that meets your needs.
“The average company doesn’t get excited about
buying an LMS; it gets excited about managing
learning. It doesn’t get excited about buying a new
e-learning course; it gets excited about changing
an employee’s performance.” (Elliott Masie as
quoted by Ellis, 2004)
Implementation issues
Some of the factors you need to take into consideration
when implementing an LMS are:
(1) Change management: Implementing an LMS is a major change. In a corporate environment almost everyone will be exposed to it as it becomes part of the
intranet portal. The change management issues—the
marketing, communication, and training initiatives
that will need to be put into place to gain acceptance
and appropriate use—are of paramount importance.
In an educational institution, the impact will be less
widespread, but change management is still important for all the instructors and students who will be
accessing the system.
(2) Timelines: How long will it take to conduct a needs
assessment, to run a pilot test, to build a user community within the organization, to build the appropriate infrastructure to support it, etc.?
(3) Cost: Consider the total cost of ownership (TCO);
not just the cost of the software but the complete
implementation and maintenance costs.
(4) Customization: Will you want to brand the system
or change it to make it conform to the way you do
things? Doing this can be more expensive than the
initial licensing and can delay the implementation
process significantly.
(5) Internal or external hosting of the application:
(a) In-house hosting requires hardware (e.g., servers
for application, database, data storage, backup
systems), infrastructure (e.g., high-bandwidth
connectivity, uninterrupted power supply in case
of power outage), and staffing (e.g., technical
7 – Learning Management Systems
support staff, training, and user support staff) to
maintain the LMS. In some cases, in-house
hosting can provide your organization with
greater flexibility, security and responsiveness
than a third-party hosting facility.
(b) With the supplier or a third party hosting it for
you, it is more expensive, but you do not have to
provide all of the IT support. In most cases,
however, you will still need to designate or hire
an in-house support person to support instructors and learners, and to be the point of contact
with the hosting group. Implementation of externally hosted LMSs can be quicker. It may,
however, take longer to make changes in the
system after it is up and running.
(c) With open-source systems, it may be possible for
you to contract with a company to host and
maintain the LMS for you but the usual scenario
for these will be in-house hosting.
Integration with other systems, e.g., registration,
student information systems, library or data management systems, and/or human resources systems
What kind of support will the supplier or community (for open-source solutions) provide during implementation? For example, training, customization,
trouble shooting, help desk, etc.
Training for instructors and students
Software updates
Conversion of existing or third-party courseware
to run properly on your new LMS.
Are there other initiatives happening in your organization which your LMS initiative can support so
that mutual success can be achieved?
Case studies
Telus Communications is western Canada’s major telecommunications provider and the second largest in the
country. It has approximately 25,000 employees across
the country. Between 1995 and 1998, BC Tel (prior to
the merger with Telus) developed an extensive intranet
which became a great information tool for employees.
Several internal websites were developed to augment the
training courses offered by Learning Services. In 1998,
BC Tel contracted with SkillSoft for about 20 of its generic, self-directed sales and communications courses to
complement its manager training curriculum. The initial licence was for 2,000 participants. The interest was
much greater than expected. Many employees at all levels of the organization and in all divisions discovered the
courses and used the opportunity because they were
“free”. Within six months, the licence had to be increased to 3,500. Then additional courses were licensed
for other subject areas including information technology
(IT) from Smartforce and NETg.
One reason for the success of these courses is that
upper management had implemented a policy that all
employees would maintain a personal development
portfolio, and demonstrate steps towards their goals.
Because the e-learning courses were free and available to
everyone, they became very popular. It is always good to
have an e-learning initiative tied to other organizational
objectives and initiatives. People are often hungry to get
training to improve their skills and advance their careers,
but they don’t always get the opportunity. E-learning
made it accessible.
Telus management was interested in developing some
of their own proprietary courses, so an extensive review
of available course authoring tools was made.
Click2Learn ToolBook software was selected for this
purpose. The plan was to enable more than 100 people
throughout the organization to create courses using this
tool, so ease of use was an important criterion. A training program was put into place to train those people.
The tool was found to be useful particularly for training
on new products and services. Telus typically introduces
several new products and services each month, and traditional training approaches were simply too slow to
address this. One of the first courses developed was on a
new feature for telephones called “Talking Call Waiting”. The course was made available to sales and customer service people. In this case e-learning made it
possible to distribute training to everyone who needed it
much more quickly than could have been done by traditional methods.
Another course on ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line high-speed Internet connection) was made
available to everyone and had more than 1,000 hits in
the first few days.
Up to this point, only very simple management tools
had been used to track the results, and a good deal of work
was done manually. Telus then did a study of LMSs and
decided that they would build their own system because
they had an extensive and skilled IT staff that had developed parts of such a system for individual departments.
In 2004, Telus reported that it had developed 300
custom courses for its employees and there were a total
of 100,000 course completions for both custom and generic courses. E-learning is now a way of life for Telus.
Education for a Digital World
7 – Learning Management Systems
by Kevin Kelly, Online Teaching and Learning
In Images of Organization, Gareth Morgan (2006) describes double-loop learning, or a process by which organizations go beyond simple behavioural changes to
reach goals. They do this by questioning the way they
normally do things in an effort to improve. The decision
process to move from one learning management system
to another might be considered an example of doubleloop learning.
San Francisco State University (SFSU) began this
process after experiencing some technical difficulties
with a commercial LMS. The campus had experienced a
number of issues related to an upgrade, including intermittent performance issues and a thirteen-hour outage during finals week. While the vendor worked hard to
alleviate the problems, the campus began to discuss the
future. Based on feedback from faculty focus groups, the
campus decided to investigate alternative LMS solutions.
To begin, academic technology staff members looked
at several commercial and open source solutions. During the focus groups, the faculty members provided a
simple requirement: “We can’t go backward.” In other
words, any alternative had to have the same capabilities
as the existing LMS. After setting up mock courses in
more than ten environments, the academic technology
team found that Moodle provided the flexibility to meet
faculty and student needs quickly, as well as a nearly
parallel set of features for online teaching and learning.
After selecting Moodle, the team created the LMS
investigation roadmap. At each stoplight on the roadmap, the campus would evaluate the project status. If
Moodle was not meeting teaching and learning needs,
then the campus would start over with another tool. If
faculty and students gave a “green light”, then the investigation would continue.
In Fall 2004, SFSU began an alpha test with five instructors and 300 students. One instructor with more
than 100 students in the alpha test liked it so much for
her large class that she moved several large sections totaling 850 students to Moodle for the beta test. In Spring
2005, the campus ran a beta test with 25 instructors and
1,500 students. The academic technology team performed extensive outreach to get faculty in all nine colleges to participate in order to evaluate the needs of
different disciplines. An Associate Vice President requested scalability tests in Fall 2005 and Spring 2006
with over 100 instructors and 6,000+ students and
9,000+ students respectively. At each stage, the campus
Education for a Digital World
used the roadmap test to verify that it was on the right
At the same time, the Academic Technology team
worked with the Disability Programs and Resource
Center to conduct accessibility testing. This involved
more than running a web-based verification program.
To make sure that the accessibility testing would address
real needs, the campus asked students with disabilities to
help test the LMS with assistive technology such as
JAWS, a screen reader application, and Dragon Naturally Speaking, a voice recognition program. Similarly,
the Academic Technology team worked with an SF State
faculty member and a UC Berkeley graduate student in a
usability related course to facilitate usability testing with
The faculty-run Educational Technology Advisory
Committee worked with the team throughout the process and, at the end, made a recommendation to move
exclusively to Moodle as the online teaching and learning environment. The recommendations included a list
of items for the campus academic technology unit to
address, such as improving the grade book and creating
a list of frequently asked questions for support. Based on
this recommendation, the Provost announced that the
campus would use Moodle exclusively when the vendor
contract expires in Summer 2007.
While the original drivers were technological, the
campus also received equivalent pedagogical and administrative benefits. Instructors have been changing
the way they teach, and writing articles about the scholarship of teaching and learning. As Moodle is open
source software, the campus has created a consortium of
regional two-year and four-year colleges and universities
to create economies of scale related to software development, training and support, and other forms of collaboration. More is yet to come.
When considering the purchase of any learning management system it is essential to assess your needs carefully before buying and to implement them properly to
ensure success.
Here are a few key points:
• There are at least 100 LMSs available for business,
and at least 50 available for education. Many of the
latter are open-source. Although they offer different
features, it is best not to ignore the LMSs from the
other sector.
7 – Learning Management Systems
• There is no single “best” solution. The ideal solution
is the one that fits your needs and environment.
• Obtaining an LMS will change the way you work.
Choosing one is not a technology decision. It is about
leadership and change.
• Be sure your LMS will work with the tools that instructors are likely to use for course development,
and that it will integrate with other systems such as
HR and registration systems.
• Be careful about learning content management. Everyone thinks, “What a great idea—save the course materials in a way that they can be reused easily.” But too
often it doesn’t happen. Some organizational cultures
do not support the value of sharing. This is a great
tool if it is used, but an expensive mistake if not used.
• When assessing your needs be careful of scope creep.
When asking people what they would like to see, they
will tend to ask for everything. Distinguish between the
things that are truly needed and the “nice-to-haves”.
“We contend that the current technical design
philosophy of today’s learning management systems is substantially retarding progress toward the
kind of flexible virtual classrooms that teachers
need to provide quality education”. (Feldstein &
Masson, 2006, para. 4)
There is a need for third generation learning management systems, based on the constructivism theory of
learning and social networking in order to support online collaborative learning communities. (See Chapter
30, Supporting E-learning through Communities of
Practice.) Developing these third generation systems will
be a challenge, especially for the corporate models that
haven’t figured out yet how to manage simple emails. As
of this writing, education LMSs are ahead of corporate
LMSs in this respect, but the latter will also need to include more social learning tools (wikis, blogs, etc.). In
the immediate future, LMSs will continue to be primarily administrative tools and only secondarily learning
tools. Instructors and students will be challenged to find
ways to use them so that they make learning easy.
The most used electronic learning tools are Google
and other search engines. In the near future almost everything will be available online. Ten years ago a colleague of mine said that everything that is current and
worthwhile is already online. This is much truer now.
Google and the Gutenberg Project are putting libraries
of books online. Google is putting maps on the Web.
Universities like Massachusetts Institute of Technology
(MIT) are making their course materials available online. Communities are creating knowledge repositories
with wikis. Blogs are making almost everyone’s opinions
available, whether we want them or not.
Distributed learning platforms will enable people to
access learning modules and services from anywhere.
Mobile learning solutions will enable people to access
information on their personal digital assistants (PDAs),
and cell phones.
The challenge will be for learners (all of us) to manage all of this. Much of it will happen beyond the scope
of any locally installed learning management system.
Google and other search engines will evolve to provide
management features.
Content will be organized as reusable learning objects
much like learning content management systems do, but
on a much broader scale. Wikis and folksonomies (also
called “tagging”) may help solve this. Wikipedia defines
a folksonomy as “an Internet-based information retrieval methodology consisting of collaboratively generated, open-ended labels [or tags] that categorize content
such as Web pages, online photographs, and Web links”.
Personalization and context-aware devices such as
GPS (global positioning system) units will also help.
Personalization is the ability of a website to adapt to its
users, as Amazon does when it suggests other books you
may like, or for the user to adapt the website for his or
her own purposes, as Google does when it allows you to
customize its home page. GPS units can locate the user
so that information can be customized for that location.
For example, a user who lives in Chicago but is visiting
New York would receive weather information for New
LMSs will continue to exist for company and institutional record keeping, but much of the learning will
happen beyond their scope.
AICC. Aviation Industry CBT Committee, one of the
technical standards to enable interoperability between
LMSs and third-party courseware. The aviation industry
was the first to recognize the need and developed the
first standards. (
ASTD. American Society for Training and Development (
Asynchronous. Literally, not at the same time. In
e-learning, usually email or discussion groups, or other
communications between participants that do not occur in
real time. Self-directed courses which learners do on their
own without the presence of an instructor are also asyn-
Education for a Digital World
7 – Learning Management Systems
chronous. Asynchronous communication offers communication at the convenience of the learner, the opportunity to
consider responses carefully, review them before replying,
and the ability to track and revisit discussions.
Blended learning. A mix of classroom, self-directed,
synchronous and asynchronous approaches. Blended
courses may also be called “hybrid” courses.
Blog. An abbreviation of weblog, a publicly accessible
personal journal that is regularly updated, similar to a
personal diary, but shared over the Web.
Community of practice. A group of people who
share a common interest, need or objective. Online
communication tools can facilitate the exchange of information in such a group.
Constructivism. A theory of learning that “acknowledges that individuals are active agents, they engage in
their own knowledge construction by integrating new
information into their schema, and by associating and
representing it into a meaningful way”. (Hsiao, n.d., para.
6 (II 2))
Content management systems (CMSs). Computer
programs for managing all forms of electronic content
in a way that the content can be easily retrieved and
Course authoring/development. Software that facilitates the development of electronically delivered
courseware. May include the ability to include audio,
video, Flash animations, tests and quizzes, etc.
Course management system (CMS). A term often
used for an education-oriented LMS. It differs from a
business-oriented LMS primarily by including course
authoring capability but not including general registration for classroom courses. An alternative term is virtual
learning environment (VLE).
E-commerce. Tools to facilitate online shopping,
with an automatic transfer of funds. In the context of
this chapter, funds are transfered from learner to institution or between departments. The tools may include a
catalogue, a shopping cart feature and allow secure
credit card transactions as well as other forms of payment. Essentially synonymous with e-business.
E-learning. Any learning opportunity delivered electronically, usually through the Internet. Synonymous
with online learning and web-based training.
EPSS (electronic performance support systems).
Tools built into an LMS to enable employees to access
information as they need it. Also called just-in-time
GPS (global positioning system). A satellite based
system that determines the receiver’s location, speed,
and direction.
Education for a Digital World
Information technology (IT). The people, computers
and computer software systems that support an organization. Often referred to as ICT (information communications and technology) in an educational context.
ISPI. International Society for Performance Improvement (
Learning object. Any digital entity (text, graphics,
animations, pages, modules, etc.) that can be used, re-used
or referenced during technology-supported learning.
Learning management system (LMS). Computer
software designed to manage the organization, delivery,
and tracking of online courses and people’s performance. They are sometimes called virtual learning environments (VLE) or course management systems (CMS).
Corporate learning management systems are also designed to manage classroom instruction.
Learning content management systems (LCMS).
Content management systems specifically designed for
managing learning materials. Typically include a searchable learning object repository or database.
Localization. In software, this includes translation to
other languages, but also requires adaptation of the
content and design to reflect local cultures. It is much
more extensive than just translation and requires substantial additional work.
Metadata. Data that describes other data. Metadata
are digital words that uniquely describe other data such
as a learning object. Metadata are invisible to the viewer
but visible to the system. The most familiar metadata are
HTML tags on websites.
Open-source systems/software. Computer software
whose source code is available free under a copyright
licence that permits users to study, change, and improve
the software, and to redistribute it in modified or unmodified form.
Performance management. The process of managing the workforce of a company to optimize corporate
performance by employing strategies for skills, competencies, training and development.
Personalization. The ability of a website to adapt to
its users and/or for the user to adapt the website for his
or her own purposes.
SCORM. Shareable Content Object Reference Model.
A collection of technical standards including AICC,
IMS, etc. to enable interoperability between LMSs and
third-party courseware.
Self-directed. Any learning done without the direct assistance of an instructor or interaction with other learners.
Synchronous. Classroom, virtual classroom or online
chat. Synchronicity offers the benefits of immediate
instructor presence and support, and the social structure
that many people require for effective learning.
7 – Learning Management Systems
Talent management. The process of managing the
workforce in a company to optimize recruiting, retention, performance in conjunction with training and development.
Virtual classrooms/Web conferencing. Computer
software that provides for synchronous meetings and
training classes over the Internet, and includes audio,
whiteboards for presentation and graphics, participant
chat, and data sharing.
Virtual learning environment (VLE). Synonymous
with LMS or course management system (CMS).
VOIP. Voice over Internet protocol. Enables direct
audio connections over the Internet.
Weblog. See blog..
Wiki. An online collaboration model and tool that
allows users to add and edit content of a website.
Alvarado, P. (2006) Learning management system selection. Retrieved September 2006,
Ambler, T. (n.d.) Recommendations to the BCcampus
task force: Systemic support for the delivery of online
courses in British Columbia. Vancouver, BC: BCcampus
American Society for Training and Development
(ASTD) (n.d.) E-learning courseware certification.
Retrieved April 2007,
Belyk, D., Schubert, J. & Baggaley, J (2002) Classification
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Chambers, J. (2002) Cisco corporate vision: Education,
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Making learning management systems more flexible.
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7 – Learning Management Systems
GeoLearning (n.d.) Talent Management Suite Requirements Checklist. Retrieved February 2007, http://www
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7 – Learning Management Systems
Appendix A: LMS comparison
This LMS comparison matrix offers a quick, generalized
look at how the solutions for educational and corporate
uses compare to one another. The general descriptors
below do not reflect the situation for every solution in
either category. Open-source communities and LMS
vendors are constantly updating products, so be sure to
look at each product individually when you have narrowed down your list of choices.
Corporate LMS
Education LMS
Interoperability with
Included but should be Not included but may
third-party courseware tested
be possible through
standards conformance
Personal web page
publishing for instructors and students
Not included
Not included
Administration tools
Ability to create accounts and monitor
Often included
Available as an extra.
Corporate LMS
Education LMS
Not included
Available as an extra
Classroom course
Not included
File and workflow
May be included
May be included
E-learning management
Streaming audio and
May be included
May be included
Blended learning
Not included
Access to electronic
May be included
May be included
Course development
Not included; available Included
as an extra
Course content management
Not included; available Included but functionas an extra
ality may be limited.
Web conferencing/
virtual classroom
Not included; available Not included; available
as an extra
as an extra
Grade book
Assessment reporting
available in a report
May be included.
Usually included
Sometimes available as
an extra
tools—email, discussion groups, etc.
Included but at a lower Included
level of priority than
for education LMS
Financial analytics
Not included
Some reporting features are included but
may be limited.
Some reporting features are included but
may be limited.
Performance support
An LCMS feature
available as an extra.
Not included
Competency and
performance tracking
(see above)
Often included
Not included
Support for e-learning
May or may not be
Multiple language
Often included
May be included
For a comparison of specific education LMSs, visit the
edutools website ( generated
by the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications (WCET). The site contains an engine that
allows you to run a comparison of different versions of
about 40 different LMSs, including many listed in this
Appendix B: Standards bodies
and links
• Accessibility standards:
Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World
Wide Web Consortium—
The Web Standards Project
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
• Aviation Industry Computer-based Training
Committee (AICC)
• Canadian Core Learning Resource Metadata Application Resource (CanCore)
• Centre for Educational Technology
Interoperability Standards
• Dublin Core Metadata Initiative
Education for a Digital World
7 – Learning Management Systems
• Eduspecs
• Instructional Design Standards:
E-Learning Courseware Certification (ECC)
ISPI (International Society for Performance Improvement)
• International Organization for Standardization
(ISO)/International Electrotechnical Commission
(IEC) Joint Technical Committee (JTC)1 Subcommittee (SC)36
• International Standardization Organization
• Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC)
• Merlot
• National Institute of Standards and Technology
• Open Geospatial Consortium
• Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF)
• Shareable Courseware Object Reference Model
• The eLearning Guild
Appendix C: Learning content
management system (LCMS)
• Creation and editing of metadata (descriptive tags)
• Non-technical users can configure and manage
• Metadata taxonomy creation and management
• Imports metadata conforming to standards
• Assigns or automatically captures metadata element
values as a single content object is captured or imported
• Authors notified of duplicate metadata element values or content during creation
Learning content management system (LCMS) features
• Different levels of access for users
• Catalog of learning objects and templates
• Import capability for third-party and custom
authoring tool course content
• Actions such as import, export, move, delete, relate,
contain, status update, and metadata element value
updates can be performed on selected single or multiple content objects
• Tracking of knowledge assets
• Workflow design, use, and management
• User definition of levels of learning objects
Education for a Digital World
HTML presentation
XML storage and retrieval
Content, data and user classification
Content based filtering
Portal integration (will work with organizational web
Capture of electronic documents and metadata
Thesaurus/classification scheme
Options for records and documents disposal
Document authoring
Document searching and retrieval
Aggregates groups of records
Cross-references documents
Saves and converts documents of different types
Image scanning
Audits and produces reports on document workflow
Provides for system backup, rollback and recovery
Provides tools for easy author/user access
Provides security and authentication of users
Provides user profiles
Provides password and privilege management
Provides role management
Provides management of digital assets (photographs,
animations, video, music, etc.)
Provides mass storage capability
Provides reports and statistical management
Meets reliability and performance standards
Version control
• Check-in/Check-out
• Version labelling
• Rollback and restore
• Reporting
Third-party integration (list of enterprise systems and
Standards support
7 – Learning Management Systems
Appendix D: Course authoring
tool features
Course authoring tool features
• Fully browser-based web authoring (editing directly
in a browser)
• Templates
• Ability to create and manage templates
• Wizards
• WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor
• In-line cascading style sheet rendering (maintains
style sheet layout)
• Preview mode
• Import content from Word
• Import content from PowerPoint
• Access to learning objects from a repository
• Content editor provides standard word processing
editing features
• The content editor produces valid HTML/XHTML code
• Automatic course menu/map creation
• Choice of navigation buttons and scenarios
• Glossary/dictionary creation
• Bookmarking (provision for students to return to
specific points in a course)
• Insert hyperlinks
• FAQ creation
• Manages and updates links
• Multiple languages
• Workflow to manage content development (tracks
versions and has check out, check in for different users)
• Can launch third-party applications
• Version control
• Other
Rich media
• Rich text (maintains text formatting)
• Graphics formats
• Animation
• Flash
• Audio
• Video
• Editing tools for graphics, audio, video, animation
• Pre-tests to build course curriculum
• Tests
• Branching based on learner responses
• Computer screen simulations
• Role-play simulations
• Hot spots (areas of a web page or a graphic which
provides feedback or more information with a mouse
rollover or click)
Appendix E: Virtual classroom/
web conferencing features
• Scheduling of sessions
• Registering participants
• Email reminders with links to log-in page
Interactive features
• Instant text messaging among learners and with instructor
• Threaded discussions
• Breakout rooms
• Video
• Notepad for learners
• Time remaining clock
• Participants can leave temporarily
• Indicators for status of other participants
• Anyone can use whiteboard
• Text and drawing tools
• Clip art
• Application sharing
• Remote control of applications can be granted
• Participants can save whiteboards
• Synchronized web surfing
• VOIP (voice over Internet protocol)
• Telephone conferencing
• Leader can allow anyone to speak
• More than one voice at a time
Moderator control
• Able to give participants control
• Moderator can see what participants are getting
• Multiple moderators supported
Feedback tools
• During presentation
• Following presentation
• Applause tool
• Speed up or slow down indicators
• Emoticons
Education for a Digital World
7 – Learning Management Systems
Polling and testing
• Audience polling or testing during presentation
• Yes/no, multiple choice, etc.
• Reporting results of polling/testing during presentation
• Graphing of polling results
• Screen and sound recording
• Initiated by participants or instructor/administrator
• Editing of recording
• To what scale will your organization ultimately use
the LMS? (1,000 users? 10,000 users? 50,000 users?
More? How many instructors? How many administrators?). Think five or ten years ahead.
• If you wish to consider open-source solutions, do you
have a strong and supportive IT department to implement, manage, and support it, or will you seek a
hosted solution to provide that support?
• To what extent will the LMS be accessible to instructors and students with disabilities?
Technical features
• Compensation for low speed connections
• Interoperability with third-party LMS /LCMSs
• Support for different platforms—Window, Mac,
Unix, etc.
Appendix F: Needs assessment
Overall considerations
• What are the primary business drivers that bring you
to consider an LMS?
• What is your philosophy of learning, and how do you
want the LMS to support it?
• Who will make this decision: the committee or a high
level individual?
• What are the organization’s cultural and internal
political factors in this decision?
• Are you primarily interested in facilitating student
learning or in tracking the results?
• Do you want to emphasize self-directed, or instructor-facilitated learning?
• Do you want e-learning to enhance or replace existing courses?
• Is return on investment (ROI) important to you? If
so, what are your metrics for determining ROI (including both tangible and intangible elements)?
• Are the systems you are considering widely used and
• Do you want the LMS to be used universally
throughout your organization or is this for a particular function or department?
• What is your budget? What is the total cost of ownership including implementation, maintenance and upgrading costs?
Education for a Digital World
• Will online learning be an alternative or a requirement for some people?
• If you are an educational institution, will it be just for
continuing education or for all students and/or staff?
• Will it be available to students beyond your jurisdiction? Will it be available for customers, suppliers or
the public as well as your employees?
• Will prerequisite learning be required?
• Does it have the features you need?
• Are you interested in blending e-learning with classroom learning?
• Do you want e-learning to be both synchronous and
• Will you need to manage the physical distribution of
materials to students as well as providing them with
tools online? Will students need to buy hard-copy
textbooks or will they be provided online?
• To what extent do you want to include assessments,
including feedback and surveys as well as online
Look and feel
• Is it easy to use for instructors and students?
• How do you want your courses to look? Do you want
them to have similar navigation so it becomes intuitive for students?
• Will you be purchasing content from outside
• Will you need additional course development tools?
• Will you need web conferencing/virtual classroom
• Will you want to manage your course content and
learning objects so that they are reusable by others?
• Will you need to allow students to register for classroom or distance education courses?
7 – Learning Management Systems
• Will you want to share or sell what you are doing to
other organizations?
• Will you need some kind of online payment system
to allow some students to pay for courses?
Change management
• Will you want to customize the product to give it
your brand, to fit the way you do things, and/or to
meet current or future instructional needs?
• What change management strategies will be needed?
• How much training will be required for students and
• Who will support students and instructors as they use
the LMS?
Technical issues
• To what extent do you want a system to integrate
with existing systems—registration systems, HR
software, email systems, authentication processes,
• Do you want to have the system hosted internally or
would you prefer to outsource the hosting?
• How important is the support of standards (SCORM,
AICC, IMS, etc.)?
• What kind of technical support can you provide?
What will you expect of the vendor, hosting provider,
or open-source community?
• To what extent is security (for students and data) a
• Is it platform compatible (PCs versus Macs)?
• Will it work with all the browsers likely to be used
without requiring special settings?
• Will it enable the uploading and downloading of files
without difficulty?
(b) If not, how was your course delivered?
(5) Were you satisfied with the LMS that you used?
(6) If not, in what ways did you find it lacking?
• hard to learn
• features that were missing
• too administrative, did not facilitate student learning
• lack of support
• took too much time
• prefer other systems I have seen
• other
(7) Would you be interested in trying another LMS?
(8) Did you use any other software to help in the creation of the course itself, course materials, activities,
or assessment strategies?
(9) In a corporate environment, are you interested in
selling the courses that you have created?
(10) What kind of training should be provided for instructors if we adopt a system?
(11) From the following list of features, choose the list of
features that you have used:
• assignment modules
• branching lessons
• calendar
• chat
• conferencing
• course development
• email
• discussion forums
• glossary
• grade management
• group projects, presentations, and management
• student progress tracking and management
• student self-evaluation
• student surveys
• quizzes
• single-question polling
• wikis and blogs
(1) If you have never been involved with e-learning
courses, would you be interested in developing and/
or facilitating such courses? What tools do you believe you would need?
(2) Have you ever facilitated an e-learning/online
learning course, blended learning course, or a faceto-face course supplemented by online activities?
(a) If yes, are you interested in continuing to be involved in online courses?
(b) If no, would you be interested in leading some
online courses?
(3) Did you create the course yourself?
(4) Did you use an LMS as the platform for your course?
(a) If so, which LMS did you use?
(a) Have you used these and would you use them
(b) What features were most useful and least useful?
(c) What other features would you like to see?
(12) Can you describe a successful and an unsuccessful
online learning initiative?
(1) Have you ever taken an online course, blended
learning course, or a face-to-face course supplemented by online activities?
(a) If so, would you do it again?
(i) If so, why?
Education for a Digital World
7 – Learning Management Systems
(ii) If not, why not?
(b) If not, would you be interested in trying it?
(i) If so, why?
(ii) If not, why not?
(2) Was the online learning environment easy to use
and to find your way around?
(3) Did you receive any training in the use of the systems?
(a) If so, was the training sufficient?
(b) If not, were any support materials available for
training yourself?
(c) In either case, what would you recommend for
(4) From the following list of features, choose the ones
you have used.
• assignment modules
• branching lessons
• calendar
• chat
• conferencing
• course development
• email
• discussion forums
• glossary
• grade management
• group projects, presentations, and management
• student progress tracking and management
• student self-evaluation
• student surveys
• quizzes
• single-question polling
• wikis and blogs
(a) Have you used these and would you use them
(b) What features were most useful and least useful?
(c) What other features would you like to see?
(5) Describe your experience
(a) What did you like best about the experience?
(b) What did you like least about the experience?
(c) What suggestions would you make?
(6) Be prepared to ask and record open-ended questions. Prompting may be necessary, especially for
students. For example, you might ask whether they
were able:
(a) to work by themselves
(b) to work in small groups over distance
(c) to work on their own schedule
(d) to redo portions of the coursework
(e) to keep to deadlines
Education for a Digital World
A needs assessment checklist for educational institutions
is available at
A needs assessment checklist for corporate LMSs is
available at
Appendix G: Request for
proposals questions
(1) List all of the features you are looking for with priorities indicated. Be sure to include reporting functions and capabilities. How and to what extent does
the vendor’s product implement the features that
you have on your list?
(2) What is the cost? The costs of LMSs vary by a factor
of more than 10 to 1, from roughly $10,000 to
$200,000 and even more. Be sure to identify clearly
what functionality, implementation costs, technical
support, upgrades, etc., you are paying for. There are
several different costing models: leasing, one-time
purchase, annual subscription, fixed cost based on
size of organization, variable cost based on number
of registered users, based on the number of administrators who need access to the system, etc. Explore
all the possibilities, and negotiate.
(3) What are the hosting options: in-house hosting,
vendor hosting, third-party hosting?
(4) What are the Implementation issues? How much
support does the vendor provide, and what are the
costs? Ask specifically about post implementation
technical and customer support.
(5) List the third-party systems and courseware that you
will be using and ask the vendor about their experience
with these products. If you have in-house developed
courseware ask if you can test it with their LMS.
(6) Obtain references from other companies that have
used the LMS especially from those organizations
similar to your own. Different vendors target different industry sectors and size of implementations.
(7) Will they be available to demonstrate the software
in-person or online? Will they demonstrate according to scripts you have developed which reflect your
own working scenarios?
(8) Is it possible to arrange a free trial or small pilot?
A free template for an RFP for a learning management
system is available at. They
also have a number of other very useful resources available.
Exploring Open Source for
Educators: We’re Not in Kansas
Anymore – Entering OS
Julia Hengstler
It should come as no surprise that the pressures of cost reduction are motivating organizations to incorporate open source technology into their IT architectures … The real problem
is widespread unfamiliarity and lack of expertise with open source across all levels of the
organization. – Fima Katz, CEO of Exadel (as quoted by Vworld New Media, February 7, 2006)
Education for a Digital World
8 – Exploring Open Source for Educators: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore – Entering OS
Learning outcomes
After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
• Define open source, free software, and freely sourced
• Explain the importance of the Open Source and Free
Software Movements.
• Locate repositories of open source and free software
on the Internet.
• Cite examples of educationally relevant open source
and free software.
• Explain the impact of educational software provider
mergers and educational patents and the importance
of freely sourced alternatives.
• Discuss legal issues around some licensing structures.
• Discuss the barriers and catalysts for widespread
adoption of freely sourced software.
• Explain three common misconceptions regarding
freely sourced software.
• Propose, plan, and implement an investigation of
freely sourced software alternatives.
• Differentiate between copyright and “copyleft”.
“Lions and tigers and bears! Oh, my!” – Dorothy,
The Wizard of Oz (Langley, 1939)
Though relatively new to our collective consciousness,
open source is a phrase tied to some of the more powerful words in our global history—innovation, evolution, movement, revolution—but the forerunner and
mate of open source is free software, and by extension,
the Free Software Movement. Both movements champion public access to source code. This is so important
because software technology is an essential tool for progress on so many fronts, and the Internet has played a
significant role in the democratization of information.
DiBona, Ockman and Stone (1992) use the following
Imagine for a moment if Newton had withheld his
laws of motion, and instead gone into business as a defense contractor to artillerists following the Thirty Years’
War. “No, I won’t tell you how I know about parabolic
trajectories, but I’ll calibrate your guns for a fee.” The
very idea, of course, sounds absurd (p. 11).
Education for a Digital World
Richard Stallman, father of the Free Software Movement, GNU8 and the General Public Licence (GPL), says,
“[That] is an understatement. Compared with software
in 2000, physics in 1700 had a very small role in affecting people’s lives” (personal communication, September
11, 2006 12:58 PM).
What is open source or free
software ?
Open source as a term has only been in existence since
1998. Prior to that, and running parallel with that term,
has been “free software”.9 Lately, open source has become the more generic public term. For Stallman and
his Free Software Movement, the highest premiums
have always been placed on personal/collective intellectual freedom, and he holds fast to the term “free software”. He says, “Proprietary software is a social problem
and our aim is to solve the problem” (Stallman, personal
communication, September 10, 2006). Stallman also
says, “In nearly all cases, the software which is called
‘free’ is also open source, and the software which is
called ‘open source’ is also free (though there are occasional exceptions to the latter). The difference is a
mainly matter of the philosophy that the speaker endorses” (personal communication, September 10, 2006).
At its most basic, open source and free software mean
that the coding for an application or software has been
made freely available to the public. It’s the why of that
action where things get tricky. For that reason, I refer to
both types of software collectively as “freely sourced”.
The spirit of freely sourced software is the spirit of
collaboration in much the same way collaboration is
meant to drive Web 2.0—code is revealed for people to
use it, modify it and share the program/application with
others. We see behind the curtains, and anyone can
tinker with the Wizard’s machine, add to it, make it
better, and redistribute it. In this way, freely sourced
programs evolve through collective efforts. It is both
evolutionary and revolutionary in those respects. Open
source and free software applications are constructivist
in nature. Due to wide ranging and rapid input from
“GNU is a recursive acronym for “GNU's Not Unix”; it is
pronounced guh-noo, approximately like canoe.” (Free
Software Foundation, Inc. 2007)
This is not to be confused with “freeware” which although
free, and redistributable, generally does not make source
code available (Stallman, R. M., personal communication,
September 11, 2006 7:13 AM).
8 – Exploring Open Source for Educators: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore – Entering OS
programmers around the world, software development
time can be condensed and programs become far more
responsive to users’ varied needs. Unlike proprietary
commercial software, freely sourced applications are
designed for user customization.
The Open Source Initiative [OSI] (, one of the leading and guiding open
source organizations, specified 10 characteristics for
open source licensing:
• free redistribution;
• readily available and useable source code;
• permission for modification of the original code and
derived works;
• conditions for maintaining integrity of the author’s
source code;
• equality of access regardless of person or group;
• equality of access regardless of field of endeavour;
• extension of original free distribution rights for subsequent redistributions;
• independence of, or extractable from, particular
packages of software or hardware;
• licensing restrictions of the open source program do
not automatically extend to additional software distributed along with it;
• non-restriction of the software to any type of technology or user interface so that it may be redistributed via means other than the Internet and may run
in environments that do not allow for popup dialogue
windows. (Open Source Initiative, 2006a).
As of April 2007, the OSI (2006b) approved 58 variations on open source licensing, among them the General
Public Licence (GPL) (Free Software Foundation, Inc.,
1991) of Stallman’s Free Software Foundation, Inc.
(FSF) (
This doesn’t mean that open source software is completely non-commercial or non-proprietary: open
source (as opposed to free software) varies according to
the extent of its proprietary-nature and levels of commercialization. Jive Software ( is
a company providing instant messaging software that
institutions can leverage to provide real-time contact
between instructors, students, and any other users, especially useful for tutorials and collaboration. Jive duallicences its communication server, Openfire (formerly
Wildfire) first as Open Source General Public Licence
(GPL)10 by providing access to source code, modifica-
This is a separate licence not to be confused with GNU’s
General Public Licence or GPL.
tion, and redistribution rights and second as a commercially licensed “Enterprise” version (Jive, 2007).
Two major repositories/directories of freely sourced
software and applications are the Free Software Directory ( and
( SourceForge boasts a repository of over 100,000 projects and claims the “largest
repository of open source code and applications available on the Internet” (Open Source Technology Group,
2006). Here you can find Pidgin (,
an interoperable instant messaging application, and
DotNetNuke (, a framework
for “creating and deploying projects such as … websites,
… intranets and extranets, online publishing portals,
and custom vertical applications” (DotNetNuke, 2006a).
If you’re of a more technological bent, and speak “programmer”, you might use (http://www.koders
.com), the self-proclaimed “leading search engine for
open source code” (Koders, 2006).
Why should educators care?
Increasingly students are demanding more flexibility in
the delivery of courses. As more schools are adopting
distributed learning approaches, software and technology have been central. One tool for course delivery is a
learning content management system (LCMS) or virtual
learning environment (VLE). The current state of the
LCMS or VLE field underscores the importance of freely
sourced options. Recent commercial mergers, acquisitions, and the rise of educational patents (EduPatents)
have created an unstable environment where open
source and free software options may in fact be less risky
from both financial and legal standpoints, not to mention
from the standpoint of ensuring intellectual freedom as
advocated by Stallman (personal communication, September 10, 2006; Williams, 2002). Jim Farmer (2006),
consultant to the US Department of Education and
author of an upcoming report on open source communities for Oxford University, warned that “Education
patents and the new licensing environment may further
commercialize teaching and learning.”
Blackboard ( is a case in
point. Over the last four or five years, Blackboard has
consolidated its market share to become one of the largest proprietary commercial entities in the field. In January 2002, The Chronicle reported on the BlackboardPrometheus merger, saying it was “the fifth acquisition
for Blackboard since its founding in 1997, and three of
those were companies originating in academe” (Olsen &
Arnone, 2002). Four years later in January 2006, Black-
Education for a Digital World
8 – Exploring Open Source for Educators: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore – Entering OS
board bought-out competitor WebCT (http://www.webct
.com) for an estimated $154,000,000 US (Helfer, 2005),
making it one of the major forces in LCMS/VLE provision. (Keep in mind that WebCT also originated in academe, beginning life at the University of British
Columbia, Canada.) Helfer (2005) wrote,
In 2004, many customers of Blackboard and
WebCT received rather sizable cost increases to
renew their software licenses. Questioners of the
merger are concerned that decreased competition
may mean increased costs to customers. The merger
doesn’t necessarily mean the new Blackboard will
squash all competition, however.
[Blackboard’s proprietary commercial competitors
were listed as ANGEL Learning (http://www.angellearning
.com), Desire2Learn Inc. (
and IntraLearn Software Corporation (http://www.intra (Helfer, 2005).]
Helfer’s (2005) optimism may have been misplaced.
In January 2006, around the time the WebCT buy-out
was finalized, Blackboard filed for a US patent for
“Internet-Based Education Support System and Methods” which it received in July 2006 (Mullins, 2006).
Blackboard promptly sued Desire2Learn and followed
with a flurry of international patent filings in Australia,
New Zealand, Singapore, the European Union, China,
Japan, Canada, India, Israel, Mexico, South Korea, Hong
Kong, and Brazil (Mullins, 2006). This has caused a furor in educational technology communities, and is
something about which we should all be concerned. A
countermovement has been launched by some. As Feldstein (2006) writes, “patents can be invalidated if one
can demonstrate that the claimed invention was in public use or described in a published document prior to the
date of the patent filing.” Various groups with vested
interests—commercial, non-commercial, proprietary
and non-proprietary—are seeking to establish prior art
in bids to undermine Blackboard’s patent claims. One
such example is the Wikipedia site Michael Feldstein
established for virtual learning environments (VLEs) on
July 30, 2006 (Wikipedia, 2007). Feldstein (August 1,
2006) reported that while on July 30, 2006, the Wikipedia entry was “[only] a one-sentence stub” by August 1,
2006, was “a pretty good document that was generated
by a variety of people”. As of May 2, 2007, the same
Wikipedia entry was extensive spanning from the pre1940s to 2006 with terminology, references and further
reading sections (Wikipedia, 2007).
Regarding Blackboard, Farmer (2006) wrote:
Education for a Digital World
The Blackboard patent is not alone, but representative of many that have been issued – and many
more that are pending in the U.S. that could apply
to any learning system. It is unlikely that all claims
of all patents will be found invalid before someone
wins an injunction or judgment, and cease and desist letters and license invoices follow. We should
be prepared for a new environment of restrictions,
licensing, and confrontation of our suppliers …
Now any choice of software, any method of instruction, and any choice of content will have to be
viewed from a new perspective of risk assessment.
This moves the decision from teaching faculty to
business officers and attorneys who are least prepared to judge the effect on education and research.
As the educational technology field struggles with
Blackboard’s attempts to secure a proprietary commercial future, the organization’s actions repeat patterns
earlier established by AT&T and Microsoft. The actions
of these two large proprietary players were key drivers in
the rise of both the Free Software and Open Source
Movements. If educational software evolution continues
to parallel the AT&T and Microsoft model, freely sourced software should play a central role in beating back
monopolistic bids—as should GNU’s GPL. Based on
such a history, freely sourced learning platforms such as
ATutor (, Sakai Project (http://www, and Moodle ( warrant watching.
Understanding GNU’s General
Public Licence—a legal
“The [GNU’s] GPL has become a powerful force in
the information age. A hack on the copyright system, it turns the concept of copyright upside
down, creates a whole community cooperating
around the world and enables the development of
software by the people, of the people and for the
people. Many new licenses were modeled after or
influenced by the GPL”. – Tai (2001)
Stallman founded the GNU Project in 1984 to create a
free software operating system. GNU sought to replace
the proprietary Unix platform which AT&T, with the
help of Sun, was seeking to establish as the monolithic
8 – Exploring Open Source for Educators: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore – Entering OS
operating system for the industry. Hence the recursive
name of the project, “GNU is Not Unix” (Free Software
Foundation, Inc. 2007). In 1985, Stallman founded the
Free Software Foundation, Inc. (FSF), a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the free software
movement in general, and the GNU Project in particular. Between 1984 and 1988, GNU and the FSF developed special licences for specific GNU programs (Tai,
2001). This licensing approach was eventually consolidated in February 1989 as the GNU General Public Licence (GPL) Version 1 (Tai, 2001). The GPL became the
gold standard for ensuring the future of freely sourced
software for a variety of reasons. First, the GPL protected user rights to free software by delineating responsibilities with regard to distribution, copying and
modification of the software. While similar to earlier
licences, the GPL was unique in that:
if you distribute[d] copies of such a program,
whether gratis or for a fee, you must give the recipients all the rights that you have. You must
make sure that they, too, receive or can get the
source code. And you must tell them their rights
(Free Software Foundation, Inc., February 1989).
Here, Stallman ensured that any distributions would
carry the original rights to distribute, copy and modify.
This was further specified in Section 2.b stating that any
secondary programming containing the original free
work “be licensed at no charge to all third parties under
the terms of this General Public License” (Free Software
Foundation, Inc., February 1989). Thus, the GPL effectively prevented proprietary commercialization of the
free programs. As opposed to “copyright”, GPL became
commonly known as “copy left.”11
From the programmers’ perspective, another critical
aspect of GPL was that the licence ensured any distribution, copying, or modification would always make clear
that the originators of the software did not provide any
type of warranty with regard to the software. The GPL
was updated as Version 2 in 1991 along with the release
of a licence variation called the Library GPL. The second
version of GPL included a section to counteract claims
that users were unable to fulfill the GPL licence and
were therefore not bound by the terms. GPL Version 3 is
currently under discussion. Some new aspects have to
deal with digital rights management issues, as high-
While copyright prevents free distribution, copying and
modification of intellectual works, or copyleft, assured the
lighted in legal cases against peer-to-peer sharing of
copyrighted materials.
Two additional licensing documents connected to the
GPL are the Library GPL, or as it’s now called, the GNU
Lesser General Public Licence (LGPL) and the Free
Documentation Licence (FDL). The LGPL was originally released in 1991 and updated in 1999 (Free Software Foundation, Inc., 1991/1999). It was developed to
allow non-free software to interface with free software.
Previously, under the terms of the original GPL, such an
interaction would have made the “using” non-free software subject to the GPL (Free Software Foundation,
Inc., 1991/1999). The FDL was added to the GPL legal
library in November 2000. It was later revised in 2001
and 2002. The original intention was to align manual
licensing requirements for GPL software with the GPL,
but the licence scope is not limited to free software
manuals. The FDL applies to “any manual or other
work, in any medium” and ensures the work has “a
world-wide, royalty-free licence, unlimited in duration”
as long as the FDL terms are met (Free Software Foundation, Inc., November 2002). Similar to the GPL, with
regard to the work in question, the FDL grants:
everyone the effective freedom to copy and redistribute it, with or without modifying it, either
commercially or noncommercially … this License
preserves for the author and publisher a way to get
credit for their work, while not being considered
responsible for modifications made by others (Free
Software Foundation, Inc., November 2002).
Through the GPL licences, Stallman and the FSF legally
and successfully entrenched the ethical obligation to
keep free software and any derivative works free. Ultimately, many subsequent agreements, like those among
the 58 licences approved by the OSI (Open Source Initiative, 2006b) or The Debian Social Contract Version
1.0 (Software in the Public Interest, 1997) owe a great
deal to the GPL. Stallman and Moglen said this of GPL
in 2005:
The GPL is employed by tens of thousands of
software projects around the world, of which the
Free Software Foundation’s GNU system is a tiny
fraction. The GNU system, when combined with
Linus Torvalds’ Linux—which has evolved into a
flexible, highly portable, industry-leading operating system kernel—along with Samba, MySQL,
and other GPL’d programs, offers superior reliability and adaptability to Microsoft’s operating
systems, at nominal cost. GPL’d software runs on
or is embedded in devices ranging from cell-
Education for a Digital World
8 – Exploring Open Source for Educators: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore – Entering OS
phones, PDAs and home networking appliances to
mainframes and supercomputing clusters. Independent software developers around the world, as
well as every large corporate IT buyer and seller,
and a surprisingly large proportion of individual
users, interact with the GPL.
Enforcing the General Public
Maintaining the legal power and influence of the GPL
has become the focus of one recent project, (Welte, 2006a). This is a GPL watch-dog
group founded by Harald Welte in 2004 (Welte, 2006b)
whose actions to date have primarily focused on violations by businesses active in Germany and Holland, as
well as the rest of Europe, although many of the parent
companies may be elsewhere. Welte became concerned
about GPL enforcement around 2003 when he discovered GPL’ed software he had written to work with the
Linux kernel (netfilter/iptables) was being used by companies in a manner violating the licence (Welte, 2006b).
According to the project site: “After some time …
[Welte] discovered that the number of GPL violations
was far bigger than expected, as is the number of Free
Software projects whose copyrights are mistreated/
abused” (Welte, 2006b).
As Welte investigated, he found “more and more
cases of infringement … mostly in the embedded networking market” (Welte, 2006b). By mid-2004, Welte’s
project had secured its first preliminary injunction in
favor of the GPL (Welte, 2006b). From there, Welte’s
work branched out. He began to protect other developers’ GPL’ed work that was similarly abused (Welte,
2006b). He gained financial backing from Linux developers like Werner Almesberger and Paul “Rusty” Russell
who “transferred their rights in a fiduciary license
agreement to enable the successful
project to enforce the GPL” (Welte, 2006b). The companies that claim have violated GPL
terms are not necessarily small companies. On March
14, 2005, Welte delivered a warning letter to 13 companies, among which were listed Motorola and Acer
(Welte, 2005/2006). In September 2006, the organization
won a case against D-Link Germany GmbH, a subsidiary of Taiwan’s D-Link Corporation (Welte, 2006c).
Other cases, settled out of court, have involved “Siemens,
Fujitsu-Siemens, Asus and Belkin” (Welte, 2004/2006).
As of June 2006, Welte’s project claimed successful
completion of 100 infringement cases: “Every GPL in-
Education for a Digital World
fringement that we started to enforce was resolved in a
legal success, either in-court or out of court” (Welte,
In a 2006 legal case of another sort (amended from
earlier actions), David Wallace claimed that the FSF—
through the GPL—was acting as a monopoly with
regard to operating systems under the US Sherman
Anti-Trust Act (Wallace v. Free Software Foundation,
Inc., March 20, 2006). In an ironic twist, Wallace
charged that the GPL was “foreclosing competition in
the market for computer operating systems” (Wallace v.
Free Software Foundation, Inc., March 20, 2006, p. 2). In
reviewing the complaint, the court found that Wallace’s
“problem … [appeared] to be that GPL generates too
much competition, free of charge” (Wallace v. Free
Software Foundation, Inc., March 20, 2006, p. 5). In
reviewing the nature of the GPL and the GNU/Linux
licensing under this agreement, the court found, “the
GPL encourages, rather than discourages, free
competition and the distribution of computer operating
systems, the benefits of which directly pass to consumers.
These benefits include lower prices, better access and
more innovation” (Wallace v. Free Software Foundation,
Inc., March 20, 2006, p. 5). As Tai (2004) wrote, “The
recent attacks on the GPL … demonstrate how far the
GPL’s influences have come, but we may not have seen
the full impact of the GPL yet”.
Challenges for widespread
Those converted to freely sourced software in the last 10
years rank among Roger’s (1983) early adopters. If
Roger’s (1983) model holds true for the open source and
free software movements, we should expect a rapid upswing in adoption as we enter the early majority to late
majority adoption phases. How quickly this will happen
can be more readily explained through the Technology
Acceptance Model (TAM) which looks at how perceptions about user friendliness and usefulness of a technology affect adoption over time (Davis, 1989). Another
factor that will affect acceptance is simple awareness and
knowledge of open source and free software. Potter
(2000) cites some concerns people held with regard to
freely sourced applications that tie in with Davis’s (1989)
• product concerns: product viability and technical issues
such as security, scalability, and technical support;
8 – Exploring Open Source for Educators: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore – Entering OS
• contractual concerns: a purchase contract being
signed with a company that did not create the product purchased; minimization of copyright for programmers;
• product support concerns: discomfort of software
companies with providing warranties for products
they did not create; short track records and unknown
staying power of small new software companies with
regard to the provision of long-term product support;
• product standardization concerns: due to the collaborative nature of source code, functionality, enhancements, and application alterations can be added at
will and marketed as a different or newer versions of
the program so, “The multiplicity of products and
versions can result in incompatible systems and inconsistent products”.
While Potter’s (2000) concern about application alterations or proliferation of versions can seem worrisome, once a freely sourced program is running on your
system, under your administration, only the people you
(or your system administrators) designate have the permission to access and modify the source code. If you
want to switch to a newer version, you are free to do
so—but are not compelled to do so. No one else will be
able to tinker with the code you’ve installed on your
hardware unless given such permission and no one can
force you to upgrade through contractual or licensing
obligations. This does not mean that an unscrupulous
programmer could not hide something in the source
code to allow him or her to go in and modify the program without your knowledge, but that is highly unlikely if you’ve selected a reputable program with robust
user and programmer communities. In these communities, people constantly scrutinize the code. Such issues
would be quickly discovered and the program panned in
reviews, blogs, or other formats.
Another barrier to adoption can be the perceived
portability of data from existing software to a freely
sourced option. Often many of the difficulties in migrating an instructor or institution’s data to a new platform are attributed to the software, and at one time that
was true. In the past, proprietary commercial programs
ensured portability of content between their versions,
with little reference to others. For example, with regard
to learning platforms, many institutions developed
courses, media, or data without reference to design
documents or data tagging, perhaps never envisioning
they would contemplate migration to a different software provider. A course designed by one instructor was
often significantly different in structure from that designed by another. Materials showed little consistency in
design or layout.12 Since the standards movement, the
issues of portability and interoperability have become
central considerations when selecting software. Consequently, consistent course design and layout have gained
importance in the educational environment. More frequently, instructors or other developers are being
trained in ways to build standards compliant courses.
It’s far easier to build a software program to move content to a new environment when the parts are common,
properly identified, and in the similar locations. Even if
you don’t have the technological expertise within your
institution to build the necessary migration software,
with standard compliance, good design and foresight at
the outset, that process can be outsourced for a reasonable price.
These are not the only obstacles to free and open
software—other threats loom. Recently there have been
movements afoot to effectively and legally prohibit reverse engineering of software. Potter (2000) discusses
recent drafts of the Uniform Computer Information
Transactions Act (UCITA) saying:
Currently, reverse engineering is legal for reasons
of “interoperability” between computer systems.
Prohibiting reverse engineering inhibits the development of open source [and free software] because
for … [freely sourced software] products to be of
any value, they must be compatible with other
computer applications. The way to establish compatibility is to reverse engineer the other developer’s code … advocates are concerned that the
UCITA will allow proprietary developers to “establish secret file formats and protocols, which
there would be no lawful way for [programmers]
to figure out”.
Furthermore Potter (2000), identified problems with
legal drafts of the UCITA that would entrench implied
warranties into software licences. Traditionally, freely
sourced software does not provide warranties unless
expressly specified by an individual or company. This
has been a benefit as it lowers the risk of lawsuits. Consequently, this creates low entry barriers to new software
designers and companies. With no prerequisites of insurance or legal representation to limit liability, anyone
and everyone can contribute to programming the soft-
This is still true of institutions in the early stages of online
course development as their emerging understanding has not
yet extended to the need for templates, structures, and data
tagging to ensure future portability and interoperability
with other platforms.
Education for a Digital World
8 – Exploring Open Source for Educators: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore – Entering OS
ware. Potter (2000) states, “Placing the risk of litigation
on the open source [or free software] developer may in
turn increase the price of … products. Another negative
consequence is the possible deterrence of programmers
from contributing useful code”.
Since the end of Unix market control, another major
barrier to freely sourced software has been Microsoft
domination. C. DiBona et al. (1992) write, “The question really is not whether venture capital funding will
flow to Open Source, but why the flow has only begun to
trickle in that direction … Why did it take so long to
catch on?” (p. 10). They go on to answer this question:
Taking a look at the computing landscape, you’ve
got a situation where a very large company with
very deep pockets controls the lion’s share of the
commercial market. In Silicon Valley, hopeful applications vendors looking for backing from the
angel and venture capital community learn very
quickly that if they position themselves against
Microsoft, they will not get funded. Every startup
either has to play Microsoft’s game or not play at
all. (C. DiBona et al., 1992, p. 10)
According to DiBona et al. (1992), programmers forced
to play the Microsoft game are locked into the goal of
assuring the proprietary nature of their work—“the goal
of making the program completely dependent on Microsoft libraries … making any Windows native program
very difficult to port to other operating systems” (p. 10).
The author’s also point out that one of the main reasons
Microsoft has not dominated the Internet has been the
Net’s dedication to “a powerful collection of open standards maintained on the merit of individual participation, not the power of a corporate wallet” (C. DiBona et
al., 1992, p. 10). The authors point out, that just like the
Internet, free and open source developers “compete
based on open standards and shared code” and generally
work towards compatibility (C. DiBona et al., 1992, p.
10). Recently, it appears that the freely sourced movements have affected even Microsoft’s strategies. In September 2006, Microsoft promised “not to enforce
patents for technology in Web services specifications,
which are used in connecting applications in serviceoriented architectures and other forms of standardsbased distributed computing” (Gonsalves, 2006).
Gonsalves (2006 ) goes on to say that this was done in an
effort by Microsoft “[to] help promote widespread
adoption of Web services, which play an important part
in how Microsoft ties its software to its own products
and other applications” by targeting “developers and
Education for a Digital World
customers working with commercial or open-source
[/free] software.”
While community building and interpersonal relations have been a significant factor in the success of
freely sourced software, other aspects help propel its
increasing acceptance. Potter (2000) said:
Economically, open source [/free software] is a
more efficient way to allocate the benefits of copyright to society. Because current software protection
law benefits relatively few developers, there is a need
for change. Open source [/free software] exhibits
valid, economical, and marketable alternatives to
proprietary software development and distribution.
These reasons listed by Potter (2000) make open
source and free software an increasingly popular choice.
For example, Apache server, an open source application
with over 11 years in the industry, is now used by more
than 62 percent of the top developers in the server industry. In comparison, Microsoft holds less than half of
the market share at roughly 30 percent (Netcraft, Ltd.,
2006). Apache’s market share increased from its February 2002 estimate at just over 58 percent (Netcraft, Ltd.,
2002). In addition, interest in other open source and free
software is growing. A March 2005 article, “Estimating
the Number of Linux Users (or: why we think we’re 29
million)” did a review of Internet hits in February 2005
as recorded by Teoma and Google (combined). The
results are summarized in Table 8.1, Open Source vs.
Windows Interest by Internet Hits.
Table 8.1. (Adapted from “Estimating the Number of Linux Users (or: why we
think we’re 29 million)” (Linux Online, Inc., 2006)
Operating System
Linux + linspire
27, 000,000
55, 000,000
Total Freely Sourced
88, 000,000
19, 000,000
33, 000,000
33, 000,000
33, 000,000
Total Windows
8 – Exploring Open Source for Educators: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore – Entering OS
Clearly there is evidence of significant interest in
open source and free software—if only measured at a
shallow level by operating system interest or website hits.
According to Fima Katz, CEO of Exadel, “The real
problem is widespread unfamiliarity and lack of expertise with open source [and free software] across all levels
of the organization” (V world New Media [], February 7, 2006). A survey by Exadel
conducted at the 2005 Gartner Open Source Summit
found that “more than half (55%) of survey respondents
reported that their organizations currently have limited
internal knowledge of open source[/free software]” (as
cited in V world New Media [], February 7, 2006). Moreover, the February 23, 2005 Gartner
report, “Positions 2005: Open-Source Solutions Will
Restructure the Software Industry,” found that “40 percent of respondents claimed that their organization’s
lack of knowledge about open source [/free software] as
the top vulnerability to adoption” (as cited in V World
New Media [], February 7, 2006).
Despite the various barriers, current trends indicate
that freely sourced software will flourish, as witness the
proliferation of Apache servers, GNU/Linux operating
systems, as well as ATutor, Sakai, and Moodle sites, To
ensure this, Potter (2000) offers the following suggestions: formation of a non-profit and/or governmental
body to certify interoperability and portability of freely
sourced software; using freely sourced software code as a
legal remedy for monopoly, anti-trust, and copyright suits;
as well as government endorsement of freely sourced
software through its own policies, adoption, and use.
The question then is: when, if ever, is it the right time
for you to migrate to freely sourced software? Only a
comprehensive contextual assessment of your situation,
as well as increasing your knowledge of free software
and open source, can help you make that decision. The
next sections offer a possible methodology to increase
your knowledge, and move from initial considerations
of freely sourced options to implementing pilot projects
and widespread organizational adoption.
Common misperceptions of the
“Great” Wizard
“The wizard? But nobody can see the great Oz.
Nobody’s ever seen the great Oz … Even I’ve never
seen him!” – Guardian of the Emerald City Gates,
The Wizard of Oz (Langley, 1939)
Just as Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Lion and the Scarecrow
held misconceptions of Oz’s Wizard, there are many misconceptions about open source and free software. Some of
the most common of these are (1) freely sourced programs have no costs; (2) freely sourced programs are of
low quality; and (3) freely sourced programs can’t compete with proprietary commercial applications.
As a point of clarification, source code is free in open
source and free software applications. Chances are,
though, you will still need someone or several people
with technical know-how to install them, run them,
tweak them, update them, etc. Sometimes the original
developers provide this kind of support for a price. One
example of this is ATutor (, a Canadian open source content management system for
course delivery developed at the University of Toronto
and licensed under GNU’s GPL (Adaptive Technology
Resource Centre, 2006). ATutor claims to be, “the first
inclusive LCMS complying with … accessibility specifications at the AA+ level, allowing access to all potential
learners, instructors, and administrators, including
those with disabilities” (Adaptive Technology Resource
Centre, 2006). ATutor also complies with “W3C XHTML
1.0 specifications” so it is “presented consistently in any
standards compliant technology” (Adaptive Technology
Resource Centre, 2006). It allows for content portability
by compliance with “IMS/SCORM Content Packaging
specifications, allowing content developers to create
reusable content that can be swapped between different
e-learning systems” (Adaptive Technology Resource
Centre, 2006). If you need help with the technical end of
things, you can purchase varying levels of ATutor support, from one-time installation to course hosting and
individualized consulting.
Recent mergers of commercial proprietary businesses
have made it difficult to accurately reflect current fees
for similar proprietary commercial service provision.
Actual amounts vary based on enrollment volume as
well as bargaining power of a purchaser. Available information can give us a rough idea of current price points. A
posting by Michael Penney (July 29, 2005), Learning
Management System Project Manager for California State
University, Humboldt, cited basic Blackboard institution
costs as follows for 7,500 course enrollments: a base fee of
approximately $7,000 US, $4,000 US for encryption, and
$0.75 US per enrollment for MSSQL ($5,625 US/7,500
enrollments). This would total approximately $16,625
for 7,500 course enrollments—exclusive of any content
or course development. Blackboard can provide some
economies of scale compared to other commercial pro-
Education for a Digital World
8 – Exploring Open Source for Educators: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore – Entering OS
prietary platforms like eCollege (http://www.ecollege
.com). During the same period, eCollege reportedly
charged between $70 and $100 US per course enrollment
per term for a fully hosted solution (Wright, August 2,
2005). Unfortunately, for smaller institutions or pilot
projects—economies of scale don’t apply. While exclusive Blackboard or eCollege licences may be too costly,
pooling with other small users could make costs manageable. In some instances, this has lead to the creation
of licence brokerage/consolidation. One example of this
is Open School’s (2006) Online Consortium in British
Columbia, Canada. This consortium brokers WebCT
licences for its members. Even with brokers, licensing
can still be expensive for a small pilot. An institution or
group’s return on investment can be much more promising using a comparable freely sourced product like
Moodle, Sakai Project, or ATutor, especially when leveraging in-house technological expertise.
In addition to up-front costs, and unlike proprietary
commercial competitors, freely sourced learning platforms have no charges for upgrades other than the resources already committed—no new licences to buy or
renew from year to year. While a certain amount of
technological knowledge and skill is necessary to deploy
a freely sourced option, that is just one component necessary for successful adoption. Appropriate hardware
capable of running the programs, as well as appropriate
connectivity, or access to it, are also necessary. So, while
you may not pay for the program, you may pay for the
necessary hardware (computer, server, etc.), and possible Internet service upgrades (depending on what you
are planning to do), as well as the technical expertise to
leverage it.
Many times, these key elements of technological experience and hardware are already present in your
school or institution. Maybe you’re a programmer yourself. In that case, you are able to leverage the power of
open source and free software right now. If you have the
hardware and Internet services necessary to run the
programs, you are even farther ahead. Schools and institutions without these advantages will need technical
support to deal with program source code. Most organizations like public schools, post-secondary institutions
or small to medium-sized private schools have at least
one technology employee with programming experience
already working for, or contracted to them. Generally,
people with programming experience are already converts to open source and free software thinking. The
issue then becomes how much of the employee’s time
can be assigned to a freely sourced project.
If you are thinking about seriously investigating
freely sourced options, your best bet is to have a tech-
Education for a Digital World
nology expert from your organization, and some potential end-users (known early adopters of technology)
review possible alternatives for considerations such as
ease of installation, implementation, data conversion,
and use. Keep in mind that freely sourced technologies
are evolving rapidly. (This is one of the major problems,
and worthy of a little more discussion). Be sure to revisit
open source and free software as alternatives for your
software/application needs periodically, and consider
making freely sourced options a standard element of
your regular software reviews. As for existing hardware
needs, those will be based on the type of programs you
want to run, who will access them, and how. If you determine that freely sourced software will work for you,
and you will be moving people from proprietary commercial platforms to open source and free software options, you will need a change management plan. This is
one of the key strategies for lasting conversion. The
topic of change management is beyond the scope of this
chapter, however. For this aspect of migration, I strongly
recommend John P. Kotter’s Leading Change (1996).
Ultimately, open source and free software programs are
low cost, rather than no cost, alternatives to proprietary
commercial products.
Quality assurance in open source and free software is
primitive and rudimentary: if people like it, they will
download it, use it, develop it and redistribute it; if they
don’t like it, they’ll ignore it or pan it in reviews. In this
arena only the fittest survive. Freely sourced programs
and applications are usually a labour of love. People
develop them because they like to. In fact, many freely
sourced applications are quickly approaching the ease of
use and status of proprietary commercial products: evidence the increasing adoption of GNU/Linux (“Linux”)
as an operating system. Paul Graham (2005), a premier
online developer and writer, compared the infiltration of
freely sourced software into the market as “the architectural equivalent of a home-made aircraft shooting
down an F-18”. According to Graham (2005), freely
sourced software can teach business three main lessons:
“(1) that people work harder on stuff they like, (2) that
the standard office environment is very unproductive, and
(3) that bottom-up often works better than top-down”.
A sure harbinger of increasing quality is the notice
commercial proprietary developers are paying to open
source and free software programs. A review of the rise
8 – Exploring Open Source for Educators: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore – Entering OS
of the Free Software and Open Source Movements demonstrates that viable freely sourced software is possible.
Theoretically, freely sourced applications are “disruptive technologies” ala Clayton Christensen’s model
(2000). Christensen (2000) theorized that established
businesses focus their efforts on sustaining and extending the lifespan of existing innovations. These established competitors focus their capital on the most
profitable products and target markets while disruptive
technologies attract low end or new markets, usually by
creating less expensive, more user friendly versions of
existing products (Christensen, 2000). Christensen revealed that established organizations “are almost always
motivated to go up-market rather than to defend these
new or low-end markets, and ultimately the disruptive
innovation improves, steals more market share, and
replaces the reigning product” (“A Conversation with
Clay Christensen”, n.d.). By the time the established
competitor realizes the strategic error, it is too late: the
disruptive technology emerges the winner.
The disruptive innovation model suggests that the
strategic timing for disruption is when the target market
demands for increased technology performance outstrip
the established business’s commitment to additional
development (Christensen, 2000). Innovative competitors must be more nimble and responsive than established competitors (Christensen, 2000). Freely sourced
software is, by definition, highly responsive to user
needs, both current and emergent, and extremely nimble in responding to them. If we were examining it from
the perspective of purely commercial competition, freely
sourced software might be hampered by slow profit return, but freely sourced software is not generally in the
business of profit, or at least not from the program code
itself. The area in which it is weakest is in the ease of
deployment. That said, development of freely sourced
educational software continues at a rapid rate, making it
easier for non-specialists to deploy. Moodle provides an
example of a disruptive educational technology leader.
In early 2004, Moodle (2007a) sites numbered less than
1,000. By August 2006, the number of sites approached
15,000 (Moodle, 2007a). In 2005, the Moodle community
developed its own ezine, Moodlezine (http://playpen In 2006, William Rice (2006) published the book, Moodle E-Learning
Course Development. Moodle (2007b) currently claims a
registered user-base of 24,966 sites in 176 countries. For
comparison, in 2007 Blackboard claimed a global user
base of more than 3,650 clients spread across 60 countries and 2,200 institutions (Blackboard Inc., 2007a,
The appeal of freely sourced software reaches beyond
the budget constraints of academia. DotNetNuke is used
by the New York Stock Exchange’s, the
Utah Humane Society, the National Rugby League of
Australia, and the British Columbia Soccer Association
(Canada) (DotNetNuke, 2006b). The Magnolia Content
Management Suite ( is used
by private companies, the Spanish Ministry for Public
Administration, the Open Web Application Security
Project, as well as the University of Basel, Switzerland
(Magnolia International Ltd., 2006). In the future, expect open source and free software applications to give
commercial proprietary players a race for your money.
For a migration framework, read on.
Meeting the Wizard and his
machines: investigating freely
sourced alternatives
Remember when Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Lion and
the Scarecrow approached the Wizard of Oz? In each
case they already knew what they needed. They had
done their own rough needs analysis. To think about
migration to freely sourced software, you need to start
from a needs analysis perspective as well. This migration
framework parallels a planning model used to locate a
factory or centre of production. When situating such a
business, planners need to weigh access to raw materials/product markets, costs of transportation for raw
materials/products, as well as any special requirements
such as particular energy sources, or research and development centres. Depending on the identified needs,
some industries are materials-oriented (situated closer
to raw material sites), some market-oriented (situated
closer to markets), some transport-oriented (situated
closer to the means of transportation) and others energy
or research oriented (situated closer to sites like hydroelectric dams or university research centres) (Dunlop,
1987). Your job is to discover if open source or free
software provides a viable alternative to relocate your
When a potential adopter looks at changing software,
a form of triangulation has to occur, factoring in the
• Availability and comparability to current proprietary commercial software—This first consideration
has to do with knowing what types of software are
currently available. As this information changes al-
Education for a Digital World
8 – Exploring Open Source for Educators: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore – Entering OS
most daily, you need to stay current with developments in freely sourced software. The closer the freely
sourced and proprietary software programs are in
terms of look, user friendliness, features and functions, the smoother the transition and the quicker the
adoption. In addition, if the new open source option
can approximate or better the old product while delivering desired, voiced needs for upgrades, the more
assured the transition.
Software viability—Here you review what version
was being considered, how long the program has
been around, and how robust a user community
and/or commercial community has been built around
the product. Certainly, products like Moodle, ATutor, and Sakai are safer bets. Experience has shown
that the longer-lived and more robust the communities are, the more successful the freely sourced software will be.
Implementation and support costs—Remember that
while the source code is free, you have to have the expertise to deal with it. This includes not only necessary hardware purchases, but the skill to implement
and support the software in your group or institution,
or the cost of any necessary outsourcing.
Level of customization desired—Unlike proprietary
software, freely sourced software is highly customizable. You must know what you want from the software
application. If customization is desired, key questions
include: is there existing, budgeted expertise in our
organization to accomplish customization through
modifying programs? or would this work need to be
outsourced, and at what cost?
Software succession history—Generally, when organizations undergo a rapid succession of software
transitions that involve significant changes/challenges,
resistance to adoption of any new software will increase. Your transitions must be managed for the
relative comfort of your users.
Risk assessment—This involves an examination of
how much risk is acceptable in a transition to freely
sourced options. This may be measured by reliance
on reputation, availability of warranties, or assumption of liability for the software. If low risk is desirable, then a group or institution can experiment with
more established applications, or those with warranties and/or vendor support. If a program plays a critical role, then high software viability, usually at a
higher cost, must be sought. The level of risk assumption you are willing to make will affect whether
your group or institution will be comfortable with
newer, less tried-and-true programs, or a blue-chip
program like Moodle or ATutor.
Education for a Digital World
First you need a team or individual in your group or
institution best positioned to do a software review. This
is probably the person(s) responsible for buying, maintaining, and monitoring your technology. You want to
look at the applications you are currently running in
your organization. Determine which ones are the most
expensive, have the most associated costs for upgrades,
maintenance, etc. Which ones do your people complain
about, or wish were better? For which ones do people
request alternatives? When you’ve established a base list,
examine these programs for the functions and features
your users need, the ones they don’t use, and the ones they
wish the programs had. Use this to create your wish-list
of functions and features for a freely sourced alternative.
This list will form the foundation for a software analysis
grid when you review your software options.
• Outputs: Needs analysis report—formal or informal;
wish lists of software functions and features.
• Resources: Technology employee time for analysis.
• Costs: Employee wages for needs analysis time.
Now it’s time to find out if there is anything in the freely
sourced world that could meet most of the features and
functions on your wish list. Build a research team: invite
a technology expert(s) with programming experience
from your group or institution to work with your needs
analysis group (they could be one and the same) as well
as one or more potential end users who are demonstrated early adopters of technology. End users might be
clerical staff, instructors, teachers, accountants, etc. Always keep in mind exactly who will end up using the
software. Ultimately, they will have to be satisfied with
the new software. Sometimes your team may only consist of two or three people, and that’s fine to start, but
you will need to increase your participants in subsequent stages. Feedback from the end users is vital. If the
interface—the front end of the application—is too challenging to use or user un-friendly, or clearly outweighs
other benefits, look for something else, have it developed
or wait until it is developed. Keep in mind, many user
communities will take requests that build up over time
to drive the direction of software development.
Have the team research possible alternatives for use
in your organization in light of the needs analysis conducted and your wish list(s). Part of this process should
assess viability of freely sourced alternatives including
existing hardware and potential costs of new hardware
or outsourcing. It should also generate estimates of
8 – Exploring Open Source for Educators: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore – Entering OS
technology support time required for migration to the
new software for initial testing. Another important aspect of assessment is the development/support community for the specific program. Solid freely sourced
applications have vibrant communities that support
their use. You might also look at potential partner organizations with similar needs and aims who might
contribute resources or otherwise support your migration activities. Using your wish list from the needs
analysis stage, build a software comparison grid including any additional considerations you might have so that
you can evaluate your options side by side. Depending
on the item in the grid, you might have an X or check
mark (to indicate an item is present) and/or a 1 to 5
scoring framework (e.g., for easy of use where 1 is most
difficult and 5 is easiest).
If your team determines that there are viable freely
sourced options, the next step in the assessment process
is to create and submit a project outline with a draft
budget to determine if your group or institution is prepared to commit more resources. Be sure to include
meeting time for the project team to discuss the project,
review reports, generate communications, etc. When
drafting your budget, you should also prepare a rationale for a migration. Be sure to compare existing and
projected costs of current proprietary commercial software/applications in use with implementation of the
freely sourced options. Look at projected licensing costs
for versioning, etc. Review the product versioning cycles of
existing software to determine how often you are required
to upgrade, and the associated costs. This is often a big
selling point for conversion to freely sourced programs.
• Outputs: Comparison grid; research and formal or
informal analysis report with organizationally specific
recommendations; draft budget/cost including estimates
from technology expert for migration of limited organizational data to freely sourced applications/programs.
• Resources: Employee project time for research and
drafting proposal.
• Costs: Employee wages for research and analysis.
If you reach this stage, you have already determined that
there are viable alternatives, and possible potential partners for converting to freely sourced software. You have
drafted a proposal with a potential budget for conversion that has been accepted. Resources have now been
committed to determine if freely sourced options will
work for your organization. If you haven’t already done
so, designate a project manager or lead who will help
draft schedules, track tasks, monitor budgets, etc. This is
a critical position and will help keep the project on track.
In a perfect world, this individual would have project
management training or experience. During the first
wave of implementation, you will probably test a set of
select applications with your early adopters in limited
Initial testing might look at three to five applications
for a week or month then narrow the field to just one or
two options for a longer trial. The early adopters run the
programs, comment on the benefits, pitfalls, etc., while
working with the technology experts. Those periodic
team meetings you budgeted for should guide the program pruning process. Be sure to get feedback from
everyone: the people installing, maintaining and tweaking the source code, as well as the end users. Should the
applications work well, these early adopters can become
your professional development mentors who will then
train other people to use the new software.
One of the results of this work may be a decision to
abandon the trial software, but if you’ve found something
that works well, you will need to communicate that news
through your organization. Show people what you’ve
done, how well it works, chat up the benefits of a wider
conversion. Plant the seeds of interest in the new software and draft a project plan for wider organizational
adoption. The project plan for the second phase of implementation should include a rationale, a budget, a change
management plan, professional training/development,
etc. For the fuller roll-out, you should definitely involve
a project manager with experience who is skilled with
managing organizational change. However, if the freely
sourced options do not work for you at this time, provide a project close-down report indicating the issues
with the software, but remember, freely sourced software will continue to develop, and new options will present themselves. Be open to further alternatives and
research in the future.
• Outputs: Installation of programs/applications; limited conversion of organizational data to new programs/applications; training of select organizational
personnel on new software/applications; meetings and
periodic reports on challenges and successes with the
new programs/applications; assessments of whether the
project should continue/expand; project plan for wider
organizational adoption, or report on the close-down
of the project.
• Resources: Employee wages, including meeting time
for project team; additional resources as designated in
draft budget.
• Costs: Dependent on budget.
Education for a Digital World
8 – Exploring Open Source for Educators: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore – Entering OS
“I’ve got a way to get us in there, and you’re gonna
lead us”. – Scarecrow, The Wizard of Oz (Langley,
Ultimately, no one can tell you that open source or free
software is better for you than your current proprietary
and/or commercial products. Just like the journey to Oz,
your journey to Os should be one of self-discovery. If
you do hire a consultant, don’t imagine you can handoff the work and expect someone else to make a decision. People in your group or institution need to participate actively in that process. Open source and free
software are constructivist theory in action, with the
spirit of collaboration, and trickle-up thinking. If you
want to adopt freely sourced software, if you want it
embedded in your organizational culture, that culture
may need to shift to embrace these values. You’ve already taken the first step: you’ve begun to educate yourself about your options. If you have a colleague or two
with a similar interest, share this information with them.
Like Dorothy, only you can find your way to Os and
back, but remember that Dorothy had the Lion, the Tin
Man, and the Scarecrow to help. There are lots of people
out there ready and willing to help you—many of them
for free! Imagine that.
I would like to thank two gentlemen for their support of
this chapter—Phil Rees for his contributions to “Meeting the Wizard & His Machines: Investigating Freelysourced Alternatives”, and as always, I would like to thank
my husband, Arnie Hengstler, without whose support I
would be unable to do the many things I do.
Julia E.W. Hengstler
Saltspring Island, British Columbia, Canada
May 2007
Education for a Digital World
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Quality Assurance by Design
Niki Lambropoulos
Centre for Interactive Systems Engineering
London South Bank University
If we are to have viability and credibility in whatever quality assurance measures we adopt
in the 21st century, we must open ourselves and the process to other stakeholders: the
community, employers, professional organizations, peer institutions, and especially the
students themselves. – Pond (2002)
1. What is quality?
2.4 Quality
by Design
1. The problem of quality
2. What is quality assurance by design?
3. Quality factors
1. The social dimension of learning in design
2. Enabling human capabilities
3. Instructional engineering
9 Involving all
stakeholders in
9 E-learning
9 Instructional
Education for a Digital World
9 – Quality Assurance by Design
Learning outcomes
After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
• Apply contemporary approaches to quality assurance
and quality standards.
• Tailor quality assurance standards to the organization’s needs.
• Identify quality by design, and apply best practices in
an online setting.
E-learning is characterized by the evolution of educational tools in a transitional period, that is, the use of
computers for learning. The turn of the 21st century also
suggests a turn from the Industrial Age to the Information and Collaboration Age, evident in the changes of
people’s life and work. E-learning has yet to be proved as
an important form of learning, but this is a problem of
e-learning quality.
To deal with this problem, organizations produce
checklists and guidelines to ensure quality from the early
stages of design. By applying predefined quality factors
to educational systems engineering, quality can be ensured. This is what we mean by quality assurance by
design: ensuring that mechanisms allow human capabilities to further expand. The mechanisms of e-learning
engineering are:
• focus on pedagogical values such as individualistic or
collaborative learning;
• identification, control, and elimination of inherent
problems; and
• dynamic real-time evaluation.
Thus, the organization can protect the learner as a customer able to acquire the maximum benefit of
e-learning. This chapter is intended to raise awareness
of the importance of ensuring quality in the early stages
of design and planning by:
• identifying the stakeholders’ common goals;
• providing best practices and frameworks to every elearner;
• identifying the effectiveness of quality improvement
activities; and
• proposing frameworks to ensure quality by design.
Organizations in many countries now support open
and distance education, starting with higher educational
Education for a Digital World
institutions and descending to secondary and primary
education. E-learning has become increasingly importance because the Internet has facilitated the gradual
elimination of time, space, and cultural boundaries.
However, despite investments in technology and
e-infrastructure, the high levels of interest among educators, and administrators, and policy makers worldwide, e-learning remains an unproven experiment
(Cuban, 2003; Zaharias, 2004; Oliver, 2005).
In a survey on quality in e-learning, Cedefop, the
European agency for vocational training, found that 61
percent of the 433 respondents rated the overall elearning quality negatively as fair or poor. One percent
rated it excellent, and five percent rated it very good
(Massy, 2002). They gave several reasons for questioning
e-learning quality. One of the common problems identified was the absence of performance signposts and
measurements. Thus, learners are unmotivated and
frustrated (O’Regan, 2003, Piccoli et al., 2003). Another
problem was increasing plagiarism and a corresponding
lack of original ideas (Culwin & Naylor, 1995; Lancaster
& Culwin, 2004; Culwin, 2006). These results may be
related to the absence of collaboration among
stakeholders on a pedagogical level, and the operational
level of systems engineering, both resulting in technocentric design.
In addition, the e-learning interface frustrates learners because of poor usability (Diaz, 2002; Notess, 2001).
Since the focus so far has been more on the technological than on the pedagogical aspects of e-learning, there is
need for useful and usable educational design in the elearning environment (CHI SIG, 2001). One reason for
this technocentric bias is that technology evolves much
faster than its associated pedagogical approaches. In
2003, Laurillard identified a need for pedagogical perspectives, such as the focus on user interface, learning
activities design, performance assessment, and an
evaluation of whether the learning objectives have been
met (Neal, 2003). Measurements for pre-, post-, and trans
comparison of best practices are therefore essential.
Researchers are working on a design that can solve
such quality problems (Muir et al., 2002; Zaharias,
2005). Nancy Parker (2003), acting executive director
for external relations at Athabasca University,13 refers to
a lack of broad acceptance of online education in higher
education as the new paradigm shift, as well as the lack
Athabasca University has become the first Canadian university to be awarded accreditation by Middle States Commission
on Higher Education (MSCHE), one of the six higher education regional boards in the US (
9 – Quality Assurance by Design
of understanding of its particularities relative to the real
classroom. E-learning, she claims, continues to foster
the long-standing conflict in values between business
and public services resulting from the absence of quality
assurance (QA) policies.
Nowadays, quality control creates challenges to contemporary research, owing to its intangible dimensions.
There are discrepancies between the traditional quality
measures associated with accreditation or stateadministered quality assurance frameworks and the new,
emerging educational paradigm.
Quality in e-learning
Certain e-learning and pedagogical innovations have not
succeeded in meeting a number of promises (Salmon,
2005), and have created confusion between the mere
supply of information and actual knowledge-building
and training (Barbera, 2004). Projects aiming at supporting e-learning environments such as UK eUniversity, NYU Online, Scottish Knowledge, Universitas 21,
Global University Alliance (Garret, 2004), as well as a
number of European corporate learning projects (e.g.,
StarScience, Dunes, Adapt-IT, Teachers-in-Europe,
POLE STAR) have failed to realize many of their goals.
However, the collapse of such initiatives does not indicate the failure of the e-learning concept per se, but
rather the lack of quality. For example, lack of planning and
marketing were the major reasons for the UKeU failure
(Garrett, 2004.) The questions that arise include: What
constitutes quality in e-learning? Why is it important?
Are there ways we can ensure e-learning quality?
In general, quality refers to fitness of purpose. In elearning, quality refers to learning (Stephenson, 2005),
something excellent in performance (EFQUEL, 2005).
In particular, quality in e-learning means providing the
right content at the right time, enabling learners to acquire knowledge and skills and apply their learning to
improve their performance, whether as an individual or
within an organizational framework (ASTD & NGA,
2001). Stephenson (2005) proposed that quality depends
on its interdisciplinary nature, and the identification of
quality factors for a given environment depends on the
chosen perspective. As there are two essential levels—the
pedagogical and the operational—the target for return of
investment must therefore be viewed as long term.
National bodies and international organizations have
now developed principles, guidelines, and benchmarks
to describe quality based on the international develop-
ments in the field (QAA, 1998; CHEA, 2001; USNEI,
2001; ISO-9000, the Benjamin Franklin Institute, 2001;
EFQUEL, 2006). Furthermore, importance is also attached to national standards resulting from the globalization and universal access of learners as customers and
taxpayers. For example, in Europe, there were efforts for
regionally harmonized systems (see Bologna Declaration, European Ministers of Education, 1999) and Quality Assurance (QA) and accreditation systems
developments. Brajnik (2001) proposed that a quality
model seeks ‘quality’ by:
• understanding, controlling, and improving a product
or a process;
• identifying problems or performance bottlenecks,
base-lines, and timescales, and,
• comparing these for progress assessment, as well as
for distinguishing certain attributes from others.
This method for developing and documenting a quality
model suggests the production of a complete and consistent set of quality requirements (Firesmith, 2003).
Attempts to provide such quality frameworks were conducted by European organizations but they have yet to
be fully tested.
The European Foundation for Quality in E-learning
(EFQUEL) was established in June 2005 in order to provide
a coherent framework of quality factors for all European
organizations. Its mission is “to enhance the Quality of
eLearning in Europe by providing services and support
for all stakeholders” (Nascimbeni, 2005, EFQUEL). This
means that the quality factors are explicitly connected to
the provision of services and support for all stakeholders
from different fields. EFQUEL has attempted to map a
quality model by incorporating stakeholders’ perspective
for policy makers, researchers, e-learning quality related
organizations, decision-makers, e-learning users, and
learners. EFQUEL conducted a European survey between 15 August 2004 and 15 November 2004 (Panorama Report, Ehlers, Hildebrandt, Görtz & Pawlowski,
2005). Of the 5,023 responses, 28 percent completed it,
and only seven percent finished the two basic sections
on quality of e-learning. (The low response rate may
have been due to inherent difficulties of understanding
and defining what e-learning quality is. It is perhaps easier
to described what quality is than to define it (Stephenson,
2005).) According to the results, quality relates to obtaining the best learning achievements (50 percent) and
“something that is excellent in performance” (19 percent). In detail, the Panorama Report revealed the following:
Education for a Digital World
9 – Quality Assurance by Design
(1) the importance of e-learning quality: Quality is,
and will be of great importance for e-learning.
(2) the need for specific frameworks: Although numerous quality strategies and concepts were used,
the understanding of quality is lacking—this being
conceived as an abstract rather than a concrete form.
The respondents believed that they knew about
quality but they showed a general lack of information on quality measures, and that deceived them.
(3) quality requirements in design: Learners are both
users and customers, and are seldom involved in design in public and business sectors, but design for
quality needs to consider the following issues:
• their recommendations for successful quality development. This will prevent the low level of acceptance of designs that lack user quality.
• the inclusion of organizations’ own checklists for
quality found in web resources, discussion forums
and fairs;
The above shows that designers of quality must have
experience of quality and ability to meet challenges;
to change and adapt, to incorporate quality strategies, and being open to creativity for entirely new
forms of quality development.
(4) critical awareness: Analysis and criticism of quality
• a high degree of critical awareness;
• quality systems that reconcile the objectives of all
the individuals involved;
• quality must be seen as a dynamic process of adaptation to users’ needs, primarily those of learners.
The researchers produced a framework of processes
for describing quality approaches. This framework refers
to general conditions of e-learning that comprise analysis of the external context; design and production involving testing, adaptation, and release of learning
resources; implementation, evaluation, and optimization; and lastly, establishment of requirements such as
initiation, identification of stakeholders, definition of
objectives, and analysis of needs. They stressed that
“learners must play a key part in determining the quality
of e-learning services”, and insisted on the integration of
all stakeholders in the process. The outcome of the
European efforts was the white paper ISO/IEC 19796-1
entitled How to Use the New Quality Framework for
Learning, Education, and Training (Pawlowski, 2006)—
yet to be fully tested.
Education for a Digital World
In the UK the Government’s University for Industry
has embraced a learner-centred approach, learning to be
determined by the learner, for its ICT programmes. This
is to be done by transforming traditional methods of
learning (University for Industry, 2003). The Quality
Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA, 2004)
described quality assurance as a code of practice with
conditions in place for students to achieve, as set by the
institution (QAA, 1998). QAA evaluation is based on
teams of academics conducting audits and processing
learner reviews. (For detailed QA efforts and comparison see Parker, 2003.) The quality assurance seems to be
a description of quality factors for a planned and systematic
review of an institution or a program. This description
determines the acceptable standards of learner-centred
education, scholarship, pedagogic culture and expertise,
infrastructure, and organizational strategy and vision,
and ensures that these are being maintained and enhanced (Pond, 2002). In the business sector, quality of elearning in organizations is associated with guidelines
for finding and choosing quality in e-learning courses,
services, and providers in the e-learning marketplace
(WR Hambrecht + Co, 2000).
Because of its intangible dimensions, e-learning
quality control creates challenges to contemporary research. Overall, e-learning quality appears to derive
from interdisciplinary approaches on learner-centred
frameworks and depends on the organization’s’ infrastructure, organizational strategy, and vision. However,
working on a meta-study on e-learning, Pinelle and
Cutwin (2000) reported that in real world settings only
one-quarter of the articles included evaluations. Thus
researchers missed the current transition from the Industrial to the Information and Collaboration Age as the
Tavistock Institute had predicted in 1949 (Mumford,
1983; Dolence & Norris, 1995, cited in Parker, 2003). In
fact, these changes are apparent in the ways people
work, learn, and entertain themselves, which shows the
need of multiple skills within an organization. Therefore, although QA processes are necessary, it is difficult
to set specific QA standards in a transitional period. In
this connection, a European survey on e-learning quality
revealed the problem of reflecting reality, and directly
associated it with e-learning instructional design (Massy,
In order to ensure quality education without empirical and systematic assessment, Pond (2002) provided a
set of universal attributes (criteria). He referred to the
most widely used definitions of quality, quality assurance, and accreditation, with the learner at the centre of
the evaluation process. According to Pond, accreditation
is the process used in education to ensure that schools,
9 – Quality Assurance by Design
post-secondary institutions, and other education providers meet and maintain the minimum standards of
quality and integrity. This would include academics,
administration, and related services (USNEI, 2001). He
called on the Council for Higher Education Accreditation to define quality. In its glossary for International
Quality Review, quality is defined as “fitness of purpose—meeting or conforming to generally accepted
standards … [Quality assurance is] … planned and systematic review … of an institution or program to determine
that acceptable standards of education, scholarship, and
infrastructure are being maintained and enhanced”
(CHEA, 2001). That is to say, learners’ expectations have
to be met or exceeded. In other words, they must acquire knowledge and skills that they did not possess
before the learning experience took place. Wallace
(1999) and Smulders (2002) saw the learner in elearning as both a learner and a user, and then quality
standards need to be defined in practical terms on both
pedagogical and operational levels.
Quality assurance (QA) is a planned and systematic
review process of an institution or program to determine that acceptable standards for learner-centred education, scholarship, pedagogic culture and expertise,
infrastructure, and organizational strategy and vision, are
being maintained and enhanced. This would include expectations that mechanisms of quality control for benchmarking are in place and effective. QA provides the
means through which an institution ensures that conditions are such that students can achieve the standards set
by that institution or other awarding body. Benchmarking provides signposts against which outcomes can
be measured. Subject benchmark statements allow the
academic community to describe the nature and characteristics of programs in a specific subject. They also represent general expectations about the standards for
qualifications at a given level; they articulate the attributes
and capabilities that those possessing such qualifications
should be able to demonstrate. Benchmarking is therefore a prerequisite for quality assessment.
Quality assessment is a diagnostic review and evaluation of teaching, learning, and outcomes based on detailed
examination of curricula, structure, and effectiveness. It
is designed to determine whether or not the institution
or program meets generally accepted standards of excellence, and to suggest further quality improvements.
Quality improvement refers to expectations that an
institution will have to plan, monitor and improve the
quality of its programs. In most cases, the quality assurance of an accrediting agency requires established pro-
cedures to ensure an ongoing process (CHEA, 2001).
According to Pond (2002), the new educational online
paradigms are learner-centred, tailored, open, collaborative, qualitative, and flexible. They may also be locally
differentiated. These criteria meet a universal set of
quality e-learning criteria. Online education should
therefore provide:
continuity between advertising and reality
continuity between purpose and practice
preparation for external credentialing/further study
personal/professional/academic growth for the learner
rich, multidirectional interaction
functional, user-friendly interface
adequate resources for: instructors, learners, curriculum
appropriate assessment methods/opportunities
Pond’s criteria seem to be eminently constructive for a
learner’s development.
In conclusion, quality assurance, assessment, and
improvement require sets of performance, benchmarks,
and indicators based on evaluation tools and techniques.
The latter need specific criteria anchored in quality factors. E-learning quality factors describe these systematic
reviews and evaluation of principles, guidelines, and
benchmarks. However, there is a problem related to
labour-management issues during collective bargaining
vis-à-vis quality education. It is important that to be in
alignment with the international, national and organizational targets need to be in alignment. This is the
major challenge.
It is evident that ‘quality is easier to describe and illustrate than to define’ (Stephenson, 2005:1). Ensuring
e-learning design for cognitive engagement in practice
associated with outcomes is exactly what constitutes
e-learning (Kalantzis & Cope, 2004; Oliver, 2005). Systems design has to ensure factors for quality at different
levels and fields, micro or macro (Hedberg et al., 2002).
Recent studies aim to identify quality factors. These
studies are guides to good practice (Grahan et al, 2002);
indicators for online teaching (Corich et al., 2004);
pedagogical dimensions for computer-based education
evaluation (Reeves, 1997); quality management (López
et al., 2003); learners’ perspective (Ehlers, 2004); pillars
for quality assurance and accreditation (Pond, 2002);
and evaluation frameworks and tools (Muir et al., 2003).
These studies referred to specific institutions’ QA standards, defining all stakeholders’ goals based on international, national, and organizational frameworks.
Education for a Digital World
9 – Quality Assurance by Design
According to the International Standard Organization
ISO/IEC 19796-1, QA can be ensured by:
• identifying the main quality objective for a process;
• identifying the responsible actors;
• identifying methods or instruments that can be used
to assure quality; and
• designing to measure the success of the quality objective.
For example, if an organization provides short-term
programming courses for groups of 20 students learning
C++ in two weeks, the online teaching and learning style
is quite different than it would be if the objective were to
learn Greek. The system needs to meet the learner’s objectives. Another example is proposed by Parker, as four
QA principles (2003):
• guaranteeing consistency in the product’s results
based on long-term values;
• guaranteeing consistency in governmental and corporate education;
• guaranteeing learner-centred education;
• guaranteeing collaboration between internal and external stakeholders).
Parker believes that in order to maintain continuity and
consistency it is important to define values. As mentioned earlier, collaboration between the stakeholders
for a learner-centred education is the key to success.
Institutions need to have a proper understanding of their
monitoring operations if they are to improve decisionmaking and performance. This being done, they will
satisfy both themselves and external agencies that they
are effective in achieving aims and objectives, as well as
being cost-effective and cost-efficient (Rumble, 1986).
To sum up, specific frameworks are necessary to
specify quality factors and requirements fit for purpose.
Collaboration between all stakeholders is critical: involvement of all stakeholders in the process of design is
important: good evaluation tools and techniques ensure
quality. E-learning is valuable as an added learning environment to enhance human capabilities further.
Design to enable human
For the past 50 years, two main trends have been observed in general education: (a) the socio-cultural focus;
and (b) the integration of technology in educational
practice. However, still in its infancy, e-learning has yet
Education for a Digital World
to construct models of design to reach socio-cultural
learning targets. There is as yet to employ consideration
of the learner and user (Wallace, 1999; Smulders, 2002).
Poor interfaces do not support e-learners efficiently and
effectively, even though the existing commercial and
open source learning management systems (LMS) provide several applications and tools. Most learning management systems are based on a constructivist model,
and not on an e-learning community and reflective
model of supporting distance education (Rumble, 2001).
There are, therefore, no multiple perspectives of
e-learning’s theoretical framework. Evaluators are still
not supported by coherent, interdisciplinary evaluation
frameworks and tools. This results in inadequate understanding and lack of descriptions of quality factors. To
Silius and Tervakari (2003), one evaluator, whether s/he
is a teacher or a systems’ designer or a quality planner,
can hardly be an expert in all aspects. Collaboration
between the stakeholders is the first step towards the
adoption of a more social model for e-learning.
Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL):
The social aspects of learning with the aid of computer
networks first appeared in CSCL. This followed the
computer-supported collaborative work (CSCW) that
utilised ethnography (Garfinkel, 1967) in systems design. Ethnography provides descriptions of qualitative
and quantitative data about human social phenomena
based on fieldwork, and was used to search for descriptions that could provide abstract specifications for systems design, i.e., finding ways to communicate to the
designers what users want. Thus, the research of Hughes
and colleagues was based on socio-technical design
(STD) (Mumford, 1983; Fan, 2006) to inform the designers of system requirements. The STD mission was to
assist system designers to maximize human gains while
achieving business and technical excellence (Mumford,
1983). It recognises the interaction of technology and
people, and produces work systems that are both technically efficient and have social characteristics. CSCL is
linked to STD via CSCW (Hughes et al., 1997) and is
anchored in the notion that, the system cannot be accurately understood as each property depends on the other.
Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL)
was based on theories that emphasized the social dimension of learning, such as distributed cognition (Hutchins, 1995; Salomon, 1993); activity theory (Engestrom,
1987; Kuutti, 1996); situated learning (Resnick, Levine &
Teasley, 1991); Greeno, Smith & Moore, 1993); collaborative learning (Crook, 1994); and legitimate peripheral
participation in communities of practice (Lave & Wen-
9 – Quality Assurance by Design
ger, 1991; Wenger, 1998; Wenger et al., 2002). Collaborative computer-supported collaborative learning has
contributed significantly to the socio-cultural field.
Network-supported collaborative learning (NSCL):
NSCL has emerged as a similar educational paradigm. It
includes cognitive sciences, sociology, and computer
engineering. See Banks, Goodyear, Hodgson & McConnell, 2004; Steeples and Jones, 2002. This interdisciplinary approach has also introduced the role of learning
technologist (Conole & Oliver, 2002; Conole, 2004).
However, owing to inherent difficulties in performing
evaluation in general, as well as evaluation in its own
field, very few systematic and complete studies have
been reported in NSCL literature (Retalis et al., 2006).
Research in computer-supported collaborative learning
and network-supported collaborative learning have
found common ground between disciplines, and is now
focused on learners working collaboratively. There is
still the need, however, for the teacher and the technologist to acknowledge the individual e-learner’s requirements. In fact, the learner behaves as a learner, a user,
and a customer. Even though learning technologists
have aimed to fill this gap, the result is still technocentric design and poor usability (Diaz, 2002; Notess,
2001). The problem remains. There is need for learning
management systems to provide an integrated platform
for collaborative learning in communities of practice
(CoP, Lave & Wenger, 1991). Delivery of the learning
product, supporting management, engagement, and
tracking of information and activities should facilitate elearning communities. The Web 2.0 philosophy and
tools are currently in favour of such initiatives, but the
systems are still in the first stage of development supporting information provision that community knowledge building.
Socio-technical design requires social software qualities of sympathy, trust, and integrity (Mumford, 1983).
In e-learning this has been referred to as affective
learning (AL). Affective learning properties link the
individual with the community. Such properties include
the emotions, intentions, attitudes, interests, attention,
awareness, trust, motivation. or empathy enable communication, consultation, and participation (Zaharias,
2004). For example, Grosz and Sidner (1986) suggest
that the discourse structure is intimately connected to
intention; for instance intentional information in discourse structure creates adaptation of a conversational
channel (Woodruff & Aoki, 2004). Empathy is another
example, which is considered essential for participation
in online communities (Preece, 1999; Preece & Ghozati,
2000; Lambropoulos, 2005).
Affective learning in design: A learner-centred approach to e-learning quality relies not only on cognitive
but also on emotional and affective learners’ engagement (Zaharias, 2004). Such a learner-centred approach
acknowledges the importance of context, and views
learning as a social and collaborative process. In the
learner-centred paradigm, learners are the focal point—
the centre of the learning process. They should take responsibility for their own learning, reflect, and make
sense of their experiences. Interconnections between the
dual persona of the learner as a user, as well as the inclusion
of affective learning factors are the links between the
individual and the learning community in the e-learning
world. The development of brain research (LeDoux,
1998) and cognitive neuroscience allowed Rizzolati and
Arbib (1998) to discover the areas where the mirror
neurons are located, interacting in both hemispheres
(Broca are 44 and PE/PC). Such neurons are responsible
for representing the existence of other people in the
brain. This discovery resulted in the scientific identification of empathy, widespread in online communities
(Preece & Ghozati, 2000).
According to Zaharias (2004), such affective networks justify the why in learning as humans pursue
goals, develop preferences, build confidence, persist in
the face of difficulty, establish priorities, and care about
learning. And yet, affective networks are not considered
important in educational technology. It is generally difficult to engineer empathy, but with the advantage the
affective learning factors provide, learning theories for
the individual can co-exist with socio-cultural learning.
The learning activity is the outcome, as Zaharias
stressed. Learner-centred frameworks and principles
should require learners to be active participants in every
quality assessment process. In order to achieve this, Zaharias provided a set of quality principles and their implications for e-learning instructional design quality. His
seven quality principles associated with specific implications for e-learning design quality are:
• individual differences relevant to learning styles and
• information overload
• contextual learning
• social learning
• active learning
• reflective learning
• emotional engagement focusing on motivation.
Zaharias’ quality principles echo the need for a systems’
design model that can support the formation of
e-learning communities for the benefit of the individual
Education for a Digital World
9 – Quality Assurance by Design
and the community. Currently, there is still need of support of collaborative activities and active participation
integrated applications. The first generation of learning
management systems (LMS) was focused on information provision and management rather than learning.
The new generation of LMSs following Web 2.0 philosophy needs to support the learners in their collaborative activities.
Design for learners-users-customers refers to Shackel’s
definition of user-centred design (1991). He suggested
that designers need to enable human capabilities. To
achieve this, the individual needs to meet the purpose of
systems design without any additional cognitive and
physical struggle to use it. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defined usability as a
measure of quality of user experience when interacting
with a system, in terms of effectiveness, efficiency, and
satisfaction (ISO FDIS 9241-11, 1997). Faulkner (2000)
suggested that users who do not have to learn to use the
system, as the system is already easily used, are freed
from the restrictions of their own ability to learn. Initial
adaptation of the right attitude is of primary importance
(Faulkner, 2000, p. 78). This implies that ensuring usability enables the ability to learn.
Instructional design (ID) is a process of resolving
instructional problems through systematic analysis of
learning conditions. ID starts with the initialization and
project planning phase (how the instructional design is
carried out); the design and development phase (appropriate strategies and approaches in targeted contexts); a
QA phase is focused on evaluation and deployment. The
general observation of Bichelmeyer and colleagues
(2004) is that the process for most instructional designers is the same: analyze, design, develop, implement,
and evaluate (ADDIE). However, Schwier and colleagues (2006) complain that systematic models of ID do
not reflect actual practice, are cumbersome, ineffective,
inefficient, and costly to implement. This is due to several reasons including unfamiliarity of stakeholders with
ID, division between ‘academic’ and ‘corporate’ approaches, and unawareness for the need of quality standards. He has reason. Whereas learner-centred design
(LCD) is focused on making users more effective
e-learners, user-centred design (UCD) is focused on
making e-learners effective users in order to free them
from cognitive and physical constraints, making the
system easy to use. These two activities as Wallace
(1999) claimed should be networked on shared social
Education for a Digital World
interfaces for users-as-learners and learners-as-users.
This is e-learner-centred design.
To date, the focus has been on the technological
(techno-centric interfaces) and not on the social aspects
of learning. Thus, there are still issues for useful and
usable design in support of e-learning (CHI SIG, 2001).
Researchers are still seeking a design to solve such quality problems (Muir et al., 2003; Silius et al., 2003b; Zaharias, 2005). A socio-technical approach for a learnercentred design (LCD) was adopted in turn by Soloway et
al., 1994; by Norman & Spohrer, 1996 and Wallace et al.,
1998. Their work aimed to bridge the gap between
learners as users. At the time, Norman and Spohrer suggested that LCD has three dimensions:
• engagement
• effectiveness by measuring the quality
• viability of interventions.
In support of the third dimension, they observed that
projects “won’t scale to real curriculum needs or large
numbers of students, or diverse content areas, or to everyday teachers and students rather than handpicked
ones”. They also emphasized the importance of active
participation, evaluation, and implementation of design
interventions in real-life settings.
Their example of a combined LCD framework has
been developed by later researchers along different lines.
Whereas Muir and colleagues (2003) worked on pedagogical usability for online courses for learning language, Daniel and colleagues (2005) worked on a variety
of user-centred evaluation approaches to consider
methods for determining whether a learning community
exists, attempting to isolate and understand interactions
among its constituent elements. Zaharias (2004) on the
other hand developed a questionnaire-based usability
evaluation technique that relies upon web usability and
instructional design parameters, associating them with a
motivation to learn. The latter is proposed as a new affective-oriented measure for e-learning usability.
It appears that combined frameworks are necessary to
go out of the control room and controlled experimentation and adjust the interventions to stakeholders’ needs.
In addition, measurement and evaluation is not towards
control but to support successful designs and eliminate
existing problems.
Every learning context is unique. Parker (2003) believes that there is an ideological congruence with the
reduction of “citizens” to “taxpayers”, and as the focus
moves to “value-added” activities, the terrain of the debate is being narrowed to shorter and shorter transactional terms. Their focus on institutional policy and
9 – Quality Assurance by Design
teaching with learning styles based on all stakeholders’
targets is not a disadvantage and, in this chapter, it is
worth considering a focus depending on active participation in collaborative learning. Understanding the
controlling processes and improving them by evaluation
and assessment will eliminate existing problems.
Quality assurance by design
Pedagogical heuristics: When designing systems for
e-learning, we must first determine the goal, the intention, and specifications by collecting the relevant information. As a result, learners will be free to justify why
they use the applications and their reasons will need to
match the organization’s intentions. On an operational
level, we can use several evaluation frameworks, known
as pedagogical heuristics. Heuristics provide a map to
work with, without extensive users’ evaluations. Norman (1998), Shneiderman (2002, 2005, 2006), and Nielsen (cited on his website, not dated) tried to help
designers and evaluators design systems for the users by
providing general guidelines. Norman proposed “seven
principles for transforming difficult tasks into simple
(1) Use both knowledge in the world and knowledge in
the head.
(2) Simplify the structure of tasks.
(3) Make things visible: bridge the gulfs of execution
and evaluation.
(4) Get mappings right.
(5) Exploit the power of constraints, both natural and
(6) Design for error.
(7) When all else fails, standardize.
A second set of heuristics comes from Shneiderman’s
Eight Golden Rules:
Strive for consistency.
Enable frequent users to use shortcuts.
Offer informative feedback.
Design dialogues to yield closure.
Offer simple error handling.
Permit easy reversal of actions.
Support internal locus of control.
Reduce short-term memory load.
Both sets of rules can be used as evaluation tools and as
usability heuristics.
Nielsen (n.d.) proposed other usability heuristics for
user interface design. His are more widely used:
visibility of system status
match between system and the real world
user control and freedom
consistency and standards
error prevention
recognition rather than recall
flexibility and efficiency of use
aesthetic and minimalist design
help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors
help and documentation.
His heuristics mostly refer to information provision interfaces and do not explicitly support learning in communities using social software platforms. New heuristics to
support the social nature of the systems are needed after
the migration of the socio-technical environments on
the Internet. For example, whereas Suleiman (1998)
suggested a check of user control, user communication,
and technological boundary for computer-mediated
communication, Preece (2000) proposed usability for
online communities supports navigation, access, information design, and dialogue support.
Pedagogical usability (PU): When e-learning started
to be widely used in mid 1990s, new heuristics with a
social and pedagogical orientation were needed. With a
social perspective in mind, Squires and Preece (1999)
provided the first set of heuristics for learning with
software Similarly, Hale and French (1999) recommended a set of e-learning design principles for reducing conflict, frustration, and repetition of concepts.
They referred to the e-learning technique, positive reinforcement, student participation, organization of
knowledge, learning with understanding, cognitive
feedback, individual differences, and motivation. To
date, learning design is concentrated on information
provision and activities management aimed at the individual instead of e-learning communities. Thus there
exists an absence of common ground between collaborative learning theories and instructional design. Lambropoulos (2006) therefore proposes seven principles for
designing, developing, evaluating, and maintaining
e-learning communities. These are: intention, information, interactivity, real-time evaluation, visibility, control, and support. In this way, she stresses the need to
bring e-learning and human-computer interaction
(HCI) together.
Education for a Digital World
9 – Quality Assurance by Design
From an HCI viewpoint, new heuristics are needed,
and there is room for research. Silius and colleagues
(2003) proposed that pedagogical usability (PU) should
question whether the tools, contents, interfaces, and
tasks provided within the e-learning environments supported e-learners. They constructed evaluation tools
using questionnaires. They involved all stakeholders in
the process and provided easy ways for e-learning
evaluation. Muir and colleagues (2003) also worked on
the PU pyramid for e-learning, concentrating on the
educational effectiveness and practical efficiency of a
course-related website. They stressed that the involvement of all stakeholders in design and evaluation for
decision-making was necessary.
One of the great challenges of the 21st century is
quality assurance. What quality factors can be measured
for effective, efficient, and enjoyable e-learning? It is
suggested that this kind of evaluation be part of pedagogical usability. There have been studies investigating
issues of e-learning quality: management and design
(Pond, 2002); quality that improves design (Johnson et
al., 2000); and quality measurement and evaluation, the
last recommended by McGorry (2003) in seven constructs to measure and evaluate e-learning programs.
These are:
student support
student learning
student participation in learning
ease of technology use and technology support
student satisfaction.
McGorry’s evaluation is learner-centred, both system
and e-tutors need to support learners with the ultimate
goal of learner satisfaction. Absence of empirical research in the field of the everyday e-learner indicates
that methods and tools for interdisciplinary measurements have yet to be considered for the individual. Because existing e-learning evaluation in general is based
on past events there remain inherent problems related to
understanding e-learning with the use of evaluation for
feedback, and decision-making. These problems can be
addressed with the integration of instructional design
phases under real-time evaluation.
The evolution of the socio-cultural shift in education
created a turn in the design of instructional systems and
learning management systems. Fenrich (2005) identified
Education for a Digital World
practical guidelines for an instructional design process
targeted at multimedia solutions. He provided an overall
approach involving all the stakeholders in the process of
design by covering all their needs. He also employed a
project-based approach by dividing the analysis phase
into sub-stages, which were: the description of the initial
idea, analysis, and planning. By the systematic iteration
of activities and evaluation of the first stages in design,
Fenrich ensured quality.
But however well-designed e-learning environments
are, they cannot facilitate independent learning without
interaction with others (Oliver, 2005). Current learning
management systems do not facilitate social and collaborative interactions; they only provide the space for
it. Collaborative e-learning can be better supported if
there is more information on these interactions. These
design problems are related to the collaborative nature
of the task, the methods used to inform practice, design
competencies, and the actual design process itself. Bannon (1994) suggested that, when designing computersupported cooperative work, design and use of the system as well as evaluation need to be integrated. It is true
that analysis, design, evaluation, and use of systems in elearning are sustained by the interaction of pedagogy
and technology. If this instructional design process is
underpinned by real-time evaluation, all design phases
can be informed fully and accurately. So, there is still
room for feedback of instructional design phases. If this
is done and instructional design accepts the integration
of all the phases supported by real-time evaluation then
this is called instructional engineering (Figure 9.2):
Figure 9.2 The instructional engineering cycle
Instructional engineering (IE) is the process for planning,
analysis, design, and delivery of e-learning systems.
Paquette (2002, 2003) adopted the interdisciplinary pillars of human-computer interaction This considers the
benefits of different stakeholders (actors) by integrating
the instructional design concepts and processes, as well
as principles, from software engineering and cognitive
engineering. Looking at the propositions of Fenrich and
Paquette, we suggest there could be two ways to ensure
9 – Quality Assurance by Design
all stakeholders’ benefits. There are identification of key
variances and dynamic evaluation.
Identification of key variances: All organizations
need to function well without problems. The weakest
links should be identified, eliminated, or at least controlled. Working on socio-technical design, Mumford
(1983) believed that design needs to identify problems
that are endemic to the objectives and tasks of organizations. Intentional variances stem from the organizational purposes and targets. Operational variances predate design, and are the areas the organization has to
target. They stem from the operational inadequacies of
the old system, and the technical and procedural problems have been built into it inadvertently. “Key variances refer to the same variance in both intentional and
operational levels”.
Design and engineering are connected to both intentional (pedagogical) and operational (engineering) approaches. Sometimes there are problems, called variances
in socio-technical design. From an educational perspective, Schwier and his colleagues (2006) emphasized the
need of intentional (principles or values) and operational approaches (practical implications), and provided
an analytical framework of the gaps and discrepancies
that instructional designers need to deal with. The identification of a key variance helps the organization to
provide added-value outcomes. This is achieved by the
use of dynamic evaluation.
Dynamic evaluation: According to Lambropoulos
(2006), e-learning evaluation aims to control and provide feedback for decision-making and improvement. It
has four characteristics: real-time measurements, formative and summative evaluation, and interdisciplinary
research. Dynamic evaluation links and informs design.
It also provides immediate evaluation to user interface
designers. In addition, it identifies signposts for benchmarking, which makes comparisons between past and
present quality indicators feasible (Oliver, 2005). Such
dynamic evaluations will enable the evolution of design
methods and conceptual developments. The use of several combined methodologies are necessary in online
environments. Andrews and colleagues (2003), De Souza
and Preece (2004), and Laghos and Zaphiris (2005) are
advocates of multilevel research in online, and e-learning
environments. Widrick, cited by Parker, claimed that:
“[it] … has long been understood in organizations that
when you want to improve something, you first must
measure it” (2002 p. 130). Parker (2003 p. 388), does not
see that engineering for unified learning environments is
“The engineering (or re-engineering) of systems
designed to guarantee that manufacturing processes would meet technical specification might
seem to imply a uniformity that may not be possible, or even desirable, in the dynamic and heterogeneous environment of higher education.”
According to Parker, a unified systems design is not
possible, or even desirable. The interdisciplinary nature
of e-learning, the large number of stakeholders involved,
and the uniqueness of the context make e-learning engineering extremely difficult. Nichol and Watson (2003, p.
2) have made a similar observation: “Rarely in the history of education has so much been spent by so many
for so long, with so little to show for the blood, sweat
and tears expended”.14 It is contended that e-learning
engineering, including dynamic evaluation, may well
minimize the cost. User interface designers should recognise the need to limit this process to a period of days
or even hours, and still obtain the relevant data needed
to influence a re-design (Shneiderman & Plaisant, 2005).
At present, the design process is still vulnerable to the
Hawthorn effect (Faulkner, 2000). Laboratory research
ignores the distractions of e-learner behaviour in the
real world. On the other hand, dynamic evaluation enables the evolution of design methods and conceptual
developments (Silius & Tervakari, 2003; Rogers, 2004).
Ethnography captures events as they occur in real life,
and then uses them for design. It can be a time-based
methodology aiming for a description of a process in
order to understand the situation and its context, and to
provide descriptions of individuals and their tasks (Anderson, 1996). This type of research could be said to be
part of dynamic evaluation in e-learning engineering
(Figure 9.3):
Figure 9.3 Formative and summative evaluation in e-learning communities
The line from A to B in Figure 9.3 represents the lifespan
of an e-learning community. A short or long term
e-learning community may have a beginning (A) that is
the baseline, and an end (B). Usually, the comparison of
Editorial “Rhetoric and Reality—The Present and Future
of ICT in Education” for the British Journal of Educational
Technology, by Nichol and Watson (2003:2).
Education for a Digital World
9 – Quality Assurance by Design
data collected in A and B provides the summative evaluation. The success or failure of the e-learning community
is apparent where the initial organization’s targets are
met. Most times there are differences between what the
different stakeholders want or seem to need. (See
Cohen’s PhD thesis, Appendix I, 2000.) Formative
evaluation can shed light on the individual stages of elearning and in understanding key variances as they
occur. This provides feedback and control for all
To date, most evaluation and research is designed to
support summative evaluation. The existing tools and
evaluation methods are not designed to aid dynamic
evaluation. If new tools can be designed for e-learning
engineering, then, quality assurance, assessment, and
improvement will control arising problems, and enhance
best practices. Current efforts to meet these targets for
quality are connected to the dissolution of traditional
educational hierarchies and other systems (Pond, 2002).
The intention of this chapter on quality assurance by
design is to raise awareness of the importance of quality,
and attempts to propose frameworks in order to ensure
quality by design. E-learning quality derives from interdisciplinary approaches on learner-centred and social
frameworks, and depends on organizations’ infrastructure, strategy, and vision. Web 2.0 signifies the current
transition from the Industrial to the Information and
Collaboration Age. Changes in the new ways that people
work, learn, and entertain themselves are being established. It is therefore necessary to agree on specific quality standards in this transitional period. In general,
quality refers to a fitness of purpose and excellence in
performance defined on pedagogical and operational
levels. In e-learning quality assurance is a planned and
systematic review process to determine that equally acceptable standards are being maintained and enhanced.
A summary of this chapter would include the following:
awareness of the importance of quality in e-learning
inclusion of all stakeholders in e-learning engineering
support for e-learning communities
dynamic evaluation
In this time of change, participation of all stakeholders
in quality assurance processes will help the e-learning
evolution in the 21st century.
Education for a Digital World
Part of this chapter comes from Niki Lambropoulos’
PhD research, currently conducted at the Centre for
Interactive Systems Engineering, London South Bank
University. Thanks to my supervisors, Dr. Xristine
Faulkner, Professor Fintan Culwin, and David Harper,
editor, for their valuable time, support, and expert advice. Special thanks are acknowledged to Betty Shane for
her advice and dedicated editing of the final draft.
Affective learning. The “why” in learning. Plays a
part in the development of persistence and deep interest
in a subject by incorporating affective elements in the
learning goals.
Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL).
CSCL focuses on how collaborative learning supported
by technology can enhance peer interaction and work in
groups, and how collaboration and technology facilitate
sharing and distributing of knowledge and expertise
among community members.
Dynamic evaluation. Real-time evaluation in
e-learning environments that covers interdisciplinary assessment for decision-making, control, and improvement.
Ethnography. From the Greek ἔθνος ethnos = people
and γράφειν graphein = writing. Refers to the sociological approach that aims to describe varying degrees of
qualitative and quantitative descriptions of human social
phenomena, based on fieldwork. Ethnography presents
the results of a holistic research method founded on the
idea that a system’s properties cannot necessarily be
accurately understood independently of each other.
Hawthorn effect. Asserts as fact the idea that the
mere act of observing/studying something can alter it,
and also asserts that this effect explains some of research
Human-computer interaction (HCI). Concerned
with the design, evaluation and implementation of interactive computing systems for human use, and with
the study of major phenomena surrounding them.
Instructional design (ID). A process of resolving instructional problems through systematic analysis of
learning conditions. This process is often referred as
ADDIE to describe the ID phases of analysis, design,
development, implementation and evaluation.
Instructional engineering (IE). An instructional design process with integrated phases via dynamic, realtime evaluation and focus on one pedagogical approach
as the added value.
9 – Quality Assurance by Design
Learner-centred design (LCD). An instructional design process where learning is determined by the learner.
Learning management systems (LMS). Synchronous
and asynchronous learning environments that incorporate tools for teaching and learning management.
Network-supported collaborative learning. Emphasizes the role of social interactions in the construction of
Pedagogical heuristics. Guidelines used as checklists
to ensure that usability serves the purposes of learning.
Pedagogical usability (PU). Denotes whether the
tools, content, interface, and tasks support learning
without any physical and cognitive effort to use the system, which is easy-to-use.
Quality assurance (QA). A planned and systematic
review process of an institution or program to determine that acceptable standards for learner-centred education, scholarship, pedagogic culture, and expertise,
infrastructure, organizational strategy, and vision are
being maintained and enhanced. Usually includes expectations that mechanisms of quality control for
benchmarking are in place and effective.
Quality assessment. A diagnostic review and evaluation of teaching, learning, and outcomes based on a detailed examination of curricula, structure, and
effectiveness of the institution or program. It is designed
to determine if the institution or program meets generally accepted standards of excellence and suggestions for
further quality improvements.
Quality improvement. The expectation that an institution will have a plan to monitor and improve the
quality of its programs.
Socio-technical design (STD). A process for systems
design that supports the social system which is built for,
and assists, designers to maximize human gains while
achieving business and technical excellence.
Usability. A measure of quality of user’s experience
when interacting with a system, in terms of effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction.
Usability heuristics. Checklists used as rules of thumb
to ensure that systems are easy to use by the users.
User-centred design (UCD). An iterative process
whose goal is the development of a usable system achieved
through involvement of potential users of a system in
system design.
Value-added. The additional value created at a particular stage of production, referring to the contribution
of selected factors in order to raise the value of a product.
Comparison of the roles of ICT in education (Cohen, 2000; adapted and cited in
Nichol & Watson, 2003, p. 4)
Policy Makers
(1) Idealism
Leap of faith
policy must be
based on ‘a
act of faith’
Idealism is
treated with
suspicion and
both as to
motives and
with some
practical reservations
(2) Economic
Vital role, but
Economic role
seen as peripheral, some
low-level skills
for low-level
Strong sense of
usefulness for
future employment prospects,
undefined as to
how ICT can
help, i.e., no link
between use of
ICT in schools
and the world of
Concern over
too much nondirected
learning, with
opportunity for
pupils to be off
task. However,
increase in
attention and
from ICT
Mixed response,
benefits of
while recognizing that teacher
help and support is essential
Recognition of
pupil enjoyment of using
computers, but
concern over
computers as a
from normal
school work,
i.e., computers
as games
playing machines
Mixed—it is the
use that is made
of the computer
that matters. In
some instances
it enhances
enjoyment; in
others it has a
negative impact.
‘Technology has
the way that we
work’ (DIEE
Connecting the
Learning Society)
(3) Individualised Will produce
learners, linked
to their needs
and abilities
(4) Enjoyment
ICT makes
learning more
Education for a Digital World
9 – Quality Assurance by Design
Policy Makers
(5) ICT for the
production of
Only marginal
importance, one
of a cluster of
skills. Emphasis
on versatility
(DIEE, Superhighways)
Central role,
particularly in
good quality
Accepted as a
tool for research
and editing of
work. High value
attached to
in neatness,
spelling and
(6) Social
Important crosscultural and
egalitarian role.
and interaction
between people
Doubtful as to
social effects,
as computers
may encourage both
laziness and
behaviour. But
recognise the
communication role of ICT
Mixed. Accept
role of ICT but
also concerned
over anti-social
effects, i.e.,
addiction and
(7) New
Major change in
culture vis-à-vis
the role of both
teacher and
pupil. Teachers
as classroom
managers, with
pupils as independent
Add to existing
Other, radical
aims concerned unrealistic in currect
school context
No perceptions
of any changes.
Assumed to be
an aid to existing methods,
and complementing what is
already being
(8) Scepticism
No room for
Highly sceptical as to reasons behind
ICT policy.
without any
clear indication
fo change that
brings about
Suspicious of
the reasons
behind having
computers in
schools, as the
defines what is
to be taught
Mixed reaction.
Positive as to
benefits of ICT in
terms of point
5—the production of work.
Recognise that
ICT can have
benefits. Overall
regard it as one
of many phenomena that
they encounter
on a day-to-day
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Education for a Digital World
General Principles of
Instructional Design
Peter Fenrich
British Columbia Institute of Technology
If you’re not sure where you’re going, you’re liable to end up some place else.
– Robert Mager
Education for a Digital World
10 – General Principles of Instructional Design
Learning outcomes
After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
Describe each step of the instructional design process.
Assess needs.
Analyze goals.
Identify subordinate skills.
Conduct a learner analysis.
Write complete learning outcomes at the highest
appropriate level.
• Create courseware using the instructional design
Instructional design is a systematic, repetitive process
of activities aimed at creating a solution for an instructional problem.
In this chapter we describe the instructional design
process, and provide details and practical guidelines for
completing the process. You will also learn how to conduct a needs assessment and a learner analysis. This chapter
also introduces a revised Bloom’s taxonomy (Anderson
& Krathwohl, 2001).
The steps in the instructional design process are
shown in Figure 10.1. These steps, which are similar to
other models, are adapted from Dick and Carey’s (1990)
model. Note that this chapter only covers the steps
through to “Write learning outcomes”. The subsequent
steps, shown in Figure 10.1, are covered in other chapters of this book.
One danger in the instructional design process is that
it can go on forever. Each step is a checkpoint, and must
be signed off with the general knowledge that the results
are acceptable enough to continue in the project. However, subsequent evaluation feedback may indicate a
need to make changes in previously signed-off steps.
These changes are sometimes the result of not putting
the necessary time and resources into each step the first
This model represents an ideal situation. However,
cost and time constraints will sometimes force you to
make modifications. How safe such modifications as
omitting or minimizing steps are will depend on the
actual problem being solved, the information that is
available, and your intuition or experience.
Education for a Digital World
Figure 10.1 Steps in the instructional design process
For some courses, the systematic instructional design
process can take hundreds of hours of development
time. Factors such as the course’s complexity, the course
management system used, the availability of resources
such as instructor notes, the team members’ experience,
team dynamics, and whether suitable design specifications exist, can all affect how much time is required.
Identify the instructional
Instructional goals are general learning outcomes that
break down into specific measurable skills, for instance,
learning to speak conversational French. Before identifying the instructional goal, you must first define the
actual problem. You can gather the information for defining the problem and identifying the instructional goal
through a needs assessment.
A needs assessment is a method for determining the
actual problem, rather than the symptoms of a problem.
For example, an individual may refuse to use the computer system because the “program doesn’t work”. In
this case, the symptom (refusing to use the computer)
10 – General Principles of Instructional Design
may be hiding the real problem, which might be a fear of
the technology, or of change.
A needs assessment is a valuable tool for:
gathering information;
understanding potential users;
consulting users; and
ensuring involvement, ownership, and fewer surprises for all affected individuals.
Be sure that you define the real problem rather
than a symptom of the problem.
want to be observed. Another observation technique is
to analyze work products. Defects can show where
problems occur in the process.
Note that existing reports, records, and statistics often contain relevant information.
Surveys can be more effective if the survey is based on
earlier observations, which might provide useful information about what questions to ask. In the survey, try to
determine feelings. Attitudes can play a major role in job
performance. Consider whether the provided information will be accurate. Will everyone fill out the survey
honestly? Provide incentives to encourage participants
to complete the surveys.
Needs assessment tools and techniques include interviews, observations, surveys, group meetings, and a review of any existing documentation. You will need to
decide on the best way to get accurate information,
given limitations such as time and money. While conducting the needs assessment, avoid letting preconceived ideas, one particular idea, or too many ideas
overly influence the problem definition or any step in
the instructional design process.
During interviews, consider asking people to:
• share problems they have experienced;
• rank a list of skills that can make them more effective;
• describe feelings or impressions pertaining to certain
skills; and
• identify the best solution to a problem.
Phone interviews can be convenient, though personto-person interviews are often preferred because body
language can provide critical information. It takes skill
to determine the truth, as Robert Orben noted: “Smart is
when you believe half of what you hear. Brilliant is when
you know which half.”
When making observations, ask people to demonstrate
particular tasks. A task analysis, or complete step-bystep breakdown of the duties needed to perform a task,
can provide important information about what actually
happens. Watch for problems caused by inefficiencies.
Determine the difference between actual and optimal
performances. Be careful of the halo effect in which
people behave differently because they are being observed. Determine what you can do when people do not
Group meetings
Group meetings can be an economical way to gather
information. Before the meeting begins, carefully plan
how you expect the meeting to proceed, but be flexible
enough to allow the meeting to flow in other useful directions. Note that it is important to prevent discord
between group members, and to prevent one or two
individuals from influencing the group unduly.
Reviewing existing documentation
Existing documentation could provide a list of existing
goals or even reveal that the problem is already documented. It may state that there is a requirement for new
instruction (e.g., learning how to use or repair new
equipment or technology) or that there is a new mandate that requires an instructional solution. Documentation can be problematic if the goals and learning
outcomes are non-existent or vague, there are contradictions between what is asked for and what is needed,
or goals and learning outcomes shift.
Most importantly, your needs assessment should result
in a precise definition of the problem. There should be a
clear distinction between “what is” and “what should
be”. Be sure that the real problem has been identified,
rather than a symptom of the problem.
Sometimes the problem can be linked to:
• environmental issues, or technical problems such as
worn or outdated equipment;
• lack of motivation, including low morale;
• poor incentives that can range from lack of recognition to undesired consequences such as extra work, or
responsibilities, or an unwanted transfer;
Education for a Digital World
10 – General Principles of Instructional Design
• communication weaknesses;
• illiteracy or lack of knowledge; or
• a combination of these problems.
Remember that a simple approach such as a job aid,
perhaps a checklist, a print-based package, or a trainer
hired for a short time, may be the most reasonable solution.
Remember that many problems can be solved with
simple solutions.
A needs assessment can also result in a statement of:
• the difference between wants and needs;
• the range of skills and knowledge that are available,
and the range needed;
• how to bridge the gap between optimal workers and
the less-accomplished workers;
• individual opinions and feelings;
• any factors that can interfere with learning;
• potential solutions for problems; and
• ideas for meaningful examples, cases, problems, and
questions for use in the instructional solution.
Any resulting clearly defined instructional goal(s) should
• cost-effective;
• reached by consensus; and
• achievable with respect to time and resources.
Conduct a goal analysis
A goal analysis results in a visual statement of what the
learner will be able to do. Consider the goal of a learner
who wants to learn how to film with a camcorder. Figure
10.2 illustrates how this general goal can be broken
down into specific learner requirements.
Figure 10.2 Goal analysis for operating a camcorder
To analyze a goal, describe in detail the consecutive
steps the learner will complete to achieve the goal. As a
Education for a Digital World
rule of thumb the task should involve five to 15 steps. If
there are more than 15 steps, the goal is either too big or the
steps are too detailed. Some of these steps may be intangible, such as making an estimate of materials needed.
Some steps may require a decision that results in two or
more alternate paths. Focus on what learners need to do
or perform, rather than what learners need to know.
Goal analysis includes classifying the goal into the
domain, or kind of learning that will occur. The domains can be verbal information where learners state,
list, describe, name, etc., intellectual skills such as
learning how to discriminate, identify, classify, demonstrate, generate, originate, create, etc., psychomotor
skills where learners make, draw, adjust, assemble, etc.,
and attitudes such as making choices or decisions [see
Fenrich (2005) for details on these domain classifications]. Establishing the domain is important in determining what instructional strategies to use in
subsequent steps.
Conduct a subordinate skills
The sequential steps derived in the goal analysis are often too large to be taught in one step. The learner might
need more information prior to learning a step. This can
be seen in step 7 in Figure 10.2, where the learner needs
some information about zooming in or out. Consequently, you need to break the steps into smaller components, using a subordinate skills analysis. When
identifying subordinate skills, ensure the components
are not too numerous, which can bore learners and interfere with learning, or too few, which can make the
instruction ineffective. For each learning domain classification, you need to conduct a different type of subordinate skills analysis:
With verbal information, you should derive the subordinate skills through a cluster analysis. In conducting a
cluster analysis, identify all of the information that is
needed to achieve the goal. After you gather the information, organize the information into logical groupings.
Logical groupings should have up to five pieces of information for weaker or younger learners, or up to seven
pieces of information for brighter or older learners. A
few people can handle nine pieces of information but it
is risky to assume that all learners in the target audience
can do this. Humans can only process a limited amount
10 – General Principles of Instructional Design
of information at a time. These limitations must be factored into the design. To be safe, whenever there is
doubt, choose smaller groupings.
Although some people think that verbal information
is trivial, it provides the knowledge base for higher-level
Organize the information into small enough
chunks for the learners to successfully learn.
Given the learning outcome “learners will be able to
name body parts,” the verbal knowledge can be organized as illustrated in Table 10.1.
Table 10.1. Organization of verbal knowledge for teaching body parts
Body area
Major parts
Smaller parts
Lips, teeth, tongue
Belly button
Upper arm
For a hierarchical analysis, follow these steps:
(1) For each goal analysis ask, “What must the learner
know before learning this skill?” This creates the first
hierarchical level.
(2) For each first level component, ask the same question. This creates a second hierarchical level.
(3) Continue this process as needed.
Figure 10.3 Hierarchical analysis for three-digit multiplication
Palm, thumb, fingers
Assuming a problem-solving goal, the first level might
be composed of rules, the second level might be rules or
concepts, the third level might be concepts or verbal
information, etc. Each level can have a simpler or
equally difficult skill underneath it. (See Fenrich (2005)
for more information on rules and concepts.)
You can derive subordinate psychomotor skills through
a procedural analysis. An example of the subordinate
skills needed for charging a battery for a camcorder is
shown in Figure 10.4.
Heel, toes
With respect to intellectual skills, you need to conduct a
hierarchical analysis to determine the subordinate
skills. An example of the skills needed to multiply three
digit numbers is shown in Figure 10.3.
Figure 10.4 Procedural analysis for charging a camcorder battery
When conducting a procedural analysis:
(1) Specify each activity that must be done for each goal
analysis step.
Education for a Digital World
10 – General Principles of Instructional Design
(2) Ask, “What must the student do or know before this
step can be done?”
(3) Continue this process as needed.
below that, or how to multiply single-digit numbers. It is
assumed that target audience learners will have these skills.
The resulting chart can include several layers.
To determine the subordinate attitude skills, you usually
need to conduct at least one of the preceding instructional analysis techniques:
• For each goal analysis step, ask “What must the student do when showing this attitude?” The answer is
usually a cognitive, intellectual, or psychomotor skill.
With this information, you can do the appropriate
• Ask, “Why should learners show this attitude?” The
answer is usually verbal information. You should
then do a cluster analysis.
Identify entry skills and
For learning to be effective and to avoid frustrating
learners, you must create a match or balance between
the instruction and the learners’ capabilities. The instruction must be designed for the target population,
defined as the widest practical range of learners. Determine, as discussed below, the learners’ abilities, language
level, motivation, interests, and other relevant factors.
You can obtain this information by interviewing teachers and learners, testing learners, and reviewing existing
documentation such as test scores. The result should
determine the entry or basic skills that the target population learners have mastered before the instruction
begins. In other words, these preliminary skills will not
be taught. In this step, you may also discover other factors that may influence the instructional design.
Create a balance between learner capabilities and
the instruction.
Based on the completed instructional skills analysis,
draw a dashed line just below the skills that most, if not
all, of the target population possess (Figure 10.5). You
will teach the skills above the dashed line, and not those
below the dashed line. In the example here, learners will
not be taught how to add multi-digit numbers, any skill
Education for a Digital World
Figure 10.5 Entry skills
You should confirm this decision by asking the subjectmatter experts whether the entry skills should be tested
within your lesson. If there is any doubt about whether
the target audience learners possess the skills, pre-test
for those skills. You can do this on paper, by computer,
or in any format that provides accurate data. The instructional design process later includes testing the instruction with learners who are truly representative of
the target audience population to ensure that the entrylevel behaviours are set appropriately.
To adapt your instructional design to the needs of your
target population, you should ask questions that elicit
information about the learners’ abilities, language skills,
motivation, and interests. Conducting a learner analysis
will also let you define your population precisely.
If possible, you should observe typical learners., This
can help in selecting relevant and meaningful examples,
choosing appropriate role models, and avoiding inappropriate stereotyping.
To ensure your materials are aimed at the correct
student population, consider the learners’ abilities,
language capabilities, motivation, interests, and
human factors.
You should ask the following questions about the
learner’s abilities:
10 – General Principles of Instructional Design
• What are the current skill levels?
– Sometimes, a learner’s prior knowledge and experience can interfere with the new learning. For example, the menu items in an old software package
may be different from those used in the new version of the software. These differences can be addressed in the instructional materials.
– Are all of the learners computer literate? To what
degree? What guidance will they need?
• What are the learners’ mental capabilities?
– Are they fast or slow learners?
– How well can they memorize information?
– Will learners be able to choose appropriate learning paths? How will they be guided?
• What are their confidence levels?
– This information can be used to determine the size
of the incremental learning steps.
• What are the learners’ maturity levels?
– Are they independent or do you need to closely
monitor their work and progress?
• Are there any learner misconceptions?
– Ensure that you address all misconceptions.
• Will learners prefer to work alone, in pairs, or in
– Provide activities for each preference. for variety,
and to ensure that learners can work in the way
they prefer some of the time.
Language capabilities
You should ask the following questions about the
learner’s language capabilities:
• What are the learners’ language levels?
• What specialized vocabulary do the learners already
• Is their preferred language style conversational,
scholarly, or technical?
• Should the material be taught in one, two, or more
• Will an audio narration be needed for learners who have
weak reading skills but good oral comprehension?
Motivation and interests
You should ask the following questions about the
learner’s motivation and interests:
• Why should the learners learn the material?
– What would make the material particularly relevant and meaningful?
– Are there any attitudinal or motivational problems? If so, how can these problems be overcome?
• What are the learners’ background experiences?
– Learners can bring a vast amount of knowledge
and life experiences to a learning situation.
What will the learners find interesting?
Are learners learning the material because they are
required to learn it, or because they want to learn it?
Are there any learner preferences for specific media?
– Remember that learning effectiveness is a primary
– Will learners be easily de-motivated with certain
media? For example, do learners presume that
materials with a large text component are boring?
– Are there past failures associated with a particular
How should testing be done?
– Are certain test formats preferred over others? For
example, would short-answer questions deter learners who have poor keyboarding skills?
– Should testing be formal or informal?
Write learning outcomes
Learning outcomes or objectives are specific measurable
skills and are more specific than instructional goals. For
example, if a goal is to be able to speak conversational
English, a learning outcome could be to conjugate the
verb “to be”.
Learning outcomes communicate to learners, instructors, and other interested people, what the learners
should be able to do, compared to their current skill
level. Success occurs when learners achieve the planned
outcomes. Learning outcomes help learners organize
their studying, avoid becoming lost, make appropriate
decisions such as whether to study a section or not, and
maintain their motivation. If you inform your learners
of the learning outcomes, they will, on average, attain
slightly but significantly higher results. Even though
some learners do not read learning outcomes, include
them for those who do want and need them.
It is critical for you to define specific learning outcomes since they form the basis of the subsequent instructional development process. Accurate, well-written
learning outcomes can save development time and
money by helping to keep the process on track. Without
specific learning outcomes, it is easy to start branching
off on interesting tangents, which could make it impossible to finish a project within the constraints given.
Whenever you have doubt about whether some material
should be included, you can refer to the stated learning
Many projects have failed because of poorly written
or non-existent learning outcomes. Check all learning
Education for a Digital World
10 – General Principles of Instructional Design
outcomes for flaws. If a learning outcome is not specific
and measurable, do not proceed with further design and
development. Even when you define the learning outcomes, there is no guarantee that you will successfully
teach them. In order to ensure that learning takes place,
you still need to follow the subsequent instructional
design steps.
Well-written learning outcomes help keep the subsequent instructional development process on track.
There are five steps to writing learning outcomes. For
each step, think about why each example is good or poor.
(1) Once you have decided on a content area, use action
verbs to identify specific behaviours. The verb
should be an observable behaviour that produces
measurable results. The verb should also be at the
highest skill level that the learner would be required
to perform. We’ll discuss the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, which will give you details about the different skill levels, in the next section. Note that learners
often need a knowledge base of lower-level skills in
order to succeed at higher-level skills. Based on your
previous entry skills decisions, you might have to
teach the lower-level skills.
Good: calculate, compute
Poor: understand, know.
(2) Specify the content area after the verb.
Good: Calculate averages and compute variances.
Poor: Calculate statistical information and compute values needed in economics.
(3) Specify applicable conditions. Identify any tools to
be used, information to be supplied, or other constraints …
Good: Given a calculator, calculate the average of
a list of numbers.
Given a spreadsheet package, compute
variances from a list of numbers.
Poor: Given an available tool, calculate the average of a list of numbers.
(4) Specify applicable criteria. Identify any desired levels
of speed, accuracy, quality, quantity …
Good: Given a calculator, calculate averages from
a list of numbers correctly 100 percent of
the time.
Education for a Digital World
Given a spreadsheet package, compute
variances from a list of numbers rounded
to the second decimal point.
Poor: Given a calculator, calculate averages from
a list of numbers correctly most of the time.
(5) Review each learning outcome to be sure it is complete, clear, and concise. Get content experts and
learners to review them, and get approval before
Perhaps the worst example of a learning outcome
ever written is:
The learner will understand and appreciate the
learning outcomes of the course.
Bloom et al. (1956) classified learning outcomes into six
This has been an invaluable resource that has helped
numerous educators design instructional materials to
the appropriate skill and thinking levels needed. Relatively recently, Anderson & Krathwohl (2001) revised
Bloom’s taxonomy into these hierarchical categories:
Your subsequent instructional strategies, questions,
other interactions, and tests should relate to the appropriate skill and thinking levels, which directly correspond to the stated learning outcomes. Remember that
each of these six categories can contain verbal information, intellectual skills, and attitudes.
10 – General Principles of Instructional Design
Sample verbs: Break down, differentiate, determine,
relate, analyze
Given a properly written learning outcome,
identify the learning outcome’s conditions, skill, and criteria.
Evaluation entails using personal values to judge knowledge. Evaluations are hard to grade objectively.
Figure 10.6 Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy
Remembering skills entails recalling information as it
was presented.
Sample verbs: State, describe, label, list, name
List the different types of media that
online courses can include.
Understanding skills can include restating knowledge
learned earlier in one’s own terms, translating ideas and
concepts, and recognizing inferences and assumptions.
Understanding skills can be tested by repeating questions and problems in a different form.
Sample verbs: Convert, estimate, explain, summarize,
Explain why online courses should not
necessarily include all types of media.
When applying skills, learners apply knowledge to new
situations. Learners must decide how to solve the problem. For application skills, you can use fictional situations,
material learners have not seen, or modify old problems.
Sample verbs: Relate, compute, change, apply, use
Using Bloom’s taxonomy, write complete
learning outcomes at the appropriate level.
Analysis breaks down existing knowledge into meaningful parts. Analysis can require learners to detect relationships and draw conclusions. You can use experiments
or supply data to test analysis skills.
Sample verbs: Appraise, compare, conclude, criticize,
assess, evaluate
Evaluate the effectiveness of an online
To create is to produce something new, or to modify a
thing that already exists. Creating can also take the form
of a speech, proposal, project, or theory.
Sample verbs: Summarize, revise, compose, construct,
create, synthesize
Create an online course that includes all
of the instructional events.
Instructional design is the systematic process of activities that solve an instructional problem by identifying
the instructional goal, conducting a goal analysis, conducting a subordinate skills analysis, identifying entry
skills and characteristics, and writing learning outcomes.
An instructional goal is broad learning outcome that
can be broken down into specific measurable skills. To
identify the instructional goal, you must first define the
actual problem through conducting a needs assessment.
Once you have determined the instructional goal, the
goal is refined through a goal analysis. This will lead to a
statement of what the learner will be able to do. The
emphasis is on what learners need to be able to do,
rather than on what learners need to know.
The goal analysis is refined into smaller components
through a subordinate skills analysis. The subordinate
skills analysis ensures that each component is small
enough to teach, and shows what information a learner
needs prior to learning each component. Verbal information, intellectual skills, psychomotor skills, and attitudes each need a different type of subordinate skills
With verbal information, conduct a cluster analysis in
which you have identified all of the information needed
Education for a Digital World
10 – General Principles of Instructional Design
to achieve the goal, to determine the subordinate skills.
After identifying the information, organize the information into logical groupings of up to five pieces of information for weaker or younger learners or seven pieces of
information for brighter or older learners. Verbal information is important in that it can form the needed
knowledge base for higher-level skills.
For intellectual skills, conduct a hierarchical analysis
to determine the subordinate skills:
• For each goal analysis step, ask “What must the student know before this skill can be learned?” This creates the first hierarchical level.
• For each first level component, ask the same question. This creates a second hierarchical level.
• Continue this as far as needed.
Subordinate psychomotor skills can be derived
through a procedural analysis:
• Specify each activity that must be done for each goal
analysis step.
• Ask, “What must the student do or know before this
step can be done?”
• Continue this as far as needed.
To determine the subordinate attitude skills, conduct
at least one of the following instructional analysis techniques:
• For each goal analysis step, ask “What must the student do when showing this attitude?” The answer is
usually a cognitive, intellectual, or psychomotor skill.
With this information, you can do the appropriate
• Ask, “Why should learners show this attitude?” The
answer is usually verbal information. You should
then do a cluster analysis.
For learning to be effective, and to avoid frustration,
the instruction and the learners’ capabilities must match.
Design the instruction for the target population, defined
as the widest practical range of learners. Determine the
learners’ abilities, language level, motivation, interests,
and human factors. The end result should determine the
entry or basic skills that they must have before the instruction begins.
Learning outcomes, or objectives, are specific, measurable skills that communicate to learners, instructors,
and other interested people, what the learners should be
able to do after completing the learning. Success occurs
when learners achieve the planned outcomes. Learning
Education for a Digital World
outcomes form the basis of the subsequent instructional
development process.
To write learning outcomes:
(1) Identify specific behaviours through action verbs.
The verb needs to be stated at the highest skill and
thinking level that the student will need to do. Use
the revised Bloom’s taxonomy as a foundation for
selecting verbs.
(2) Specify the content area after the verb.
(3) Specify applicable conditions. Identify any tools to
be used, information to be supplied, constraints, etc.
(4) Specify applicable criteria. Identify any desired levels
of speed, accuracy, quality, quantity, etc.
(5) Review each learning outcome to be sure it is complete, clear, and concise.
Attitude. Tendency to make particular decisions or
choices under specific circumstances.
Bloom’s taxonomy. A classification system containing six hierarchical taxonomies for learning outcomes.
Cluster analysis. Analysis used to organize verbal
information into logical groupings that are small enough
to be learned successfully.
Feedback. Any response related to input.
Goal analysis. The process for providing a visual
statement of what the learner will be able to do.
Halo effect. A result in which people behave differently because they are being observed.
Hierarchical analysis. Used to determine the subordinate skills required to learn an intellectual skill.
Instructional design. The process of activities aimed
at creating a solution for an instructional problem.
Instructional goals. General skills that will be further
defined into specific learning outcomes.
Intellectual skills. Skills that require learners to think
rather than simply memorize information.
Learner analysis. Determines information about the
student’s abilities, language capabilities, motivation,
interests, human factors, and learning styles.
Learning outcomes or objectives. Specific, measurable skills.
Needs assessment. A method of gathering information for determining the actual problem.
Procedural analysis. Used to derive subordinate psychomotor skills.
Psychomotor skills. Skills that require learners to
carry out muscular actions.
10 – General Principles of Instructional Design
Subordinate skills analysis. A process for determining the skills that must be learned before performing a
Verbal information. Material, such as names of objects, that learners have to memorize and recall.
Anderson, L. W. & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.). (2001). A
Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A
Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York, NY: Longman.
Armstrong, D., Denton, J. & Savage, T. (1978). Instructional skills handbook. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
Bastiaens, T. & Martens, R. (2000). Conditions for webbased learning with real events. In Abbey, B. (Ed.), Instructional and cognitive impacts of web-based education
(pp. 1–31). Hershey, PA: Idea Group Publishing.
Beach, B. K. (1993, October). Learning with Roger
Schank. Training & Development, 47(10), 39–42.
Bloom, B., Engelhart, M., Hill, W., Furst, E. &
Krathwohl, D. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, Handbook 1: The cognitive domain. New
York, NY: David McKay Inc.
Churach, D. & Fisher, D. (2001). Science students surf
the web: Effects on constructivist classroom environments. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and
Science Teaching, 20(2), 221–247.
Danielson, J., Lockee, B. & Burton, J. (2000). ID and
HCI: A marriage of necessity. In Abbey, B. (Ed.), In-
structional and cognitive impacts of web-based education. (pp. 118–128). Hershey, PA: Idea Group
Dick, W. & Carey, L. (1990). The systematic design of
instruction (3rd ed.). Glenville, IL: Harper Collins
Ference, P. & Vockell, E. (1994, July-August). Adult
learning characteristics and effective software instruction. Educational Technology, 34(6), 25–31.
Fenrich, P. (2005). Creating Instructional Multimedia
Solutions: Practical Guidelines for the Real World.
Santa Rosa, CA: Informing Science Press.
Gagne, R., Briggs, L. & Wager, W. (1988). Principles of
instructional design (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Holt,
Rinehart and Winston.
Jonassen, D. & Hannum, W. (1991). Analysis of task
analysis procedures. In G. J. Anglin (Ed.), Instructional technology: Past, present, and future (pp. 170–
187). Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
Mager, R. (1962). Preparing instructional objectives.
Belmont, CA: Fearon Publishers.
Miller, S. & Miller, K. (2000). Theoretical and practical
considerations in the design of web-based instruction. In Abbey, B. (Ed.), Instructional and cognitive
impacts of web-based education. (pp. 156–177). Hershey, PA: Idea Group Publishing.
Rossett, A. (1987). Training needs assessment. Englewood
Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
Schwier, R. & Misanchuk, E. (1993). Interactive multimedia instruction. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational
Technology Publications.
Education for a Digital World
Accessibility and Universal Design
Natasha Boskic, Kirsten Starcher, Kevin Kelly, and Nathan Hapke
Education for a Digital World
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
Learning outcomes
After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
• Understand what accessibility means in an online
environment, why it is important, and what standards and policies are in place to support it.
• Apply principles of universal design while creating
your materials in order to provide online content to
ALL students, to assess equally all students' skills,
knowledge and attitudes, and to engage and motivate
all students.
• Have deeper insight in various types of disabilities,
their effect on how people use the Internet, and into
assistive technologies that exist to accommodate these
disabilities.Analyze how websites are designed, what
tools are available for their creation, and how to write
for users with disabilities.
• Explore different types of multimedia: their potentials
and challenges when using them for online learning
with students with disabilities.Apply a checklist to test
your site for accessibility and use automated validators;
• Look ahead at some additional resources for learning
about accessibility.
At the beginning of this chapter you will find a brief
description of the situation at post-secondary institutions, regarding adjustments of their online materials to
students with disabilities, as well as legal and ethical
framework for making modifications. You will find information about, and examples of, applying Universal
Design for Learning principles to the online environment for the benefit of everyone. A description of various disabilities will follow, where we will focus on
specific student needs. Next, you will learn about legal
requirements and existing standards for creating web
content. We will describe practical steps and procedures
and explain them with respect to different elements of
online material design, together with several ways for
testing and assessing accessibility. At the end of the
chapter you will find a list of additional resources for
further exploration.
“If the basics of usable design are ignored all users
can be disabled by the inappropriate use of technology”. (P. Jeffels, 2005).
Most of the content in this chapter is based on the work
performed at the University of British Columbia (UBC)
as a part of the “Web Content Accessibility” project in
the period September 2005 – August 2006.
Great efforts have been made to give every student
equal access to high-quality learning, and to remove
barriers for people with disabilities. However, most of
these efforts are focused on the traditional, face-to-face
classroom experience. Less attention is devoted to those
taking courses fully online, and their ability or inability
to cope with web-based interactive content. While standards and guidelines have been developed to support
and assist with accessible web design, their primary focus has been on technical specifications, assistive technologies, or legal issues. Fewer studies have been
conducted to investigate how that "accessible" content is
perceived from a learner’s perspective, and how helpful
it really is.
As distance learning adapts to new technology, instructors should be innovative in their relationship with
students and in the methods for developing educational
content, accommodating the diverse needs and learning
styles which will be beneficial for all, regardless of their
Universities are increasingly becoming involved in technology-based education programs. The level of sophistication of such offerings (cohort organizations, electronic
learning) is accelerating rapidly. However, persons with
disabilities, taking courses off campus, are not always
provided with the same rights of access and program
accommodation as those on-campus. In some cases,
slow Internet access is a problem, and in other cases,
electronic course offerings coming from the university
have not been coded to support adaptive technologies
(like screen readers, Braille display, enhanced print size,
voice-over, sip and puff control, etc.). The end result is
an unfair imbalance in academic access.
Conformance with the World Wide Web Consortium’s
(W3C, an international organization for developing
Web standards) and its Web Content Accessibility
Guidelines 1.0 will enhance the market share and audience reach of programs by increasing their general usability. Adoption of WCAG 1.0 recommendations also
demonstrates a commitment to social responsibility and
equity of access to education, information and services.
These changes do not have to be substantial to be
successful. Web accessibility is usually achieved by
careful planning and attention to details. This all trans-
Education for a Digital World
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
lates into Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a
practice of designing web pages so that they can be navigated and read by everyone, regardless of location, experience, or the type of computer and technology used, In
addition, it means providing educational material with
flexible goals, instructional and assessments strategies
that apply to different learning styles and practices. We
will talk more about Universal Design later in this
Having an increased number of life-long learners, as
well as those who are returning to school for their professional development or upgrade, removing barriers to
web access becomes even more pressing.
In the United States, a law called Section 508 requires
federal agencies to ensure that people with disabilities
have the same access to information in electronic systems as people without disabilities.
“Section 508 requires that when Federal agencies
develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and
information technology, Federal employees with
disabilities have access to and use of information
and data that is comparable to the access and use
by Federal employees who are not individuals with
disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency. Section 508 also requires that
individuals with disabilities, who are members of
the public seeking information or services from a
Federal agency, have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to that provided
to the public who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on
the agency” (Section 508, 2006, Subpart A—General, para. 1).
In the United Kingdom, there is a similar law known as
SENDA (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
Act) that applies specifically to students.
Canada has no such law at the moment, but the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Charter of Rights and
Freedoms both deal with discrimination on the basis of
many factors, including disability. A failure to provide
information in an accessible manner could be considered discrimination if no reasonable attempt is made to
accommodate the disabled person.
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) in Australia published World Wide Web
Access: Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Notes,
All government websites are required to follow these
policies and guidelines.
Around the world, accessibility and information access issues are being addressed at different levels. The
Report on Developments World-Wide on National Information Policy (2001) gives a nice overview of what a
number of countries are doing to support all online users, including those with special needs.
The term “disability” is very broad, and can include persons with sensory impairments (blind or visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing), learning disabilities,
motor functioning problems, or neurological impairments. The number and severity of challenges increases
with the age of the population served—especially in the
area of sensory impairment. For example, while the Canadian Federal government reports that the overall disability rate in the total population is about 12.4
percent—for persons between the age of 65 and 74 it
increases to 31.2 percent (Statistics Canada, 2001, para. 2).
The main goal is to improve usability and to provide
online learners with disabilities, who were academically
qualified, with full, fair and equal access to all university
services, and programs. It means either redesigning the
existing electronic content or developing a new one with
accessibility in mind. Usually, you need to do both.
The first step is to carefully look at the courses or
modules and determine their level of accessibility. Consultation and collaboration with users, advocacy groups,
other university and government agencies, and various
experts is very helpful. In the case of the project described here, all the procedures were tested by making
adaptations and necessary changes inside WebCT.
During this process, it is important that the work does
not entail any modification of the academic standards of
the university or elimination of the academic evaluation
of students.
Making online courses accessible to students with
disabilities, i.e., providing easy and consistent navigation
structure, and presenting the material in a clear and
organized way brings benefit to all students, regardless
of their physical and mental condition. Every student is
different; everyone has different levels of comfort with
new technology, from computer-shy technophobe to
web-savvy expert. We are all in the process of adaptation
to new tools: in a survey conducted at Renton Technical
College in Renton, Washington, in 2002, the highest
number of participants (31 percent) reported difficulties in
studying and troubles with computers (Microsoft, 2005). It
will take a lot of time for computers or similar devices to
become as invisible and user-friendly as books, for example. Universal design for learning attempts to reach that
“easiness” by improving usability for non-disabled and
Education for a Digital World
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
disabled users alike. It supports persons with low literacy
levels, improves search engine listings and resource discovery, repurposes content for multiple formats or devices,
increases support for internationalization of courses and
assists access for low-bandwidth users.
An inaccessible site in a corporate world may mean a
loss of clientele. In an educational setting, the quality of
a learning experience is much more difficult to measure,
since it is not only a matter of numbers and physical
access. With this awareness, content should be presented in a variety of ways in order to meet the online
learners’ needs. Material that is inaccessible to a student
with one type of disability can be offered in an alternative format. It is important to realize, however, that not
everything can be made accessible without compromising the value of the learning experience. Teaching visual
concepts and explaining different colour schemes, for
example, is not fully adaptable for students who are
blind. The materials should be made as accessible as
possible for most groups of disabled students, but some
people ultimately may still be excluded. In those cases,
you will need to offer alternative exercises for the affected student, although the production of such materials can be time consuming. The choice of different
delivery methods can exist, but only “in ideal world”
(Draffan & Rainger, 2006).
Every effort made to increase accessibility will help to
disseminate information on accessibility issues and provide a basis for raising awareness not only in British
Columbia, where this project was conducted, but in
wider academic communities as well.
It is the policy of UBC (and it is similarly stated in virtually every other university policy in North America and
Western Europe) that “the University is committed to
providing access for students with disabilities while
maintaining academic standards” (UBC Student Services, 2006, para. 1). This is in keeping with UBC policy
that recognizes its moral and legal duties to provide
academic accommodation. The University must remove
barriers and provide opportunities to students with a
disability, enabling them to access University services,
programs and facilities and to be welcome as participating members of the University community. The Policy goes on to note that such accommodation is in
accordance with the B.C. Human Rights Code, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and US federal
law. Universities have worked hard to write and implement policy that improves access to campus buildings,
Education for a Digital World
ensures the health and safety of those with disabilities,
and which provides appropriate supplementary support
in the facilitation of learning.
The External Programs and Learning Technologies
office (EPLT) ( acts as the
facilitator for all off-campus Faculty of Education programs, both domestic and international at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. EPLT
seeks to use innovative, efficient and effective delivery
vehicles that are first and foremost designed to meet the
diverse needs of learners. Furthermore, it provides them
with access to the highest quality programs possible by
making Web content accessible to a variety of Webenabled devices, such as phones, handheld devices, kiosks and network appliances.
The second largest university in British Columbia,
Simon Fraser University has a Centre for Students with
Disabilities (CSD), which primarily offers services to
students on campus, similar to UBC’s Access and Diversity—Disability Resource Centre (http://www.students
Universal design
The first six sections of this chapter discuss how to address accessibility issues for an online environment,
along with resources, activities, and assessments, used
with face-to-face coursework or a fully online course. If
you are just starting out, then you can address these
issues and numerous others from the beginning by using
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. UDL
builds upon universal design concepts from other fields,
such as architecture and urban planning, and applies
them to learning situations.
The “curb cut” is a common urban planning example
used to demonstrate the fundamental idea of UDL.
Since the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, curb
cuts—ramps extending from the street up to the sidewalk—must be present on sidewalks. Curb cuts allow
people who use wheelchairs or who have low mobility to
go from sidewalk to street and back again more easily.
However, to add a curb cut to an existing sidewalk requires a jackhammer and a lot of extra work. Making a
sidewalk that was designed with a curb cut from the
beginning is much easier. Coming back to UDL, it is
often easier to accommodate different learning needs by
designing the course with those needs in mind.
As we will see with accessibility solutions for online
learning, the curb cut accommodates everyone, not just
the original intended audience. Parents with strollers,
children walking their bicycles, skateboarders, and more
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
benefit from curb cuts just as much as people in wheelchairs. Along the same lines, the Center for Applied
Special Technology (CAST) refers to UDL as “Teaching
Every Student,” stating that Universal Design for
Learning “calls for
• multiple means of representation to give learners various
ways of acquiring information and knowledge,
• multiple means of expression to provide learners
alternatives for demonstrating what they know, and
• multiple means of engagement to tap into learners’
interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate
them to learn.” (
Almost every online accessibility accommodation
strategy designed for students with disabilities also helps
additional students. For example, English language
learners (ESL students) frequently use screen readers
that were originally created for people who are blind or
who have visual impairments. They benefit from hearing
the text spoken out loud as they read a passage of text.
Overall, UDL assists students with disabilities, certainly,
but also assists students who are non-native language
speakers, students with different learning styles, students
with different levels of Internet connectivity and access
to technology, and even students who require more assistance with self-motivation. Let’s take a look at different ways to apply Universal Design for Learning to your
online course.
You probably remember teachers whom you felt gave
you everything you needed to succeed when you were a
student. These teachers provided handouts in the classroom, links to resources on the Internet, copies of their
presentations, and more. You may also remember teachers who did not provide many resources. The resources
they did provide may have been text-only documents or
handouts that helped a select few students in the class.
Perhaps they made one copy of an important set of materials for checkout, requiring you to wait until someone
else turned it in before you could review it. This section
will give you ideas about ways in which you and, in
some cases, your students can provide alternative course
materials and resources that increase the number of
students who succeed in reaching the objectives.
Sensory input
First, we need to consider the different ways that people
get information into their heads and the types of re-
sources that students prefer. Later, we will discuss ways
to help students encode and retain any knowledge or
skills that they need to succeed in your class or beyond.
Visual-verbal, or text-based resources, help learners
who prefer to read. These are usually the most common
type of online learning resource, ranging from documents and presentations to web pages. However, textbased resources must be made accessible to people with
visual impairments, such as using Optical Character
Recognition (OCR) to convert scanned documents to text.
Saving text-based files or documents in various formats also impacts how many people can use them. Consider which technologies your students can access at
home, school, or work. Some instructors conduct a short
survey at the beginning of a school term to see which
software applications students use. Then they save their
files in the most common format for that class. Others
will save their course documents and text-based class
assignments in multiple formats. such as accessible
Portable Document Format (PDF) files, Rich Text Format (RTF) files, Hypertext Markup Language (HTML)
files, and Microsoft Word (DOC) files. Still others
choose a standard format for the class and inform the
students that they will need certain software to read,
edit, or save course documents.
Each document format listed above has its limitations, so choosing them may depend on what you want
to accomplish.
• Any student can open PDF files with a free application called Adobe Reader, available for download at
the Adobe website. If you choose this format, you
should also provide your students with a link to the
download page. However, if students are required to
edit the document or to provide feedback on it, then
they will require a different application, Adobe Acrobat, that is not free.
• Almost any word processing application can open
RTF files, but saving as an RTF file may remove certain types of advanced formatting. Apart from this
limitation, this format provides a great deal of flexibility with the types of tasks accomplished through
the documents.
• Students with access to a web browser can open
HTML files. If you want students to work on an
HTML document, though, they will need a webbased HTML editor, an HTML editing application, or
a simple text editor combined with knowledge of
HTML code.
• Microsoft Word, or DOC, files offer additional options, such as a feature called tracking that allows
students to see feedback and suggested changes.
Education for a Digital World
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
Many people have a copy of Microsoft Word, but it is
not universal. Student bookstores and some computer stores carry discounted educational licenses. If
you are going to require students to use Microsoft
Word, let them know of any labs at your school or
university that make it available to those who cannot
afford it.
Other text-based file types, such as spreadsheets, provide
fewer options. The most common spreadsheet format is
a Microsoft Excel (XLS) file. All spreadsheet applications
should be able to save files as a Comma Separated Values (CSV) file. However, this would strip out any formulas or calculations that you or the students use.
Looking at ways to spread out your workload over
time, you can start with the first strategy, or saving files in
one or two of the most common formats for your class,
and work your way to the second strategy, or saving files
in multiple formats, over time. This does not have to be
done in a day, but to achieve Universal Design for Learning it is important to consider these strategies from the
beginning. The concept is not to try to accommodate all
students with one strategy, but to provide alternatives.
The key is to let your students know which formats you
will use and provide them with avenues to get what they
need to read and use the text-based resources.
Visual-nonverbal, or graphic-based resources, assist
learners who prefer graphic-based visual resources, such
as images, charts, graphs, flow charts, animations, or
videos. Many software applications and some websites
allow you to embed charts and graphs within the file
itself. You can easily insert images in Microsoft Word.
Microsoft Excel allows you and students to create different types of graphs from the data tables. If you use a
complex image, such as a political map or a diagram of
the digestive system, you must still provide a text-based
description for students who use screen readers.
You can use different applications, such as Inspiration, to create stand-alone flow charts or concept maps.
If you want young students to be able to interact with
this type of file or to create their own, there is a version
called Kidspiration as well. See the Inspiration website
( for more details. By pushing
one button, students can convert Inspiration flow chart
or brainstorm files to text-based outlines. This helps
students with screen readers as well as visual-verbal
learners who prefer the text. Other applications like
Inspiration include Microsoft Visio, a free application
called SmartDraw, and others. For specialized applications, such as engineering, there are even more. Let your
students know if they will need to download or buy any
additional software for your course, and work with lab
Education for a Digital World
managers to install it at your school or campus if budget
Auditory resources provide alternatives to learners
who prefer to hear the information, rather than read it.
Screen reader software and text-to-speech applications
can be used by many students, not just those students
with vision impairments. Schools and universities have
different ratios or formulas for how many computer lab
stations must have this type of software to accommodate
special needs. These ratios usually range from one in
twelve to one in twenty computers per lab environment.
In addition, there are other avenues to provide auditory resources to students. For decades, students have
placed their tape recorders at the front of the classroom
to capture what the instructor says for playback later.
These days, the instructor can record him or herself and
post the audio file online for all students. As with the
other file types, it is important that the students can play
and use the files you create. Common audio file formats
include the Wave (WAV) file created by Microsoft, the
Audio Interchange File Format (AIFF) created by Apple,
and the Moving Picture Experts Group’s Audio Layer-3
(MP3) file.
A recent, popular trend for creating and distributing
MP3 audio files is called “podcasting.” Different aspects
of podcasts and the process of creating and distributing
them are described in Chapters 21, Media Selection, and
26, Techno Expression. For our purposes here, it is important to note that you should provide a transcript for
any audio files.
Video files also provide appropriate stimuli to auditory learners. Chapter 21, Media Selection, discusses
when it is or is not legal to use clips of copyrighted videos as course related resources. One important factor
from a UDL standpoint is that streaming video files are
often easier for all students to use than downloadable
video files. Despite the progress related to high-speed
connectivity, not every student has a Digital Subscriber
Line (DSL) or equivalent connection at their home,
school, or workplace. For students using a dial-up modem, large video files present a very frustrating challenge. Many times the student will spend hours trying to
download a large file with no success and will give up.
For purposes of accessibility, caption the video or provide a transcript with timecode references to scene
changes or other important points.
Tactile/Kinesthetic resources create opportunities for
learners who prefer to learn by doing. Resources that
accommodate tactile/kinesthetic learners can take different forms. First, you can find or create interactive
resources, such as CD-ROMs, websites, or Flash animations, and require the student to follow a linear or non-
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
linear path through course-specific material. If you do
not have time or know how to make these yourself, then
you can search a variety of online clearinghouses and
repositories for appropriate learning resources. The
Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and
Online Teaching, or MERLOT (,
is a free website containing thousands of learning resources in the fields of Art, Business, Education, Humanities, Math and Statistics, Science and Technology,
and Social Sciences. MERLOT is primarily for higher
education instructors, but some materials would be appropriate for secondary school students as well.
Next, you can ask the students to create the resource.
In the online environment, this can be as simple as requiring all students to build a glossary of terms for a
chapter or topic. You can ask them to send their terms
by email, to post them to a threaded discussion, or to
post them using a glossary tool that comes with a
Learning Management System like Moodle. Other types
of student-created resources include databases or
spreadsheets containing results of experiments, student
or class websites, and student videos.
Finally, more advanced resources act as a framework
for student activity, described below. For example, a
WebQuest (see is a web-based
research activity that you can find or create for student
group work. While most WebQuests are for K–12 students, it is not difficult to create one appropriate for
college or university students. The WebQuest is highly
interactive and collaborative, making it an ideal online
resource for tactile/kinesthetic learners.
Keep in mind that not every resource for students
must be stored in the online environment. Some of the
most interesting and meaningful lessons require students to interact with the world and then to come back
and reflect or report on what they learned. For all types
of learners, this increases the number of possible resources to global proportions … literally! Structured
activities might involve students performing lab experiments and then completing online lab notebooks; collecting scientific data and then entering it into a
communal online database; observing master teachers at
a school and then writing a reflective weblog entry; or
interviewing an expert and then posting the text, audio,
or video file.
Combining strategies means that you can accommodate greater numbers of learning preferences with one
resource or activity. For instance, if you use an Excel
spreadsheet to demonstrate how increasing and decreasing budgets affected the North and the South in the
US Civil War, you can require the students to fill in the
annual budget numbers themselves and then to create a
graph. This strategy accommodates visual-verbal (textbased) learners, visual-nonverbal (graphic-based) learners and tactile/kinesthetic learners.
Sensory learners prefer fact-based activities and resources. These resources are easier to provide, as most
disciplines from the humanities to the sciences have
some facts or details related to the topics within. The easiest
resources to provide might be references to the textbook, or links to related websites. More in-depth resources could include optional readings, such as advanced
articles that apply the concepts discussed in class.
Intuitive learners like reflective activities and resources that require imagination. If you have a topic that
requires students to memorize facts to lay a foundation
for later application, provide additional, optional resources that introduce the theories related to the facts.
You can also encourage students to seek their own connections between theory and facts using an optional
activity, such as a discussion forum devoted to a discovery learning approach.
Inductive learners prefer beginning with meaningful
examples before extrapolating the main concepts or
theories. In the online environment, you can accommodate inductive learners in both passive and active ways.
You can provide a number of examples in a recorded
lecturette before describing the concept that they exemplify. In a more active learning activity, you can provide
a number of examples and require the students to create
a generalization from them by defining patterns. The
Biology Success! Project (see the Final Resources section
for details) encourages instructors to consider that while
inductive activities have been proven to help students
with learning disabilities, “it is essential that the instructor create clear guidelines for behavior, provide
explicit directions from the outset of the activity, and be
prepared to offer extra guidance as necessary.”
Deductive learners prefer starting with more structure, deriving consequences and applications from the
concepts and theories. These learners benefit from demonstrations and opportunities to practise what they have
learned. Online “lab” experiences can further strengthen
or confirm the learning by deductive learners.
To accommodate both inductive and deductive
learners, you can provide case studies, results from previous experiments, and other inductive examples alongside descriptions of the general concepts and theories for
the deductive learners. You can assign both in whichever order the students prefer, or alternate the order for
Education for a Digital World
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
different assignments whenever applicable. Another
method to accommodate both types of learners is a
“structured inquiry” exercise. Whichever approach and
activity you choose, remember to be clear about what is
expected or what students should do. Identifying the instructor’s expectations is not a discovery learning exercise!
Active learners enjoy learning by applying knowledge or
by working with others. Providing areas where students
can interact online, such as instant message (IM) environments, discussion forums, or wikis, will give these
students a way to do this. Learning Management Systems usually contain several of these tools for interaction. These tools can be used to create both general
course spaces for interaction—related to coursework
only, of course—and specific spaces for particular topics
or assignments. It is important to create clear instructions and expectations for each interaction space, so
students know its purpose and whether or not participation is required.
Make sure that you test the true accessibility of any
technology-based areas for interaction. While many
companies state that their web-based tools are accessible
or compliant, their products are sometimes difficult to
use for students using adaptive technologies. You might
want to work with a disability resource centre to do
some preliminary testing. Further, interaction tools that
use Java-based applets or plug-ins do not work with
some older browsers, excluding a different group of
your students—those with limited technology or limited
access to technology.
Reflective learners prefer to ponder the concepts or
topic before engaging with it. If you often use small
groups in your course, provide opportunities for individual assignments, even if it is just a precursor to the
upcoming group work.
People often see themselves as both active and reflective learners, just as they might consider themselves
both sensory and intuitive. Therefore, you can try to
accommodate both types of learners by mixing up the
types of activities. An active learner might prefer the
immediacy of a chat. A reflective learner might prefer
the asynchronous nature of a discussion forum, as it
allows him or her to think about what they want to write
before actually committing the words to print.
Global learners prefer to see the “big picture” first.
Therefore, you can help these students by providing
resources that summarize a concept before going into
details. One of the simplest examples entails creating a
Education for a Digital World
table of contents for a presentation that you post online.
If you are creating an audio file, take some time to give a
brief introduction to the lecturette or presentation before diving into the first section.
Sequential learners prefer a step-by-step approach,
understanding each piece before seeing how it fits in a
larger context. One way that you can help sequential
learners involves referring to a numbered outline so
students can keep track of where you are. Be sure to
review flow charts, presentations, and other resources to
make sure that you have not skipped or glossed over any
steps. If creating audio readings, avoid jumping around
from topic to topic. Instead, follow the outline that students will use to keep track of their place.
A common piece of advice for people delivering a
presentation for the first time is “Summarize what you
are going to say, say it, and then summarize what you
said.” This advice accommodates both global and sequential learners.
Preparing students to use multiple means of
If students are not prepared to use the variety of content
choices you provide, then all your work could be wasted.
Let them know how important it is for them to understand the concepts of learning preferences and learning
needs, how to determine what their preferences and
needs are, and how to adopt strategies that accommodate them. Many instructors ask their students to complete a learning styles survey. This idea is described in
more detail below. We can include the learning needs of
students with disabilities in this same set of activities.
Students with various disabilities also may not know
what strategies will benefit them in the online environment. Encourage them to explore how they can succeed
in the online components of your course, either on their
own or with the help of a disability resource centre.
When we think about asking students to demonstrate
what they know, we usually think that each student will
take the same test, complete the same essay assignment,
or perform the same skill(s). It is not too strange,
though, to think that students could use different methods to show that they know the same concept. After all,
instructors often ask students to choose one of several
essay questions to demonstrate understanding of a major topic. These days, instructors are asking students to
submit portfolio pieces, sometimes called “assets” or
“artifacts,” to show particular competencies. In this process, they may even let the students choose what type of
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
asset they would prefer to submit or how to best show
their knowledge or skills. This last idea exemplifies the
principle of “multiple means of expression.”
When asking individual students to demonstrate knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes using online mechanisms, it
is important to determine to what degree of difficulty
you are asking the students to achieve the objectives.
There are numerous websites that list the different levels
of difficulty related to the three learning domains: Cognitive (knowledge), Psychomotor (skills), and Affective
(attitudes) (see description of learning domains and
degrees of difficulty
/hrd/bloom.html). Once you determine what you want
students to do, then you can determine how they will
demonstrate it. This book contains more information
about student activity (Chapter 20, Instructional Strategies)
and assessment (Chapter 14, Assessment and Evaluation).
The first step is to identify alternatives that are
equivalent. Taking a multiple choice test does not usually demonstrate the same level of proficiency as writing
an essay or performing a task in front of a video camera
for evaluation later. Therefore, take a close look at the
learning objectives, and then make a list of different
ways that students could achieve those objectives. Consider the following example objective, “Students will
translate Hamlet’s famous ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy
into modern English (with or without slang).” Equivalent online assessment alternatives might include writing a translation in a discussion forum, posting a
translation as an attachment, making an online presentation using Skype or other synchronous conference
tool, making and posting an audio recording of the student reading their translation, or making and posting a
video presentation. The same evaluation guidelines or
rubric could be used to evaluate each one. Hypothetically, then, students could choose how they want to
show their ability to translate the soliloquy. This accommodates students with disabilities as well as students with different learning preferences. It also creates
an avenue to engage students at a higher level, which is
described in depth below.
Of course, you will find that certain alternatives may
be less equitable. For example, technologies like video
cameras and video editing software could be equally
difficult to use due to limited access, unequal proficiency
levels, or physical disabilities. This does not mean that
you have to immediately remove it from the list of options. However, it might require that you identify a lab
that checks out cameras to students and that has computers with video editing applications. Another option
might be to have students work in small groups, so they
can give each other feedback, share technology resources, and help each other with the technology skills
that are not part of your course objectives. For an assessment strategy to be universally accessible, students
must be able to attempt each alternative, so you may
need to limit the options to those that you know all students can try if they wish.
Even within a standardized test format, there may be
ways to offer options to students. In a face-to-face environment there are ways to accommodate different needs
without giving test answers to the student. For example,
on a test requiring students to identify the different
bones in the skull, the instructor can provide a threedimensional model of a skull for a blind student to use
instead of a flat image (see Figure 11.1 below). The same
option is possible for an online test, but it would still
require the student to have the model skull at an online
testing location.
2-dimensional skull diagram
3-dimensional skull model
Figure 11.1 Test format options
As stated earlier in this section, activities that involve
specialized software or online environments should be
tested for accessibility and assessed related to how many
students have access to the software or environment
itself. However, many of the tools go beyond the simple
process of creating and automatically grading test questions. Learning Management Systems (described in
Chapter 7, Learning Management Systems) offer a variety of testing options, such as creating separate versions
of a timed test to accommodate students who need extra
time for exams. The Biology Success! Teaching Diverse
Education for a Digital World
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
Learners project (n.d.) gives us “Key Principles of Assessment as Applied to Students with Learning Disabilities” that we can use in the online environment, too:
Make clear all assessment criteria
Make assessments frequent
Allow for ongoing revision of student work
Use varied and alternative assessments
[Provide opportunities for student] self-assessment
Group work in the online environment provides some
real challenges and some tangible benefits. It is sometimes hard to keep track of which student has contributed to the team effort, but students will all gain teamrelated experience that will help them in research and
work environments. One strategy to determine each
group member’s contributions is to have each student
first perform each group task individually. Then each
group member can share his or her work online, using a
discussion forum, wiki, or other collaboration tool, to
combine the best efforts from the team as a whole. Another strategy involves assigning specific roles to each
group member. Most WebQuest exercises (briefly described above) require students to take a role and complete tasks accordingly. Then each student’s work can be
assessed individually, in addition to assessing the level of
team or group success.
Entire class
The whole class can construct knowledge together in
various ways. It is difficult to give the entire class multiple, simultaneous avenues to show it can achieve a certain goal. However, you can construct assignments and
activities over the course of the term that gives the class
different ways to achieve the desired goals. One way to
do this is to assign small groups to make presentations
about each week’s content. As you go through a term,
the entire class has an opportunity to add to a growing
knowledge base of course-related material.
Just as students have different learning preferences and
different learning needs, they have different motivations,
and levels of motivation, to be successful learners. A
certain number of students may be the first member of
their family to attend college, so they want to do well.
Some may want to achieve financial independence, so
they put in extra effort to have high level skills and high
quality products to show potential employers. Others
may just have a passion for the discipline or specific
Education for a Digital World
course content. The UDL principle, “multiple means of
engagement,” tells us that we should find out what motivates our students and to challenge them to use those
motivations to be successful online learners.
Involve students in the process
To whatever extent you feel comfortable, involve the
students in the process of preparing and conducting the
online portion of your course or your fully online
course. Just as the chemistry of each face-to-face class is
different—sometimes the group is energetic or rambunctious, sometimes the group is quiet and difficult to
motivate—each online cohort is different. After defining
the course objectives, provide a forum for the students
to state their expectations. Most times, you will find that
the student expectations are very similar to your objectives, but with a different focus, such as applying the
knowledge to get a job or using skills from the course to
create a portfolio demonstrating their abilities. Using
your syllabus, an opening statement, or other strategy,
encourage students with special needs to tell you what
strategies they have found helpful for their success in
past experiences with online coursework. They may
already have accessibility or even UDL solutions that
could save you countless hours of research.
Another way to engage students is to involve them in
their own learning. In the Multiple Means of Representation subsection above, we cover different ways to accommodate learning styles, learning preferences, learning
needs, and so on. However, as an instructor, there is
only so much you can do before the student must take
responsibility for him or herself. Ask your students to
take an Index of Learning Styles (ILS) questionnaire,
such as the one created by Richard Felder and Barbara
Solomon of North Carolina State University (listed in
the Final Resources section) Then have the students
report what they find about themselves and identify
strategies that they will use to improve their own learning. Sometimes the questionnaire results do not match
how we see ourselves. That is okay. Just let your students
know that this exercise is to make them aware of different learning possibilities. They should try strategies that
accommodate their perceived learning styles as well as
the ones that the questionnaire results identify for them.
Determine what students find meaningful
To keep students motivated to work in the online environment, they will need to find the objectives, topics,
resources, and activities meaningful. An instructor-led
approach could range from “This material is a prerequisite to other courses in this program” to “These skills
will help you get jobs in this field.” A student-led ap-
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
proach could range from “This is how these theories
apply to real-world events” to “Some of you will find this
really cool!” Both approaches have their merits, so use
them together. To determine what real-world events
interest students, or to find what they feel is really cool,
talk to some of the students before the term gets rolling,
or ask the class to send you one idea of each.
Ask for feedback
In Chapter 24, Evaluating and Improving Online
Teaching Effectiveness, we cover a number of ways to
get feedback from students. Using those strategies, you
can include questions about motivation or engagement
to learn how well you are doing to get students more
involved in their learning success. Go over the results
with the class to come up with additional ideas or inspirations.
Looking at some of the concepts and suggestions in this
section, you might be asking yourself, “This is helpful,
but what does this have to do with accessibility?” For
this book, remember that the term “accessibility” refers
to the extent to which it is possible for all students to
succeed in our collective online course environments.
About Web accessibility
Accessibility is about making sure all the information on
your website is available to all users, regardless of any
disability they may have or special technology they may
be using.
“Accessibility involves making allowances for
characteristics a person cannot readily change”’.
(Building Accessible Website, Joe Clark)
Fairness and equality
The simplest and most direct answer to this is that if
your site is inaccessible to users with disabilities, you are
excluding a section of the population from your content.
If your students cannot access the course materials, they
could be placed at a distinct disadvantage and their
coursework could suffer as a result.
Accessibility benefits usability
Many site designers and developers drag their feet and
grumble when asked to make their site accessible. There
is a mistaken perception that “accessibility” means
“dumbing down” the site—that they won’t be allowed to
use any graphics or any multimedia. Frequently, websites address accessibility by making a plain, text-only
version of every page and labelling it “accessible”. This
does no one any favours—it requires the webmaster to
maintain twice the number of pages, and provides an
inelegant solution that lumps all disabled users into the
same category.
The reality is that accessibility is a way of enhancing
your web page, and it can be done seamlessly without
taking away from the design. Many accessibility recommendations and guidelines actually improve the integrity of your code and the overall usability of your
interface. Usability is, simply put, how easy it is for people to use your site.
Anything you can do to improve accessibility can also
improve usability for people without disabilities, for online courses or any other kind of website. Consider these
• you have made the menus consistent on every page—
now everybody has an easier time finding their way
around your site, because the buttons are always in
the same place;
• you have made sure your font size can be adjusted—
now older readers with poor vision can increase the
size of the text to see it better;
• you have set a unique page title for each page—now
search engines can more accurately display your
pages in their search results;
• you have added a text description for each image—
now someone browsing with images turned off can
tell if they are missing an important diagram;
• you have added captioning to a video—now a student
using a computer in a public lab can watch it too
without needing sound;
• you haveadded an audio reading of an important
passage—now a student who learns better aurally can
enjoy the reading as well.
Legal reasons
As we have already discussed, many institutions are obligated to provide accessible content according to national
Education for a Digital World
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
There is a set of guidelines developed by the World Wide
Web Consortium (W3C), a group that establishes specifications, guidelines, software and tools for various aspects of
the Web, including file formats and scripting languages.
One W3C program is the Web Accessibility Initiative
(WAI), whose mission is to help make the Web accessible
to people with disabilities. The WAI has developed the
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to address
the accessibility of information in a website. These guidelines are what we will be using in this chapter, and should
always be consulted if you are ever in any doubt of the best
technique or the correct syntax of a tag. They are fairly
technical, and not a quick read. However, two simplified
versions of these guidelines organized by concept do exist
as Appendices of WCAG 1.0 (1999a and 1999b), both as a
checklist table and as a list of checkpoints. At the time of
writing, the current version of the guidelines is WCAG 1.0,
and WCAG 2.0 is under review.
These guidelines, relevant to online content developers, help to ensure that Web resources are accessible.
However, there is a need to recognize the limitations of
these guidelines as well as the available checking tools
(Ivory & Chevalier, 2002). Kelly and Sloan (2005) talk
about the difficulties of implementing the guidelines,
summarizing the concerns in regards to ambiguity,
complexity, logical flaws and the level of understanding
required to implement them.
Despite the difficulties with the guidelines’ implementation and reliability, and the necessity of manual
checking for accessibility, WCAG are very helpful in the
initial stage of developing an online resource, as a quick
checklist of obvious things that need fixing. The guidelines
should not be taken as the only set of criteria that needs
to be considered. A wider set of issues must be addressed,
some of which could be in conflict with the guidelines.
Each checkpoint has a priority level assigned by the working
group based on the checkpoint’s impact on accessibility.
• Priority 1: A Web content developer must satisfy this
checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find
it impossible to access information in the document.
Satisfying this checkpoint is a basic requirement for
some groups to be able to use Web documents.
• Priority 2: A Web content developer should satisfy
this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will
find it difficult to access information in the document. Satisfying this checkpoint will remove significant barriers to accessing Web documents.
Education for a Digital World
• Priority 3: A Web content developer may address
this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will
find it somewhat difficult to access information in the
document. Satisfying this checkpoint will improve
access to Web documents.
Depending on which priority checkpoints a site meets,
it can claim to meet a particular level of conformance.
• Conformance Level “A”: all Priority 1 checkpoints
are satisfied.
• Conformance Level “Double-A”: all Priority 1 and 2
checkpoints are satisfied.
• Conformance Level “Triple-A”: all Priority 1, 2, and
3 checkpoints are satisfied.
There are a number of tools available to help you check
some of the more technical aspects of your website to
see if it meets accessibility standards. One of these is
WebXact Watchfire (,
previously known as Bobby. It is a very handy tool for
double-checking that all your images have alt text, or
that your data tables are properly labelled.
But these tools are not the whole picture. An accessibility analyzer like Watchfire cannot tell you if the descriptions of your images make sense to a blind user, or
if your page titles are meaningful. Your website needs to
be considered from a human perspective, and many of
the WAI guidelines ask you to examine the context and
meaning of your content more carefully.
Students with disabilities
When we talk about making the Web accessible for people with disabilities, who are the people we are talking
about? Before we can learn what to do with our web
pages, we need to understand what we are doing and
who we are doing it for.
Tip: Simulations
To help you understand what web navigation is
like for people with disabilities, some organizations have developed simulations:
• Inaccessible website demonstration—
• WebAIM simulations—
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
The first group that most people think of when considering
accessibility for the Web is the blind and visually impaired.
Blind: Users have little or no usable vision. While a
few users may use Braille, the majority use a screen
reader—software that reads text out loud. Some people
listen to the Web at speeds that sighted users find completely incomprehensible—the audio equivalent of
“skimming” a page. Keep in mind that screen readers
read everything that they encounter, and that they read
it in the order they find it. In some cases, users with
screen readers encounter online multimedia elements
that start playing without warning. They must contend
with two audio sources at the same time: the screen reader
reading the web page text and the multimedia audio.
Visually impaired: Users may have some sight, but
difficulty focusing or distinguishing small text. They
may use a screen magnifier—software that enlarges
everything on the screen to a more manageable size.
Colour blind: Most colour blindness involves difficulties distinguishing red and green. A smaller percentage of people have difficulties with the blue-purple
portion of the colour spectrum. Still others are completely colour blind. There is a misconception that accessibility means using only black and white text, and
that colour should be avoided. This is not true. The
point is not to rely on the requirement of colour perception to reveal information. For example: asking readers
(or learners) to “use only words in red to compose a
paragraph”, or telling readers while filling in the form,
that only “blue” fields are required.
As we will find, making the Web’s highly visual content accessible is not as daunting a task as it might seem.
There are methods in place for providing alternatives for
nearly every type of web content, and for making sure
your content works well with the specialized hardware
and software used.
• Ever wondered what the world looks like to colour-blind people? Test out Vischeck, a colourblindness simulator, on your site or any image.
• WebAIM simulations—
Since the majority of content on the Web is visual, students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing are not as likely
to be affected. However, they often have communication
and comprehension difficulties. If audio files or videos
are a part of the curriculum, a text alternative should be
provided. Many users will also benefit from easily understandable icons and clear terminology.
Ideally, videos should be captioned. Professional captioning can be costly, though for course materials requiring
extremely high accuracy (such as math and physics
equations), it may be the best choice. Software is also
available to allow you to include captions in your videos
yourself. If captioning is simply not an option, a text
transcript of the video would be a reasonable alternative.
Hearing people might assume that hard-of-hearing
or deaf students would be reluctant to watch a
video clip. But on the contrary, many find video
and multimedia material entertaining and especially valuable because of all the other non-verbal
communication that they convey. Samuel, a hardof-hearing ESL student in our focus group, greatly
preferred videos or webcam interactions to text so
that he could see the emotions and gestures of the
other person. For students who can lip-read, video
is still helpful if the speaker’s face is clearly visible
at all times.
Students with physical disabilities may be affected if
their impairment hinders their ability to use a mouse or
keyboard. This could be due to having little or no muscle control, nerve damage, or trembling; it could be a
temporary problem, a lifelong condition, or the result of
aging. Fine motor movements can pose a challenge, such
as clicking on a very small icon.
Some users with mobility impairments will use a
typical keyboard or mouse, but may take more time to
perform tasks. Others use assistive input devices instead
or in addition to a keyboard or mouse.
• A standard trackball is often easier to control than a
mouse. Some students use a standard graphics tablet
since touching locations directly with a pen is easier
for him than sliding a mouse.
• Alternative keyboards allow users to position their
hands more comfortably, or to press keys more accurately.
• For people who cannot use their hands at all, headtracking allows the user to control the pointer
through head movements. Mouse clicks can be replaced with a breath-controlled sip/puff switch or
tappable headswitch.
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11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
While visual, hearing and physical disabilities are the
most familiar forms of disability, the majority of students you may encounter who have a registered disability may in fact be learning disabled. Learning disability
or “learning difficulty” is a broad term that includes
dyslexia, brain injury, and aphasia.
“Dyslexia is the most commonly registered disability within the University and always features in
the most commonly asked questions on accessibility issues by staff.” (Jeffels & Marston, 2003)
Figure 11.2 Dancing letters
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Students affected by learning disabilities may encounter difficulties with some of the following activities,
among others:
reading aloud; stuttering
mathematical calculations
comprehension of large passages of text
effective time management or organization
rote memorization
concentration and focus
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
Try to read the passage in Figure 11.2. It may give you
an idea of the difficulty and frustration experienced by
many dyslexic readers, as seemingly normal text requires extra effort and concentration to parse.
Learning and cognitive disabilities are a challenging
group to address, as there is no one approach that will
suit everyone. Some students may learn just as quickly
or more quickly than typical students when information
is presented in a different medium. Some use the same
technologies used by the visually impaired, such as
screen readers and speech recognition software. Nevertheless, clear presentation and good navigation is critical. A variety of multimedia options will apply to
different visual, auditory and learning skills.
Table 11.1. Content developed using traditional approach and suggestions for
Traditional approach
Lecture type content
Chunks, include questions, statements of
clarification and key points
Text-based content
Alternative presentation: audio, video, handson interaction; scaffold for various resources
(preselect them)
Reading from a textbook
Offer vocabulary, issues to discuss in the
forum, encourage note-taking, using graphic
organizers, offer information prompts (selftests with open ended questions)
Assignments: written
Offer a choice: written, oral, video or visual
Offer variety in responses: open-ended questions, oral response
Give clear scoring rubrics, be prompt and
detailed in giving feedback
When considering accessibility in education, most people assume they will need to prepare for a few isolated
examples of students with disabilities: one blind student
in a class, or a handful of young students with learning
issues. As we age, we may be affected by any of these
types of disabilities to various degrees. Instructors
should be aware that some of their older students may
also have problems such as fading eyesight, or difficulty
with fine mouse movements.
We have touched briefly on the idea of assistive technology, which is essentially any software or hardware that
can be used to help overcome a disability.
A pair of glasses could be considered assistive technology, as it helps the user overcome poor vision.
Instead of thinking about assistive technology in terms
of types of disabilities it assists, let’s look at it from the
point of view what kind of help it offers. Assistive technology could provide:
help with accessing a computer
help with reading
help with writing (composing, spelling, typing)
help with communication
help with learning
help with hearing and vision
Figure 11.3 lists many of the computing issues for users
with disabilities, and suggests some of the common
hardware and software solutions used to overcome these
Designing and structuring
online content
Don’t throw away your art supplies!
One of the most common misconceptions about accessible web design is that in order for a site to be accessible, it must have a simple, plain design with few or no
images. Another myth is that an adequate, accessible site
can be made by providing a “text-only” version of an
existing website. This is a nuisance to maintain, as it
requires you to keep not one but two versions of every
single page.
Remember, not all disabled students are blind! People
with mobility or hearing issues and even poor eyesight
will certainly appreciate a well-thought-out, aesthetically
pleasing website as much as anyone. As you’ll see, many
of your accessibility changes will be tucked away in the
code of your pages, where they will be a benefit to disabled users without detracting from your site in any way.
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11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
Figure 11.3 Assistive technologies
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11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
Before you begin to write a single line of HTML or even
start writing your course content, you should think
about how your course is going to be structured. Will
you have a lot of material to read, or just a little? Will
there be many pages or subpages?
The easier you can make it for students to find and
read your course material, the easier it will be for them
to learn.
The way you plan your site’s navigation will affect your
site’s usability for your entire audience. A good approach is to write down the different categories that
apply to each of your pages, and then group the pages
into these categories. The key is to find an intuitive balance between overwhelming the user with too many
options, and burying important information too deep in
the site.
For example, if your site is made up of these pages,
you are running the risk of creating a very cluttered and
busy navigation:
Course Content
Submit Assignments
Assignment #1
Assignment #2
Assignment #3
Assignment #4
You could try grouping your pages into these categories,
and create subcategories within this structure:
• About the Course—clicking reveals Guidelines, Syllabus, Schedule
• Course Content
• Assignments—clicking reveals Assignments #1–4,
Grading, Submit Assignments
• Communicate—clicking reveals Messageboard, Chat,
• Help
Now your students only have to sort through five links
instead of fourteen.
Use common sense when defining categories—there
may be some links that a student might use several times
a day, so you might want them to sit on the top level for
quick and easy access. Be careful when making exceptions to your rules, though—if you do this too many
times, everything becomes an exception, and you have
got a cluttered site again!
When you are designing your site, and choosing where
to place your navigation, keep these questions in mind:
• Are the links grouped together in one place, where
they can be easily found?
• Are there so many links on the page that it becomes
Typically, users viewing websites do not read text as
thoroughly as they do when reading printed
text. Monitors have a lower resolution than printed material, which makes it less comfortable to stare at for
long periods of time. Most online readers develop the
habit of skimming the screen looking for key points
rather than studying in detail. If it is necessary to read
lengthy, wordy passages or papers, many users will print
out the information to read it in comfort offline.
You can make it easier for readers to find what they
need by:
• Keeping your paragraphs short—one idea per paragraph
• Using headers to announce and reinforce new
• Using bulleted lists to group ideas into a simple,
easy-to-read format
Being learning disabled doesn’t mean a student can’t
learn—it may just mean that traditional learning methods are particularly difficult for that individual. Some
students with difficulty reading may learn the same material just as well upon hearing it, or after seeing a
graphic that explains the concept. For this reason, it can
be helpful to explain key ideas in multiple different
ways: text and a graphic or video that reinforces what is
being taught.
The same principle applies to how you ask your students to express their understanding. For many students, the choice of whether to write a paper or give an
Education for a Digital World
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
oral presentation can make a huge difference in their
ability to communicate what they have learned.
One of the biggest difficulties encountered by learning-disabled students is in interpreting academic demands and expectations. This can often be addressed by
building checkpoints into assignments, such as “Submit
a plan describing how you will approach this project.”
This allows the instructor to assess whether the student
has understood what is expected of them, before the
student has invested too much time into a project that
may be on the wrong track.
Clear, explicit instructions are of course vital, but
they alone are not the solution—the student must actively engage and interpret the tasks and requirements
Some students with disabilities may require additional
time to complete tasks such as self-tests and quizzes. A
student using an alternative keyboard may not be able to
type as fast as his classmates. Extend the allotted time for
that student, or remove the time requirement.
Chat rooms are often inaccessible to users reading
screen readers. Make sure that chat room participation
is not a course requirement, or make arrangements for a
disabled student to participate using other means such
as a discussion room.
HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) is the code used
to describe web pages so they can be rendered in a
browser. When HTML was created many years ago, no
one could have predicted the sorts of dynamic, interactive pages that they would eventually be used to create.
While HTML was easy to learn and fairly flexible, it had
some significant limitations: for example, objects could
not be placed anywhere on a page, but had to flow in a
linear fashion, one item before the next. Creative designers found ways around these limitations: the TABLE
tag was manipulated to allow precise placement of text
and graphics.
But these clever fixes came with their own set of
problems. Redesigning a website meant rewriting and
rebuilding every single page of HTML on the site. Visually simple designs often required complex, bloated
HTML. If code was written inaccurately, the web
browser had to interpret the code as well as it could,
slowing down the rendering of the page.
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• Intermediate users: We recommend using Macromedia Dreamweaver to assist you in writing
accessible code.
• Novice users: If you’re not comfortable writing
HTML code at all, we suggest Course Genie, a
package from Horizon Wimba, which allows
you to convert a Word document into a wellcoded, accessible website that can be uploaded
to WebCT.
To address these issues, HTML was given a fresh start by
rewriting it using another language—XML, or eXtensible Markup Language. The result is called XHTML.
Superficially, XHTML is not terribly different from
HTML: the syntax is stricter, and some tags and attributes have been removed, but much of it is the same. The
key is in the “extensible”. XHTML essentially lets you
define new classes of objects.
What does this mean? Suppose you need all newsrelated images (but no others!) to be surrounded by a
five-pixel blue border. Using old-style HTML, you would
do this by wrapping every news image in a table tag.
<table border=“5” bordercolor=“blue”>
<img src=“images/news.jpg” width=“200” height=“100”
alt=“Top story: man bites dog”>
Every single image that needs a border would have to be
treated this way.
Using XHTML saves you time and space. First define
a class called “news” as having a five-pixel blue border.
.news {
border: 5px solid blue;
Then add an attribute to any image tag that needs to be
in class “news”.
<img src=“images/news.jpg” width=“200” height=“100” alt=“Top
story: man bites dog” class=“news” />
How does this work? The classes are defined within
Cascading Stylesheets (CSS)—stylesheets, because they
define the style of a page; cascading, because you can
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
apply multiple stylesheets. You can define any style once
and apply it throughout your entire site.
A site that may help you visualize this process is
CSS Zen Garden (
Every design on the site uses the same XHTML
code to define the different areas of the page. By
swapping out only the stylesheet, the appearance
of the site changes dramatically.
So with a single CSS file, you can now define the look
and feel of an entire website consisting of hundreds of
Feel free to skip this section if you are new to building
web pages or are already familiar with XHTML and CSS.
If you ever built a website before CSS became widely
accepted, chances are you built it using tables. You
probably took a large image and chopped it up in an
image editing program, then placed each chunk of the
image into a borderless table to lay it out exactly where
you wanted.
The first reason to avoid tables is that it’ll make redesigning your site much easier in the future. You won’t
have to chop up new designs and recreate every page of
your site any more—you can do it all with one change of
your CSS sheet and maybe a few changes to the HTML.
But the main reason is that it simply isn’t all that accessible. Screen readers approach tables in a linear fashion; that is, they read out each column, left to right, and
each row, top to bottom. If your table-based layout
doesn’t correspond to this model, blind users may not
receive the information in the order you intended it.
They may hear the menu read out in pieces, in between
parts of your main content, and as you can imagine, it
isvery confusing to navigate a page like this.
XHTML no longer contains several tags that address the
appearance of a site. The FONT tag, which used to be
the only way to set the font appearance on a page, has
been removed from HTML. This is because fonts can be
much more efficiently defined and updated using CSS.
Similarly, the CENTER tag has gone away, to be replaced by CSS formatting.
There are many excellent resources, both online
and offline, for learning XHTML and CSS. Here
are some tutorials to get you started:
• Introduction to CSS
• Introduction to XHTML
For the rest of this section, we will use XHTML and
HTML interchangeably; the basic principles are the
same, and most of the differences are in the accuracy
and consistency of the code.
Text makes the World Wide Web go ’round. The greatest amount of content on the Web is basic, plain text.
Text is the most accessible media format there is—it is
easy for all browsers and screen readers to handle.
There is one big thing you need to be most careful of,
and that is the visibility of your text. Aging users, people with poor vision, or even people using a small
monitor may not see your site’s text with the same clarity that you do. They may need to enlarge the size of the
text to be able to read it better.
There are a few ways to do this. A screen magnifier,
such as ZoomText, will make a screen behave much as if
a giant magnifying glass has been placed between the
screen and the user. An even simpler way is to use the
text size settings in the browser to increase the font size
on the page.
When you define the appearance of your text in CSS,
you have a choice between absolute or relative font sizes.
• Absolute font sizes (pixels, points) should appear at
the exact same size in every browser and every configuration. Text that is set to “12px” will appear as 12
pixels high. Designers often prefer absolute font sizes
because they have greater control over the appearance of the text, and can dictate how much space a
given block of text will occupy.
• Relative font sizes (percentages, “em”) appear at a
size relative to the user’s font settings. Text that is set
to “90%” will appear at 90 percent of the current text
size. If the user changes their font size to “larger”, the
size of the text on the page will increase.
What is the implication here? Use relative font sizes
at all times. Some browsers will allow absolute font sizes
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11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
to scale up with the user settings, but not all. Your eyesight may be much better than that of some of your users, and what looks fine to you might cause problems for
someone else. Make sure you give them the control of
their screen.
make the image make sense; don’t bother with trivial
descriptions if they don’t add useful information.
body, p {
font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;
font-size: 0.9em;
color: #333333;
This will make the text for a page 0.9 em, or 90 percent,
of its default size.
Be careful with the contrast and colours of your text.
Whether your text is light on a dark background or dark
on a light background, you need to make sure there is
enough contrast between the text and the background
for users with weaker vision to distinguish clearly. Additionally, if any information is conveyed by colour
alone, reinforce the information with another method.
In the example shown in Figure 11.4, the required fields
are marked not only by a change in colour, but by bold
text and an asterisk.
* required field
* Name
Figure 11.5
Empty descriptions
There are some cases where an image does not require a
description at all, or where a description would clutter
the audio reading of the page.
Spacer (or transparent) images are typically 1x1
transparent images that are used to control the layout of
a table-based website by pushing elements of the site
into place. If your site is entirely CSS-based, you won’t
really need these. If you are working on an older site,
though, you may still be using them.
Decorative bullet graphics are often used in lists to
illustrate a point.
Figure 11.4
Figure 11.6 Decorative bullet graphics
Alt text
There is a very simple, built-in way to make sure your
images are accessible: use ALT text. Figure 11.5 would
be coded as follows:
<img src=“images/horse.jpg” width=“240” height=“180” alt=“Racehorse
warming up at track” />
When a screen reader encounters an alt attribute, it substitutes the text for the image, reading the text out loud.
In order to make this as useful as possible for your users,
you should choose text that is appropriately descriptive
of the image. Include any details that are necessary to
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Figure 11.6 shows three decorative bullets, which many
people would mistakenly code as follows:
<img src=“bullet.gif” width=“5” height=“5” alt=“Red bullet” />
Marketing plan<br />
<img src=“bullet.gif” width=“5” height=“5” alt=“Blue bullet” />
Promotion plan<br />
<img src=“bullet.gif” width=“5” height=“5” alt=“Yellow bullet” />
Licensing plan<br />
With code like this, a screen reader user will hear: “red
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
bullet marketing plan blue bullet promotion plan yellow
bullet licensing plan”.
Even though you don’t want screen readers to attempt to describe these images, you still need to define
their alt text, or the screen reader will read out the filename instead. The alt text on a spacer image or a decorative graphic should be empty, i.e., alt=“ ”.
Visually impaired users aren’t the only ones to
benefit from ALT text—you will too! By describing
your images, you’ll make it easier for search engines such as Google to index your content, and
it’ll be easier for other users to find the content on
your site.
Long descriptions
Alt text is good for a short sentence, but sometimes a
complicated diagram or graph cannot be thoroughly
described in one line of text. When this happens, use the
ALT attribute for a quick summary, and the LONGDESC attribute:
the link, such as “Click here for the full schedule” or
even “Full schedule”.
• Unique link names: Similarly, if your link text is
taken out of context, will a user see the same link text
multiple times? Ten links that all say “Click here”, but
point to different pages, would be frustrating.
• Link separators: Link in a menu should be separated
by more than just whitespace, for visually impaired
users to better distinguish links from each other. Additionally, some older screen readers incorrectly read
adjacent links as the same link.
On the Web, links are usually underlined. Most web
users are accustomed to clicking on underlined
links. To this end, it is best not to underline anything that is not a link unless conventional style
requires it.
<a href=“about.html”>About</a> <a href=“bio.html”>Bio</a> <a
This can be done by using a separator:
<img src=“images/chart1.jpg” width=“350” height=“150” alt=“Increase
in readership over past 5 years” longdesc=“chart1.html” />
<a href=“about.html”>About</a> | <a href=“bio.html”>Bio</a> |
<a href=“contact.html”>Contact</a>
The longdesc attribute is the URL for another web page,
which should contain a complete description of the image in question.
Another alternative is to make each link into an item in
an unordered list, and then use CSS to style the links. A
screenreader will pause between list items, making the
links more “listenable”.
To do this, you will need this CSS:
Imagemaps are just as easy to make accessible: add the
alt text to the AREA tag for each clickable area within
the map.
We have already talked about menus and navigation and
the importance of thinking about links. Here are a few
additional considerations:
• Link size: If the images are graphic links, are they big
enough so that users can easily click on them, even if
they have poor motor control in their hands?
• Descriptive link text: If your link text is taken out of
context, will it make sense? Many screen readers allow the user to pop up a list of only the links from the
page. This is a useful way for a blind reader to navigate—unless your link text says “Click here”! Make
sure your link includes enough text to clearly define
ul {
list-style: none;
ul li {
display: inline;
padding-right: 10px;
and this HTML:
<li><a href=“about.html”>About</a></li>
<li><a href=“bio.html”>Bio</a></li>
<li><a href=“contact.html”>Contact</a></li>
Setting list-style to “none” will remove the bullets that
are displayed by default before each list item, and setting
display to “inline” will place all the list items on the same
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11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
line. You can continue to style the list items with margin
and padding settings as needed.
Similar to ALT text for images, the TITLE attribute can
be used to make a link URL clearer. A person using a
screen reader can set an option to read TITLE texts out
loud instead of the link text. Most browsers display the
TITLE text as a “tooltip”, or small popup, that appears
for a few seconds when the link is moused over.
The TITLE attribute can actually be validly applied to
most HTML elements, but is best supported in the A
(hyperlink) tag.
not it is relevant, and choose which window to continue
Unexpected popups can also be a problem for users
with learning disabilities, as the sudden appearance of a
new window can be distracting and make them lose
their place on the previous page.
As a general rule, warn the user if a link will open a
new pop-up window. Additionally, consider whether the
pop-up window is absolutely necessary. Traditionally,
links to external sites were opened in new browser windows. This is preferred by many, but it is better to let the
user choose: nearly all browsers let you right-click (or
Control-click, if you are a Mac user) a link to open it in
a new window.
Many people are fond of “drop-down” or rollout menus,
which appear when the user moves the cursor over a
top-level category. For many users, they are a quick way
to jump straight to the page they need.
Many of these menus create accessibility issues. Some
are very sensitive to mouse movement and will “roll up”
the instant the mouse drifts outside the box—which can
be a serious problem for users whose hands cannot
control the mouse precisely. In addition, some of the
Javascript and Dynamic HTML (DHTML) code needed
to generate these menus is not understood by screen
readers, and will be ignored. This can prevent many
users from using the menus at all!
This doesn’t mean you can’t use Javascript or
DHTML, but if you are using it for important functions
like navigation, be sure that you have a fallback plan for
browsers without Javascript. You can usually test this
yourself by turning Javascript off in your browser.
We have established that you shouldn’t use tables for
graphic layout, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use tables at all. Tables are indispensable for their original
intended purpose: displaying tabular data in an organized and legible format.
Sighted users can easily glance at a data table, see
where the row and column headers are, and find the
piece of data they are seeking. But when a screen reader
encounters a table, it reads it out in a linear fashion: row
by row, each cell in order. If the table is very large, it is
easy to lose track of which column you are listening to.
And if the table is very complex, with merged cells that
overlap multiple rows or columns, it may not make
much sense when read out loud.
Figure 11.7 gives an example.
Popup windows have their purposes:
• displaying extra information without making the user
lose their place on the page
• letting the user open a link to another site that they
can look at later
• advertising (often unwelcome)
Consider what happens when a screen reader encounters a new window. It will first announce that the
new window has opened, and then shift focus to that
window, reading out the new content. A blind user cannot quickly glance at the new window and put it aside
for later; they must hear the content, decide whether or
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Figure 11.7 A table with a bus schedule
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
Every table should have clearly labelled table headers.
Often developers have done this just by colouring the
background of the header cells or making the text bold,
but as we know, this visual information will be lost when
run through a screen reader.
So how can we tell the browser itself where the table
headers are? This can be done with the <th> tag, which
works exactly like the <td> tag except it makes the distinction that the cell is a header. Plus, you can still style
the <th> tag using CSS to make the headers look however you want.
<th scope=“row”>Bob Smith</th>
<th scope=“row”>Sara Miller</th>
The <caption> attribute gives all users a quick definition
of the table. The <summary> attribute provides more
detail for screen readers.
<table summary=“The schedule for the westbound 99 B-Line, with stops
at Commercial, Clark, Main, Cambie, Willow, Granville, Macdonald, Alma,
Sasamat, and UBC.”>
<caption>Schedule for the 99 B-Line</caption>
<th> …
The <scope> attribute goes into a table header to tell the
browser which header is associated with a given row or
column. This helps remove ambiguity and allows the
screen reader to provide the user more information
about the given table. Two of the options are
scope=“row” or scope=“col”.
Table 11.2. Student graduation data
Graduation year
Bob Smith
Sara Miller
This would be written as follows:
<table summary=“Graduation year and GPA for each student enrolled in
the program.”>
<caption>Table 1: Student graduation data</caption>
<th scope=“col”>Graduation year</th>
<th scope=“col”>GPA</th>
Tables with multiple layers of headers and categories can
become quite complicated. XHTML does allow for further description of complex tables, including grouping
sets of rows and associating cells with headings. These
ideas may be of interest if you have many data tables.
Here are some resources for complex tables:
Most of the changes we have talked about will improve
your site’s accessibility without changing its functionality in any way. Now we are going to discuss a few things
you can add to your site that will be of extra benefit to
disabled users.
While many experienced screen reader users listen to
websites at very high speeds, there is still no audio
equivalent to skimming the page. Sighted users can easily
ignore any part of a website that is of no interest to them,
or something they have seen before, such as the navigation.
One feature that will improve your website’s usability
is a skip to content option. This is a link, coded to appear invisible to sighted users, that screen reader users
can click to skip any navigation menus that they have
already encountered and don’t need right now.
There are three steps to creating a skip navigation
(1) Add an anchor link just before your main content
<a name=“maincontent”></a>
(2) Add a new class in your CSS:
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.skiplink {display:none}
Now, anything that you assign to class “skiplink”
will not be displayed in the browser.
(3) Add this link right after the <body> declaration of
your page:
<a class=“skiplink” href=“#startcontent”>Skip over navigation</a>
The accesskey attribute allows you to predefine keyboard shortcuts to specific pages or form fields on your
website. This is especially beneficial to anyone who
navigates your site using only a keyboard, or whose use
of a mouse is limited. Accesskeys are triggered by the
user holding down ALT and pressing the specified key.
Simply define the key within an existing link to that
<a href=“about.html” accesskey=“1”>About This Site</a>
Be careful not to override existing browser keyboard
shortcuts that appear in the browser toolbar, such as F
(File), E (Edit), V (View). To be certain, use only numbers as access keys; you are less likely to conflict with
existing shortcut definitions. There is no automatic listing
of what access keys are defined on a site, so you will have
to list the keys that you have defined either on a separate
page of your site or next to the appropriate links.
There are a few conventional shortcuts:
• ALT-1: Home page
• ALT-2: Skip to main content
• ALT-9: Feedback
Not all browsers support accesskey yet, but those that
don’t will simply ignore the attribute.
We use the term “multimedia” to refer to audio, video,
PDF and Flash: any content on the Web that is not text,
HTML, or a graphic.
Different people have different learning styles;
every time you present your content in a different
medium, you increase the accessibility of your site.
Developing accessible sites does not mean making
every type of media usable, it means making all the
information available to everyone.
Education for a Digital World
Multimedia can create some of the richest and most
engaging experiences on the Web. For this very reason,
it is also the most challenging aspect of web accessibility.
The simplest rule to follow for rich media is: provide an
For audio, the accessibility alternative may be relatively
simple; if the audio file in question is spoken word, it is
sufficient to provide a text transcript. For music, provide
lyrics and, if appropriate, a description of the piece and
an explanation of its significance.
Audio can be used to benefit learning-disabled users.
Consider offering a reading of key passages or especially
difficult text. In returning to our original point that improvements made with accessibility in mind will help
non-disabled users as well, consider how an audio
reading will assist someone who is not fluent in the language. There are parts of language that are not well conveyed by text, such as correct pronunciation, and
language flow.
Video files are a great way to present information. These
can be short video clips that you create yourself, or links
to web-based videos that a peer has made. A Chemistry
professor at San Francisco State University has created a
captioned video showing each step of his lab experiments. He reports fewer questions about the procedures
and positive feedback from students. If you use a video
file that has no audio track, let your students know that
there is no audio right in the link to the file (e.g., “Video
of amoeba movement via temporary projections called
pseudopods—no audio”). That way the students will know
that they do not need speakers and deaf and hard of
hearing students will know that they do not need captions.
When adding video to your site, accommodations
need to be made for both vision and hearing-impaired
users. For visually impaired users, audio description
(AD) of the contents of a scene is important. In twentyfive words or less, an audio description is a narrator
providing a spoken context for anything that the viewer
cannot understand by listening to the soundtrack. For
hearing impaired users, any key information provided in
the video should be represented in the text equivalent.
Perhaps in the picture there is a sign placed prominently
that the viewer is expected to read, or people in the
video are reacting to a sound heard off-camera. These
details affect the viewer’s understanding of the material,
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
and you need to ensure that all visitors to your site are
able to get this information.
A transcript is one way that you can provide your audience with a second format for your content. Transcripts
are easy, and can be created by anyone. If you are the
creator of the video, chances are you have a script that
you can provide. In some cases, a script may not need
any modifications to be a full transcript. If you need to
write a transcript from scratch, it isn’t hard, but it is
time-consuming. Load up the video, and your word
processor and get typing. Before long you will have a
transcript to publish.
A transcript usually consists of one file with the
whole content of the video. On the other hand, captions
and subtitles are synchronized with the video stream,
and as such require more effort, and time to create.
You may want to consider using speech recognition
software such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking. The
authors of this chapter have had very good results
with NaturallySpeaking. One of the big advantages of
using speech recognition is that it keeps your hands
free to do other things while transcribing, such as
control the playback rate, and replay a section of the
video). In some cases, you will find that transcription
using speech recognition can actually be faster than
manual input via the keyboard!
Subtitles are a textual representation of the speech in a
video clip. The focus of subtitles is to state what is said,
not what is audible. Subtitling does not attempt to provide information about other aural cues, such as a ringing doorbell.
If you wish to show a clip, which has dialogue in
another language, consider captioning in your
audience’s primary language! By doing this, you
can aid language comprehension, for students that
understand some of the primary language. For
students that don’t speak the clip’s primary language, they will now be able to understand what is
said in the video.
Captions attempt to provide a textual representation of
all the audio in a video clip. This may include speech as
well as sound effects (for example, a ringing doorbell)
and background music. Writing video captions can
come down to a matter of style. As with everything else
in accessibility, you need to use common sense when
making decisions about how much has to be captioned.
Be thorough without overwhelming the user with unnecessary details.
If you are looking to provide a base level of enhancement, start with a transcript of the video. For a more
interactive approach, subtitling or captioning can greatly
increase the video’s comprehensibility for people who
struggle with the language spoken. Reading the text
while hearing the dialogue can be very helpful when
learning a language.
Open vs Closed Captioning: Closed captioning is a
technology that an individual user enables, to see
the captioning for a given video. Common applications of this are in: News broadcasting, and on
VHS/DVD movies. With open captioning, the
video’s picture has the textual representation directly ingrained into it. Users cannot choose
whether they see the captions or not; they are always enabled. A common application of open
captioning is for videos in another language.
Captioning is something that you can do yourself, but
due to the amount of time necessary it may be more
practical to hire a professional captioning company to
caption your video. This can be expensive, but in the
end you may find the price worthwhile. Video alternatives should be considered part of the cost of building
and maintaining your site.
Caution: Avoid building your entire website in
Flash. Yes, you can make some visually impressive
pages doing so. Yes, Flash sites can have a certain
cool-factor, unachievable with HTML. It simply
remains that most Flash sites are not as accessible
as HTML sites.
Like all other forms of multimedia, Flash can improve
accessibility for some users and degrade it for others. It
can be easier to demonstrate concepts with interactivity
Education for a Digital World
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
and animation than with text and images. A welldesigned Flash demonstration can have enormous
benefits for students, especially those with learning disabilities. Yet it can be a problem for users with visual or
physical handicaps. Some problem areas include:
• representing information only as graphics—see the
discussion regarding images without alternative text
• small buttons, or buttons that cannot be navigated to
using the keyboard—users with physical disabilities
may have trouble using the interface
Since Flash generally does not present text in a linear
fashion, often screen readers cannot synthesize speech
in a manner that makes sense to the user. Blocks of text
can change over time, be randomized, and appear at
differing locations of the screen. Users must also have an
up-to-date screen reader that works with the current
version of Flash.
When creating content in Flash for screen readers,
keep the following questions in mind:
• Does the reading order make sense? Flash objects are
read in the order in which they were created, rather
than the order in which they appear visually on the
• When an event occurs on the screen, does the screen
reader start reading again from the start? You don’t
want to bombard the user with repeated information
(recall the discussion on navigation in the
XHTML/CSS section above).
• Do you need to display your content in Flash, or will
a standard web page do just as nicely?
Note: This doesn’t mean you should never use Flash. It
means that if your entire site consists of three buttons
and a block of text, Flash is probably overkill. If you
want some special animations, consider making them in
a JavaScript-enabled HTML web page. A screen reader
will ignore the animations but can read any text-based
Adobe offers suggestions and best practices for accessibility in Flash and other products on their website at
The primary challenge of PDF files is to make sure that
the text of your document is encoded as text, not as a
graphic. If you scan a document onto your computer
and directly output it to a PDF file, the contents of the
file will be encoded graphically. If you want to create a
Education for a Digital World
PDF file from a text document you have scanned, be
sure to use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. OCR software converts graphical lettering to text.
PDF viewers (such as Adobe Reader) cannot analyze
graphics for text, so this must be done when creating the
PDF file.
The PDF format is used frequently online, but often
unnecessarily. In many cases it is used to avoid creating
a web page, or to ensure that the layout of the information
is exactly as the designer wants it. In these cases, the information could be better conveyed in simple HTML,
without forcing the user to download and view an extra
Of course, there are valid reasons to use the PDF
format, which we will consider here.
HTML does not provide support for footnoting, or referencing. If you only need to cite one reference, including that information at the bottom of the web page may
be sufficient. But if you are working on a document that
requires extensive footnoting, the PDF format may be a
better solution.
Annotating forms
If you require that other people fill out and return a
form online, the PDF format has some extra features
that may be useful. However, you should consider
whether a web form with submission would accomplish
your task.
The PDF format makes considerations for documents
that are designed for reading on paper. HTML doesn’t,
as it was designed to be a web/online format. As a result,
HTML has no concept of print margins, page sizes, etc.
Even the most savvy web designers will tell you that
multi-column web pages can be quirky at the best of
Uneditable content
For official documents, journal articles and copyrightsensitive materials, PDF is often preferred as the end
user is unable to make any edits or changes to the
There is a difference between wanting and needing to
format your document using multiple columns. If you
just want to use multiple columns, but it is not crucial to
the information in the document, go brush up on your
XHTML/CSS skills, and stay away from PDF. However,
there are situations where the columnar layout and print
format of the document is crucial, and in these cases
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
usage of the PDF format is fine (e.g., academic articles,
order forms).
Specialized notation
If you need to share a document with some specific notation (e.g., mathematics or another language), there are
some specific technologies you should consider before
jumping to PDF.
In the case of mathematics, if you are working on a
file with fairly standard math notation in it, you may not
need to use PDF: MathML might be enough. MathML is
a specialized markup language developed by the W3C
for displaying mathematics. The downside of MathML,
is that your target audience must install the MathML
fonts on their computer.
In the case of other languages, the Unicode characterencoding format may provide the characters you need.
Fortunately, modern operating systems (Windows XP,
Mac OS X) have support for Unicode built in.
If you need to display some other notation, PDF is
probably a suitable choice, since it has roots as a graphical file format. The primary advantage of these other
technologies is that the user does not have to launch a
different piece of software to view your document.
MathML and Unicode can be drawn natively in your
audience’s web browser.
PDF and screen readers
Adobe Acrobat has been able to function as a screen
reader since version 6. So for the purposes of testing
your PDF files, checking what Acrobat says (literally) is
the first point to test.
Adding tags in Microsoft Word (2000 or newer)
To add alternative text to a graphic:
(1) Right click on your image.
(2) Format picture.
(3) Go to the Web tab.
(4) Type your text under “Alternative Text”.
Specifying headings is also easy; just use the Word
text style for headings. The added benefit for you, the
document maintainer, is that now should you want to
change the formatting of headers, you only have to change
the formatting once. Using Word’s styles is akin to using
Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to format HTML pages.
When you are working on a document that requires
multiple column formatting, use Word’s column function. Acrobat will automatically recognize the columnar
arrangement, and correctly generate the reading order
for software such as screen readers.
Full procedures for tagging are beyond the scope of
this manual. For more information, Adobe provides a
how-to guide on creating accessible PDF files (both
from your initial source, and retrofitting) on their website (
As with many other forms of accessibility, spending
the time to increase the ease of use for disabled people
improves the accessibility for other users as well. By
adding tags to your PDF documents, now your documents are viewable on other devices, such as personal
digital assistants (PDAs). Joe Clark wrote a very solid
article on PDF accessibility, which discusses the appropriate usage of PDF files (at
Tagging PDF files
Tags are extra information about the content of a document. Tags allow the document creator to specify alternative text of images, and to denote specific pieces of
text as headings. Tags are similar to attributes in
HTML—they provide extra information about an item
in the document.
Quick Tip!
Google for the URL of your PDF files. The HTML
output that Google outputs is usually a fairly good
indication of the accessibility of your PDF files.
You should also try using the search function in
your PDF viewer. If the search function works,
chances are good that a screen reader will be able
to interpret the text of the document. As with all
other methods of validation, use it to check for technical problems only, then rethink the problem areas.
Testing your site
There are some useful tools available for testing the accessibility of your site. They will examine your code and
look for items like missing alternative (ALT) text or
table headers, and make recommendations on improvements that will help your site meet each priority
level. Accessibility checkers, such as Watchfire WebXact
or UsableNet LIFT Machine, can be an invaluable help
in identifying accessibility gaps in your web pages.
Products or application plug-ins, such as UsableNet
LIFT for Dreamweaver, allow you to check the accessibility
before you even post the final page to the Web. You may
notice that they will also issue a list of warnings, regard-
Education for a Digital World
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
less of your website’s actual accessibility results. Why is
There are simply too many accessibility standards
that only humans can test. No software can tell you if
your site’s menu navigation is intuitive, or if the ALT
text you have included is sufficient to describe the image. Use an accessibility checker first to make sure you
have covered everything you can, and then work
through the warnings it provides, looking at your site
XHTML/CSS Validators—If you are building your
site from scratch as described in Chapter 13, Planning Your Online Course, you should test the validity of your code using an XHTML and CSS
validator. This will help ensure that your site works
well with all browsers, including screen readers.
• CSS:
The best way to test your site for accessibility is to ask
a user with disabilities to try it. Only a human, examining
both the context and the content of a page, can fully assess
your site’s accessibility. It is hard, as a sighted user, to
imagine navigating a website only by voice; as a user with
full mobility, it is hard to imagine the frustration of trying
to click on a link that is too small. If you truly want to know
if your site is accessible, bring it to the people who experience the problems you are trying to address.
We have included a checklist of the most common and
significant accessibility issues that you should look for
when evaluating your site. Some of these guidelines can
be tested using an accessibility checker as mentioned
above; others you will have to look at objectively and
decide for yourself whether they are adequately met.
You can use this chart to evaluate an existing website
before making accessibility changes, or to see how well
you have done after “accessifying” your existing site or
building a new one.
Table 11.3. Accessibility evaluation chart
Structure & appearNavigation links and placement consistent on each page.
Vision (V)
Hearing (H)
Motor (M)
Cognitive (C ) Notes
Text good contrast to the background
Each page has a unique descriptive title
Valid XHTML/CSS used throughout the site
All images have ALT text that either clearly describes the
image, or in the case of decorative images, contains a space
(alt=“ “) to prevent the screen reader from describing the
Images that cannot be adequately described in ALT text
(charts, graphs) are further described on a LONGDESC page.
Links in imagemaps also have ALT text
Education for a Digital World
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
Vision (V)
Hearing (H)
Motor (M)
Cognitive (C ) Notes
Text & links
Fonts use a relative font size (em, %), not absolute (px, pt)
Heading tags (H1, H2) used correctly as headers, not to
format font
Ability to skip navigation
Links separated by more than just whitespace
Colour not used to convey information, or reinforced by other
visual cues
Underline not used on non-linked text
Link text does not repeat on the same page (e.g., “click
here”) but is unique to each link.
TITLE attribute added to ambiguous links.
Lists use the UL/OL and LI tags, not bullet images
Coding should not prevent user from changing colours with
own stylesheets
Tables used for data, not for layout
Table row or column headers indicated using the TH tag.
Table summary provided
Forms can be navigated in the correct order using the TAB
Each form field has an associated LABEL tag
Enough time given to fill out forms
Required fields noted as such before the form label, and
marked with asterisk or bold
Transcripts available for all audio
Transcripts or captioning available for all video
Content presented in Flash described in an alternative format as well
Avoid distracting animations, scrolling text
Links provided to download any necessary plug-ins
PDFs accessible or plain text made available
Content in applets and plug-ins accessible or else not required
If alert sounds are used, reinforce the sound using visual
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11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
Vision (V)
Hearing (H)
Motor (M)
Cognitive (C ) Notes
Site navigation still works with Javascript turned off.
Drop-down menus do not require difficult, precise mouse
M, C
Passes automated accessibility validator such as Watchfire
Site can be navigated by keyboard only
User notified if pop-up windows are to be used
External windows do not open pop-up windows
No autoplay of music, or ability to turn off music easily
If frames must be used, they are clearly titled
Page still usable with stylesheets turned off
Site includes search engine
Distracting animations avoided
Pages do not automatically refresh
General Notes
5 = Excellent. Meets or exceeds the relevant accessibility guideline.
4 = Good. Meets the guideline, but could be further improved for better accessibility.
3 = Incomplete. Some effort has been made to meet the guideline, but not all instances of this item have been addressed.
2 = Poor. Guideline has been inconsistently or incorrectly applied.
1 = Failed. Completely ignored or unimplemented.
Education for a Digital World
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
Further design resources
During our research, we have collected a great number
of online resources as guides and references. We hope
that you will find them to be a valuable aid to your exploration of accessible course design.
• Accessibility is vital for educational materials.
• Accessibility aids usability for all.
• Making your site accessible isn’t all that difficult, and can be done in stages.
• Redundant media is a good thing.
These sites are good general starting points when
studying accessibility.
• W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)
The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) works with
organizations around the world to develop strategies,
guidelines, and resources to help make the Web accessible to people with disabilities. They developed:
• WCAG Guidelines 1.0
• Accessify
News & articles, tutorials, discussion forum.
• Dive Into Accessibility
Easy step-by-step guide to improving the accessibility
of your site or blog.
• Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST):
Universal Design for Learning
“Founded in 1984 as the Center for Applied Special
Technology, CAST has earned international recognition for its development of innovative, technologybased educational resources and strategies based on
the principles of Universal Design for Learning
Introductions to creating valid XHTML and CSS, and
how to use it in the process of creating valid, accessible
• XHTML Tutorial
• CSS Tutorial
• Zen Garden
• Creating Accessible Page Layouts
How and why to avoid using tables for layout.
• PDF Accessibility
Editorial about specific purposes for which you
should use PDF files, and reasons why for everything
else you should leave it alone.
• Flash Accessibility
IMS Guidelines for Developing Accessible Learning
Tools and validators
These handy assistants can be very useful for testing
your site.
• Watchfire WebXACT (previously known as Bobby)
“WebXACT is a free online service that lets you test
single pages of web content for quality, accessibility,
and privacy issues.”
• CSS Validator
• XHTML Validator
• Vischeck
See what images and web pages look like to people
with different types of colourblindness.
• Lynx Viewer
See what your web page would look like in a text only
web browser.
• Developing sites for users with cognitive/learning
• Richard Felder—Index of Learning Styles
“The Index of Learning Styles is an on-line instrument used to assess preferences on four dimensions
(active/reflective, sensing/intuitive, visual/verbal, and
sequential/global) of a learning style model formu-
Education for a Digital World
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
lated by Richard M. Felder and Linda K. Silverman.
The instrument was developed by Richard M. Felder
and Barbara A. Soloman of North Carolina State
• Biology Success! Teaching Diverse Learners
“Biology Success! is an innovative project based at
Landmark College in Putney, VT and funded by the
National Science Foundation’s Research in Disabilities
Education program (HRD No. 0004264). Biology
Success! asserts that students with learning differences can succeed in high school and college introductory biology courses when the curriculum has
been designed to respond to their learning needs.”
Web accessibility is especially critical in education to
ensure that all students have fair and equivalent access
to learning materials. Government institutions in the US
and UK are required by law to make their web content
accessible. Standards and practices for accessibility are
agreed upon by the W3C and implemented by the WAI.
Sight, hearing, mobility, and learning disabilities can
affect how your students access and interpret information on the Web. Assistive technologies can help with
some of the difficulties faced; some must be addressed
by your website itself. When making an accessible site,
start by thinking about its design, structure, and content.
It is neither quick nor easy to create multiple pathways to reach learning objectives in the online environment. It will take time to build up a set of online
materials, activities, and assessment strategies that accommodates the wide variety of learning needs of students with disabilities and learning preferences of all
students. Your efforts will create an inclusive space for
everyone, including students traditionally marginalized
by their needs in the online environment.
As the old saying goes, “You cannot please all of the
people, all of the time.” In our case here, we are just
trying to increase the probability that each student will
succeed in our online course area, regardless of his or
her disabilities, learning preferences, or life situation.
We do this by increasing the number of methods by
which students get and use the content. We do this,
whenever possible, by giving options to students regarding how we will evaluate their performance. We do
this by taking the time to engage students in different
ways and at different levels. We do this by applying UDL
principles to online teaching and learning.
Education for a Digital World
Once you have taken UDL principles into consideration when developing your course materials, use correct
XHTML and CSS—or a program that can generate this
for you—to build or modify the site according to the
guidelines provided by the WCAG. This will help to
ensure that the technology does not create barriers for
students with disabilities.
accessibility: the practice of making web pages and
other computer-based media accessible to all users, ensuring that those with disabilities have equivalent access
as those without
ADA: Americans with Disabilities Act
alt text: alternative text, displayed in place of an image
assistive technology (or adaptive technology): software or hardware that enables people with disabilities to
perform tasks that would be difficult or impossible with
the assistance of technology
audio description: an additional narration track for
the visually impaired, accompanying television and
movies. A narrator describes the action in the scene
during pauses in the audio.
caption: 1. on-screen description of all significant
audio content in a video. 2. HTML attribute to describe
a table, displayed with the table.
Cascading Style Sheets (CSS): code used to define the
presentation of a document written in HTML or XHTML
CMS: content management system, used to more
easily maintain pages on a website
deductive learners: students who prefer starting with
more structure, deriving consequences and applications
from the concepts and theories
Dynamic HTML (DHTML): a collection of technologies, such as HTML and Javascript, used to create
interactive or animated websites.
headtracking: controlling the mouse pointer by use
of head motion
headswitch: a button that can be activated with light
pressure from the head or any body part that can be
moved accurately and reliably
Hypertext Markup Language (HTML): a markup
language used to create documents on the Web containing text, graphics, sound, video, and/or hyperlinks
inductive learners: students who prefer beginning
with meaningful examples before extrapolating the main
concepts or theories
intuitive learners: students who prefer reflective activities and resources that require imagination
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
JavaScript: a Web scripting language that can be used
to create interactive content on a web page
learning disability: a psychological or neurological
condition that affects a person’s ability to communicate
and/or learn effectively. Includes conditions such as
dyslexia (reading difficulty), dysgraphia (writing difficulty), dyscalculia (difficulty with mathematics), and
aphasia (problems comprehending language)
longdesc (long description): a separate HTML document containing the description of an image or media
when the description is too long to be contained in the
alternative text
Macromedia Flash: a multimedia authoring program
used primarily for web content
Portable Document Format (PDF): a platformindependent file format developed by Adobe Systems
predictive typing: software that offers the user a
choice of words at each point in a sentence, according to
what words are statistically most likely to appear in a
given context
screen reader: text-to-speech software that reads
aloud what is being displayed on the screen
screen magnifier: software that displays an enlarged
view of the current screen on a standard monitor
Section 508: an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act
of 1973, which states that electronic and information
technology developed or maintained by any agency or
department of the United States Federal Government
must be accessible to people with disabilities
sensory learners: students who prefer fact-based activities and resources.
sip/puff switch: a two-position switching device that
can be activated by sipping or puffing and allows the
user to control electronic devices
subtitles: on-screen translation of dialogue and onscreen text
tablet: an alternative pointing device where the user
uses a stylus on a pointing surface, like a pen on paper
trackball: an alternative pointing device where the
user rolls a ball in a holder
transcript: a textual version of audio- or video-based
material, including speeches, conversations, television
and movies
usability: the ease of interaction between a human
and a computer interface
UDL: Universal Design for Learning
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C): a group that
establishes specifications, guidelines, software and tools
for various aspects of the Web, including file formats
and scripting languages
WAI: Web Accessibility Initiative
WCAG: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines—developed by the W3C
XHTML: eXtensible Hypertext Markup Language
The following is a short ten-point checklist which you
can use to help guide your site towards better accessibility. This is not a complete list, but draws ideas from Priority 1 and Priority 2 checkpoints.
Examine each of the elements of your site as described in the chart. Decide for yourself how well they
meet the criteria, then give each item a rating. Low rated
elements should be revisited and improved in order for
your site to be considered accessible.
Rating scale
5 = Excellent. Meets or exceeds the relevant accessibility guideline.
4 = Good. Meets the guideline, but could be further
improved for better accessibility.
3 = Incomplete. Some effort has been made to meet
the guideline, but not all instances of this item
have been addressed.
2 = Poor. Guideline has been inconsistently or incorrectly applied.
1 = Failed. Completely ignored or unimplemented.
Education for a Digital World
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
Rating details
Text alternatives
5—Complete and correct alternative text provided for all
Text equivalent provided for every non-text
element, including: images, graphical representations of text and symbols, imagemaps,
animations, applets and programmatic objects,
frames, scripts, graphical buttons, audio and
3—Alternative text available for some but not all elements.
1—Alternative text is missing, incomplete, or incorrect.
Assists: Vision, Cognitive
5—Text is easy to read and resize
Fonts can be resized using the browser. Text is
3—Text can be resized, but may cause problems in layout
when enlarged; some text may be hard to read
Assists: Vision, Cognitive
1—Text cannot be resized, and/or is hard to read due to
size, colour or contrast
5—Each link has clear and unique link text
Link text makes sense out of context and does
not repeat
3—Some link text repeats or is vague (e.g., “click here”)
1—Links cannot be understood when taken out of context
Assists: Vision, Cognitive
5—Colour used appropriately
All information conveyed with colour is also
available without colour, for example from
context or markup.
3—Colour used to convey information, but the content
has alternative explanation/description. (e.g., A pie-chart
with the colour and the percentage).
Assists: Vision (colourblindness)
1—Colour used to convey information (e.g., “click the red
5—No flickering or distractions
No screen flickering, refreshing or distracting
animations. If pop-up windows must be used,
user is notified in advance.
3—Some animations may be distracting
1—Unexpected pop-ups; screen is distracting and chaotic
Assists: Vision, Cognitive
Clarity & consistency
Clear and simple language used, as appropriate
for site content. Navigation stays consistent
across the site.
Assists: Vision, Cognitive
Data Tables
Row and column headers identified.
For complex tables, data cells are associated
with header cells.
5—Content is written at the appropriate level for site
visitors. Site is easy to navigate.
3—Some content or menus may be confusing
1—Language too difficult for site visitors to understand;
menus change from page to page
5—Headers complete and complex cells associated with
3—Incomplete or incorrect headers
1—No headers provided
Assists: Vision, Cognitive
5—Frames correctly titled
If frames must be used, all frames clearly titled.
3—Some frames titled, or ambiguously titled
Assists: Vision, Cognitive
1—Frames used without titles
Education for a Digital World
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
Rating details
Plugins, applets & scripts
5—Turning off plugin/script leads to fallback alternative
Pages are usable when scripts, applets, or other 3—Turning off plugin/script loses functionality, but site is
programmatic objects are turned off or not
still otherwise usable
1—Site cannot be used without plugin/script
Assists: Vision, Cognitive, Motion, Hearing
“Last resort”
If, after best efforts, the material cannot be
made accessible, a link is provided to an alternative, accessible page that has equivalent
information (or functionality), and is updated
as often as the inaccessible (original) page.
5—Original pages adequate, or alternative pages provided
when necessary
3—Alternative page provided, but not equivalent
1—No alternative pages provided when needed, or alternative pages provided when original pages could be made
Assists: Vision, Cognitive, Motion, Hearing
Table 11.4. Accessibility evaluation chart—detailed
Case studies
From 2005–2006, the University of British Columbia was
involved in a BCcampus-funded project on web accessibility in online learning. During the project, we created a
focus group of people with different disabilities. Based
on their comments, modifications and redesigns were
done on five courses that were piloted in summer 2006
as “accessible courses”. Where possible, we asked the
participants to use their own computers at home, which
were already adapted according to their usage and personal preferences. When in the office, we tried to imitate
their home setting, giving them a choice of using Windows or Mac OS and their preferred browser. We
wanted to avoid the additional barriers of working on a
new computer in an unknown environment, and for
participants to experience the same situation as our registered students. Therefore, our introductions and instructions were limited to what they would get from an
instructor in advance. We only limited their browsing
by asking them to focus on specific pages rather than
reading the whole course content. Focus group members
were interviewed individually before and after the
modifications. The first set of questions was about how
their disability affected their ability to navigate the
course material and what improvements would make
the material more accessible for them. Questions after
the modifications involved quality of the presentation,
usability of the interface and usefulness of the system.
In our consultations with the participants, we asked
them for their oral or written feedback and opinions on
their experience. The names in these cases have been
changed for privacy reasons.
Description. Samuel is a hard-of-hearing English as a
Second Language (ESL) student from Korea. Online
courses had been recommended to him as a good choice
to remove the barrier of his impairment.
Issues. Samuel was surprised and disappointed with
the amount of text-based material in the courses that he
took. He compared them with the online courses in Korea, which included a considerable amount of video
excerpts. Because English is not his native language,
Samuel struggles in traditional classroom classes. Despite that, he would rather meet face-to-face, or use a
webcam to see emotions and gestures, than attempt to
pick them up from text alone.
Comment and recommendation. Making content
text-only does not necessarily make it more accessible. It
works well with a screen reader, but there is no benefit
for a hearing-impaired student. Instead of omitting all
the media, more attention should be devoted to providing alternatives to pure audio, such as transcripts, or
captions for video components. See the example in Figure 11.7 where a video segment is accompanied by transcripts and audio.
Webcam support is a common feature in instant messaging software, and students are increasingly comfortable with its use. While not every student can reasonably
be expected to own a webcam, video messaging supported by text messaging would be of greater benefit to
Samuel than a standard text-based forum, allowing him not
only to see others’ facial expressions, but also to encounter and practise spoken English at a functional level.
Education for a Digital World
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
Description. Ted is an ESL teacher with a condition
which causes his eyeballs to continue rotating when
focusing on an object. He does not often use a computer, as he has to learn programs by memory rather
than use visual cues. He finds himself lost when searching on the Internet.
Issues. For Ted, text tends to wobble: small text is
very difficult to read, and line spacing must be great
enough to clearly separate the lines. Ted increases the
font size in his browser when reading from the Web.
Comment and recommendation. One of the main
goals here was to help Ted focus on the page. The layout
of the pages was improved and made easier to read, with
shorter line length and greater line spacing. The graph-
ics that are too small have a “magnifying glass” option to
zoom the image. See example in Figure 11.8.
Location cues are critically important for Ted. This
was implemented by highlighting the title of the current
page in the left-hand navigation menu, which can be
seen in Figure 2. This is a benefit not only for those with
visual impairments, who can refer to the highlighted line
as a visual bookmark, but also for people with learning
disabilities or those whose native language is not English,
who benefit from the reinforcement of location information in the title and navigation menu of the page.
Use of a screen reader, such as Wynn, is recommended. The tool highlights the lines of text currently
being read. Ted uses his finger to follow the line of text.
This software will help his eyes focus on the highlighted
portion of the content, as well as provide an audio option.
Figure 11.7. Providing audio and transcripts with a media component
Figure 11.8 Enabling “magnifying glass” to zoom the image
Education for a Digital World
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
Description. Robert had nerve damage to his right hand
and cannot use a standard keyboard. A standard mouse
is also difficult for him to use, so he usually uses a tablet.
He recently acquired a Frogpad, a one-handed, 20-key
keyboard that uses key combinations. So far he can type
about 10 to 20 words per minute.
Issues. Robert requires additional time when writing
exams, especially when handwriting; he prefers to type
even though it is still slow. He says he would be unlikely
to use a discussion board or chat room. To date, he has
not used voice tools, but says he could not use them in a
crowded lab.
Comment and recommendation. Making special
arrangements for assignments, such as extending the
deadline, or submitting it in a different format is a solution that has to be discussed with an instructor. Students
who have problems and need special accommodations
often do not report them to their instructors. A note
coming from the instructor or administrator at the beginning of the course, explaining the possibilities of
those accommodations, will encourage students to express their concerns.
Introducing audio tools, such as voice discussion
boards or voice instant messaging, may save Robert’s
typing time and effort. If access to the necessary hardware could be obtained, assignments that can optionally
be submitted in alternative formats, such as audio or
video presentations, may also be appropriate.
Description. George has been blind since birth, and
relies on a computer with JAWS for Windows, a talking
screen reader program, which enables him to access the
Internet as well as many other PC applications.
Issues. George has taken courses online in the past,
but finds WebCT cumbersome to navigate. The popular
course management system is based on framesets, which
are not optimal for JAWS, as when a single frame updates it is difficult for a blind listener to determine what
has changed on the page. Navigation is distributed
across multiple framesets and implemented in
JavaScript, which behaves differently in the JAWS reader
than standard HTML.
Comment and recommendation. Many of the improvements that can help students such as George are
the familiar guidelines of the WCAG. Here, the challenge
is not simply to adapt the material, but to make course
developers aware that these changes are necessary.
One such example is a diagram that is not easily described with a few words in Figure 4, a longer descrip-
tion was needed. This piece of text explains the diagram,
ensuring that no relevant information is lost.
George, who is interested in a radio broadcasting
career, was asked if he would prefer to submit assignments as audio readings rather than written assignments. He responded that the material for an audio
reading must either be prepared as written text in advance or else the final audio must be edited, which is a
less accessible option for a blind user than a standard
text editor. Nevertheless, he was appreciative of the idea
of offering students alternatives.
A profile of disability in Canada, 2001. Retrieved May
16, 2006, from Statistics Canada website: http://www
Draffan, E. A. & Reinger, P. (2006). A model for the identification of challenges to blended learning. ALT-J.
Faculty & Staff Disability Resources: Accommodating
students with disabilities. (n.d.) Retrieved May 16,
2006, from University of British Columbia, Student
Services website:
Ivory, M. & Chevalier, A. (2002). A study of automated
web site evaluation tools. Technical Report UW-CSE02-10-01. University of Washington, Department of
Computer Science and Engineering. Retrieved March
Jeffels, P. (2005). Usability, the practical approach to
accessibility. ALT-N online 1.
Jeffels, P. & Marston, P. (2003). Accessibility of online
learning materials. SCROLLA Invited Paper
Kelly, B. & Sloan, D. (2005). Forcing Standardization or
Accommodating Diversity? A Framework for Applying the WCAG in the Real World. Paper presented
at International Cross-Disciplinary Workshop on
Web Accessibility. Chiba, Japan on May 20, 2005.
Retrieved March 2006,
Microsoft Accessibility: Technology for Everyone
(2005). Renton Technical College Pilot Project Provides Accessible Technology to Help Overcome Barriers
to Learning. Retrieved June 2006,
Muir, Adrienne & Oppenheim, Charles. (2001, September).
Report on Developments World-Wide on National
Information Policy. Department of Information
Science, Loughborough University. Retrieved August
Education for a Digital World
11 – Accessibility and Universal Design
6, 2006,
Section 508 Standards (2006, January 23). Retrieved May
16, 2006,
W3C. (1999a). Checklist of Checkpoints for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0. Retrieved August 5,
Education for a Digital World
W3C. (1999b). List of Checkpoints for Web Content
Accessibility Guidelines 1.0. Retrieved August 5,
Articulation and Transfer of
Online Courses
Finola Finlay
’Cause it ain’t transfer any more: it’s mobility. – Clifford Adelman, Senior Associate at the
Institute for Higher Education Policy, Former Senior Research Analyst, US Department of
Education for a Digital World
12 – Articulation and Transfer of Online Courses
Learning outcomes
After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
• Identify the important characteristics of an online
course outline.
• Use sound principles to articulate an online course
for transfer credit.
• Minimize transfer difficulties for students who take
online courses.
As the quote from Dr. Adelman15 illustrates, students are
mobile. They move between post-secondary institutions,
carrying their accumulated credits with them in the expectation that the learning they have acquired will be
acknowledged by the next institution they attend, that
they will receive appropriate transfer credit for relevant
courses they have taken and be able to apply that credit
to fulfill program requirements. Formal transfer systems
have been a feature of the higher education landscape
for at least 50 years in North America, and are rapidly
developing in Europe (though the European Credit
Transfer System) and elsewhere. Online learning has
had a significant impact on mobility and transfer: students
can and do access high quality courses from all over the
world, and deserve to be awarded transfer credit for their
learning, where it fits with their educational program.
In any post-secondary environment where transfer of
credits is permitted and encouraged, transfer credit is
based on course equivalency. Within a provincial, state
or national transfer system, course-to-course transfer
credit is often established as soon as a new course is
developed, in advance of any student enrolling. The
process begins when the sending institution submits a
course to the receiving institution, with a request that
the receiving institution assess the course for equivalence
to one of its own courses. Once that assessment has
taken place, and transfer credit awarded, a course is said
to be “articulated.” For example, a college course on the
Sociology of the Family, Soci 220, may be assessed as
equivalent to a university course called The Modern Family
with the number Soc 235. Or, there may be no direct
equivalent at the university, and the transfer credit
Building a Culture of Transfer. Keynote address, Fourth
Biennial Conference on Articulation and Transfer, Tempe,
Arizona, July 2007.
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awarded might be for “three credits in second year sociology”. The transfer credit is listed in the institution’s
database, and students know in advance what credit they
will receive after transfer for the sociology course they
have taken.
In some jurisdictions higher level articulation agreements are often negotiated, such as 2+2 agreements (associate degree to degree, diploma to degree) or agreements
about the general education curriculum. Such agreements can be local or statewide but the principle at the
heart of the transaction remains the same: transfer is
awarded when an assessment of the curriculum, program or courses at the sending institution reveals an
appropriate match with that at the receiving institution.
The other common way in which transfer credit is assigned is on the basis of a student request: the student
presents a transcript, and an analysis is conducted of the
equivalence of the courses he or she has taken to those
in the institution to which he or she is transferring. Such
case-by-case assessments may remain one-off, but may
also result in formal or recorded articulation agreements.
Articulation, then, is a process of jointing two or
more elements, to allow them to function as a coherent
whole (as the femur is articulated with the tibia to form
the main structure of the leg) and through this process
students can move from institution to institution while
maintaining a sound educational program and working
towards their chosen credential. Articulation agreements, whether course-to-course or higher level, have
traditionally been negotiated locally, either between a
university and its nearest feeder institutions, or within a
state or provincial transfer system in which institutions
are familiar to each other, and relationships and infrastructure are developed to support the transfer environment. They have also predominantly been concerned
with the assessment of courses offered in the traditional
and familiar face-to-face classroom environment.
Increasingly, however, institutions are being asked to
assess the equivalence of courses taught in online formats. Herein lies a central dilemma for a transfer environment—transfer systems are organized locally, but
online education is developed and delivered globally.
Faculty who assess online courses may be faced with
several challenges: the time available for the task, the
level of information available about the course and the
institution delivering it, their own understanding of the
norms of an online environment, their own commitment to online learning, and their institution’s policy
regarding the acceptability of online courses or regarding the accreditation status of the sending institution.
12 – Articulation and Transfer of Online Courses
Even within an integrated post-secondary environment characterized by open and transparent articulation
relationship, faculty frequently raise the question of
whether mode of delivery can affect, or should affect, the
articulation of a course. For example, in British Columbia, faculty members from each institution in the BC
Transfer System meet every year in discipline-based
groups, known as Articulation Committees. These committees operate under the aegis of the British Columbia
Council on Admissions and Transfer (BCCAT). Meeting minutes collected by BCCAT reveal that the articulation of online courses is often debated (BCCAT 2005).
Issues and concerns are varied:
• Many groups are enthusiastic about converting their
curriculum to online delivery formats, and see this
mode of delivery as attractive to potential students
• Concerns are raised about quality control, and about
assessment methods used in online courses and how
student evaluation is safeguarded and authenticated
• Some faculty worry about the use of online delivery
for students who need intrinsic motivation, structure
and an encouraging classroom atmosphere, especially
academically fragile students in developmental programs
• Faculty query how lab, field work, practica, and other
non-classroom experiences can best be organized in
online courses.
Where such discussions become problematic is where,
in the absence of reliable information and processes for
assessing equivalence, faculty and administrators with
concerns about online learning deny transfer credit to
students who have successfully completed online courses.
In some cases, the accreditation of the institution
delivering the online courses is cited as the reason for
denying transfer credit. In this scenario, the courses are
often not assessed. Rather, credit is denied on the basis
of where the course was taken, regardless of its quality or
content. Carnevale (2002) outlines the “rude surprise”
awaiting students who try to transfer such courses.
Concerns will always exist about the quality of some
deliverers of courses and programs, including online
courses. However, for legitimate institutions and their
students, it is vital that evaluators can rely on excellent
information about the online courses and can call on
sound principles and processes to evaluate them for
transfer credit. In this transaction, both deliverer and
evaluators have parts to play. The ultimate beneficiaries
of a sound articulation process, however, are the students, who can be assured that their learning will be
appropriately recognized. All articulation should, after
all, support the fundamental principles of equity on
which an articulation environment is built: that students
should not have to repeat content which they have already mastered, nor be denied credit because of technicalities. Nor should they be credited with learning they
have not acquired, especially if that learning is fundamental to their advancement to further study, or a required element of their program (Finlay 2005, p. 7).
Many jurisdictions and organizations publish “best
practice” statements for online education. For a good
example see the Commission on Institutions of Higher
Education (CIHE, no date) Best Practices for Electronically Offered Degree and Certificate Programs. Others
provide sets of guidelines exhorting their members to be
fair and reasonable. However, most of these documents
provide little guidance as to what “fair and reasonable”
actually looks like in practice. Few resources exist that
will assist practitioners at sending institutions to ensure
the successful articulation of their online courses, and
give the assessors at receiving institutions the tools they
need to make confident decisions. This chapter aims to
fill that gap.
The principles of articulation
When considering how to articulate a course for transfer
credit, evaluators are faced with numerous decisions.
Fortunately, they can turn to a number of principles to
guide them as they try to ensure that courses are articulated fairly and consistently. These can be divided into
foundational principles, operating principles, and provisional principles.
Foundational principles are those which lie at the core of
decisions about all articulation of courses and programs.
• Equivalence: Equivalent means “equal in value”.16 A
course submitted for articulation will likely never be
identical to the corresponding course at the receiving
institution. The assessment of equivalence involves
identifying the degree to which it matches in content
or outcomes. Discipline and program contexts will
dictate the relative importance of the similarity.
• In lieu: The act of awarding transfer credit implies
the acceptance of a course in place of a course or program requirement offered at the receiving institution.
The course to be transferred does not have to be
Oxford Dictionary.
Education for a Digital World
12 – Articulation and Transfer of Online Courses
identical to the course for which transfer credit is
granted, but the degree of similarity should ensure that
students will have the necessary knowledge and background to be successful in more advanced courses.
• Applicability: It is appropriate to award transfer
credit for courses that can be used to fulfill the specific or general requirements of a credential or program at the receiving institution.
• Fairness: Provisos and restrictions (such as adding a
specific grade requirement) should not be placed on
equivalent courses unless those same restrictions apply at the institution awarding the transfer credit, or
there are clear and defensible reasons for doing so.
Situational principles provide useful guidance but are
not universally applicable. While they form part of the
decision-making toolkit for articulation, situations and
contexts create provisos for their application. Two such
principles are relevant to the articulation of online courses.
• Pedagogy: Under some circumstances it is appropriate to consider how a course is taught. Factors such as
cultural sensitivity, or opportunities for practising
skills, may be integral to content mastery. See
“Awarding Credit” below, for more on pedagogy.
• Delivery: How a course is delivered is normally immaterial to its articulation, since teaching a course in
a distance delivery format (as opposed to face-toface) should not affect its equivalence. However, there
may be occasions where the content is intrinsically
linked to delivery, and an alternative mode impacts
on equivalence. It may also be relevant whether a
course is offered only online, or if an online course is
a version of a course normally delivered in a traditional classroom.
Operational principles refer to practices and attitudes
that will facilitate articulation. In the case of online
courses the following two are relevant:
• Comparability: Since it should be possible to compare courses, the elements of the course must be
clearly outlined and should be interpretable by faculty
in the same or a related field. The best assurance of
comparability is a course outline that is comprehensive enough to allow for the assessment of equivalence, and that conforms broadly or specifically to the
local norms of course description.
Education for a Digital World
• Transparency: Assessment practices should be open
to scrutiny. Any individual who assigns transfer
credit based on the assessment of a course should be
prepared to explain the reasons for the decision, including any influencing factors.
The course developer (at the sending institution) and
the course assessor (at the receiving institution) both
have a part to play in ensuring that appropriate transfer
credit will be allocated when a student transfers. The onus
is on the course developer to provide accurate, detailed
and honest information about the course, while the assessor must base his or her decision on sound principles,
and act fairly and in the best interests of the student.
Requesting articulation: best
Every course fulfills multiple objectives for students,
instructors, departments, and institutions, and all those
objectives must be taken into account as the course is
being developed. Sometimes other objectives are more
important than that of transferability. For example, if a
college has determined that students have difficulty with
certain content, it may develop a remedial course designed to bring them up to the standard of knowledge
required for subsequent success in the discipline. This is
sound pedagogical practice, even though the course may
be denied transfer credit because it is viewed as preparatory. There are other reasons why a course may be
difficult to articulate: it may be unique in the system, for
example, or may be offered in response to localized social or economic conditions, or to take advantage of
faculty specialization. At the same time, if a course is
designed to transfer, it must be consistent with the
norms, content and standards of the receiving institutions with which articulation is sought. It does not have
to be identical to a course at a receiving institution—in
fact, if it is to articulate widely, it must often integrate
aspects of similar courses at several institutions.
A detailed course outline is the starting point of any
articulation process, since articulation demands a close
examination of course elements in order to establish
12 – Articulation and Transfer of Online Courses
equivalence.17 While most institutions have developed
satisfactory course outline templates for traditional
courses, they do not always contain the level of detail
necessary to establish equivalence. In the case of an outline for a new online course, besides ensuring it contains
all the necessary information to ensure that an assessor
can determine equivalence, special attention should be
paid to the following course elements:
• Student evaluation, including how exams are safeguarded, and authentication measures to identify
students taking exams. The importance of providing
this information can not be overstated. The CIHE
Best Practices document states:
When examinations are employed (paper,
online, demonstrations of competency, etc.),
they take place in circumstances that include
firm student identification. The institution
otherwise seeks to assure the integrity of student work.
• If proctoring is used, what are the procedures for
selecting proctors, establishing student identity, assuring security of test instruments, administering the
examinations, and assuring secure and prompt
• If other methods are used to identify those who take
the examination, how is identification firmly established? How are the conditions of the examination
(security, time limits, etc.) controlled?
• Does the institution have in place effective policies
and procedures to assure the integrity of student work?
• How hours are assessed, and what is expected from
the student for hours of learning versus hours of instruction.
• How labs, practica, field work, or other nonclassroom requirements are supervised and assessed.
• Expectation regarding academic honesty. For example, the student Handbook for Charter Oak College
in Connecticut ( states:
Charter Oak State College may discipline a
student in the following situations:
A Transfer-Friendly Course Outline Form can be found
online at This resource was developed to help reduce the number of situations where transfer is denied because of inadequate content and detail in the
For academic dishonesty, which shall in general mean conduct, which has as its intent or
effect the false misrepresentation of a student’s academic performance including but
not limited to: (a) cheating on examination;
(b) plagiarizing, including submission of another’s ideas or papers as one’s own; (c)
stealing or having unauthorized access to examinations; (d) falsifying records, transcripts,
test scores or other data or (being represented by another individual for all or part of
a distance learning course.
By registering for a Distance Learning
course, a student attests that all assignments
submitted and examinations completed are
the work of the enrolled student. Dishonesty
will result in an "F" in the course and may incur other disciplinary action for Charter Oak
State College students including dismissal
from the College.
• How student learning is supported in the online environment, including provision for collaboration between students and interaction with instructors.
• How library or other learning resources are accessed
and used and the expectations for original research
and use of such resources.
• Links to institutional and program URLs, and to any
additional helpful information such as institutional
policies regarding instructor credentials, lists of faculty associated with the program, or institutional or
program accreditation or authorization.
• Whenever possible, a statement specifying what general or specific transfer credit the course should be
awarded, including the year level credit. If the course
has already been offered, existing articulations should
be listed, along with a link to any online transfer
guide containing that listing.
All course outlines should provide a detailed list of
the topics covered, even if learning outcomes are also
specified. Faculty members at institutions that do not
design their courses from an outcomes perspective need
detailed topic-based information to determine the best
transfer equivalence.
Check existing articulations. Search your state or provincial transfer guides, or those for nearby institutions,
for similar courses. By this means it is possible to establish which other sending institutions have equivalent
Education for a Digital World
12 – Articulation and Transfer of Online Courses
courses already receiving transfer credit. Those course
outlines may be instructive, since they already receive
the desired credit.
Consult colleagues. Once a draft course outline is
ready, a developer can use the expertise of articulation
committee members or willing colleagues for advice or
Reflect on, and balance advice received. Asking for
advice and feedback on a course can be a sensitive area
for faculty. Professional responsibility and autonomy
include the freedom to develop and teach a course according to one’s professional judgment. Requesting advice from a faculty member at the receiving institution
acknowledges that the receiving institution may exert
some influence over the content or the structure of the
course. Occasionally, a faculty member from a receiving
institution responds by requesting modifications that
may be unacceptable to the sending institution or that
may compromise the transferability of the course at
other institutions. In these instances, best practice involves communicating as diplomatically as possible and
seeking a mutually acceptable solution.
Decide when “no credit” is acceptable. It is recognized
that in some instances an award of “no credit” is appropriate, and is acceptable to the sending institution. For
example, it may be important that students understand
clearly that a course will not receive transfer credit at
certain institutions, since they will then be in a better
position to plan their transfer program. If an award of
“no credit” is not acceptable, continued negotiation will
be necessary.
Ensure that students are clear about transfer credit.
Many student complaints about transfer credit occur
because of a false expectation that a course will transfer,
or will transfer as assigned credit rather than unassigned
credit, or will satisfy a program requirement. Instructors
should include information regarding course transferability in course syllabi, wherever possible.
Many online courses have already been delivered for
years in traditional face-to-face mode. When a course
has been redeveloped for online delivery, the question
arises whether or not it should be re-articulated. However, once a course has been articulated and transfer
credit established, it should be re-articulated only if the
redevelopment results in substantive change.
• Substantive change to content or subject matter, or to
objectives or outcomes. Course articulation is based on
the principle of the equivalence of academic achievement and of knowledge and skills. Substantive changes,
Education for a Digital World
therefore, are changes to the content, subject matter,
topics covered, or objectives/outcomes that will alter
the equivalence of the course and therefore will likely
the transfer credit which the course is awarded at
other institutions. This is not intended to include
relatively minor changes in topics, changes in texts,
materials, or assignments, reasonable modifications
to learning outcomes, or changes intended to update
the course or keep it in line with the evolving norms
of the discipline. Nor is it intended to include change
in delivery mode, unless that change substantively
affects the elements listed above.
• Substantive changes to assessment criteria or evaluation methods, only if certain assessment methods or
weighting are integral to the articulation of a course.
For example, some institutions require all courses, or
certain courses, to have a final exam, and some require that a percentage of the final grade be based on
a final exam. In the case of online courses, changes in
evaluation methods may be considered substantive if,
for example, they impact on the perceived integrity of
the exams or assignments.
• Changes to the number of credits assigned to the
course, or to the number of contact hours. Normally, a
change to credit hours signals that content has been
added or subtracted. Such changes affect equivalence
and in turn the transfer credit assigned to the courses,
including the number of credits awarded. Therefore
re-articulation is appropriate.
Assessing an articulation
request: best practices
In each discipline the traditions, norms, and body of
knowledge of that discipline exercise a broad influence
over what is appropriate to cover in introductory, intermediate and advanced levels. Additionally, each institution’s academic governance normally scrutinizes
and approves every new course and program, and assesses its suitability for inclusion in the calendar. At the
same time, the norms of academic autonomy include the
right and responsibility of faculty members to design
and teach a course according to their own professional
judgment, faculty teaching the same course in the same
institution may choose different texts, readings, assignments, exercises, topics and evaluation methods. In the
same way, a post-secondary course with the same name
or title will not be identical from one institution to another, and the degree of similarity may vary according to
the discipline.
12 – Articulation and Transfer of Online Courses
There are several approaches to assessing equivalence.
• Content: There is no universal rule regarding the percentage of match since it is recognized that an appropriate match can vary from discipline to discipline. In
some disciplines, where mastery of key concepts is
prerequisite to success in subsequent courses, it may
be vital to have a substantial match of content in
courses. Some institutions or disciplines have developed a rule of thumb for the percentage of match
while others make case-by-case judgments. Best
practice, however, is to avoid inflexible rules about
percentage of match, and to focus on discipline and
context-appropriate content.
• Outcomes: Courses can have similar goals, objectives,
aims, and outcomes, even if the content varies. For
example, two writing courses may use different texts,
assignments, instructional styles, methods of delivery,
and evaluation and grading practices, and yet have
the same goal of teaching students to write at a postsecondary level.
• Level: A course which has no equivalent in the calendar of an institution may still be suitable to satisfy
some of the elective requirements of a credential. For
example, some institutions may not offer linguistics,
criminology, religious studies, archaeology, languages, or courses in applied and professional studies.
However, if a course is taught at the appropriate level
and the standard expected of students is equivalent to
that of the credential to which the credit can be applied, it can be deemed equivalent for the purposes of
awarding unassigned or elective transfer credit.
Evaluating a course for transfer credit involves assessing
its equivalence to a specific course at the receiving institution. Evaluators must take a fair and balanced approach to the assessment of all courses, and this should
be no different for online courses. The assessment must
be based on the variables of equivalence, as outlined
above, and delivery mode should only be taken into
account if it appears likely that it unduly impacts on the
equivalence of the course to possible matching courses
at the evaluating institution.
If a realistic assessment is not possible, because of the
paucity of information provided by the sending institution or the student, reasonable efforts should be made to
request a satisfactory course outline, upon which a
sound decision can be based. While the onus for procuring this has often been placed on the student, electronic communication methods have made this easier.
However, the reality is that an evaluator only has so
much time for the assessment task, and cannot be expected to hunt down information. Given this, it is fair to
reject a request for transfer credit if the evidence presented does not allow for an adequate assessment of
equivalence, or raises unanswered questions about the
integrity of exams, the hours of learning expected, or
any other variable deemed as a sine qua non in a reasonable assessment process.
For a student, the best type of transfer credit is assigned
credit. Transfer credit is assigned when a course is assessed
as being equivalent to a specific course at a receiving
institution. For example, College X MATH 111 = University Y MATH 100.
Most credentials require that students complete certain courses at each level. Awarding assigned credit allows students to demonstrate that they have fulfilled
requirements. Therefore, it is sound practice to award
assigned credit wherever possible.
If the course is appropriate for credit in the discipline,
but no close match can be established with a department’s courses, then “unassigned” discipline-specific
transfer credit can be awarded. This type of credit verifies that the course is taught at the expected level and
standard, that it conforms to the norms of the discipline,
and that it is suitable as an elective credit within a degree
program. Students can usually use unassigned credit to
fulfill general program requirements. More general designations, such as “Arts (3)” or “Humanities (3)” can be
used where the receiving institution does not have a
corresponding discipline, but the course is identifiable
as appropriate for elective credit within a faculty or program. If the course has no corresponding discipline,
program, or faculty, but is obviously at the appropriate
academic level, the receiving institution can use a designation such as "general elective.” In rare cases, an institution may use this more general designation for a
course for which they have a corresponding discipline, but
which appears to fall outside the norm for how similar
courses are delivered or organized at the institution.
“No credit” is an articulation, and will appear in the
institutional or provincial/state transfer guide. Awarding
“no credit” means that a student is denied credit for
learning achieved, and must replace that credit with
additional coursework. This is expensive for the student,
the institution, and the system. Where an institution
does not offer a similar course or program, every effort
should be made to award a minimum of elective credit.
Education for a Digital World
12 – Articulation and Transfer of Online Courses
There are two situations in which it is acceptable to
award “no credit”.
• The course is not taught at the post-secondary level.
A course which appears to be English composition,
but which is really English as a Second Language, will
be evaluated as being preparatory. Many courses are
not designed for transfer (e.g., purely vocational
courses such as welding, or preparatory courses such
as high school algebra) except to similar programs at
other institutions. Occasionally such courses are
submitted for articulation in error.
• A "no credit" is appropriate when it is clear that there
is no possibility of the student applying credit for the
course towards any program at that institution. For
example, a specialized course in a technology, a practicum course for a professional program, or a studio
or field course in a subject not congruent with the
programs at the receiving institution may not be applicable to any credential.
A word about pedagogy: normally, how a course is
taught is assumed to be immaterial to the assessment of
equivalence, but there are some cases where the manner
in which a course is structured and taught is integral to
content mastery. For example, at one university, in order to assign a W (“writing intensive”) designation to a
course, a committee assesses the nature and number of
opportunities for students to write and revise. In some
First Nations courses culturally sensitive pedagogy may
be inextricably linked to course content. In such cases,
best practice requires the receiving institution to communicate its expectations clearly.
Assessing student success
In the British Columbia Transfer System, as in many
other systems, the effectiveness of the transfer system is
subject to intense examination. One approach to this is
to assess the performance of students after transfer, to
evaluate the extent to which their sending institution has
prepared them well for more advanced courses, and by
extension whether the articulation process can hold up
to scrutiny. Numerous research approaches have demonstrated consistently that the transfer system in British
Columbia is very effective indeed. Students graduate at
similar rates to those students who enter universities
directly from secondary school (direct entrants), and
achieve comparable grades. Five years after graduation,
transfer students are virtually indistinguishable from
direct entrants.
Education for a Digital World
In one case, however, research into student performance pointed to an issue affecting an online course: students were enrolling in suspiciously large numbers for a
English course offered online by a college, and achieving
higher grades than appeared warranted by their scores
in English placement tests. Due to effective communication between the institutions involved, the issue was
addressed immediately by the responsible institution
and steps were taken to rectify the situation, caused by
insufficient oversight of student assignments and exams.
However, such instances can shake the faith of many in
the system in online course integrity and contribute to
the hesitancy with which some evaluators approach the
awarding of transfer credit for online learning. It is imperative that, in an articulated system, both sending and
receiving institutions are open to scrutinizing the effectiveness of their transfer agreements, and the integrity of
their course delivery methodologies.
Best practice in articulation refers equally to online
courses as to face-to-face courses. Course developers
should ensure that they do their homework in advance of
requesting credit or offering the course, to ensure that the
course, and the students who take it, will receive appropriate transfer credit. Once the course is underway, instructors must ensure that all possible safeguards are in
place to maintain the integrity of evaluation of student
performance. Evaluators, on the other hand, need to make
decisions based on sound principles, and to judge a course
by what is really germane to its equivalence, and not allow
themselves to be inappropriately influenced by its delivery
mode. Working with the institutional research office to
keep track of the subsequent performance of transfer students, including those with online courses, will build faith
in the articulation process and help it stay on track.
As online learning increases in popularity and availability, it will become more and more important to ensure
that descriptions of online courses are honest, detailed
and accurate, and that decisions regarding transfer credit
are sound, transparent, fair, and defensible. Paying close
attention to both sides of the articulation equation will
ensure that students can use online learning most effectively as they progress towards their educational goals.
“The new electronic independence re-creates the
world in the image of a global village”. – Marshall
12 – Articulation and Transfer of Online Courses
Articulation. The process used by post-secondary institutions to determine which courses are equivalent to
one another. Articulation is normally a course-to-course
analysis or comparison, but it can also involve whole
programs. By extension, articulation refers to the development and implementation of agreements that provide
for inter-institutional movement of students or the connecting of two or more educational systems.
Assigned credit. Transfer credit is assigned when a
course is assessed as being equivalent to a specific course
at a receiving institution.
Course outline. A description of the main content,
organization and expected outcomes of a course, normally including the number of credits awarded for successful completion, hours of class time required,
evaluation procedures, assignments, texts, and readings.
In this chapter, a course is assumed to be the “official”
description of a course upon which articulation decisions are based. (See also: syllabus)
Credit. The value assigned to a course. For example,
many courses are valued at three credits. Most credentials specify the number of credits to be earned.
Receiving institution. The institution to which a
student intends to transfer. In an articulation agreement,
it is the institution which grants credit for course work
completed at a sending institution.
Sending institution. The institution from which a
student is transferring. In a transfer agreement, it is the
institution where the courses were completed.
Syllabus. An individual instructor’s version of the
official course outline (See: Course outline), normally
distributed to students at the first class.
Transfer Credit. The granting of credit towards a
credential by one institution for programs or courses
completed at another.
Unassigned credit. Transfer credit is unassigned
when a course is assessed as being of a university level
but not equivalent to a specific course at a receiving
BCCAT 2005. Articulation Committee Meeting Summary, available online at
Carnevale, Dan 2002. Missed Connections” Online colleges complain about traditional institutions' tough
credit-transfer policies. The Chronicle of Higher Education, Volume 49, Issue 8, Page A35.
CIHE, no date. Best Practices for Electronically Offered
Degree and Certificate Programs, available online at
Finlay, Finola 2005. How to Articulate: Requesting and
Assessing Credit in the BC Transfer System. BC
Council on Admissions and Transfer, Vancouver.
Education for a Digital World
Planning Your Online Course
June Kaminski and Sylvia Currie
Designers must do two seemingly contradictory things at the same time: They must design for perfection, and they must design as though errors are inevitable. And they must
do the second without compromising the first. – Bob Colwell (2002)
Education for a Digital World
13 – Planning Your Online Course
Learning outcomes
After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
• Identify the primary considerations for planning an
online course.
• Distinguish among design approaches.
• Apply the planning phase to your own course design
• Map your course elements and identify needs to support your design approach.
“The more you plan, the more room you leave for
spontaneity”. – Vella (2006)
Where does the process of planning a course begin?
Where does it end? What does a course plan look like,
and how does it differ from a course design?
This chapter provides an overview of the broad considerations in preparing an online course plan. A plan is
a starting point for moving forward with the design,
implementation, and evaluation of an online course:
Who will you work with to design the course?
Who will take the course and why?
What do we know about the learners?
How do instructor styles factor into the planning?
What are the main components of the course?
How will the course be organized?
Even the most open-ended learning activities begin
with a plan. However, a plan will, and should be, refined
and adjusted during implementation. In this sense a
plan evolves, but it continues to provide a sidebar of
sorts; something to guide the decisions about the design
work that needs be carried out. A plan can be both an
ongoing reality check, and way to focus on important
elements of a course design.
resources you have available to you. It is also informed
by the educational values, beliefs, and philosophies of
the design team. With so many possibilities and unknowns, how can we work towards a common language
of what planning is all about?
The most basic question to begin with is, why design
an online course. The emphasis here can be on the word
why, or on the word design. A very common response to
the question why is that learners will be geographically
distributed, and having a course online is an obvious
solution. However, an online course, or a course enhanced with online resources and communication tools,
will add educational value to any face-to-face course by
making resources available to learners and by providing
opportunities to deepen learning through dialogue and
sharing. In this sense the divisions between online
courses and campus-based courses are becoming hazy.
So the question of why is shifting from technology as a
means to change the delivery method to technology as a
means to enhance learning.
A more philosophical but very practical question
emphasizes the word design. Is it important to create a
structure in a virtual environment? How much design
work should be done before involving the learners in the
curriculum process? These questions have challenged
educators for some time, and they seem especially complex when applied to designing online courses. Where
then do we turn for guidance?
Some would argue that instructional design literature
does little to guide the process of planning online
courses because there is insufficient consideration for
the social context of learning (Le Blanc, 2003). Furthermore, the recent advances in technologies to support
networked learning,18 or more informal connections
among people and information, are challenging our
notions about advance planning and fixed design of online
spaces. Consider this description by George Siemens:
By recognizing learning as a messy, nebulous, informal, chaotic process, we need to rethink how
we design our instruction.
Instruction is currently largely housed in
courses and other artificial constructs of information organization and presentation. Leaving this
theory behind and moving towards a networked
model requires that we place less emphasis on our
tasks of presenting information, and more empha-
Can you make patterns from
“Part of the plan is knowing that the situation will
compel you to change your plan”. – Vella (2006)
A course plan can take on a variety of shapes, and is always
informed by context: the audience, the venue, and the
Education for a Digital World
For interesting discussions and resources related to networked learning see the work of Leigh Blackall
13 – Planning Your Online Course
sis on building the learner’s ability to navigate the
information—or connectivism.
Blogs, wikis, and other open, collaborative
platforms are reshaping learning as a two-way process. Instead of presenting content/information/
knowledge in a linear sequential manner, learners
can be provided with a rich array of tools and information sources to use in creating their own
learning pathways. The instructor or institution
can still ensure that critical learning elements are
achieved by focusing instead on the creation of the
knowledge ecology. The links and connections are
formed by the learners themselves. (Siemens,
The best plan will anticipate learner experiences, but
provide plenty of opportunities for learner-defined goals
and assessments. In broad terms, this would be called
design for flexible learning. However, in practice, a systems and linear approach is often favoured because it
ensures consistency and is more easily administered and
supported at the organizational level. By planning out
each module carefully in terms of instructional goals,
content, assignments, and assessments, each course can
undergo rigorous quality control.
Flexible and systems approaches represent opposite
ends of the course planning spectrum, one more
learner-centred (or more favourably referred to by Jane
Vella (2001) as learning-centred ), and the other more
teacher-centred. With each approach there are obvious
considerations for your own context. While a systems
approach may require substantial resources, it may be
more effective for managing quality control and for preparing and supporting instructors. Brent Wilson (1995),
a pioneer in e-learning, has been cautioning online
course designers about the downside of a systems approach for the past decade: An environment that is good
for learning cannot be fully prepackaged and defined A
more flexible approach will open the doors to more
possibilities based on learner goals and needs. However,
as pointed out by Bates and Poole (2003), “a flexible
approach requires a high level of skill to be effective”.
So to revisit the central question: Can we work towards a common language of what planning is all about?
What are the patterns in the clouds?
There are many helpful models to guide the design
process, each informed by learning theory and each providing a set of actions by phase (often overlapping) in
the design process. There are too many to expand on in
this short chapter—an Internet search on “instructional
design models” will yield a dozen or more.19 A model is
useful for providing a framework for managing course
design and ensuring that all decisions are attended to.
Furthermore, a good model is cyclical so that evaluation
and reflection on implementation will always inform the
next iteration of the course design. Keep in mind that
while learning theory and prescriptive models help to
guide the work, a model “should be used only to the
extent that it is manageable for the particular situation
or task”. In other words, context is always at the core of
the planning and design process.
Figure 13.1. Photo “Mother and Child” by Joka
Prepare by considering these four tips:
(1) Begin with relevant metaphors for learning. Often
the language commonly used to describe e-learning
dismisses the notion that learning with technology is
a valuable experience in its own right. When we
speak about “distance learning”, “covering course
content”, and “delivering courses” we are imposing
an intent and framework for learning that calls for
little involvement from the learner.
(2) The focus should be first on the learning, and second
on the technologies that will support that learning.
Think of your primary role in the planning process
as keeping learning, and not technology, at the centre of the design process. Plan to include team members in the design process who can provide the
expertise required to carry out your plan and also
take full advantage of the medium.
(3) Creating good online learning experiences requires
effort. While the basic planning guidelines are the
same for both face-to-face and online courses, “the
process of planning a quality e-learning experience is
very likely to be more complex and time-consuming
models.html for a comprehensive list.
Education for a Digital World
13 – Planning Your Online Course
than planning a conventional classroom experience.
(Anderson & Elloumi, 2004)
(4) Context is king! You can choose an instructional
model that suits your project and personal beliefs
about teaching and learning, but always be prepared
to adapt.
What are the roles of the design
“The project management approach to developing
and delivering technology-based teaching and
learning ensures that resources are used efficiently
and that individual team members contribute appropriate skills and knowledge to the project”.
(Bates, 2000, p. 68).
Online courses are designed using a variety of configurations. For quite some time, a very common approach
focused on the single instructor acting as content expert,
course writer, and designer. This approach is what has
been popularly called the “Lone Ranger” or “laissezfaire” style (Bates, 2000). “Certainly, there is a time in an
organization when the laissez-faire or Lone Ranger approach may be suitable, and that is when a university or
college is just beginning to commit to the use of new
technologies” (p. 66).
A number of factors favoured this approach to design, most notably, cost and workload issues. The ‘going
it alone’ approach is still alive and well in the e-learning
landscape, but some experts stress that the disadvantages of this method far outweigh the benefits. “It is too
hit and miss. It wastes resources, ignores the experience
and many lessons that have been learned outside the
higher education sector about how to design and develop creative media products and services, and above
all fails to ensure high-quality, technology-based teaching in any consistent or widespread form” (Bates, 2000,
p. 66). On the other hand, there are expert instructors
who do have the pedagogical, technical, and content
expertise to create viable and high quality courses on
their own (Struthers, 2002). However, in reality, there
are several different configurations adopted by various
institutions, ranging from the single-course author supported by information technology experts to the extensive project team approach described in this section.
Current instructional design and e-learning research
and practice usually stress the need for a project team
approach, where a diverse variety of experts work to-
Education for a Digital World
gether to create high quality, pedagogically sound
courses and programs. This project team can be made
up of a number of people filling specific team roles, the
most common include a project manager, content or
subject matter expert, a content writer, a multimedia
developer, an editor, and an instructional designer. Often, a concurrent instructional design approach is used,
where each member works on their portion of the project simultaneously or “as needed”, creating a modulated,
synergistic milieu for designing the course or program.
For instance, once the content expert and writer have
determined the desired topics and inherent content, the
multimedia and/or graphic designer can begin to work
on the supportive visual and multi-sensory content or
learning objects to augment the foundational content.
There are some drawbacks to using the project team
approach to course design. The biggest hurdle may well
be teacher buy-in. Most faculty, especially in higher education, are used to functioning autonomously, and may
be resistant to sharing the design of a course because of
intellectual property considerations. “The project management approach is often seen as a bureaucratic, expensive, and unnecessarily complicated process, and a
process that restricts the freedom and autonomy of the
teacher” (Bates, 2000, p. 72).
Another possible drawback is the notion that project
management can restrict the creativity and/or originality
of the course designer. Obviously, there needs to be
open communication between administration and the
various members of the project team to be able to design
a top quality course together successfully. As long as
each member of the team is respected for their own expertise and contribution, and the issues of ownership
and copyright are amicably decided, most teachers feel
some relief that creative and knowledgeable team members support their efforts. Unless an individual course
designer is multi-talented, with skills in content writing,
editing, multimedia design, and so on, it is unlikely that
a truly interactive, original, dynamic course can be created all alone.
Four levels of human infrastructure support are fundamental to the development of any course or program,
especially when done at an across-institutional, regional
or national level (Bates, 2001). These include:
technology infrastructure support people (design,
maintain the learning network)
educational technology infrastructure support
people (design, maintain the learning interface
structure such as navigation, screen components)
13 – Planning Your Online Course
instructional design infrastructure support people (coordinate the actual online course components and structure such as structure of learning
activities or modules)
subject expert infrastructure support people (design content, provide instruction).
Often, the human infrastructure needed to design a high
quality course is best achieved by appointing a diverse
instructional design team. Each member of the instructional design team fulfills specific roles.
involved with determining the course module or lesson
objectives, the evaluative components, and may help the
content writer and/or expert to develop the content. The
instructional designer also works with the multimedia/graphics designer to determine the specific graphics,
audio, video, movie and other multi-sensory components to augment the content. The role of coordination
is often shared between the instructional designer and
the project manager, to ensure consistency across the
team, and to help identify problems and obstacles that
emerge as the design process progresses.
Content or subject matter expert
The content expert is the team member who has well
developed knowledge about the subject content. The
content expert usually works very closely with the writer
to ensure that the core essentials of the determined
content are current, accurate, and meet the learning
objectives of the course or program. The content expert
also assesses the written content to verify that it addresses the intended audience, and, in conjunction with
the instructional designer, helps to decide what multimedia
and graphical objects are required to make the learning
experience rich and meaningful for the learners.
Content writer
Figure 13.2. The ideal instructional design team work together in synergy.
Project manager
The project manager or leader often applies project
management methodology to organize the project plan
in conjunction with the rest of the design team. Often,
the project manager liaisons with the instructional designer to set project start and end dates, determine what
resources are needed to fulfill each project task, and set
the project goals, challenges, milestones, and needs. The
project manager is also responsible for ensuring that all
team members are able to fulfill their tasks on time, and
responds to challenges as they occur across the project
timeline. The manager also coordinates copyright adherence and final details of the course project.
Instructional designer
The instructional designer is responsible for the course
layout, branching, and positioning the written content
within the online environment. Often the designer is
The content writer is the member who brings expertise
in writing content for the course. Sometimes, one team
member serves as both the content writer and subject
matter expert. Their role entails researching the content,
incorporating the input from the subject matter expert
into the written component of the course (or sometimes,
rewriting and editing existing content), and fashioning
the content so that it suits the online course environment. The content writer works with the rest of the team
to determine course and individual lesson objectives and
other components, and selects the supportive materials
such as text books and readings, usually with the content
expert, instructional designer, and project manager.
Multimedia and graphics designer/technologist
The multimedia designer is responsible for designing
the animations, visual graphics, audio segments, and
other multi-sensory objects that will support the instructional requirements of the course. Working with all
members of the team, especially the course writer, expert,
and instructional designer, the multimedia designer
helps to bring the course to life, providing a robustness
and aesthetic appeal to the course design.
Education for a Digital World
13 – Planning Your Online Course
Editor or technical writer
The editor is responsible for ensuring that the content is
well written and meets quality standards. The editor
edits the course content for spelling, grammar, tone, and
general usability, usually working closely with the content writer and the instructional designer.
“Communication is human nature. Knowledge
sharing is human nurture”. – Alison Tucker, Buckman Laboratories.
Who’s the audience?
One of the key tenets of sound online course design
(and implementation) is that courses should be learnercentred. This can be a challenge, since online learners
can come from a variety of age groups, sociocultural
backgrounds, and lifestyles. Adult learners, for example,
can belong to any one of four recognized generational
cohort groups: silent generation, baby boomers, generation X, or the millennials (generation Y) (Raines, 2003).
If teaching children, you may also be working with the
group sometimes called the neo-millennials (Dede, 2007).
It is helpful to identify which generational groups will
be taking the course you design in order to meet their
individual and collective learning needs and preferences.
The heart of this notion is that a generational cohort is a
group of individuals born within the same range of years
or era, who experienced common historical events and
socio-economic (including technological and educational)
developments as they grew from infanthood through
adulthood. This commonality leads to the development
of a similar overall world-view, and experience of the
social environment around them. This concept was first
introduced by Karl Mannheim (1936) and has been expanded by numerous scholars and analysts. Please note,
that the notion of generational cohorts is not an exact
science. The range of years for each generational cohort
is quite varied, depending on the source consulted.
Education for a Digital World
Common lifestyle expectations go hand in hand with
these generational groups, which can range from single,
young, still-living-with-parents learners through to
sandwich generation learners (Statistics Canada, 2004)
who are raising a family as they care for parents or other
members of the older generation, as well as tending to
their own career and education. On top of this, several
demographic and socio-economic factors can distinguish the level of access to technology and educational/media resources, including economic status,
gender, level of education, and geographic location.
Thus, it is important to study your projected learners’
characteristics in order to optimally meet their learning
needs. (Sims, 2006) Table 13.1 below gives a tentative
summary of our interpretation of the five generational
cohorts who participate in the current educational landscape in one form or another.
“A typical life-long learner is someone working
mainly full-time, in a high-tech or service industry,
with a family and a rich social and personal life.
Such a learner requires “just in time” and personally relevant content delivered conveniently and
flexibly. If they are professionals, they need access
to the latest research and developments in their
field”. (Bates, 2001, p. 25)
An audience (or learner) analysis is an important part of
designing online courses (Sims, 2006). Particulars that
are important include the learner’s motivation for taking
the course, the course’s role in their career preparation,
the purpose for taking the course (is it an enrichment
course that helps to keep professionals current in their
field, or perhaps a self-development course meant for
personal enjoyment?), and whether the learners need to
engage in cognitive, affective, and psychomotor activities in order to master the contents. All of these considerations are important and should guide team decisions
related to e-learning and teaching styles, the presentation of the course, and exactly what content to include
and to embellish with supportive graphics and multimedia
objects. All of these considerations are easier to reflect on
and address if the course components, audience, and other
details are mapped visually in some way.
13 – Planning Your Online Course
Table 13.1. Generational cohort characteristics
2000 to Present
Non-linear learners
Even more social, interactive
Seamlessly connected, networked
“Naturally” technology-savvy
Will grow up with high-definition network TV, Mp3s, mobile PCs, 3D wireless interactive
games, wireless networks, initial agent technology, initial virtual reality
Relate to rich multi-media, multi-sensory learning
Consumers of knowledge
Multi-taskers yet task-oriented
High achievers, like personalization
Prefer interactive, attentive instructors
Highly social, interactive
Highly connected, networked
Have high technology-savvy
Grew up with colour, cable TV, PCs, 3D video games, initial wireless, primitive virtual
Expect some multi-media learning/enrichment
Enjoy group work, experiential activities
Self reliant and directed, individualistic
Prefer flexibility and choice in learning
Reject rigidity and authoritative approaches
Expect expert, focused instructor
Learning should be enjoyable, even fun
Learning should increase their marketability
Good to high technology-savvy
Grew up with colour TV, PCs, 2D video games
Multiple responsibilities, high commuters
High work ethic, dedicated achievers
Prefer structured group work, crave feedback
Use relationship-building activities
Value creative and personal fulfillment activities
Learning should be personally meaningful
Fair to high technology-savvy
Grew up with B&W, later colour TV and radio
Most are retired now
Prefer traditional learning environment
Need risk-free learning
Non-existent to good technology-savvy
Grew up with radio and initial B&W TV (later years)
Education for a Digital World
13 – Planning Your Online Course
How do we move from
concepts to mapping?
A common organizational and orientating technique
used by individual course designers as well as instructional design teams is the use of visual models
that serve to clearly outline the details, concepts, and
content of the course being planned. Designers use
various visual approaches, ranging from simple matrix tables to complex concept maps and storyboards.
The practice of concept mapping was first originated in
the Joseph Novak (1977), while he was a professor at Cornell University. Many instructors are familiar with the use of concept maps for student learning,
especially to help students investigate and brainstorm
conceptual ideas. Concept maps consist of nodes (often
drawn as ovals, circles or squares) that represent concepts, and connector links drawn as arcs, lines or arrows
to represent the relationships between the nodes. The
concept nodes are labelled, one for each idea or concept.
Sometimes, the connector lines are also labelled.
Concept maps can also be used to plan educational
experiences and provide a visual representation of the
planned course objectives, outcomes, activities, resources, and evaluation. They help the design team visualize how the content should be linked and sequenced.
As a team activity, concept mapping can help all members brainstorm ways to create a dynamic environment
for learning the course-specific content. This mapping
process produces a formal, step-by-step visual representation of the key components, and the connections
and leveling between the components.
The ultimate structure and linking arrangement is
very similar to the way a website is planned by designers.
It is very helpful to the entire team to be able to see how
the various course components should be arranged for
effective learning and ease of use. Since Novak (1977) first
introduced concept mapping, a variety of styles have
emerged. The most common is called a spider concept
map where a key overall concept is placed in a large oval
or square node that then branches out to smaller nodes.
The links that connect these nodes create an image that
looks like a spider’s web. Other configurations include hierarchical maps, landscape maps (an example is the image
map at the beginning of this chapter), and systems maps.
“Concept mapping is useful for knowledge management as a vehicle for externalizing “internal”
expert knowledge, to allow that knowledge to be
examined, refined, and reused”. (Canas, Leake &
Wilson, 1999, p. 14)
Every concept map possesses four core elements:
• Patterns—the overall structure of the map, e.g., a
circular, central hub structure; a top-down hierarchical structure, a mandala (a complex geometric shape),
a flow-chart, and so on.
• Nodes—the geometric shapes such as ovals or rectangles used to represent the individual concepts.
Often these nodes are colour-coded to signify importance of or relationships among the various concepts
• Connector links—the lines, arrows, and curves used
to indicate the relationships between concept nodes.
Often a solid line is used to show a distinct relationship; an arrow refers to a causal relationship; while a
dotted line shows a weaker, secondary relationship. An
arc often represents a circular flow between concepts.
• Connector words—help to clarify the relationships
between concept nodes. Common connector words
include: based on, controlled by, including, may lead
to, recognizes, part of, next step, recognizes, validates,
stored in.
The first step in using concept mapping for course
design is to create a textual structure of the course concepts, both major and supportive. Usually, these concepts are arranged in a list that shows the basic
foundational order and relationships of the concepts to
be covered in the content. Once this is done, the concept
map can be initiated. For example, if a design team were
planning to design a course on how to plan an online
course, the main concepts might include:
Table 13. 2. Concepts used for spider concept map
Instructional Design Models
Instructional Design Team
Audience Analysis
Concept Mapping
E-learning Styles
E-teaching Styles
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13 – Planning Your Online Course
The concepts in Table 13.2 are already mapped, using
a landscape map approach discussed at the beginning of
this chapter. If a spider map pattern had been used, the
map might look like Figure 13.3 below. This sort of map
is useful when first brainstorming the initial concepts of
a course or design process. It will also appeal to design
team members who like to plan and brainstorm in flexible, circular (rather than linear) ways. In order to incorporate a complete curricular plan for a course, a more
complex spider concept map would be needed. This
could result in a very meaningful, intricate map or it
might be construed as too complex and confusing to
people who prefer a more linear approach.
The spider map below has only one layer of surrounding concepts. It could be made much larger both
vertically and horizontally by adding other layers of
relevant concepts, connectors, and connecting words
around the periphery of the existing map.
“The most powerful designs are always the result
of a continuous process of simplification and refinement”. – Kevin Mullet & Darrel Sano (1995)
Figure 13.4. Hierarchical concept map of short course plan
Figure 13.3. Spider map of online course planning
For teams that prefer a more linear visual organizer, a
hierarchical, or a flow-chart, concept map would be
more appropriate since both are organized to allow
more layers and the connections and sections are clearly
visible. These types of concept maps are linear, which
may appear less creative to some team members. However, they afford a straightforward visual organizer to
incorporate all of the processes of the course plan within
the concept map, Figure 13.4 illustrates a simple hierarchical concept map of a short course with four modules
consisting of three to five lessons each. The right column
includes various multimedia and graphic objects that
can be interwoven into the lessons and modules.
Storyboards are visual organizers that have been used
by developers of films, videos, television shows, and
multimedia for years. Most likely, your team’s multimedia or graphic developer will use some version of storyboarding to plan the designated multimedia and video
components of your course. This method can also be
used by the entire design team to plan the actual course.
There are various versions of storyboards. Professional
audio-visual production teams often use ones that feature
a rectangle for the actual drawing of a particular frame
or scene, with lines to one side or below for data, ideas,
and other textual reminders related to the appropriate
scene. Figure 13.5 illustrates one row of a multimedia
Some design teams prefer to use this layout for their
storyboards, usually with more appropriate text headings in the lined area for writing notes. Figure 13.6 gives
an example of this method. There are a number of different ways that storyboards can be incorporated into
your design process. One popular method is the use of a
flow-chart sort of storyboard, consisting of a connected
geometric shape (often a rectangle) connected with arrows to detail the course design process. Figure 13.7
illustrates this particular type of storyboard graphic.
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13 – Planning Your Online Course
Why should we consider
e-learning styles?
Figure 13.5. Multimedia planning storyboard section
Figure 13.6. Course planning storyboard section
Over the past three decades, a dozen or more learning
style taxonomies have been created by various educational researchers. For example, Howard Gardner of
Harvard University (Multiple Intelligences Profile)
based his taxonomy on mind psychology, and David
Kolb (1984) of Yale University and the Bates Institute
(LSI—Learning Styles Inventory) based his on experiential learning.
The latter two and other learning style inventories
based on them, such as the Honey and Mumford
Learning Styles model (1992). based on Kolb’s work;
and Neil Fleming’s VARK (Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing and Kinesthetic) (2001) of Lincoln University in New Zealand, and the Memletics Accelerated
Learning Styles (Advantogy, 2003) models, both similar
to Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences taxonomy, are particularly suited to online course delivery. All of these
learning style models highlight student preferences and
natural tendencies for processing information and understanding content. E-learning offers a rich medium
for appealing to the diversity of learning styles if used in
inventive, adaptive, and creative ways. The time to consider this is at the course planning stage, as the design
team chooses the components and activities during the
development process.
“We are all able to know the world through language, logical mathematical analysis, spatial representation, musical thinking, the use of the body to
solve problems or to make things, and an understanding of ourselves and of others. Where individuals differ is in the strength of these intelligences:
the so-called profile of intelligences—and in the
way such intelligences are invoked and combined
to carry out different tasks, solve diverse problems,
and progress in various domains”. (Howard
Gardner, 1991)
Figure 13.7. Flow chart style storyboard
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Howard Gardner, a professor at Harvard University,
hypothesized that people are capable of eight unique
ways of information processing, which he called multiple intelligence theory. Information processing is the
person’s preferred intellectual approach to assimilating
facts, information, and knowledge. Gardner suggested
that individuals should be encouraged to apply their
preferred intelligences in learning. Learners who have an
13 – Planning Your Online Course
understanding of their own particular learning styles
can reflect on how to use their learning strengths and
cultivate their less dominant ones. A key point in multiple intelligence theory is that most people can develop
all eight of the intelligences to a relatively competent
level of mastery.
Gardner’s eight unique intelligences are:
(7) intrapersonal
(8) naturalistic
As online courses become more prevalent, new research is being done on how the multiple intelligences
can be cultivated, and appealed to through the use of
technology and multimedia in education (Veenema &
Gardner, 1996). Since it is unrealistic to expect that the
design team will know the learners’ preferred learning
styles beforehand, it makes sense to design activities and
resources that can tap the strengths and meet the needs
of all eight intelligences (Sims, 2006). Table 13.4 below
provides some suggestions to guide this process.
Table 13.4 Multiple intelligences in online course planning
Written and spoken word, language, Literary activities, reading
Text, journals, forums, chats, wiki, blogs, written assignments,
audio, dialogue, stories, debates
Visual and spatial thinkers, sensitive to colour, line, shape, form,
space and the relationships between these
graphics, movies, Flash, photos, multimedia, 3D modelling,
design, charts, concept maps, diagrams
Detects patterns, scientific reasoning, deduction, mathematical
calculations, cause and effect relationships
Socratic questioning, problem based, pattern pames, puzzles,
experiments, statistics, matrices
Fine and gross motor movements, sense of timing, and direction. Role playing, psychomotor skills, demonstration, simulations,
Also physical coordination, balance, dexterity, strength, speed,
virtual reality, cooperative games, video games, ergonomic
flexibility, and proprioceptive, tactile, and haptic capacities
Musical ability and appreciation, Recognizes rhythmic patterns,
pitch, melody, timbre, and tone colour
Audio, sound and music recording, rhymes, background music,
chants, raps, create music
The capacity to interact with others, to understand them, and to
interpret their behaviour accurately. The ability to notice distinctions among other people, and to recognize their moods, temperaments, motivations, and intentions. A sensitivity to other’s
facial expressions, voices, and gestures, and the ability to respond effectively to these cues
Group projects, forums, Chats, email, cooperative work, teams,
interviews, coaching, counseling, listening, clubs, drills, community involvement
The ability to sense one’s inner being—to discover who we are,
what feelings we have, and why we are the way the way we are.
It represents our self –knowledge and our ability to act adaptively on the basis of this knowledge. It is our reflective self.
Enables an accurate picture of the inner self, strengths and
weaknesses, inner moods, goals, intentions, motivations, temperament, beliefs, and desires
Journals, reflective activities, independent study, autobiography,
portfolio, concentration work, metacognition techniques, personal growth activities, narratives
Awareness of the forces, principles, and laws of nature. Recognize relationships among species, enjoy nature-related classification systems. Promotes ecological awareness and stewardship
Ecological study, biology, natural sciences, charts, diagrams,
taxonomies, genetic models, virtual field trips, systems, pattern
recognition, nature analogies
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13 – Planning Your Online Course
David Kolb’s learning style model is also quite amenable
to course design planning. As well, this model provides a
sort of developmental map for the cultivation of experiential learning throughout the human life span. Kolb
described experiential learning as consisting of four
stages: experiencing, reflecting, thinking, and acting.
Kolb’s experiential learning taxonomy comprises four
distinct activities:
concrete experience—(CE)
reflective observation—(RO)
abstract conceptualization—(AC)
active experimentation—(AE)
and a four-type definition of learning styles (each representing the combination of two preferred styles, rather
like a two-by-two matrix of the four-stage cycle styles, as
illustrated in Table 13.5 below), for which Kolb used the
diverging (CE/RO)
assimilating (AC/RO)
converging (AC/AE)
accommodating (CE/AE)
Diverging (concrete, reflective). A characteristic
question of this learning type is “Why?” These learners
respond well to explanations of how course material
relates to their experience, their interests, and their future careers. These learners prefer an instructor who
functions as a Motivator.
Assimilating (abstract, reflective). A characteristic
question of this learning type is “What?” These learners
respond to information presented in an organized, logical fashion and benefit if they have time for reflection.
To be effective, the instructor should function as an
Converging (abstract, active). A characteristic question of this learning type is “How?” These learners respond to opportunities to work actively on well-defined
tasks and to learn by trial-and-error in an environment
that allows them to fail safely. To be effective, the instructor should function as a Coach, providing guided
practice and feedback.
Accommodating (concrete, active). A characteristic
question of this learning type is “What if?” These learners
like applying course material in new situations to solve
real problems. To be effective, the instructor should
adopt a supportive Constructivist role, giving opportunities for the students to discover things for themselves.
“Interactivity is not simply a function of computer-based transactions, but a fundamental success factor for teaching and learning, especially
when implemented in an online context. In most
cases, regardless of any virtual community that
exists, the learner will be working independently
and therefore the effectiveness of those communications (interactions) will ultimately determine the
effectiveness and efficiency of the learning environment” (Sims, Dobbs & Hand, 2001, p. 514).
The theory of learner interactivity preferences (developed by Rhodes and Azball in 1985) also has meaning to
the course design team. Again, it is difficult to predict
the actual preferences of future learners, but measures
can be taken to promote all three levels within the
course design. These three levels are reactive, co-active
and proactive interactivity preferences in structure and
presentation, which correspond to each learner’s cognitive activity. This theory described interactivity according to three different levels of quality. Later, other
researchers added a fourth level, reciprocal interactivity
(Sims, 1997; Sims, 2006). The four preferences are described on five functional levels through the following
transactions: confirmation, pacing, navigation, inquiry,
and elaboration.
Reactive interaction
A reactive interaction is a behaviourist response to presented stimuli, for instance, providing an answer to a question. This level of interaction within an online course
structure shows very little learner control over content
structure with program-directed options and feedback,
the course components and activities are completely
predetermined by the design team and instructor.
Table 13.5. Kolb’s learning styles model
Active Experimentation—AE—DOING
Reflective Observation—RO—WATCHING
Concrete Experience—CE—FEELING
Accommodating (CE/AE)
Diverging (CE/RO)
Abstract Conceptualization—AC—THINKING
Converging (AC/AE)
Assimilating (AC/RO)
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Co-active interaction
A co-active interaction preference means the learner
prefers more opportunities for choice and setting the
pace for their own learning. A co-active online course
design allows more control, providing learner control
for sequence, pace and style of interaction within the
online environment.
Proactive interaction
“Proactive interaction is constructivist: the learner
prefers to both construct and generate activities to
support their learning. A proactive course design
enables the learner’s actions to go beyond selecting
available information and reacting to existing
structures, and generate individual constructions
and elaborations beyond the rules set up by the design team and instructor” (Sims, 1997, p. 160).
Reciprocal interaction
Reciprocal interaction preferences means the learner
wants a dialogue-like, reciprocity- based interaction
with the online course interface and participants. This
sort of interaction is usually found only in designs where
artificial intelligence or virtual reality are situated. In
these learning environments, both learner and system
reciprocally adapt to one other. This level of interaction
is rare in online courses, but is anticipated to be much
more feasible in the not so distant future.
Design teams can help their prospective learners prepare
for, or at the least assess their own readiness to learn
within an online environment. Research supports this as
a critical consideration, since an individual learner’s
success in an online course often hinges on this foundation of readiness. Readiness entails three dimensions to
assess: the learners’ computer or technical skill, learning
skills, as well as their time management behaviours.
Computer/technical skills: The more experience a
student has in using basic computer skills (use of networks, word processing and other software applications,
ability to upload and download files, use of the World
Wide Web and email, accessing online libraries and
other resource databases, and experience with online
forums and other discussion applications, the more
ready they are to take an online course. Other foundational requirements include access to a stable Internet
connection and dependable computer and printer.
Learning skills: Readiness is fortified by the ability to
work independently, be self-moivated, possess mature
reading and writing skills, and a proactive approach to
learning, and a positive attitude.
Time management skills: Readiness is evident when
a learner can safely plan blocks of time for participation
and study within their existing lifestyle and commitments. Managing one’s time in order to complete an
online course requires a respectable level of commitment and discipline.
Recommended online tools for gauging e-learning
There are some excellent free online tools available for
students to use (and design teams to examine) in gauging readiness for e-learning. Three highly recommended
ones include:
• Novosel, S. (2000). Readiness Index for Learning Online (RILO). Indiana University School of Nursing.
• Schrum, L. (2001). SORT: Student Online Readiness
Tool. University of Georgia.
• DeSantis, C. (2002). eLearners Advisor. University of
How does e-teaching style
affect design?
The design team needs to consider the teaching styles
promoted by the philosophy of the institution, the styles
exhibited by the program’s instructors, and expert
knowledge about effective and empowering e-learning
and e-teaching theory. Grasha (2002) identified several
categories of teaching styles that are relenant when
planning online courses. Characteristics of Grasha’s
teaching style model are summarized in Table 13.6.
Table 13.6 provides some general considerations for the
design of the course environment. Interactivity capabilities are important; the means to give immediate feedback and foster both group and individual interaction
and dialogue are also critical to effective teaching; as is
the ability for creative and appealing organization of
course content. Dynamism can be supported with the
inclusion of multimedia and other multi-sensory content. Discussion functions such as forums, journals,
chat-rooms and group work areas all need to be robust,
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13 – Planning Your Online Course
reliable, easily accessible, and seamless to support spontaneous as well as planned interaction activities.
Table 13.6. Teacher style characteristics (adapted from Grasha, 2002, p. 24)
The ability to present and discuss theoretical
issues and new discoveries from a wide-scope
perspective, addressing a variety of views; and
contrasting implications of a variety of theories
Organization and Clarity
Course objectives and organization is clear,
materials are well-prepared and learnerfriendly
Discussions and mutual sharing of ideas are
supported within the learning environment
Learner Interaction
Teacher is approachable and accessible; lines of
communication are seamless and can occur at
the learner’s discretion; good feedback mechanisms in place
Dynamism and
Degree that the teaching is energetic, stimulating, enjoyable
General Teaching Ability Teacher’s expertise, consistency, adaptability
Amount of assigned course work, level of
Ability to plan lesson details, organize course
within milieu
Expectations for learner work quality and
Nature and quality of interactions; interactivity
level of online milieu
Grasha (2002) also identified four psychological temperaments that teachers exhibit, which are loosely based
on Carl Jung’s (1971) work These four temperaments
are summarized in Table 13.7. Again, the design team
can ensure that all temperaments are supported within
the course design.
The four temperaments mentioned in Table 13.7
culminate in being expressed within five teaching styles,
according to Grasha (2002). These styles include the
expert, formal authority, personal model, facilitator, and
delegator (see Table 13.8 for more detail on how the
design team can facilitate the teaching styles of the future instructors who will teach the course.
Table 13.7. Teacher psychological temperament and course design (adapted
from Grasha, 2002, pp. 44–45)
Teacher Psychological Design Considerations
Enable group projects, demonstrations, games,
multimedia, practical quizzes and tests, spontaneous action, proactive interactivity, chatrooms, forums, journals, seamless emails
Sensation-Judging (SJ)
Enable lecture/text areas, demonstrations, tests
and quizzes, high organization, needs structure
and control, prefers record of learner activity,
outcomes, methodical, Socratic dialogue
Intuitive-Thinking (NT)
Promote learner independence, individual
projects, reports, high standards and mechanisms for giving formal feedback
Intuitive-Feeling (NF)
Enable small and large group projects, discussions, simulations, self discovery learning
experiences, spontaneous personable interaction with learners, workshops, emotional
values-focused expression
Table 13.8. Grasha’s (2002) teaching styles and design team considerations
Teaching Style
Design Considerations
Interesting information transmittal venues, robust
resources for learning, high standards
Formal Authority
Feedback mechanisms important, high organization and structure, formal evaluation
Personal Model
Stimulating, multi-sensory milieu, spontaneity,
demonstrations, observation, simulations
Personable interaction, support learner independence, Group Project work, Flexibility
Empowers learner autonomy, independent projects, spontaneous interaction
Current educational literature purports that a constructivist approach to e-teaching is recommended in order
to meet the needs of 21st century learners (Sims, 2006).
“Constructivist epistemology assumes that learners construct their own knowledge on the basis of interaction
with their environment. Four epistemological assumptions are at the heart of what we refer to as “constructivist learning”:
• “Knowledge is physically constructed by learners who
are involved in active learning.
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13 – Planning Your Online Course
• Knowledge is symbolically constructed by learners
who are making their own representations of action.
• Knowledge is socially constructed by learners who
convey their meaning making to others.
• Knowledge is theoretically constructed by learners
who try to explain things they don’t completely understand” (Gagnon and Colley, 2001, p. 1)
Colon et al. (2000, p. 9) described how constructivist
instructional design can be applied to support this style
of teaching and learning. The authors outlined the fundamental creation tasks of the course design:
• surface characteristics—screen layout, typography,
language, graphics, illustrations, sound;
• interface—look and feel, user interaction, help, support, navigation, metaphors;
• scenario—sequence of video cases, options/choices,
• supporting hypertext and hypermedia instructional
• instructional strategies—“chunking” of content.
It can be concluded that both e-learning and e-teaching
styles are important considerations for the design team
to keep in mind as they collaborate to plan the course
creation. This is facilitated through attending to the
structure and organization of the course content and
environment—in other words, in the packaging.
How important is the
“Imitating paper on a computer screen is like
tearing the wings off a 747 and using it as a bus on
the highway.” (Ted Nelson, 1999)
The final step of the planning process is a fundamental
and critical one: choosing the packaging of the course.
There are a variety of elements that are important in this
process including the general content structure, sequence, flow, and pacing. Presentation structure is also
important, and includes considerations such as the tone
and mood projected in the text and ‘feel’ of the site, including the coherence, consistency, navigation, aesthetic
use of colours and graphics, and the text fonts used in
the overall course site interface. The important components are discussed in the following section.
A uniform approach to presenting the units of study not
only makes sense, but helps reinforce learning. A common
mode of organization is a hierarchical module—sections—lessons—supportive activities approach. Within
each learning activity, uniformity also helps to guide
students through the content. One easy way to organize
the units is from general to specific, beginning with
units focused on basic principles then working up to
unique and specific content topics. For example, a
course on research design might begin with units focused on the general research process, literature searches
and the like, then move on to specific research design
processes such as experimental quantitative design or
phenomenological qualitative methods.
A consistent structure should be used to present the
units of study. Information, help, resource, and other
sections need to be positioned in the same area of the
page, across screens and sections. The generous use of
white space helps to keep this structure accessible and
visually appealing for the learners. The learning activities should also have a consistent structure. One common method is to use a lesson template including such
headings as Overview, Objectives, In Preparation, Class
and Individual Activities, Reflection, Enrichment Activities or Resources, and References.
The back-end structure that supports the learner environment should be carefully thought out as well. Folders or databases are needed for each group or cluster of
files. A common practice is to group all images in an
image database or folder; all multimedia in a multimedia
database or folder; all audio in a separate folder, and so
on. This not only helps the instructor find necessary
components, but also facilitates upgrades and editing,
and facilitates downloading and uploading of files from
the course website.
A plan to present all content and activities in a sequential
flow is important to ensure learners have instant access
to current and archived content, and do not miss critical
pieces. Sequencing would follow the units of study and
structure determined beforehand, moving from general
to specific. This sequencing is best viewed as a specific
menu or site map, where students can get a view of the
entire course content on one screen.
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13 – Planning Your Online Course
Flow is achieved by presenting the sequential content in
an intuitive yet logical manner. It is also boosted by
clear, consistent navigation and positioning of screen
elements. The learner should immediately know where
to go next, without confusion or resorting to trial and
error clicking on various navigation buttons or titles.
The design team should find ways to present help files,
course content, and other textual prompts using an active voice, second person, present tense and a conversational tone in the course design. Language should be
concise and consistent. It is also best to avoid language
and examples that will inhibit the “shelf-life” of the site,
such as “Now in 2008 …”.
Navigation online is like the nervous system of the human body. It connects all of the course elements, allowing movement and flow as the learners explore the
course. The key to designing navigation is to pick one
uniform method, and stick to it consistently throughout
the course site. Navigation can be as simple as a set of
uniform buttons placed strategically in the same place
on every page. Or it can consist of Java based panels or
animated Flash “hot spots” on an image map.
Graphical menus and navigational elements help to
intuitively guide the learner through the course online
environment. It is best to plan the navigation to give the
learner control over what sections they can select for
navigation but to also provide a “road map” with suggested navigation sequences. Navigational linked sections should somehow be distinguishable from static
non-linked portions of the site (for instance, use a different colour, specific icons, underlining, or roll-over
text changes). Consistency in navigation is important to
reduce learner frustration and to maximize the learning
experience. Navigation buttons should be clearly labelled,
consistent across pages, and easy to view and access.
It is best to keep the text areas small, so that the course
content is presented in chunks, limiting the amount of
text that is presented on each screen. Short lines of 40 to
60 characters each are best. The use of tables, charts,
bulleted lists, and other organizers help to increase the
visible appeal and reinforce learning. If possible, avoid
long vertical scrolling pages; at all costs.
The design team should ensure that the layout of each
screen is clear, pleasing to the eye, and conforms to the
Western text layout of left-to-right, top-to-bottom text
standards, since this is how learners usually read. It can
be very confusing if their eyes need to dart all over the
screen to understand what is before them: this can cause
both dissonance and confusion.
It is important to keep the general layout design of the
course screens consistent in size, structure, colour,
placement of elements and font usage. It is also important
to make sure that the appearance and utility of the site is
consistent across browsers (e.g., the site should look and
act the same in Internet Explorer and Firefox). Efforts
should be made to facilitate download and screen loading times across Internet access modes, including
broadband and dial-up access. This means keeping the
size of graphic, audio, multimedia, and text files compact
and reasonable in size, and optimized for quick loading
and downloading. As well, learners should be able to
upload files to the course area within a few seconds, and
without crashing their systems or freezing the web
browser screen.
Education for a Digital World
“Color is born of the interpenetration of light and
dark”. (Sam Francis, 2003)
Colour is an important feature of effective course design. First off, it is best to choose colours that are included in the 216-colour cross-browser platform colour
palette. Although this precaution is becoming less critical, since the majority of modern computers will support millions of colours, it is safe to stick to this rule to
ensure that the learners will be able to access the general
256 colour palette common on most computers made
within the past ten years or so.
Colours on the Web are always a mixture of R (Red),
G (Green) and B (Blue). The R or G or B value can range
from 0 to 255, with 0 meaning the colour value (e.g., the
R) is off, and 255 meaning the value is fully on. Every
screen colour has a value that tells the designer how
much of the R, G, and B is showing or absent. In website
development, red, green, and blue values are written as
six-digit hexadecimal coding: a combination of numbers
from 0 to 9 and letters from A to F. For example, pure
blue has a hexadecimal value of 0000FF, and so on. To
13 – Planning Your Online Course
ensure that the colours are visible as intended, it is wise
to stick to the web-safe palette of hues. This is because
browser-safe colours don’t dither. Dithering is what happens when a colour is not available in the web palette, so the
browser tries to compensate by combining pixels of other
colours to substitute. Dithered colours look rough and
spotty: browser-safe colours stay smooth and even looking.
Colour is also a very important consideration to set
the mood, tone, and visual appeal of a course site learner
interface. If it is possible to customize the colour scheme
for each course, spend time as a team to visualize the
landscape or metaphor that is suggested by the course
content. For instance, a general biology course might
suggest the use of greens offset with browns and white;
while a course on metaphysics might suggest the use of
purples, lilacs, rich blues offset with white. If you want
to wake up your learner audience, to initiate action or
stimulate emotions, a warm colour scheme works best.
Reds, oranges, yellows all do the trick. If your intended
mood is one of calm, leisure, or dignified refinement, use
cooler colours—blues, purples, greens. If your statement
is bold and to the point, sharp contrasting colours such
as black and white or blue and orange work well.
Basic colour theory
Colour theory focuses on how colour manifests on the
spectrum. Colour psychology goes one step further to
assign common meaning or moods to specific colours.
To apply these to the course design, the team should
explore the meaning of primary, secondary and tertiary
colours which are the most common colours used on the
World Wide Web. Figure 13.9 illustrates the 12 basic
colours of the colour wheel.
• Red—hot, fire, daring, lush, aggressive, power, excitement, dominating, warning.
• Blue—peaceful, water, calm, wisdom, trust, loyalty,
dedication, productivity.
• Yellow—happy, sunny, cheerful, alert, concentration,
bright, warm, creative, playful.
Figure 13.10. The primary colours
Secondary colours are formed by mixing two of the
primary colours together. These mixed colours also evoke
particular moods. Figure 13.11 illustrates the secondary
colours from the mixture of two primary colours.
• Green (blue and yellow)—pastoral, spring, fertility,
jealousy, novice, youth, hope, life, money
• Orange (red and yellow)—warm, autumn, generous,
strong, fruitful, appetizing
• Purple (red and blue)—royal, mysterious, pride,
luxury, wealth, sophistication
Figure 13.11. The secondary colours
Figure 13.9. The colour wheel
Primary colours are the three pigment colours that
cannot be mixed or formed by any combination of other
colours. All other colours are derived from these three:
red, blue and yellow. Each of these pure colours stir up
different moods and feelings in a viewer. Figure 13.10
illustrates the primary colours.
Tertiary colours are formed by mixing the secondary
colours with primary colours. The olour wheel, illustrated
in Figure 13.9 gives examples of the six tertiary colours
between the three primary and three secondary colours.
Education for a Digital World
13 – Planning Your Online Course
Analogous colours are any three colours which are
side by side on a 12-part colour wheel. Complementary
colours are any two colours which are directly opposite
each other, such as red and green.
Of course there are also black and white, both very
common colours used in course designs.
Figure 13.14. Examples of Arial, Verdana, Times New Roman and Georgia text
Figure 13.12. Black, white and gray
Black is the absence of red, blue, and green light while
white is the purest saturation of all three. Black and
white plus gray are known as non-chromatic hues.
• Black represents style, dark, mystery, formal, powerful, authority.
• White is clean, pure, chastity, innocence, cool, refreshing.
• Gray is neutral, conservative, formal colour. Gray
ranges from sophisticated charcoal gray to active, energizing silver. It also represents maturity, dependability, and security.
Finally, text fonts and embellishments can be used to
help improve the comprehensiveness, presentation and
accessibility of the content. Use a consistent font (common ones include two sans serif fonts: Arial and Verdana, and two serif fonts, Times New Roman and
Georgia) throughout the text. Figure 13.14 shows examples of these four common fonts. Use bold and italic
embellishments for emphasis. Only use underlines for
actual links. Avoid using all capital letters. A good rule
of thumb is to use size 11 for general text font, 14 for
subheadings, 16 for titles. It is best to avoid blinking
text, as this can produce eye fatigue and may annoy the
learners. As well, graphical dingbat fonts can be used to
create icons, and other supportive graphics (Figure 13.13).
Figure 13.13. Examples of dingbat font images created using the Wingding font.
Education for a Digital World
“Step back … Before you get started putting your
course online, you will want to take a step back to
examine the big picture of what it is you want to
do”. (Elbaum et al., 2002)
Planning an online course involves identifying and
communicating the preliminary considerations that will
guide course design and implementation. At the core,
planning requires an examination of individual circumstances, philosophies, and skills. There is no single course
planning worksheet that will suit all design projects.
This chapter began with an overview of how the
planning process is influenced by context and trends.
There is a continuum of design approaches ranging
from flexible to linear, and emerging opinions about
how our learning spaces should be shaped. Although
learning-centred design is commonly acknowledged as
central to the success of online courses, and a team of
individuals with specific areas of expertise is ideal for
effective design, in reality there are often gaps in the
necessary resources, skills and knowledge to accomplish
everything we need or want to do.
Certain learner characteristics can often be identified
early on in the design process, but this is not always the
case. Age, socio-cultural backgrounds, and lifestyles of
the audience are all important considerations for course
design. E-learning offers more opportunities to cater to
individual learning styles by combining text and multimedia, planning for exploration, and designing activities
to engage learners in a variety of ways.
Likewise, e-teaching style influences design, yet this is
another element that can be unknown during the planning stage. An awareness of the general teaching style
characteristics and how they influence practice will help
to guide the design process.
Communicating our course design plans using mapping tools can serve to identify the important components
and relationships among them. Visually organizing design ideas in this manner is particularly suitable for on-
13 – Planning Your Online Course
line courses because it can translate well into a website
design. Different types of mapping tools can support the
various design approaches, some being more linear than
The final step of the planning process, the packaging,
is a culmination of all steps. Presentation, pacing, flow,
and general look and feel of the course is informed by
educational philosophies and beliefs of the design team,
the audience, teaching and learning styles, and a preliminary sketch or map of course components and the
relationships among those components in terms of time
and space. There are also some important web design
principles to follow.
Practice tells us that there are many different ways to
approach online course design. It is easy to be swept
away by the plethora of technologies available to designers but an important reminder to conclude this chapter
is to keep the focus on learning. Take the time to understand the why of your course plan, and how much of the
design should precede implementation.
Chat room. Text-based real-time group communication where multiple users type their questions, answers,
viewpoints and ideas for everyone to see.
Chunking. The process of organizing learning materials into brief sections to improve learner comprehension and retention.
Concept map. When used for course planning, a
concept map is a visual representation of the components and elements of the planned course, also referred
to as a course map or flow-chart.
Connectivism. Described as a learning theory for the
digital age, connectivism considers the influence of
learning tools in explaining how we learn.
Constructivist. The assumption that learners construct their own knowledge on the basis of interaction
with their environment.
E-learning style. An individual learner’s unique approach to learning within the online environment, based
on strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. Examples are
numerous; well-applied ones include Gardner’s Multiple
Intelligences and Kolb’s Learning Styles Inventory.
Flexible approach. An instructional design strategy
which is adaptable and learner-centred.
Interactivity. A technological feature that supports
the learner and teacher to engage in something that
helps to maintain learner interest, provide a means of
practice and reinforcement. Examples are engaging in
dialogue using a forum, journal or chat room; providing
peer feedback using a form format; verbal discussion
using microphone and speaker programs; visual prompts
that encourage student clicking and choosing sections of
a screen.
Module. An integrated “theme” of content. Typically,
one component of a course or a curriculum.
Multimedia. The integration of various media, including text, graphics, audio, video and animation, in
one e-learning application.
Readiness. The level of willingness and motivation in
a learner in regards to selecting e-learning as a mode of
education. This includes computer skill level and experiential knowledge with online learning.
Real-time. Instantaneous response or experience
with learning event. Examples include real-time simulation or chats that follow the pace of events in reality.
Storyboard. A visual scripting tool made up of a collection of frames created by a multimedia, graphic,
video, or instructional developer that details the sequence of scenes or module components that will be
represented to the users (instructors and learners).
Systems approach. An instructional design strategy
that follows a linear model similar to project management. A decision to use a systems approach is usually
influenced by the size of the project.
Quotes to ponder
• “The most powerful designs are always the result of a
continuous process of simplification and refinement”.
– Kevin Mullet and Darrel Sano (1995)
• “There is no such thing as a boring project. There are
only boring executions”. – Irene Etzkorn, axiom (n.d.)
• “Technical skill is mastery of complexity, while creativity is mastery of simplicity”. – E. Christopher
Zeeman, Catastrophe Theory (1977)
• “Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way”. –
Edward de Bono, 2005,
• “Quality isn’t something you lay on top of subjects
and objects like tinsel on a Christmas tree”. – Robert
Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
An Inquiry into Values (1974)
• “Absolute certainty about the fail-proofness of a design can never be attained, for we can never be certain that we have been exhaustive in asking questions
about its future”. – Henry Petroski, Design Paradigms:
case histories of error and judgment in engineering,
New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. (1992)
• “A specification, design, procedure, or test plan that
will not fit on one page of 8.5-by-11 inch paper can-
Education for a Digital World
13 – Planning Your Online Course
not be understood”. – Mark Ardis Comparison of algebraic and state-machine specification methods. In
Proceedings of ISPW, 1985. pp. 101–105 (1985)
“Everyone designs who devises courses of action
aimed at changing existing situations into preferred
ones”. – Herbert Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial
(3rd ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (1996)
“Tell me, and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I’ll understand”. – Chinese proverb
“Someday, in the distant future, our grandchildren’s
grandchildren will develop a new equivalent of our
classrooms. They will spend many hours in front of
boxes with fires glowing within. May they have the
wisdom to know the difference between light and
knowledge”. – Plato
“X-Generations demand X-cellent training in an Xcelerated speed”. – Angel Rampy (2006) http://www
“The ‘e’ in e-learning stands for experience”. – Elliott
Masie, Masie Center (n.d.)
“Communications is human nature. Knowledge
sharing is human nurture”. – Alison Tucker, Buckman Laboratories (n.d.)
“Online learning is not the next big thing, it is the
now big thing”. – Donna J Abernathy, Distance
Learning: Reach Out And Teach Someone, Training
and Development Magazine, 52(4), 49–50 (1998).
Advantogy (2003). Memletics Accelerated Learning
Styles Inventory. Grayslake, IL: Advantogy.
Anderson, T. & Elloumi, F. (2004). Theory and practice
of online learning. Athabasca: Athabasca University.
Bates, A. W. & Poole, G. (2003). Effective teaching with
technology in higher education: Foundations for success. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Bates, A. (2000), Managing technological change: Strategies for college and university leaders. San Francisco:
Bates, A. (2001). National strategies for e-learning in
post-secondary education and training. UNESCO:
International Institute for Educational Planning.
Paris: United Nations.
Canas, A., Leake, D. & Wilson, D. (1999). Managing,
mapping, and manipulating conceptual knowledge.
Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. Exploring synergies of knowledge management and casebased reasoning. Tech. Report WS-99-10, Menlo
Park, CA: AAAI Press, p. 10–113.
Education for a Digital World
Colon, B., Taylor, K. & Willis, J. (2000). Constructivist
instructional design: Creating a multimedia package
for teaching critical qualitative research. The Qualitative Report, 5(1 & 2).
Colwell, B. (2002). Near misses: Murphy’s law is wrong.
Computer, 35(4), 9–12.
Dede, C. (2007). Emerging educational technologies and
neomillennial learning styles. 2007 ELI Annual
Meeting Podcast, May, 1, 2007. http://connect
DeSantis, C. (2002). eLearners Advisor, University of
Erlbaum, B., McIntyre, C. & Smith, E. (2002). Essential
elements: Prepare, design, and teach your online
courses. Madison, WI: Atwood Publishing.
Fleming, N. (2001). VARK—a guide to learning styles.
Francis, S., Aistrip, J., Winsryg, M. (2003). Color is the
essence of it all. Santa Monica, CA: Martin Sosin.
Gagnon, Jr., G. & Cooley, M. (2001). Constructivist
learning design.
Gardner, H. (1983, 1993). Frames of Mind: The theory of
multiple intelligences. Tenth Anniversary Edition.
New York: Basic Books.
Grasha, A.. (2002). Teaching with style: A practical guide
to enhancing learning by understanding teaching and
learning styles. San Bernadino: Alliance Publishers.
Honey, P. & Mumford, A. (1992). The manual of learning styles (3rd ed.). Berkshire, UK: Peter Honey Publications.
Jung, C. (1971). Psychological Types (Collected Works of
C.G. Jung, Volume 6). Princeton University Press
Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as
the Source of Learning and Development. PrenticeHall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
Le Blanc, D. (2003). Instructional design for distributed
collaborative learning environments based on sociocultural constructivist theories (Unpublished
manuscript): Simon Fraser University.
Mannheim, K. (1936). Ideology and utopia. London, UK:
Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Mullet, K. & Sano, D. (1995). Designing visual interfaces:
Communication oriented techniques. New York, NY:
Prentice Hall.
Nelson, T. (1999). Ted Nelson’s Computer Paradigm,
expressed as one-liners.
Novak, J. (1977). A theory of education. Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press.
13 – Planning Your Online Course
Novosel, S. (2000). Readiness Index for Learning Online
(RILO). Indiana University School of Nursing
Raines, C. (2003). Connecting generations: The sourcebook for a new generation. Menlo Park, CA: Crisp
Rhodes, D. & Azbell, J. (1985). Designing interactive
video instruction professionally. Training and Development Journal, 39(12), 31 – 33.
Schrum, L. (2001). SORT: Student Online Readiness
Tool. University of Georgia.
Siemens, G. (2002, September 30, 2002). Instructional
Design in Elearning. Retrieved July 2, 2004, from
Sims, R. (1997). Interactivity: A forgotten art?. Computers in Human Behavior, 13(2), 157–180.
Sims, R. (2006). Beyond instructional design: Making
learning design a reality. Journal of Learning Design,
1(2), 1–7.
Sims, R., Dobbs, G. & Hand, T. (2001). Proactive evaluation: New perspectives for ensuring quality in online
learning applications. In Conference Proceedings of
the 18th Annual Conference of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education
(ASCILITE), Meeting at the Crossroads. p. 509– 517.
Statistics Canada. (2004) Study: The Sandwich Generation.
The Daily, September 28, 20013.
Struthers, J. (2002). Working models for designing online
courses and materials. The Higher Education Academy.
Veenema, S. & Gardner, H. (1996). Multimedia and
Multiple Intelligences. The American Prospect, 7(29).
Vella, J. (2001). Taking learning to task: Creative strategies for teaching adults. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Vella, J. (2006). Dialogue Education: What are the basics? Retrieved July, 2006, 2006, from http://www.lidc
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we talk about learning environments. Educational
Technology, pp. 25–30.
Education for a Digital World
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
Assessment and Evaluation
Dan O’Reilly and Kevin Kelly
To improve learning and promote learning communities, we must recognize that successful assessment is not primarily a question of technical skill but rather you of human
will. – Angelo (1999)
Education for a Digital World
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
Learning outcomes
After completing this chapter, you will be aware of:
• issues relevant to setting up a computer lab for online
• software configuration issues relevant to online testing.
• security issues relevant to online testing.
• various types of software available to manage quizzes
in a lab setting.
• the various types of quizzes that can be delivered online.
• some advanced features available for use in WebCT
quizzes: JavaScript, Excel WebQuery, RegularExpression, etc.
• student assessment strategies for the online environment.
This chapter reviews some of the basic issues of evaluation and assessment relevant to online testing. The
chapter primarily uses as example WebCT version 4.1;
nonetheless, the examples are such that they can be applied to most online platforms used in a lab setting.
The chapter begins by detailing some of the more
important security issues for online testing, ones that
generally are not covered in most reference material. It
looks in detail at some third-party software, namely,
NetSupport and Excel, for managing computer labs.
NetSupport provides a means of monitoring every computer in a lab from you workstation; Excel, through its
web query function, provides a means of collecting data
from any page in WebCT in order to monitor activity on
that page. Detailed examples are provided for both
packages. The quiz settings relevant to monitoring a
WebCT quiz in a computer lab are discussed in detail.
Education for a Digital World
Here, the discussion focuses on WebCT 4.1 and a computer lab environment.
The chapter next gives a detail examination of the
WebCT quiz environment and the different types of
WebCT quizzes: multiple choice, matching, short answer, paragraph and calculated. It assumes that the
reader has basic knowledge to create a quiz, and rather
than providing such information it discusses some advanced features available both within the WebCT settings for quizzes and also features available externally to
modify the quiz environment. Such things as using
JavaScript pop-up windows for creating links to external
information within a quiz; using and creating Regular
Expression scripts to edit input at the quiz interface;
using HTML tables to control the display in a WebCT
calculated type of question; etc. Detail examples are provided for each, with suggestions for using an HTML
editor such as Dreamweaver.
Security issues for online testing
by Dan O’Reilly
In this section, I focus on the WebCT CE 4.x Quiz Tool
and on issues related to administering a closed-book
quiz/exam in a computer lab. I do not cover all issues of
setting-up and running a WebCT quiz in a computer
lab, I only consider certain security issues not covered in
most reference material on WebCT. As well, even
though you may use a different platform than WebCT,
many of the issues discussed here are similar for most of
the learning management systems (LMSs). In the following discussion it is assumed that the person monitoring
the quiz/exam has access to a computer workstation in
the lab.
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
You can identify those who
have signed into a WebCT quiz
through the Submissions page. To
open the submissions page, go to
the Quizzes/Surveys page and click
The link to Submissions displays all student accounts in the
course, as well as identifying those
who have started or completed the
The Submissions page provides a wealth of information about a quiz. The page informs the instructor if the
quiz is “In progress”, “Not taken”, “Not graded”, or
“Partial”. The first two labels are self-explanatory. The
last label means that some of the questions in the quiz
are not marked. This happens when there are machine
gradable questions mixed with short answer or paragraph type questions. The latter question types must be
manually marked by a human. The “Not graded” label
means that the student either quit the quiz without
properly submitting the quiz for grading or the designer
configured the quiz so that it either must be manually
graded or it must be manually submitted for grading.
Clicking a Submissions no. opens the quiz of any student, whether submitted or not. In WebCT, you can
view the quiz while it is being completed by the student,
before it is even submitted. In fact, the designer can
force the quiz to be submitted while it is still being completed, so be careful when accessing live quizzes.
Though the Submissions view does provide information about a quiz, and allows some monitoring of the
quiz environment, computer labs should also be equipped
Education for a Digital World
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
with either a secure browser or computer monitoring
software such as NetSupport to protect the security of
the quiz environment. Preferably a lab would have both
features; neither by itself ensures absolute security. To-
A program like NetSupport (the
following is a screen shot from the
NetSupport website
allows an instructor to visually
monitor all computer screens
during a quiz, and this can assist
in identifying if a student is viewing a practice set of questions
(with answers) during the closed
book quiz or even emailing a
friend for assistance.
When using NetSupport with
WebCT you would see something
like the screen shown here.
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gether, these tools give a high level of security. Nevertheless, even if both these security tools are implemented,
you should still consider restricting the IP address of
work stations (more on this below in the Quiz Settings).
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
NetSupport provides a view of all
of the computers in the lab. It also
allows you to mouse-over a station
icon, which pops-up a magnified
window of a student workstation
(this is a view in a Thompson Rivers University lab).
If the NetSupport view raises suspicion of wrongdoing, you can
force the suspicious workstation to
expand to the full size of the
monitoring workstation.
Education for a Digital World
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
And you can identify all programs
the student has activated in the
background by viewing the task
bar of that workstation.
As well, by setting your quizzes a
certain colour it is easy to spot
workstations that are accessing
material that is not part of the
quiz. You can do a screen capture
of any suspicious workstation, to
act as evidence of violation of the
rules of the exam setting.
You can also increase the magnification of the collective class
screen. The following demonstrates that it is possible to create
other views of the workstations in
the lab, which are easy to tab between. You can create a tabbed
view of all workstations, of the
workstations for only the class, or
of the workstations that are only
doing the quiz (I frequently allow
other students in the lab who are
not completing the quiz). The fewer
the number of stations monitored
the greater the magnification possible to view all stations at once.
Education for a Digital World
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
A secure browser can be configured to only allow
authorized programs during the quiz. For example, Respondus LockDown Browser (http://www.respondus
.com/) is a custom browser that locks down the testing
environment within WebCT. Students then are unable
to print, copy, go to another URL, or access other applications during the quiz. When an assessment is started,
students are locked into it until they submit it for grading. Though secure browsers provide a significant degree of security, it is still worthwhile viewing each
individual station with a program like NetSupport.
NetSupport also provides similar features to the Respondus LockDown Browser. Check out their respective
Websites for further details. As well, if possible, restrict
IP addresses (more on this below).
I have up to 200 students registered in a WebCT course.
Even though the class breaks down into 24 students per
lab/quiz, which is quite manageable, the Submissions
screen does not provide an easy way to isolate the specific 24 students taking a quiz; you must view all 200
student accounts at once. It is very difficult to monitor
the 24 students taking a quiz when the Submissions
screen lists 200, and the 24 are scattered throughout the
200. This is especially a problem if students are assigned
to the labs non-alphabetically (the Submissions screen
sorts students alphabetically by Last Name only). However, you can use the WebQuery feature of an Excel
spreadsheet to assist in the monitoring. All data on any
WebCT page can be grabbed by an Excel WebQuery.
To prepare for using WebQuery,
you must enter the WebCT URL
of your Submissions page. To identify that address, open your WebCT
Quizzes/Survey page from the designer account. Then click on the
link to the quiz.
This opens the Quiz Editor for
that quiz. Pull your mouse over
the background of the quiz page
(anywhere but a hypertext link),
and right click (this assumes you are
using a PC). In IE, a pop-up window appears. Select, View Source.
Education for a Digital World
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
This opens a Notepad window of
the source HTML code for that
page. Make sure your Notepad is
in Word Wrap mode. Click on
Edit > Find.
Type “Submissions” into the find
field and click “Find Next” until
you find the anchor link for ‘Submissions’ (code with a “<a href”
Just ahead of this location is the
required URL. Copy and save that
address, it is the Submission Page
URL. You require this address for
the WebQuery which follows.
Education for a Digital World
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
To execute a WebQuery, open an
Excel spreadsheet, click Data >
Import External Data > New Web
Query (I assume some working
knowledge of Excel and I am only
sketching out the process here
because specifics can vary from
system to system).
This opens a window in your
spreadsheet, which initially displays your default browser Homepage. Enter the location of your
WebCT server in the address field.
Education for a Digital World
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
This should bring you to the
WebCT server and Login screen
(again this varies according to
WebCT setup). Login to your designer account. All this is happening in the small window
opened in the spreadsheet.
Locate the course module, and
enter the Submission Page URL
(discussed above) beginning at the
slash just before SCRIPT, e.g.,
2” overwrites the “/” before SCRIPT
in “
Education for a Digital World
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
Once the URL is pasted, click GO.
This then takes you to the Submissions page, listing all the students
in the course. Click the yellow
which turns to a green
. This
identifies the data that you want to
import from WebCT into Excel.
Click Import, importing the data
from the Submissions page into
your Excel spreadsheet.
This screen capture displays an
Excel spreadsheet, in which I wrote
macros and formulas to analyze
the data pulled from the Submissions page. Excel has tools that
allow you to continuously update
the data being generated from
WebCT. With WebQuery you are
basically creating a real-time Excel
window into the Submissions page
of your WebCT Quiz. Excel WebQuerys can be used to mine data
for a variety of different purposes
in WebCT; they are exceptionally
Education for a Digital World
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
To open the Quiz Settings
page: From Control Panel > Quizzes/Surveys > [Name of Quiz] >
Edit Quiz Settings. Seventeen different areas can be identified in
the Quiz settings.
In the following I only discuss a few of the 17 areas
numbered above, many of these areas are covered in
other sources about WebCT CE 4.x. I only cover those
that are directly relevant to monitoring a quiz in a lab.
Controlled release of quizzes
Controlled release to specific students [9]
• You can release quizzes to the whole class or to only a
subsection of the class, even to just one person.
Education for a Digital World
• Even though you can control release to one account,
more than one person can sign into an account (all
using the same student/WebCT ID). So, a student
could sign into a quiz, and have their bright friend in
Timbuktu sign in at exactly the same time and complete the quiz for them, while the student sits in front
of the workstation appearing to do the work. The best
way to stop this is by controlling the IP Address, and
setting and changing the password.
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
Controlled release to an IP address [11]
To reduce the risk that more than one person signs into
the same account/quiz, you can release quizzes to a single IP address or to a range of IP address. This at least
prevents the person in Timbuktu from accessing the quiz.
WebCT types of quiz questions
Controlled release by quiz password [10]
You can set a password to allow entry into a quiz. With
this setting, the quiz cannot be started without the password. Not only does this assist to control unauthorized
access to the quiz, it also gives you the power to force
everyone to start the quiz at approximately the same
time. This option combined with the release by User ID
and the release by IP address can significantly reduce the
possibility of unauthorized access.
In contrast to some of the other WebCT tools, such as
the calendar or email, the WebCT Quiz Tool is more an
environment than a single application. The WebCT
Quiz Tool environment has four important parts, one is
the question database, another is the quiz index, a third
is the quiz editor and the fourth is the actual WebCT
quiz (see Figure 14.1).
by Dan O’Reilly
Change the password during the quiz and deny access
During the quiz, I usually reset the password as soon as
everyone is into the quiz, which effectively prevents anyone new from signing in. This helps to prevent someone
signing-on from a remote site (if you didn’t restrict access
by the IP address and they were emailed the current password by someone taking the quiz), especially someone
who was authorized to do the quiz but did not show up.
Figure 14.1
Security Issues for totally online courses
Obviously, the security issues for totally online courses
are quite different than for face-to-face courses. There is
a fair amount of literature on this topic. Most universities and colleges have testing centres, and for a fee you
can have students invigilated during an exam. I have
done this with students taking my online logic course.
These students arranged with a testing centre to use an
Internet-enabled computer for completing their exams.
An invigilator was also present. However, you still need
to create an exam that is more demanding and that
could not be easily completed by cheating. In testing
centres, you seldom have the ability to check out the
computer system the student uses for the exam, or to
specify that there must be a secure browser.
The question database contains the questions used in
a quiz, the quiz editor organizes the questions from the
database into a WebCT quiz, and the quiz index (technically referred to as the Quizzes/Surveys page) provides a
quick index/link to all the quizzes and their results/statistics
contained in the course module. This logical structuring
allows the same question database to be used in a variety
of different quizzes. You can even export questions from
the question database to self-tests.
You access the Quiz Tool through the Control Panel.
From the Control Panel you click on Quizzes/Surveys
and that takes you to the Quizzes/Surveys page. Here
you can create a new quiz or survey, edit an old quiz or
survey, and modify the look of the Quizzes/Surveys
homepage. From the Quizzes/Surveys page you can link
to the question database. The Quizzes/Surveys page is
the central hub of the Quiz Tool.
As part of the content of a quiz, you can link to external sources, such as images or other file types (HTML,
audio, video, PowerPoint, XLS, etc.). Though the student would not be aware, the code causing this linking
can be contained either in the individual questions (in
the question database) or in the quiz module (entered
through quiz editor). I will discuss linking from individual questions to other files first, and then I will discuss
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14 – Assessment and Evaluation
linking from the quiz module to other files. JavaScript
can be used in this linking process to significantly enhance quiz presentation.
There are five different types of quizzes in WebCT,
and one type, the short answer quiz, allows the student
to enter either a single word or a more complex longer
phrase as answer. The answers for these quizzes can be
parsed using RegularExpression coding. This means that
immaterial or trivial typing mistakes on the part of a
student, such as an extra space between words, can be
identified and will not be penalized. This reduces some
of the anxiety often experienced with online testing.
After discussing linking to files, I examine RegularExpression coding in some detail.
There are five different types of WebCT questions:
• Multiple Choice: MC questions are of two types,
students are allowed to select either you or multiple
answers to a question. The following example only
demonstrates the one answer type.
• Short Answer: Students enter a word, phrase or short
sentence, which is then matched against possible answers. Short answer types of questions can use the
RegularExpression feature for evaluating answers
(more on this feature later).
Education for a Digital World
• Matching: Students match items in relation to two
columns. This type of question uses a pull-down menu.
• Paragraph: Students answer the question using a longer
essay-type format. The instructor or the teaching assistant must grade this type of question manually.
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
Though it does vary slightly from question type to question type, the entry screen to create or edit a quiz question usually has seven sections: category, title, question,
settings, answers, and general feedback.
• Calculated: Students answer a mathematical question, which requires the use of a formula. In creating
the question, the designer specifies the mathematical
formula and the set of variables it uses, along with a
range of values for each variable. Up to 100 different
sets of answers are generated from the set of variables
specified (each value in the table below is a variable,
which in principle varies from one student to the next).
In each type of question shown above, you can link either to content contained within a WebCT directory or
to content external to the WebCT course module.
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14 – Assessment and Evaluation
As well, you can also add other
sections, for example, I always add
a section for the level of difficulty
of a question.
Two easy methods of linking to images
• IMAGE FIELD: In the question
database section accessed with
the question editor, WebCT provides a field to link to images.
This field is primarily useful when
a common image is used to provide
information for each possible answer in the question, as in this
It is a simple matter to create
the link to the image, click on the
browse button to search the directory structure of WebCT for
your graphic; you simply need to
know where the image is located
in your WebCT file structure.
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14 – Assessment and Evaluation
• <IMG SRC=“ ”>: If you want
to be a little more creative in
the use of images in your questions, each of the question field,
the answer # field, the feedback
# field, and the general feedback
field can contain code to images,
such as the HTML image tag,
<IMG SRC=“ ”>, which is used
to automatically display graphics in a HTML page. (These
fields can also contain anchor
links <A HREF=“ ”> to other
HTML pages or external web
pages. More on this later.)
For example, suppose you
wanted a graphic associated with
each answer in a question. Simply
enter the appropriate <IMG
SRC=“ ”> tag in the answer field
for each possible answer in your
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14 – Assessment and Evaluation
I have created quizzes with up to
seven possible answers (I do not
know the limit).
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14 – Assessment and Evaluation
An undocumented (though discussed on the WebCT listserv)
variable in WebCT is the
_COURSEID_ variable. This variable takes on the value of the
course root name; you can use it to
locate the path to the image.
The value of using this variable is that it enables you to
easily transfer a database of questions from you WebCT
module to another, as long as the directory structure is
logically the same. It also allows you to zip your course
into a different WebCT root name.
Even though I am using the multiple choice question
as an example, these methods of linking to files to provide content for a quiz apply to all the question types.
The WebCT quiz environment is quite versatile and
rich. Beyond the scope of this article, there are many
other options that can be set at the individual question
level, such as randomization of the index, multiple
choice questions can be configured to accept only one
answer or a number of possible answers each with a
different value, etc. In addition, the quiz module itself,
as distinct from the questions in the quiz, has a variety
of different settings, which allows the quiz to be managed in a variety of different ways. In the section on supervising quizzes, I will discuss in some detail the quiz
module settings.
In summary then, from within WebCT questions, there
are two easy ways to link to images for display during a
quiz, you is using the IMAGE FIELD in the question
section and another is using the <IMG SRC=“ ”> tag
within the question field, the answer # field, the feedback # field, and the general feedback field.
Besides using HTML tags in the
fields of a question, you can also
use JavaScript to link to images,
and this gives you the ability to
create pop-up windows in your
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14 – Assessment and Evaluation
Besides linking to images, you can
also link to other types of web
documents, everything from standard HTML pages, to audio files,
video files, PowerPoint files, etc.
These links can be to files within
your course or to files external to
your course. For example, I frequently provide a link to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
for many of my quizzes.
A simple JavaScript to generate
a pop-up window is shown here.
[The code in red is not part of the
JavaScript required to create the
pop-up window link.]
< !-- hide from old browsers
function new_window(url) {
link =,"Link","toolbar=0,location=0,directories=0,status=1,menubar=0,scrollbars=yes,resi
// end script hiding -->
< H3 ALIGN=center>Reference Links</H3>
< P ALIGN=center>
< a href="javascript:new_window('')">Merriam-Webster Online
< P ALIGN=justify>Say whether the item on the left is SUFFICIENT, or NECESSARY, or BOTH (necessary
and sufficient), or NEITHER (necessary nor sufficient) for the item on the right.
This script can be placed in the
question field of a question template (only a portion of the
JavaScript is shown in the following field).
The quiz module is created/edited through the Quizzes/Surveys link. Go to the Quizzes/Surveys page and
select the quiz. When you click on the quiz name you
are automatically put into the quiz editor. The quiz editor assembles and connects the various parts of a quiz
(which I am referring to as the quiz module). Most importantly, through the quiz editor you link the questions
Education for a Digital World
from the question database to a quiz. Here you can add
questions, delete questions, modify the settings for a
quiz, and preview the quiz, to name but a few of its
functions. This is where you can program WebCT to
randomly generate a set of questions from a database of
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
The quiz editor allows you to
modify the page style of the quiz.
One of the modifiable style features is the upper textblock.
In the textblock you can place a
variety of JavaScripts. (Just a note
of caution at this juncture: You
should always do a backup of your
course before you try any
JavaScript in textblocks. Some
JavaScript can completely disable a
page. So, it is handy to have a
backup of your course in case your
JavaScript crashes your system.)
When I want a link to the same
information for every question in
a quiz, I place the JavaScript code
that creates the pop-up window/link in the upper textblock of
the quiz module.
When the JavaScript is placed in
the textblock, it operates on every
page of the quiz.
Education for a Digital World
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
The JavaScript code used to generate the pop-up window for the
quiz linked to this page is shown
< !-- hide from old browsers
function new_window(url) {
link =,"Link","toolbar=0,location=0,directories=0,status=1,menubar=0,scrollbars=yes,resizable=
// end script hiding -->
< P ALIGN=center>Reference: <a
< P><HR>
In two of the quizzes created for
this section on WebCT Quizzes, I
used some relatively advanced
coding features of HTML and
Use of HTML in question field
For example, in the calculated
question example, I create the
table for the quiz using the following HTML code.
Education for a Digital World
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
Calculated questions allow the use
of variables, and if you scan this
code you will notice the variables
by looking for braces, e.g., { }. Using the variable feature of calculated questions enables you to
generate hundreds of examples
from one question.
Given the following population distribution, what is the probability calculation of <FONT
SIZE=-1><B>(to 3 decimal places)</B></FONT>:
<P ALIGN=center><B> P (<font color="#0000FF">B</font> and <B>S</B>)
<P ALIGN=center>&nbsp;
<table width="75%" border="1" cellspacing="1" cellpadding="1" align=center>
<td COLSPAN=3 align="center" height="50" ><b>The population under study is
a jar of marbles with the following composition:</b></td>
<tr align="center" bgcolor="#CCFFFF">
<td height="50"><b>COLOUR</b></td>
<td height="50"><b>LARGE</b></td>
<td height="50"><b>SMALL</b></td>
<tr align="center" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">
<td height="50"><b><font color="#FF0000">RED</font></b></td>
<td height="50"><b><font color="#FF0000">{r2}</font></b></td>
<td height="50"><b><font color="#FF0000">{r3}</font></b></td>
<tr align="center" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">
<td height="50"><b><font color="#339900">GREEN</font></b></td>
<td height="50"><b><font color="#339900">{g2}</font></b></td>
<td height="50"><b><font color="#339900">{g3}</font></b></td>
<tr align="center" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">
<td height="50"><b><font color="#0000FF">BLUE</font></b></td>
<td height="50"><b><font color="#0000FF">{b2}</font></b></td>
<td height="50"><b><font color="#0000FF">{b3}</font></b></td>
<tr align="center" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">
<td height="50"><b><FONT color="#FF8000">ORANGE</FONT></b></td>
<td height="50"><b><FONT color="#FF8000">{o2}</FONT></b></td>
<td height="50"><b><FONT color="#FF8000">{o3}</FONT></b></td>
I created this code in the HTML
editor Dreamweaver, which gives a
WYSIWYG view of the variables.
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14 – Assessment and Evaluation
… and then placed the code in the
question field of the calculated
question template (only the top
part of the code is shown here).
Use of JavaScript memory
In the multiple choice question on
page 230 displaying a graphic for
each possible answer, I use
JavaScript memory variables to
supply the category reference labels, as well as the standard form
formulas. This enabled me to create one template to generate over
100 exercises; I only had to change
the memory variable entry in one
location rather than eight locations for each question (which is
what I would have to do if I had
entered the values as constants).
The JavaScript code used to create
the memory variables looks like
<!-- hide from old browsers
var main_term = "Not all income is taxable. (I, T)"
var p_term = "I"
var q_term = "T"
var all_p_are_q ="All "+ p_term +" are "+ q_term
var no_p_are_q = "No "+ p_term +" are "+ q_term
var some_p_are_q = "Some "+ p_term +" are "+ q_term
var some_p_are_not_q = "Some "+ p_term +" are not "+ q_term
var all_q_are_p = "All "+ q_term +" are "+ p_term
var some_q_are_p = "Some "+ q_term +" are "+ p_term
var some_q_are_not_p = "Some "+ q_term +" are not "+ p_term
function new_window(url) {
link =,"Link","toolbar=0,location=0,directories=0,status=1,menubar=0,scrollbars=
// end script hiding -->
<P ALIGN=justify>Express the sentence as a <a
<I><B>standard form categorical proposition</B></I></A> by selecting the correct Venn
representation of the claim.
<P ALIGN=center><B>
<!-- hide from old browsers
// end script hiding -->
Education for a Digital World
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
Similar to the first example, the
code is placed in the question field
of the multiple choice question
(again only the top part of the
code displays in this example).
Subsequently, each answer field
has code similar to the following
which makes use of the variables
defined by the JavaScript in the
question field.
<SCRIPT LANGUAGE="JavaScript1.2">
<!-- hide from old browsers
// end script hiding -->
</B></TD><TD ALIGN=center>
<IMG SRC="/_COURSEID_/root/stndard_cat_claims/all_p_are_q.gif">
<!-- hide from old browsers
// end script hiding -->
<!-- hide from old browsers
// end script hiding -->
Education for a Digital World
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
As is the case for the other quiz
types, the entry screen for a short
answer quiz generally has five
sections: category, title, question,
answers, and general feedback.
The answer section, however, is a
little more complex than on the
multiple choice question. In this
question type, there is a pull down
menu to select the grading option,
and one grading option is Regular
Expression. The regular expression
option enables you to parse the
input. This assists in reducing the
number of simple data entry errors, such as the student entering
an extra space between words, in a
multiple word answer.
Education for a Digital World
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
In the example shown above, the ^ tells the parser
that the entry has to begin at the beginning of the line;
the + tells the parser that it can match one or more occurrences of the character immediately to the left (in this
case a space); the \ tells the parser that the character
following is a period (not a meta character); the ? tells
the parser that the character to the left (the period) may
or may not be there, but if it is there it should only occur
once; and the $ tells the parser this should be the end of
the entry. As I do not want my quizzes to be a course
about typing, regular expressions can reduce significantly the number of answers marked incorrect due to
trivial typing errors. This mean all the following would
be treated as correct by the regular expression parser:
Some O are F.
some o are f.
some o ARE F
The following are links to pages about Regular Expression:
• Henk’s Test a RegExp
• Henk’s Quia Page
• The Regex Coach
• Regular Expression HOWTO
One of the links is to an applet, which tests your
RegularExpression, another is to the Regex Coach, a
program which can be downloaded. I have found both
these tools invaluable when creating regular expressions.
The other links are to online reference material about
RegularExpression. Some of these links were created and
are maintained by Henk Schotel. For those who have
visited the WebCT Home Page and specifically the Dr. C
support facility, you will recognize Henk as one of the
experts who contributes to Dr. C.
Third-party tools
There are several free or low-cost third-party assessment
tools available over the Internet:
• The Discovery School website “offers teachers of all
subjects and array of powerful tools” for assessment
ols.html). Use Puzzlemaker to generate crossword
puzzles, word searches, and math squares. Visit the
Quiz Center to create and give quizzes. Try the
Worksheet Generator to create custom worksheets
for your course materials.
• Higher education and K–12 instructors use Quia
(‘key- ah) “to create customized educational software
online, built around their own course materials and
made available to students over the Web”
( Quia
is a subscription-based service.
• Half Baked Software, Inc., created Hot Potatoes, a set
of applications that allow instructors “to create interactive multiple-choice, short-answer, jumbled-sentence,
crossword, matching/ ordering and gap-fill exercises
for the World Wide Web” (
You can also include MP3 audio files and math symbols as part of these assessment activities. Hot Potatoes requires a licensing fee, unless you work for a
publicly funded, non-profit educational institution.
• QuizStar is a free web-based tool for K–12 instructors
to create and assign quizzes, manage student results,
and allow students “to review the results for further
learning” (
Some publishers offer assessment tools that accompany textbook activities. For example, Glencoe Online
Mathematics provides an Online Study Tools site
Authentic student assessment
strategies for the online
by Kevin Kelly
Often when we talk of assessment in an online environment, we think of automated quizzes and grade books.
While useful in many circumstances, automated quizzes do
not always accurately reflect a student’s abilities, especially when you are asking them to achieve a higher level
of difficulty in the cognitive learning domain, to demonstrate a physical skill in the psychomotor learning domain, or to evaluate attitudes in the affective learning
domain (see description of learning domains and degrees of
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14 – Assessment and Evaluation
difficulty at
/bloom.html). Authentic assessment—assessing student abilities to apply knowledge, skills, and attitudes to
real world problems—is not only possible in an online
environment; it is getting more popular.
Disciplines that might use each assessment
computer code
computer science
technical writing
technical and professional writing
teacher education, health education, social work
observation log
teacher education, nursing, laboratory sciences
The first step to assessing online work is to prepare each
assignment. Since students may not have you around to
ask questions, you need to anticipate the types of information that students need. There are some standard
items to include in your instructions for all types of online assignments:
• Name of the assignment (This should be the same
name as listed in the syllabus).
• Learning objective(s) to which this assignment relates.
• When the assignment is due.
• Any resources that you recommend using to complete the assignment.
• Expectations (length, level of effort, number of citations required, etc.).
• Level of group participation (individual assignments,
group or team projects, and entire class projects).
• Process (how students turn in the assignment, if they
provide peer review, how peers give feedback, how
you give feedback).
• Grading criteria (include rubric if you are using one).
By including these items, you give students a better
idea of what you want them to do.
When you consider what types of online assessment
strategies to choose, the list will be very similar to the
print-based strategies that you know and already use.
However, there are a few additional assessment strategies that the online environment makes possible. The list
below is not comprehensive by any means. It also does
not show which tools could be used to facilitate the different types of assessment strategies. Some of these activities may require students to have access to
equipment or software applications to complete.
Table 14.1. Assessment strategies and disciplines that may commonly use them
Type of assessment
Disciplines that might use each assessment
Type of assessment
lab manual
physical sciences
Education for a Digital World
image gallery
art, industrial design
web page or website
business, public administration
language acquisition
theatre arts (monologue), marketing
Notice that some assessment strategies require participation by someone other than the student. For example, a K–12 master teacher would submit an
observation log for a credential student performing his
or her student teaching. Similarly, a health clinic supervisor would submit an observation log for a nursing
student related to his or her abilities to draw blood for
testing. A theatre arts student may need someone to
record his or her monologue.
Some assessment strategies allow students to get
creative. In Chapter 11, Accessibility and Universal Design, the section on Universal Design for Learning discusses the concept of letting students decide what
product or process they will use to demonstrate knowledge, skills, or attitudes. Chapter 11 also covers important aspects of making sure that students have access to,
or ability to use the technologies required to complete
the tasks. Once you do that, you could ask students to
create a video advertisement that demonstrates the application of marketing principles, an audio recording
that demonstrates mastery of inflection and tone when
speaking Mandarin Chinese, or a PowerPoint slide show
with audio clips that demonstrates competency with
teacher education standards. The age-old practice of
storytelling has been “remastered” as digital storytelling
through blogs, wikis, podcasts, and more. Students are
taking advantage of these new media formats to illustrate that they have met certain requirements. In some
cases, each product becomes an “asset” or “artifact” in a
larger electronic portfolio that contains items for a single class, an entire program or department, or all curricular and co-curricular work that a student does.
Regardless of what products students provide to show
their abilities, you need a way to evaluate their work.
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
You can use qualitative or quantitative degrees to evaluate criteria (see Table 14.2 for an example of each). Share
the checklist or rubric with students before they begin
the assignment, so they know what will be expected of
them. In some cases, instructors create the entire rubric,
or portions of it, with the students.
After determining how students will show how they can
meet the learning objectives, it is time to choose an
evaluation method. You can use a number of tools,
ranging from a simple checklist of criteria to a rubric that
contains the same criteria as well as a range of performance and degrees to which students meet the criteria.
Table 14.2. Portion of a student presentation assessment rubric
Student supports main presentation points with stories or
Student effectively used
stories and/or examples to
illustrate key points.
Presenter used stories
and/or examples somewhat
effectively to illustrate some
key points.
Presenter used some unrelated stories and/or examples that distracted from
key points.
Presenter did not use stories
or examples to illustrate key
Presentation covered 4 or 5
of the areas to the left.
Presentation covered 2 or 3
of the areas to the left.
Presentation covered 1 or 0
of the areas to the left.
Cover project completely,
Presentation covered all 6
of the areas to the left.
1) Needs Assessment Objectives, 2) Extant Data Analysis,
3) Data Collection Methods, 4)
Brief Summary of Data, 5)
Collected Data Analysis, 6)
Invite students to use the same rubric for peer review
assignments. Students benefit from reviewing peers’
work, as they get to see different ways of approaching
the same objective. These same students benefit from
their peers’ additional feedback. Let students know that
merely giving a numeric score for each criterion is not
enough. For peer review to be “constructive criticism,”
students must help each other construct better answers,
better arguments, and better performance. In addition
to clarifying expectations about the assignment through
the rubric itself, you must clarify expectations about
how students use the rubric for peer review.
If you have never created a rubric before, there are
online tools that guide you through the process.
Rubistar is “a free tool to help teachers create
quality rubrics” ( The
site also has example rubrics and information
about how to analyze student performance.
The next step in the assessment process is to facilitate
the student work in the online environment, or to provide avenues for students to submit their work to you.
More online tools emerge every day, it seems, and with
them come new opportunities for students to perform
activities related to the learning objectives and for us to
assess student performance. We will cover a range of
tools used for assessment delivery, pros and cons related
to using each of these tools, and strategies related to the
teaching and the technology aspects of using them.
Email can be used for distributing assignments from
student to instructor, from student to small group, or
from student to the entire class. It will depend on what
role peer feedback plays in the overall assignment. Since
almost everyone in an educational setting uses email, it
seems like an easy solution for students to submit their
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14 – Assessment and Evaluation
work for evaluation. However, as easy as it is to use,
email is not foolproof. Email messages get blocked by
spam filters, by overprotective Internet Service Providers, and by inadequate storage capacity, to name a few
possibilities. Another issue with email arises when you
try to organize all of the files received for a particular
assignment. As you create more assignments, it will be
harder to separate one from the other. Attachments
sometimes get separated from the email message, and
large attachments sometimes do not get through due to
size limitations. If you have a large class, the volume of
email may become overwhelming.
If you do use email as a mechanism to collect student
work for evaluation, then require your students to use a
specific email subject that will make them easy to sort,
such as “Assignment 3—Juan Doe.” Keep in mind that
even with the most explicit instructions, not every student follows them. To assess each student’s work, you
will follow the same process as you do for print-based
Instructors in many fields require students to write
journal entries or reflective essays. In some cases, these
exercises give students a chance to practise writing. In
other cases, journal entry assignments force students to
reflect on specific experiences and their attitudes about
those experiences. While students can write their reflections almost anywhere, a tool called a weblog provides a
forum for students to record their thoughts and, in some
cases, to control who can access their reflections. You
can find more information about weblogs themselves in
Chapters 25 and 27. For the purposes of this chapter, we
will focus on assessment strategies for students’ weblog
As journal entries and reflections are not standard for
all students, you will have to adopt different assessment
strategies. For instance, rather than evaluate the content
of the weblog entries, you can evaluate them based on
regularity, length and whether or not the content is appropriate to the topic or theme. You may also want to
submit notes or comments and possibly ask students to
write weblog responses to those comments. Regardless
of your approach, make sure that students know how
they will be evaluated before they begin the work.
Discussion forums are a useful tool to assess student
knowledge and attitudes. They can also be used for
higher level thinking assignments such as the One Sentence Summary, which requires students to synthesize a
Education for a Digital World
complex process (see example directly below). You can
assign points to the students’ original work as well as
any peer review portion of the assignment.
Based on the chapter you have read about international
export and import regulations, identify a topic that you
want to summarize.
PART 1—DUE Friday at 11:59 pm (10 points): Click
“Add a new discussion topic” below. For the topic you
identified, answer the questions below and string into
YOU SENTENCE. If your answer is longer than you
sentence, then try again.
Who ________________________________________
does What____________________________________
to Whom (or What) ____________________________
When _______________________________________
How ________________________________________
and Why? ____________________________________
PART 2—DUE Tuesday at 4:00 pm (10 points): Read
two or more one-sentence summaries that do not have
two replies yet. If it has two replies move to the next one.
Select a rating. Click “Reply” and provide feedback:
• If you agree with the summary, say why.
• If you do not agree with the summary, provide evidence and suggestions for improvement.
• If the summary is missing one part (“How”, “Why”,
etc.), then fill in the blank.
• Only the instructor’s ratings will count towards the
grade. The other students’ ratings are to give you ideas
about how much work you may have to do to revise
your statement.
Sometimes students wait until the last minute to
complete assignments. For a discussion forum assignment, this means that students post their ideas and reply
to their peers all in the same brief period before the
deadline. Unfortunately, the result is that not all students get replies or feedback for their ideas, even if they
completed the assignment well ahead of the deadline.
If you want the students to engage in an actual discussion, then you should break up the assignment into
parts with separate deadlines. Assign points to each
portion of the assignment to encourage students to
complete both parts (see example below).
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
Step 1: Go to the following online workshop about using
existing data:
(NOTE: The workshop says it takes one hour for each of
the five sections. That is for their purposes. Plan to
spend one or two hours at your own pace. Most of this
will be discussion, since there is not too much to read.)
Step 2: Read through the five sections.
Step 3: BY FRIDAY (9/23) AT 11:59 PM, do the following:
• 10 points—Post two original threads (one answering
each question in this Forum)
• Use your project name in the title of your reply.
Step 4: BY TUESDAY (9/27) AT 5:00 PM, do the following:
• 10 points—Post two reply threads for each question
(one from your team and one from a different team
that does not have two responses yet).
Discussion forums keep track of the date and time that
assignments are submitted. This feature helps instructors who may have included a late submission policy in
their syllabus, such as “Students will receive half credit
for late assignments submitted up to two weeks after the
assignment is due.”
Online work does not require everyone to be in the same
room, at the same time, so you can take advantage of the
online environment to make assessment an iterative
process. As we previously stated, authentic assessment
mimics work that students will encounter in the real
world, such as creating antiviral drugs in a biopharmaceutical lab, making presentations to potential donors to
a non-profit organization, or teaching civics lessons in
an inner-city high school. In these work environments,
there are benchmarks or milestones that allow people to
check their progress. You can use authentic assessment
methods like the peer review rubric to replicate this pro-
cess. For example, you may have the students provide
peer feedback first, as a way to improve their work before turning it in for a grade, or you may have them
provide it at the same time as your own with the option
to rewrite it. By creating additional parts to each assessment strategy, students will learn even when you are
evaluating them.
This has been an overview in some cases and in others a
detailed examination of the types of issues you need to
consider when evaluating student performance in the
online environment. The issues covered in this chapter
include security for online testing, creating quizzes in
WebCT, finding third-party assessment tools, and
authentic assessment strategies.
If you are going to administer an online exam and
students will be on campus, it is important to think
about the computer lab environment. Work with lab
managers to have students use secure browsers and/or
computer monitoring software, like NetSupport. You
can also use Excel with WebQuery to monitor large
numbers of student test submissions. Quiz Settings in
WebCT and in other Learning Management Systems
include, but are not limited to, restricting which IP addresses (or ranges) can access the quiz itself and setting a
password for the quiz.
This chapter provides valuable information for teachers using WebCT. In addition to showing you how to
create the different types of questions (multiple choice,
short answer, matching, paragraph, and calculated), it
demonstrates how to link to images and files. Linking to
images can be done using the WebCT Graphic User
Interface (GUI) or with HTML code. Linking to files can
be done using the GUI or JavaScript. It concludes by
looking at grading options for short answer questions.
For those of you who do not have access to, or do not
wish to use, a quiz in a learning management system
(LMS), there are other online assessment tools available.
These third-party tools provide a variety of options,
ranging from quizzes similar to those from an LMS to
crossword puzzles that use vocabulary from your course.
You can also create customized worksheets or include
media like MP3 audio files. Some of these tools are free,
while others require a subscription or fee.
The last section of the chapter discusses a different
type of assessment, called authentic assessment.
Authentic assessment is designed to give students the
opportunity to show their abilities in ways that are
closer to what they will be asked to do in the field they
Education for a Digital World
14 – Assessment and Evaluation
are studying. Usually multiple-choice quizzes do not
provide the opportunity for students to show physical
skills or higher level thinking. Essays, lab manuals, audio
or video clips, observation logs completed by experts in
the field, and presentations are just a few examples of
evidence students can provide to demonstrate competencies. Sometimes these pieces of evidence are collected
in an electronic portfolio, while in other cases they are
individually submitted.
As an instructor it is your job to choose the appropriate assessment strategies for the knowledge, skills or
attitudes that students need to display. Define your expectations, possibly with a rubric and model evidence
that students should emulate. Pick a technology pathway
that will provide equal opportunities for students to
succeed. Finally, be sure to make assessment an iterative
process. This can mean giving students a chance to go
through a self-assessment quiz or to participate in a peer
Education for a Digital World
review exercise. It might also mean that you assign lowstakes quizzes or writing assignments each week. This
will help students prepare to complete a high-stakes
exam or written work.
There is an online version of the WebCT quiz tool
discussed in this chapter. It demonstrates the quizzes
discussed here:
Benjamin Bloom’s Learning Domains: http://www.nwlink
Part 3:
Implementing Technology
Education for a Digital World
Understanding Copyright:
Knowing Your Rights and Knowing
When You’re Right
Dan McGuire
Education for a Digital World
15 – Understanding Copyright: Knowing Your Rights and Knowing When You’re Right
Learning outcomes
After completing this chapter, you will be able to:
• Define “ownership”, both as a concrete concept and
as an abstraction, as a practical measure of property
• Identify your rights as the owner of intellectual property
• Explain why seeking permission to use copyrighted
material is preferable to using materials without permission.
• Identify some common instances of copyright infringement.
Copyright is a word that has developed its own mythology.
It is almost impossible to go through a day without
coming into contact with something protected by copyright. Music on the radio as we commute into work, the
architecture of the home we live in, or the buildings we
drive by, articles in the newspaper—you could safely say
that almost every item we touch or interact with has
some ‘copyright’ factor associated with it. With such a
proliferation throughout our economy it’s surprising
just how often ‘copyright’ is misunderstood.
A Brief History of Copyright
The concepts underlying copyright protection have been
around for at least 1500 years. The situation before the
sixth century is a little unclear. Copyright has always
been a response to technological change. The first such
change was the advent of writing itself. Before writing,
history was recorded through stories that were told and
retold to succeeding generations. In the oral tradition it
would not have occurred to anyone to restrict who could
repeat the tales.
The first documented copyright dispute occurred in
sixth-century Ireland. This isn’t a tale of high priced
lawyers arguing over minute details of the law—rather it
is a tale of religion, power and bloodshed. In the early
part of the sixth century Columba of Iona, a priest, borrowed a psalter from Finnian, and then diligently copied
it page by page, though without asking Finnian for permission to do this. Finnian demanded the return of the
psalter, and appealed to the Irish king Dermot, who
ordered the copy be handed over to Finnian. When Co-
Education for a Digital World
lumba refused to comply, Dermot used military force to
see his judgment through. In the end, as many as three
thousand men may have died.
While this tale certainly has all the elements of modern day copyright piracy, with the addition of armed
conflict, it was not until much later that copyright issues
came to the fore. St. Columba had to copy the psalter by
hand, a very slow laborious process. Since very few people
were literate, copyright wasn’t much of an issue. It was
not until the invention of the printing press that the idea of
granting permission to make copies has any significance.
First laws
With the printing press it became possible to make
multiple copies of books efficiently. Books became a
commodity. Printing and selling books was soon a lucrative venture. At first the system of controlling the
right to make copies was ad hoc. Kings and other rulers
would grant the privilege of printing books to one
printer or another. Books that were not authorized were
banned. Printers who produced unauthorized works
were arrested. Printers held a monopoly on the titles
they printed. This system was clearly aimed at aiding the
printers, as opposed to the authors. It was also a system
that was ripe for corruption. It has been argued that one
of the causes of the English Civil War was the monopolies handed out to his friends by Charles I.
The Statute of Anne, enacted in 1710 by the British
parliament, is regarded as the first copyright law. This law
placed the right to authorize the reproduction of a book
not in the King’s hands, but in the author’s. This exclusive
right lasted for 21 years, after which time the book entered into the public domain, and anyone would be free to
copy it. The state of affairs in copyright remained relatively calm for the next two centuries. Book publishing
increased in importance, both in society and within the
economies of the world’s nations. While printing technology improved, the process of publishing, and the state
of trade in creative works remained largely the same.
Other nations took very different tacks in regard to
copyright law. The United States of America, for example, entrenched the fundamental elements of their copyright law in their constitution.
While the 18th and 19th centuries were relatively stable
in terms of copyright law, the 20th century saw a torrent
of challenges, changes, and adaptations to the law. Technological change became a constant. Many of the technologies we take for granted today represented major
challenges to the copyright status quo.
15 – Understanding Copyright: Knowing Your Rights and Knowing When You’re Right
The invention of the photograph created a new, previously unimagined method of creativity, and generated
an intense debate over the difference between a painting
and a photograph. Was a photograph even a creative
work? Was it not just a reproduction of that which already existed in nature, or was it analogous to a painter
creating an impression of the same scene?
The ability to record musical performances opened a
fresh can of copyright worms. For the first time there
was an ability to ‘fix’ the performance, to store it and
repeat the performance indefinitely. This raised questions about the rights of the composer, the performer,
the recorder, and the distributor. For the first time, the
idea of everybody owning a tiny slice of rights surfaced.
The idea of derivative rights was brought to us via the
motion picture industry. This new form of expression
was ripe for exploitation. The law was clear that one
could not reproduce a novel or story in print, but what
about adapting it into a movie? There was no law in this
area, and so naturally the movie studios quickly delved
into the libraries, adapting popular books for film. Book
publishers of the day quickly moved to have the laws
amended to block this loophole!
Other innovations included radio, television, and the
photocopier. These minor challenges were essentially
dealt with without legislative change to copyright law, as
was one much more significant innovation.. The anticipated introduction, by Sony, of the home video tape
recorder caused a great deal of consternation for television broadcasters. The VCR would allow the public to
retain copies of their broadcasts for later viewing, or
even sharing with friends and neighbours. Universal
Studios sued Sony in an attempt to block the introduction of the VCR, and thankfully for everyone who has
ever taped a television program for later viewing, they
lost. The courts ruled that Universal Studios could not
block the introduction of the VCR, which they acknowledged could be used to infringe copyright, because the
device had significant non-copyright infringing uses.
Had the VCR been intended only to reproduce copyright works it never would have seen the light of day as a
consumer product. Today the sale or rental of movies
for home viewing represents a major source of revenue
for companies like Universal Studios.
All of these technological developments and adaptations of copyright law, either through the judiciary or
through legislative change, were little more than a
prelude to the challenges that arose in the late 20th
At the beginning of the 21st century technological
change has reached an amazing pace. New methods of
communication, creation and transmission of ideas or
works are introduced every day. New methods of exploiting creative works appear almost daily. Until recently, the technologies available to copy a work would
not allow a perfect copy. A photocopy of a textbook is a
poor substitute for the original, a tape made from a record is never as clear as one from the publisher. Now
digital technologies allow for perfect (or near-perfect)
copies—as many as are needed—to be transmitted
around the world.
These technological innovations have re-opened the
debates surrounding copyright protection. Given the
ease of reproduction, some people have wondered about
the relevance of copyright laws—proposing movement
from a monetary economy to a gift economy, from
competitive production to collaborative models. The
open-source movement is a prime example of this debate. As a response to closed, proprietary software many
software developers have moved to a model where the
sharing is a requirement of distribution. Open source
software licences permit the modification, distribution,
and reproduction of the software without further permission or payment. The only requirement of these licences is that the same terms must be offered to any
recipient of the code, and that the original source must
be publicly accessible. Often described as an ‘anticopyright’ movement, the open-source licences are entirely reliant on the existing copyright laws.
Anatomy of copyright
Most people are familiar with the idea of ownership. We
have all felt the pride of that first bicycle, or other prized
childhood possession. But what exactly is ownership?
This question has an easy answer: Ownership is the possession of property. This, of course, leads to the next
question: What exactly is property? Again an easy answer comes to mind: Property is the stuff I own. There is
no fundamental aspect that makes one object property,
while another is not.
There is of course the idea of ‘property’ as a portion
of land (real estate) which one person controls or possesses, probably the most important property we own.
But of course the owner does not have complete control
over his real estate. It is impossible to pick it up and
Education for a Digital World
15 – Understanding Copyright: Knowing Your Rights and Knowing When You’re Right
move it to another location, and there are limits as to
how the land may be used within any municipality.
Another form of property includes those items that
can be moved, such as cars, computers, books, and pens.
Ownership of a car is normally evidenced by registration
of the title with some government agency, but what
about the ownership of a pen? That form of ownership
relies entirely on the mutual recognition of property
rights. A pen is mine only because the other people in
the room recognize it as my pen. Possession is 15/10ths
of the law.
One of the key features of our modern society is the
legal structure built up around the idea of property. Real
estate is defined by law; my possession of a portion of
land is granted by the government. Theft, fraud, trespass, vandalism are acts against property that have been
forbidden by law. We accept these laws, largely without
question, even when there may be valid reasons to refute
them. Is someone who takes a loaf of bread from a store
to keep from starving really a criminal? How about the
person who paints anti-nuclear slogans on the side of a
The laws relating to property have not been decreed
by some dictator; rather, they have evolved to meet the
needs of our society. Modern society has progressed
from the time when possession of land was necessary for
survival to a time when possessing tools for a trade
could provide the income with which to buy the sustenance that land alone used to provide. Now we are in an
age where most economic activity is cerebral—service
and creative industries now dominate our economies.
Similarly, laws have evolved that mirror this transition.
During the last few centuries the concept of ‘intellectual
property’ has been defined and developed.
Copyright is the right to copy, period. Such a simple
statement could lead you to believe that any time you
copy anything, even a small part of something you are
infringing copyright. If it is impossible to do anything
without infringing copyright then how relevant is the
Copyright applies to, and protects, creative works. This
includes the written word in literature, artistic endeavours such as painting or photography, the performing
arts, and the combinations of these works in areas such
as film or television.
Under international treaty, there is no requirement
that a work carry any notice of copyright to be pro-
Education for a Digital World
tected. This was the case for American copyright up
until the 11576 Copyright Act. Today copyright protection is automatic, and applies from the moment an idea
is ‘fixed’ into a tangible medium.
For an artist or author, reputation is everything. In most
countries copyright law includes provisions to protect
the reputation of the author or artist. Nothing may be
done to a work that reduces the reputation of the creator. This could include actions such as editing a work to
give it a different character, altering a work of art to
change its meaning, or including a work in a context
that harms the reputation of the author. Moral rights
may be waived, but they cannot be sold or transferred.
In some nations moral rights are perpetual. In other
nations they match the term of copyright protection. In
some places they cease to exist when the author dies. In
the US, there is no formal recognition of moral rights.
The main feature of copyright law is the commoditization of creative works. This is to say the creation of
property-like rights in regard to creative works. Property
is an often-misunderstood concept. Usually property
refers to some physical, tangible object, which someone
is said to own. My car, my pen—anything that begins
with ‘my’ is usually considered a piece of property; that
is, things that belong to me. John Locke stated that people have natural right to own the fruits of their labours.
Taking this further, who else could own the thoughts of
an individual? Copyright law makes it possible for artists
and authors to record their creative thoughts and sell,
rent, or lend them. This is clearly an economic issue—
how are creative people within society rewarded for
their labour?
Trade in cultural goods presents many interesting dilemmas. When a tangible product, such as a car, is
traded between two nations, it is a simple matter. When
a book is traded, it can become a very complicated
transaction. Consider a situation where two nations do
not recognize each other’s copyright laws. In such a case
if a single book is traded, it can then be reproduced by a
publisher in the receiving nation and resold many thousands of times (assuming it is a good book). Of course
the copyright owners may demand that no copies be
traded with nations that do not recognize their rights,
but enforcement of such a decree is next to impossible.
15 – Understanding Copyright: Knowing Your Rights and Knowing When You’re Right
This situation was rectified in the late 19th century
with the creation of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. This international treaty sets out basic conditions required in each
member nation’s copyright laws, as well as creating a
system of international copyright law. The key concept
under Berne is the idea of “national treatment”. Under
this term, a work is protected by the copyright laws of a
given nation regardless of the nationality of its author.
This means that an Australian author’s works are protected by US copyright law in the US, just as an American author’s works are protected by Australian
copyright laws in Australia. This also means that a consumer of copyright works within a country need only
understand the laws of their country. It is only when a
project will be multi-national that the variations between copyright laws need to be examined.
Under the Berne convention, copyright protection
must last for at least the life of the author plus fifty years.
Copyright must apply to “every production in the literary, scientific, and artistic domain, whatever may be the
mode or form of its expression” (Berne Convention
1886, Art. 2(1)). There must not be a formal process
required for copyright protection, such as a requirement
for a copyright notice. Currently 163 countries are
members of the Berne convention, making it a nearuniversal treaty.
What copyright does not
Copyright is not absolute. There are many situations
where copyright protection is either nonexistent or limited. The exceptions and exclusions to copyright law are
critical tenets of the law.
Copyright is not a system of censorship. It is not intended as a tool to suppress debate or criticism. Unfortunately this principle has not always been adhered to.
Copyright is not intended as a system to confine or restrain culture, although certain groups have attempted
to do just that. Copyright law attempts to grant rights to
the authors and artists, while balancing the rights of
readers, art lovers, and other creators.
To be protected by copyright a work must be significant, not in terms of its impact on society, but in proportion to the entire work. A small quotation is not
likely to be protected by copyright, unless of course it is
the kingpin in an entire work. There is a story circulating regarding a request for clarification on what constitutes a significant portion of a work made to a major
publisher. The response came back that every word
copied from one of the publisher’s books should be
cleared before being re-used. The question then is, what
about the word “the”?
Copyright protects creative works; that is, it enables an
author or artist to collect an income from their ideas.
Facts have no author, or if they did, the author exercised
no creativity. Facts are clearly not protected by copyright. But what if there is some form of creativity involved in the collection or presentation of those facts? In
such a case the work in its entirety would be protected,
but each underlying fact would still be unprotected.
Copyright protects the expression of an idea, not the
idea itself. For a work to be protected it must be “fixed”,
that is, recorded in some physical form. Many of Disney’s movies have been based on public domain fairy
tales. From Cinderella to Aladdin, Disney has used these
public domain tales as the basis for feature length animated films. If copyright law protected both the expression and the idea underlying the expression, then Disney
would now hold rights to these tales. While Disney does
hold certain rights to their creations, those rights are
limited only to the exact expression fixed in their movies. Without this critical aspect it would be impossible to
maintain any balance between creators and the public.
Most copyright legislation recognizes that certain uses of
copyright material benefit society as a whole. Education
is a classic example. The better educated a society is, the
more well off its members can expect to be.
Criticism of a work or body is considered to be in the
public good. It is considered beneficial to debate important issues; as well, it is often necessary to infringe
the copyright of a person or persons to reveal their intentions to the public in general. The courts in many
jurisdictions have recognized this and created jurisprudence that protects such uses. There are clauses in many
copyright laws specifically stating that copying for the
purpose of criticism is not a copyright infringement.
Consider the difficulty in gaining permission from a
copyright owner to use their work in a manner which
will portray them in a negative manner. There have been
cases where entire works have been reproduced, and the
courts declared that no infringement occurred.
Education for a Digital World
15 – Understanding Copyright: Knowing Your Rights and Knowing When You’re Right
It is unfortunate that most of these exemptions are not
stated as a positive right; rather they are defensive in
nature. The best legal arguments may protect you in
court, but they do very little to protect you from being
brought to court in the first place. Many times a person
has copied protected work in a manner that is fair, and
in the public good, however when faced with a lawsuit
from the rights holder they are forced to concede, and
cease their use of the material. It’s not the person with
the legal right who wins, it’s the person wit the deepest
Exploitation of a work
One of the best ways of understanding copyright protection is to know how copyright works can be exploited; that is, used for financial gain by the copyright
owner. Here’s a list of all the ways to use a work:
• Copying: This is the oldest form of exploitation of a
work protected by copyright! This is the arena of
book publishers, music distributors and film houses.
The issue is fairly clear if we are talking about an entire work. The grey areas appear when we start talking about copying part of a work. If the law states that
no part of a work may be copied, then what happens
to cliché’s? What about small quotations needed to
make a point? What is the line between acceptable
copying and copyright infringement?
• Adaptation or derivatives: This is a right that emerged
in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is the
right to take a work and create a new work based on
it. This is the home of ‘film rights’ and the like. Examples would include making a movie from a book,
or a sculpture from a painting.
• Translation: At times foreign markets demand a
book or other work, when the artist has no intention
of supplying it in the chosen language. It is often difficult to directly translate a work into a new language.
This can lead to moral rights issues, if the translator is
unable to properly relay the author’s original intent.
• Performance: In music, the choice of orchestra, the
choice of arrangement even the choice of instruments
can greatly affect the resulting performance. Consider
the plethora of cover tunes—some good, some bad,
some horrid. It is clearly in the composer’s interest to
be able to control how their works are performed. In
many cases it is the only way a composer can gain an
income from their work.
Education for a Digital World
• Broadcast: The advent of radio created a challenge to
copyright laws of the day, not unlike the challenge
brought by Napster and online file sharing. There is a
tendency to believe that when one hears a song on the
radio, it is being heard for ‘free’. This is not the case,
as radio broadcasters carefully record each song
played and remit payment to the copyright owners
for each broadcast. Of course radio broadcasters
cover this fee through the sale of advertising.
Copyright in higher education
The university is unique as both a creator and a consumer of copyright works. Most people are unaware of
the many fees and licences that exist for the use of copyright works.
Issues relating to the use of copyright materials in
teaching and learning are not new, in fact most materials
have been used for so long we simply forget the underlying scheme that exists to pay the copyright fees. Many
forms of copyrighted works—books, music, video, and
sculpture are used in the modern university. These
works are brought in for a range of purposes—for the
entire student body, for specific faculties and schools, or
for a specific course offering. Fees for the use of these
materials are paid for by university departments, including the library, the faculties and schools, and by
individual students. Table 15.1 demonstrates the matrix
that describes this situation.
Table 15.1
assigned texts
library selects
For a given class. titles appropriate
Brought in by the for the entire
student body.
bookstore and
resold to students. Goal is cost
Faculty or
library purchases
may be made at
the request of a
specific school.
While these
books are available to the entire
student body,
they are of
primary interest
to that one
15 – Understanding Copyright: Knowing Your Rights and Knowing When You’re Right
Faculty or
library selects
titles appropriate
for the entire
student body.
library purchases
may be made at
the request of a
specific school
While these
books are available to the entire
student body,
they are of
primary interest
to that one
Purchased by
individual students, at self
serve copiers.
Paid for via cost
recovery (machines) and
Access copyright
Distributed to
students in class,
cost borne by
Covered by
Access copyright
Also supplied by
the university
reprographics on
cost recovery
Digital Assets
Included on
website, Cost
borne by the
Fair use, fair dealing and other exemptions are defenses
in court, nothing more. This means that even with a
solid argument for fair use, the copyright owner is still
able to sue the user. Often the initial press regarding the
case represents the greatest cost to the right’s user, damaging their reputation and setting other rights holders’
guards up against them. Add to this the cost of mounting a defense against such claims of infringement, and it
is easy to see why most claims of copyright infringement
are dealt with quickly and quietly.
Often students are unaware of their rights. They produce essays and term papers for submission to their
instructors and then forget about them. The question of
copyright is never considered. Most teachers know that
examples of past work, both good and bad, can be an
excellent aid to the learning process for current students.
Presenting past student work is only legal if permission
has been secured. This is easily done with a simple submission form where the submitting student can tick off
what rights they are willing to grant the instructor or the
Best practices
There are two problems that occur when instructors are
not familiar with copyright law. The first, and most worrisome for administrators is the infringement of copyright. When third-party materials are used without
proper regard to copyright law, the institution is exposed to a serious liability. The damage from a copyright
infringement case would not only be economic, as the
institution would have to pay for a defense, but also the
reputation of the institution would be damaged. The
second problem occurs when instructors fail to use materials that would enrich the learning experience of their
students simply because they believe copyright law prohibits such use, or that obtaining permission would be
too onerous. This does a disservice to the students as
well as to the authors and artists of our society.
Even in the best of circumstances things can go wrong.
It is possible that a copyright owner may be unavailable
to grant permission for some reason, or there may be
reasons that prevent the author from granting permission, or you may run into a copyright owner who is
simply not going to grant permission. Having a back-up
to replace any work will be a huge benefit.
When using third-party material, keep careful records of
where content came from, what steps have been taken to
obtain permission and under what terms permission
was granted. At a minimum, any correspondence with
copyright owners, including any final licences, should be
retained for as long as a work is used. It is also good idea
to retain a record of research undertaken while trying to
determine who owns the copyright.
Education for a Digital World
15 – Understanding Copyright: Knowing Your Rights and Knowing When You’re Right
One of the side effects of seeking permission to use materials is the creation of a dialogue between creator and
consumer of a work. Often, academic authors are only
interested in how their works are used. By seeking permission you may also obtain access to unpublished materials, or higher quality copies. If there are any
difficulties regarding the use of materials, if you have
permission to use them you can go back to the rights
holder for assistance. Imagine trying to do this for a
‘bootleg’ copy.
Public. Any group of people who do not necessarily
have any preexisting relationships in a location which
any individual in society, or a large segment of individuals in that society may access.
Term. The length of time under which a work is
protected OR the time span during which a permission
or licence is valid.
Work. A fixed expression of a creative idea in some
Author. The original creator of a creative work.
Berne Convention.
Compilation. A collection of creative works, with a
variety of rights holders.
Copyright owner. The person with the legal authority to authorize reproduction or other actions covered
by copyright.
Derivative work. A new work based on a pre-existing
Fixation. Recording an idea or form of creativity in
some tangible form.
Idea. The concept underlying a work
Infringement. Doing any of the actions under the
control of the copyright owner without their authorization.
Licence: A document granting permission to perform
one of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner in
some limited form.
Medium. The format in which a work is fixed.
Moral rights. Those rights that relate to the reputation, or character of the author.
Permission. The positive response from a copyright
owner. In most jurisdictions permission must be in writing.
Private. A family or close circle of individuals all
known to each other, a location that is accessible only by
a limited number of people.
Education for a Digital World
Goldstein, Paul (2001). International Copyright: Principles, Law and Practice. Gary, NC: Oxford University
Geist, Michael (2005). In the Public Interest: The Future
of Canadian Copyright Law. Toronto, ON: Irwin Law
Girasa, Roy J. (2002). Cybelaw: National and International Perspectives. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice
Harris, Lesley Ellen (2001). Canadian Copyright Law:
The Indispensible Guide … Toronto, ON: McGrawHill Ryerson.
Harris, Lesley (1998). Digital Property: Currency of the
21st Century. Toronto, ON: McGraw-Hill Ryerson.
Hiller, James S. & Ronnie Cohen (2002) Internet Law &
Policy. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Poltorak, Alexander I. & Paul J. Lerner (2004). Essentials
of Licensing Intellectual Property. Hoboken, NJ: John
Wiley & Sons.
Vaver, David (1997). Intellectual Property Law, Copyright, Patents Trademarks. Concord, ON: Irwin Law
Yu, Peter K. (2007). Intellectual Property and Information Wealth: Issues and Practices in the Digital Age,
Volume One: Copyright and Related Rights. Westport,
CT: Praeger.
‘Open Licences’ of Copyright for
Authors, Educators, and Librarians
Julien Hofman and Paul West
Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should
think of free as in free speech, not as in free beer. – The Free Software Definition
Education for a Digital World
16 – ‘Open Licences’ of Copyright for Authors, Educators and Librarians
Learning outcomes
After completing this chapter, you will be able to:
• Understand what open licence software is about and
start looking for an appropriate licence for software
you are developing;
• Appreciate the advantages and disadvantages of using
open licence software;
• Understand how open licensing for non-software
educational material works;
• Appreciate the access to knowledge movement and
what it aims to achieve.
An open licence, as used in this chapter, is a neutral
expression for a licence granted by someone who holds
copyright in material allowing anyone to use the material subject to the conditions in the licence but without
having to pay a royalty or licence fee.
There are many different open licences, some for
computer software and some for other forms of material. Each has its own terms, conditions and vocabulary.
This chapter is an introduction to open licence language
and to the open licences that are important for authors
and educators. It is not legal advice. Individuals or institutions thinking of committing themselves to open
licensing should get professional legal advice about the
implications of the licences they are considering using.
Supporters of the different licences do not always
agree with one another. There are even extremists who,
disliking the business practices of some commercial
software suppliers and publishing houses, want to use
open licences to do away with restrictions on using
copyright material. Despite the understandable wish of
some open licence supporters to reform copyright law,
open licences are legal tools that use the existing copyright law. They rely, in particular, on the exclusive right
copyright law gives a copyright holder to licence material with an open licence or any other form of licence.
The chapter starts by looking at software open licences. Software developers working on open licence
software will need a more detailed explanation of the
different open licences than they will find in this chapter. But even authors and educators with no pretensions
to ICT expertise depend on operating systems, word
processors, communication packages and online learning software. This part of the chapter aims at providing
such users with an introduction to open licence software
and its advantages and disadvantages.
Education for a Digital World
Understanding software open licences is also a good
introduction to the open licences that apply to other
materials and, in particular to Open Educational Resources (OERs). The second part of the chapter looks at
these open licences and, in particular, at the Creative
Commons licences. The chapter ends by looking briefly
at the Access to Knowledge (A2K) movement that aims
at making all forms of information more freely available.
Software open licences
Open software licences had their origins in what Eric
Raymond calls the hacker culture. (Eric Steven Raymond How to Become a Hacker 2001, latest revision
For Raymond and those who work with open licence
software “hacker” has its original meaning of a committed software developer. It does not refer to a criminal
who breaches computer security. Hackers share their
discoveries and feel free to use the work of other hackers. This leaves hackers free to work on unsolved problems rather than waste creative energy repeating what
others have done. Hackers who publish their work, either on the Internet or in other ways, have copyright in
it. At first, however, few hackers bothered with copyright. Some were not even concerned with their moral
rights, the right to be recognised as the author of original material.
It is not clear how to understand this in terms of
copyright law. It could have been argued that this behaviour reflected or created a trade custom among
hackers. Or, because hackers often used the Internet to
share work, it could have been taken as evidence of an
implied licence that allowed members of the Internet
community to use material on the Internet without
permission. Certainly, many early Internet users assumed that they were free to use anything they found on
the Internet. But it is doubtful that these arguments
would have served as a defence if an author had sued for
breach of copyright. The second argument reverses the
usual legal position in which a copyright holder has to
licence another to use the copyright holder’s work. And
with both arguments it would have been difficult to establish the terms of the licence or custom and who
qualified as a member of the community to which it
applied. But whatever the exact legal position, this was
how it was when software developers were mostly academics or researchers who often used the Internet to
share scientific or technical information.
16 – ‘Open Licences’ of Copyright for Authors, Educators and Librarians
Some developers did claim copyright in software they
developed. They did this by making their products available as freeware or shareware. Freeware is copyright
material which the copyright holder allows others to use
without charge. Shareware is copyright material which
the copyright holder allows others to use subject to a
small charge or condition. Freeware and shareware are
not the same as open licence software because they do
not envisage users continuing to develop and distribute
the material.
Some of the lack of interest in ownership in computer
software may have been because, in the early days of
computers, the software was not seen as distinct from
the computers on which it ran. But as computers for
ordinary users became popular, particularly after the
launch of the IBM PC in 1981, it became clear there was
a separate market for software for these computers. This
market grew as personal computers became more powerful and able to run more complex software. And it
received another boost when, towards the end of the
1990s, ordinary users began to access the Internet
through the World Wide Web. From the 1970s onwards
most countries recognised copyright in software and in
1996 the WIPO Copyright Treaty made it clear that
software fell under copyright law. Some commercial
software developers became very wealthy from licensing
the software they had developed. Some countries have
even taken the controversial step of giving software
added protection by allowing software patents.
Today businesses are always looking out for new and
useful software. If they can acquire rights over the software they will invest in marketing it. When they do this
they usually allow only those who pay their licence fee to
use the software. And they do not usually allow users
access to the software’s source code. Source code is the
human-readable version of the software used to create
the computer program. Restricting access to the source
code means that in practice only the software owners
can develop the software. Software of this sort is known
as “closed software” or “proprietary software”.
The hacker community and those who sympathised
with their ideals saw the possibility that all software
would become closed or proprietary. To stop this happening they developed open licences of which the following are some of the more important.
BSD licences
The Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) licence was
developed by the University of California, Berkeley and
first published in 1989. But some of the BSD software
goes back to 1977 and the BSD licence is said to embody
the conditions under which this software was released.
This means the BSD licence may have been the earliest
open licence. Some important software is available under BSD licences including the software that runs many
domain name servers and a Unix-like operating system.
Different versions of the BSD licence have developed.
BSD licences have few restrictions on how the software
may be used. They differ from the GPL, discussed below,
in not insisting that developments of BSD software be
distributed on the same terms and in not insisting that
source code be made available to those to whom the
object code is distributed.
GNU licences
Richard Stallman is a prophetic figure who campaigns
for free alternatives to commercial software and, in particular, for a free alternative to the Unix operating system that AT&T, the US telecommunications giant,
developed. In 1985 Stallman published the GNU Manifesto (GNU standing for Gnu's Not Unix) setting out his
ideals and established the Free Software Foundation
(FSF) to support this work.
In 1989 Stallman published the first version of the
GNU General Public Licence (the GPL). There is also a
GNU Lesser General Public Licence (LGPL) that allows
for linking GPL software and software not published
with the GPL and a GNU Free Documentation Licence
(FDL) for software development documentation and
manuals. The GPL is now in its third version and, about
three-quarters of the world’s open licence software uses
the GPL. This software includes the Linux operating
system, an alternative to Unix, that Linus Torvald released under the GPL in 1991. The following are some of
the main features of this important licence.
A powerful (and contentious) feature of the GPL is
what Stallman calls “copyleft”. Copyleft, shown by a
reversed © symbol, means that others are free to develop
a GPL work on the condition that any work derived
from a copyleft work is distributed subject to a similar
condition. This means the GPL licence is what some call
“viral”, it tends to take over software originally published under other open licences.
Another feature of the GPL is that GPL software must
be conveyed with its source code. This is to make it easier to develop the software. Not every open licence requires this.
Education for a Digital World
16 – ‘Open Licences’ of Copyright for Authors, Educators and Librarians
To those who think of software open licences as anticommercial, a striking feature of the GPL is the absence
of restrictions on using GPL software to make money.
As the preamble to the GPL puts it: “Our General Public
Licenses are designed to make sure that you have the
freedom to distribute copies of free software (and charge
for them if you wish) …” In the past few years this has
begun to happen. Red Hat, for example, is a company
listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It develops and
distributes a version of Linux, Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
Since 2002 IBM has been offering this as an operating
system for IBM computers. Dell, a major supplier of
personal computers, has previously offered its computers with Linux operating systems and is now selling
some computers with Ubuntu Linux. Even a corporation like Novell that sells software rather than computers, is using a version of Linux, SUSE Linux, as an
operating system.
The advantage to these and other corporations of
using open licence software is that they do not have to
develop this software themselves or pay licence fees for
software others have developed. They get the benefit of
the work independent developers put into open licence
software and can concentrate on improving the products or applications that are their speciality. In return,
independent developers get access to the work these
corporations put into adapting open licence software.
Open licence developers are also well qualified to work
for the corporations and provide support to the corporations’ clients. They are even free to market the software on their own account.
The growth of the commercial use of open-licence
software has not stopped individuals and groups supported by not-for-profit organizations from continuing
to develop GPL software. The Shuttleworth Foundation,
for example, has sponsored Ubuntu Linux. Ubuntu Linux is meant to be easy for non-technical people to use
and, in particular, supports other languages than English. It is this version of Linux that Dell is offering on its
personal computers. Ubuntu also has a commercial
sponsor, Canonical Ltd, that provides training and support for Ubuntu users.
As already mentioned, anyone who acquires GPL
software and develops it may only distribute the developed software under the GPL. But someone who develops original software, meaning here software that is not
a development of other software, is free to decide how to
licence it. Such a developer is free to use more than one
licence. So software may be distributed under the GPL
and another open or proprietary licence. This raises the
question whether someone who develops original software and distributes it with a GPL licence may withdraw
Education for a Digital World
the GPL licence? Because the GPL is perpetual anyone
who acquires a copy of original software from the developer under the GPL is free to continue to use the software. It is not entirely clear whether the developer can
prevent those who have already acquired the software
from passing it on to others. But it is clear that the GPL
does not require a developer to continue to distribute
software and this may make it difficult for others to acquire the software. In addition, the GPL does not require
the developer of original software to offer further developments of the original software under the GPL. By not
offering further developments under the GPL the developer of the original software will lessen the attractiveness of the earlier GPL version.
The GPL came out in 1989. A second version, GPL
version 2, came out in June 1991 and GPL version 3 in
June 2007. Version 3 has two interesting new provisions.
The first is in clause 11 dealing with the GPL and patent
rights. The other is in clause 3: “No covered work shall be
deemed part of an effective technological measure under
any applicable law fulfilling obligations under article 11 of
the WIPO copyright treaty adopted on 20 December
1996, or similar laws prohibiting or restricting circumvention of such measures”. This means a person is free to
remove coding of this sort if it appears in GPL software.
Other software licences
Some software developers use other open source licences. They may do this because they want to avoid the
copyleft restrictions in the GPL that make it difficult to
use the software commercially or because they do not
want to require licencees to distribute the source code.
Or they may have to use another licence because the
software on which they are working began with a different licence. The following are some examples of other
software open licences and how they came about.
Sendmail is a widely used program for managing
email that was first published under a BSD licence. In
1999, following difficulties in developing and supporting
the software as an open licence product, a company was
formed to do this commercially while leaving the software available under an open licence. This called for
changes to the BSD licence that resulted in the sendmail
licence. The sendmail licence, it has been pointed out, is
not listed as an open source licence at the Open Source
Initiative website discussed below.
Netscape, on the other hand, was a commercial software developer that produced the influential Navigator
web browser and Communicator email software. Following competition from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer,
Netscape decided to release the source code for these
products under an open licence while continuing to
16 – ‘Open Licences’ of Copyright for Authors, Educators and Librarians
develop the software commercially. To enable them to
do this they produced they Mozilla Public Licence. The
successors to Navigator and Communicator, Firefox and
Thunderbird, use this licence. Other developers, particularly by those who want to have both commercial and
open licence versions of their software, also use this licence.
The Apache Software Foundation has its own model
for software development that has resulted in non-GPL
licences. The Foundation grew out of a community of
developers who, around 1995, were working on projects
that included the important Apache HTTP Internet
server. According to the Apache Foundation website:
“All software developed within the Foundation belongs
to the ASF, and therefore the members”.
As the number of open licences has grown so it has become difficult for non-specialists to understand the differences between them. In 1998 the Open Source
Initiative (OSI) was founded to be “the stewards of the
Open Source Definition (OSD) and the communityrecognized body for reviewing and approving licences as
OSD-conformant” (
The OSD is a list of 10 requirements that software must
meet to qualify as open source.
The Open Source Initiative keeps a list of licences it
considers comply with its definition of open source. It
has a trademarked logo that those whose licences comply with the definition can use. It might seem it should
be possible to use any OSD-compliant software with any
other OSD-compliant software. This, however, is not
always the case as some of the licences contain incompatible terms.
Traditionally open licence software users were technically sophisticated. They probably shared the ideals of
organizations like the Free Software Foundation and
may even have helped develop the software they used.
Increasingly, however, open licence software users
have little or no technical expertise. They simply want to
save money by switching to open licence software rather
than pay for commercial software from suppliers like
Microsoft. Stand-alone products like open licence products like Firefox and Thunderbird should present these
users with few difficulties. But non-technical users are
likely to resent having to learn how to use the more
complex products that are an alternative to Microsoft
Windows and Office. In addition, some of the proprietary software on which an individual or institution de-
pends may not may not be easy to run with open licence
software or be available in an open licence version. Open
licence software is also likely to need as much support as
the equivalent commercial software. Support here
means help with installing the software, manuals, training for users and access to experts. Before committing
themselves to open source software, users with little
technical expertise should check these points and, in
particular, be sure adequate support will be available and
know what it will cost. Businesses using open licence
software should also bear in mind that most open licences disclaim liability for any damage resulting from
the software. They may need to consult their insurers.
It is worth noting that some software managers
working in higher education institutions have reservations about using open licence software for sensitive
data. Their concern is that if the source code is available
it is easier to attack the software and publish, change, or
destroy the data.
Open licences are popular among educators. But individuals and institutions that distribute their original
software with an open licence may be giving up the possibility of royalty revenue from those who use their
software. They need to weigh this against the advantages
of open licensing and the possibility of exploiting their
software in other ways. They should also be aware, as has
been mentioned, that they have the option of licensing the
software with an open and a proprietary licence.
Open licences for non-software
The success of open licence software led to an interest in
using open licences for non-software material and especially for educational and scientific material. The list of
individual and institutional signatories to the Cape Town
Open Education Declaration of 2007 (http://www.cape shows how much support there is
for open licence educational resources (OERs).
Open licences for non-software material came some
time after open licences for software. The earliest such
non-software open licence may have been the Open
Content Licence that David Wiley of Open Content
published in July 1998. The following year, in June 1999,
the Open Content Project published the Open Publication Licence.
Education for a Digital World
16 – ‘Open Licences’ of Copyright for Authors, Educators and Librarians
CC licences
In March 2000 the Free Software Foundation released
version 1 of the GNU Free Documentation Licence (the
FDL). The FDL was meant for software developers
writing manuals and documenting their work but it can
be used for other forms of material. Wikipedia, for example, uses the FDL. A revised version, FDL version 1.2,
appeared in November 2002 and the Free Software
Foundation is working on version 2. The FDL, like the
GPL, allows for commercial publishing. If, however, the
GNU website list of 30 or so commercially published
FDL books is complete (
/doc/other-free-books.html), FDL material is not yet as
attractive to commercial publishers as the GPL software
is to commercial software developers.
In theory the four CC rights, used singly or combined,
allow for eleven different possible licences. In practice
CC offers only six licences. These licences allow copyright holders to grant users different combinations of
the CC rights. This flexibility makes the CC licences
more attractive to authors than the all-or-nothing open
licences that are usual for software. As the CC website says:
The CC website has a diagram that shows the spectrum from copyright to public domain with CC licences
occupying the space between these two:
Open licences for non-software material began to attract
serious attention in 2001 when Lawrence Lessig and
others started Creative Commons (CC). The CC licences
are now the most important open licences for nonsoftware material.
“No Derivative Works. You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies
of your work, not derivative works based upon it.”
CC also takes into account that copyright law differs
from country to country. As well as a generic or unported version of each licence CC aims at providing a
version, in the appropriate language, adapted to the law
of each country where the CC licences are used. This means
there is no one CC licence in the way there is one GNU
GPL. With CC licences it is always necessary to specify
which national version of the CC licence is being used,
and, in some cases, the language version of the licence.
In addition to the CC licences, CC provides a form
for an author to place a work in the public domain. This
is only legally possible in some countries. CC also has a
procedure for recreating the original US copyright term
of 14 years.
CC uses symbols and abbreviations to represent the
four rights of a copyright holder and combines these
symbols and abbreviations to represent the different
licences. The names, abbreviations, and symbols of the
six CC licences give some idea of the complexity of the
CC licence system:
“Share Alike. You allow others to distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the
license that governs your work.”
• Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives (by-ncnd)
• Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike (by-nc-sa)
CC rights
The CC licences are based on the CC analysis of copyright rights. This distinguishes between four rights of a
copyright holder. The CC website lists and explains
these rights:
“Attribution. You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work—and
derivative works based upon it—but only if they
give credit the way you request.”
“Noncommercial. You let others copy, distribute,
display, and perform your work—and derivative
works based upon it—but for noncommercial
purposes only.”
All the CC licences include what CC calls the “Baseline Rights”. These are the rights to copy, distribute,
display, perform publicly or by digital performance and
to change the format of material.
Creative Commons defines the spectrum of possibilities between full copyright—all rights reserved—
and the public domain—no rights reserved. Our licenses help you keep your copyright while inviting
certain uses of your work—a “some rights reserved” copyright.
Education for a Digital World
Attribution Non-commercial (by-nc)
Attribution No Derivatives (by-nd)
Attribution Share Alike (by-sa)
Attribution (by)
16 – ‘Open Licences’ of Copyright for Authors, Educators and Librarians
CC licence generator
The text of the CC licences and their different language
versions is on the CC website. The CC website does not,
however, expect users to study every licence before
choosing one. Instead, there is a licence generator that
suggests the appropriate CC licence based on the answers to following three questions:
• Will an author allow commercial use of the work?
• Will an author allow users to modify the work? (Included under this question is the possibility of allowing users to modify the work if they share alike.)
• In which jurisdiction does an author want to license
the work?
The questions are a convenient starting point for commenting on the six CC licences.
It is useful to start with the third question on the jurisdiction of the licence. If a work will be used mainly in
one country an author should select that country. If an
author is publishing a work internationally or if there is
no licence for the country in which the author is publishing, the author should answer ‘unported’. The unported version of a licence is a generic, international
licence. The following discussion of the other questions
will refer to the unported versions of the licences.
Restriction on commercial use
The first question the licence generator asks is: “Allow
commercial use of your work?” If the copyright holder
does not want to allow commercial use of the work the
licence generator suggests a non-commercial (NC) licence. What this means is that a copyright holder who
finds individuals or institutions making commercial use
of the work can take legal steps to stop them doing this.
But what does non-commercial mean? Section 4b of the
unported CC Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 licence says:
You may not exercise any of the rights granted to
You in Section 3 above in any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial
advantage or private monetary compensation. The
exchange of the Work for other copyrighted works
by means of digital file-sharing or otherwise shall
not be considered to be intended for or directed
toward commercial advantage or private monetary
compensation, provided there is no payment of
any monetary compensation in connection with
the exchange of copyrighted works.
One view of what this means, often forcefully expressed
in workshops and discussion groups, is that noncommercial means that no money should change hands.
This is not, however, the usual meaning of noncommercial. It is not a commercial transaction, for example, to refund someone for buying me a loaf of bread
or even to pay that person’s travelling expenses. It only
becomes commercial if that person wants to make a
profit out of providing this service. It follows that someone who distributes an NC work should be able to
charge to recover expenses incurred in distributing the
work. These expenses, typically, would include copy
charges, salaries and overhead expenses. The only restriction is that anyone doing this does not intend to
make a profit out of distributing the work. This is the
view of the Draft Guidelines that CC published to try to
clarify the meaning of non-commercial. (“Proposed best
practice guidelines to clarify the meaning of ‘noncommercial’ in the Creative Commons licenses” available at
There is still some uncertainty, however, about what
“primarily intended for or directed toward commercial
advantage or private monetary compensation” in section
4b means. It could be argued that even if a project does
make a profit, the use is still non-commercial if the project was not primarily intended to make a profit. According to this view, an organization that is run for
profit may use NC material and may recover its expenses
for distributing NC material provided the project using
the NC licensed material does not aim at making a
This raises questions such as whether private schools
run for profit or public broadcasters that accept advertising revenue may use NC-licensed material for teaching or informing their viewers? (See Mikael Pawlo,
“What is the meaning of non-commercial” in Danièle
Boucier & Mélanie Dulong de Rosnay, International
Commons at the Digital Age: La création en partage
2004 Romillat, Paris 69 at 78–82. Available at
e.pdf) Another question is whether a business whose
profits support a non profit body such as a university
may use NC material. The Draft Guidelines appear to
prohibit using NC material in these ways. Section C(2)
of the Draft Guidelines, for example, says that it is not
non-commercial if money changes hands to, for example, a for-profit copy shop. Section A(1)(b) insists that
an educational institution or library using NC material
must be nonprofit. And section B appears to classify as
commercial any use of NC material in connection with
Education for a Digital World
16 – ‘Open Licences’ of Copyright for Authors, Educators and Librarians
What the Draft Guidelines say, however, does not
settle the matter. The Draft Guidelines are not part of
the NC licence. As section 8e of the NC licence says:
“This License constitutes the entire agreement between
the parties with respect to the Work licensed here.” And
a notice at the end of the licence says “Creative Commons is not a party to this License, and makes no warranty whatsoever in connection with the Work.” The
Draft Guidelines themselves do not claim to be an
authoritative. CC published them to “elicit feedback
about whether these guidelines accurate reflect the
community's (including both licensors and licencees)
understanding of the term”. This means that what the
Draft Guidelines say should be treated with respect but
any dispute between a copyright holder and a user can
only be settled on the basis of what the licence says. This
raises the question whether any ambiguities in the
wording of the licence should be interpreted strictly, to
limit the use of NC material, or generously, to allow the
widest use of a work.
CC plans to return to the question of the meaning of
non-commercial. It would be helpful to know what
authors who use the NC licence really want to achieve.
They do not want royalties for their work but they do,
presumably, want the work to be made widely available.
If these authors object to associating their work with
commerce in any way, the Draft Guidelines should be
followed. If, on the other hand, these authors want only
to avoid commercial interests taking over and restricting
access to their work, the authors may be prepared to
allow their work to be used by organizations or individuals working for their own profit provided they do
not limit further distribution of the CC work. And this
could be achieved by using a SA ShareAlike licence.
As with all the CC licences, it is always possible for a
commercial user to approach the author of a work directly and ask for permission to use CC licensed work in
a way the CC licence does not cover.
Modifications allowed
Once a user has decided whether to allow commercial
use, the licence generator’s second question is: “Allow
modifications of your work?” There are three possible
answers to this question: “Yes”, “No”, and “Yes as long
as others share alike”.
Particularly where the licensed material is educational
material, users are likely to want to modify it by adding
examples and other material, by translating it into another language or adapting it in some other way. The licence generator will suggest that those who want to allow
users to modify their material use either a simple attribution (BY) licence or an attribution non-commercial (BY-
Education for a Digital World
NC) licence. Which it suggests will depend on the answer to the first question: “Allow commercial use of
your work?”
The simple attribution licence, not combined with a
NC restriction, allows a user to do anything with the
material except claim copyright in it or authorship of it.
A user may modify the material or leave it as it is and
market the modified or original material commercially
and keep any profit.
No modifications
If the answer to the licence generator’s second question
“Allow modifications of your work?” is “no”, the licence generator will suggest an ND (no derivate works)
licence. The human readable summary of version 3 of
the unported Attribution-NoDerivs licence says: “You
may not alter, transform, or build upon this work.”. The
legal code prefers to speak of not adapting a work. Section 1a defines adaptation as:
a work based upon the Work, or upon the Work
and other pre-existing works, such as a translation,
adaptation, derivative work, arrangement of music
or other alterations of a literary or artistic work, or
phonogram or performance and includes cinematographic adaptations or any other form in
which the Work may be recast, transformed, or
adapted including in any form recognizably derived from the original, except that a work that
constitutes a Collection will not be considered an
Adaptation for the purpose of this License. For the
avoidance of doubt, where the Work is a musical
work, performance or phonogram, the synchronization of the Work in timed-relation with a moving image ("synching") will be considered an
Adaptation for the purpose of this License.
This means that a ND licence allows users to use, reuse
and distribute a work but not adapt it.
There are situations where an ND restriction is necessary. If a work is a report or set of standards, it makes
sense to insist that it is only used in its original form.
Changes to a work of this sort destroy its value. Even
valid corrections can be harmful because they give readers
a false impression of the accuracy of the original report.
The ND restriction is also necessary if an author
wants to distribute a work for comment while reserving
the right to publish the final version of the work.
Some educators dislike the ND restriction and say it
makes it difficult for them to use material most effectively. But the ND licence does allow for an ND work to
be used in a collection. (Some versions of the ND licence
16 – ‘Open Licences’ of Copyright for Authors, Educators and Librarians
call this a collective work.) Section 1b of the legal code
defines a collection as:
a collection of literary or artistic works, such as encyclopedias and anthologies, or performances,
phonograms or broadcasts, or other works or
subject matter other than works listed in Section
1(f) below, which, by reason of the selection and
arrangement of their contents, constitute intellectual creations, in which the Work is included in its
entirety in unmodified form along with one or
more other contributions, each constituting separate and independent works in themselves, which
together are assembled into a collective whole. A
work that constitutes a Collection will not be considered an Adaptation (as defined above) for the
purposes of this License.
This means that provided the ND work is reproduced
whole and unmodified it can be published in a collection
with a commentary or other relevant material. It is not
clear whether it would be permissible to use hyperlinks
to take a user directly to parts of an ND work or to connect an ND work to a commentary or other material.
Section 4 of the legal code goes into detail about how
an ND work can be incorporated into a collection and
how the work must be credited. It is possible to assemble
a collective work consisting of materials carrying different licences. A collection may also, if it is sufficiently
original, qualify for copyright protection and for its own
licence which does not have to be an ND licence. When
this happens the collective work’s licence will not change
the licences attaching to the components in the collective work.
Share Alike
If the answer to the licence generator’s second question
“Allow modifications of your work?” is “Yes, as long as
others share alike” the licence generator suggests a share
alike (SA) licence. This ensures that modified works
based on the licensed material are available to others
under the same conditions as the original work. The
share alike licence offers authors the possibility of making their work “viral” in a way that is similar to the GPL.
Version 3 of the unported of the Attribution-ShareAlike
licence says:
sion) that contains the same License Elements as
this License (e.g., Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 US);
(iv) a Creative Commons Compatible License.
The CC’s symbol for share alike is almost exactly but not
quite the same as the FSF’s symbol for copyleft.
All the CC licences require what CC calls attribution.
The human readable summary of version 3 of the unported Attribution licence explains what attribution means:
You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way
that suggests that they endorse you or your use of
the work)
Changing or withdrawing a licence
The CC licences all say the licence is for the duration of
copyright and only ends if the person holding the licence
breaks the terms of the licence. Section 7b of version 3 of
the unported Attribution licence, for example, says:
Subject to the above terms and conditions, the license granted here is perpetual (for the duration of
the applicable copyright in the Work).
Whether an author can stop those who have not begun
using the material, from acquiring rights in terms of the
original licence is an awkward question. Section 8a of
the licence suggests that an author cannot do this:
Each time You Distribute or Publicly Perform the
Work or a Collection, the Licensor offers to the recipient a license to the Work on the same terms
and conditions as the license granted to You under
this License.
There is a problem with this clause in that the identity of
the “relevant third party” is unknown until someone
begins to use the work. This means that an author is
bound to an uncertain person. Not every legal system
accepts that this is possible. If an author does withdraw a
licence this will not affect the rights of those who had
previously begun to use the material.
Concluding comments on CC licences
You may Distribute or Publicly Perform an Adaptation only under the terms of: (i) this License; (ii) a
later version of this License with the same License
Elements as this License; (iii) a Creative Commons
jurisdiction license (either this or a later license ver-
There was no CC equivalent to the GNU Manifesto although there is now a “Free Content and Expression
Definition” that may serve as a manifesto. It seems, however, that what the founders of the CC movement had in
mind was a community producing material that it would
Education for a Digital World
16 – ‘Open Licences’ of Copyright for Authors, Educators and Librarians
make available under the CC licences in the same way as
there are communities of software developers. making
software available under different licences. There two
features of the CC licences that might hinder this.
First, the system of CC licences is complex and, as has
been shown, the meaning of the licences is not always
clear. A pre-publication review of this chapter advised
against publishing some of the comments for fear that
they might weaken confidence in the CC licences. It
seems, however, that long-term confidence in the CC
licences will only be possible when difficulties of the sort
this chapter raises have been resolved.
Second, and possibly more importantly, authors and
educators ‘need to eat’. Those in regular employment and
those supported by public or private grants may be happy
to use the CC licences. But authors earn their living from
their work might be reluctant to use the CC or any other
open licence. Commercial publishers, whether they
publish traditionally or online, are unlikely to want to
pay authors for the rights to publish a work that is already freely available. And it is difficult to see how there
could be a commercial use for non-software open-licence
material in the way there is for open licence software.
Some authors draft what are, in effect, their own open
licences. This can be done quite simply. So, for example,
the copyright notice on the Antiquarian Horological
Society’s Website ( reads:
The material in these pages is copyright.
© AHS and Authors. 1996 – 2007.
The information may be downloaded for personal
use only. The information may be passed on to
another party for their private use provided that
the source and this copyright information is
acknowledged. The material may not be
reproduced in quantity, or for commercial
Open licence drafting, however, is not always a simple matter and not every home-grown licence is free of
problems. The United Nations Disaster Management
Training Programme, for example, has the following
licence on some of its training material:
The first edition of this module was printed in
1991. Utilization and duplication of the material in
this module is permissible; however, source
attribution to the Disaster Management Training
Programme (DMTP) is required.
Education for a Digital World
In this licence it is not clear whether ‘utilization and
duplication’ includes making derivative works and using
the material commercially for profit.
The African Medical Research Foundation, to take
another example, has licensed some of its educational
material with CC Attribution-Share Alike licence. The
Foundation then goes on to explain that copying, reproducing and adapting the material is “to meet the needs
of local health workers or for teaching purposes”. It is
not clear if this limits the CC licence. The Foundation
also asks, although not as a term of the licence, for feedback on how the material is being used:
This course is distributed under the Creative
Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Any part of this unit including the illustrations,
may be copied, reproduced or adapted to meet the
needs of local health workers or for teaching purposes, provided proper citation is accorded AMREF. If this work is altered, transformed or built
upon, the resulting work may be distributed only
under a license identical to this one. AMREF
would be grateful to learn how you are using this
course, and welcomes constructive comments and
Access to knowledge and
information sharing
There is a growing awareness of the importance of access to knowledge and information and of the need to
prevent commercial exploitation from making important knowledge the preserve of relatively few. An example of this was President Clinton’s decision to increase
funding for the Human Genome Project to ensure that
the sequences were not patented and limited to commercial use. When discussing access to knowledge it is
useful to distinguish different kinds of knowledge or
Governments have detailed information about matters such as the health, safety and education of the
population, trade figures, economic performance, spatial
information and geodata. They collect this information
for their own purposes and, in terms of the law of most
countries, they have copyright in it. Such information, of
course, is often also useful to researchers and commentators and to those thinking about investing in the
country either to make a profit or to help development.
There is, however, no single approach about whether
and on what terms this information should be available.
16 – ‘Open Licences’ of Copyright for Authors, Educators and Librarians
In 2005 Brazil and Argentina proposed to the World
Intellectual Property Organisation that the organization’s development agenda should discuss the possibility
of a Treaty on Access to Knowledge (A2K). Much of the
draft of the treaty deals with widening the scope of the
exceptions to and limitations on the copyright holders’
rights. Part 5 is entitled “Expanding and enhancing the
knowledge commons” and includes articles providing
for access to publicly funded research and government
information and a provision that government works
should be in the public domain.
A category of government information to which
some countries already allow access is material of a legal,
judicial or political nature: legislation, case law, and
parliamentary proceedings. In 2002 delegates from some
Commonwealth countries produced a ‘Declaration on
Free Access to Law’ that asserts, among other things that
“(p)ublic legal information is digital common property
and should be accessible to all on a non-profit basis and
free of charge; …” Anyone who has followed the discussion in this chapter and reads the full declaration will
realize that the declaration needs to go into more detail
about creating derivative works and using the material
Tax exempt foundations and not-for-profit educational and research institutions also fund research that
produces important information. According to the law
in most countries, funders and employers can decide on
what terms to release this information. It is understandable that researchers looking for funding may want to
include a profit line from intellectual property in their
research proposals. Educational institutions also like the
idea of using the research done by their staff to produce
what some call “third stream” income. It could also be
seen as part of academic freedom that academics who
work in educational and research institutions are entitled to a say in how their research is released. Access to
knowledge advocates could argue that governments
should consider whether institutions and funders that
do this are really entitled to their tax-free status.
Creative Commons works through Science Commons to encourage the free flow of scientific information. One of the Science Commons projects has drafted
model contracts for the transfer of biological material.
Another project aims at publishing material that is important for biological research with an open licence. A
third project aims at getting peer reviewed journals to
publish with open licences and enlisting academics to
publish only in journals that do this.
Concluding comments
In conclusion it seems worth mentioning two features
that most open licences lack: provision for notifying the
copyright holder about how material is being used and
provision for alternative dispute resolution.
It is surprising that open licences do not allow an author
to require a user, in return for being free to use the
author’s material, to keep the author informed about
what a user does with the material. The African Medical
Research Foundation’s licence requests this information
but it is not a condition of using the material. Drafting
such a condition, of course, would have to be done so as
not to impose too much of a burden on users. But if it
could be done the information would help assess the
value of open licence material.
We have seen the different opinions about what some of
the clauses in the CC licences mean. And there has been
litigation about the meaning of the GPL. As things stand
only a court, possibly even a whole series of courts in
different countries, can settle differences of opinion.
Given the cost of litigation, it is unlikely that the courts
will ever have an opportunity to do this. In 1999 ICANN
adopted a Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution
Policy for settling disputes about domain names. There
is no reason why there should not be a similar dispute
resolution procedure for settling disputes between copyright holders and users about the meaning of open licences.
Much of the material used in this chapter comes from
the websites of the organizations responsible for the
different licences and initiatives where readers will easily
find it. The Creative Commons website, in particular,
has a helpful index of academic commentary. The following may also be helpful:
• Lawrence Liang Guide to Open Content Licenses version
1.2 2004 Piet Zwart Institute Willem de Kooning Academy Hogeschool Rotterdam. Available at http://pzwart
• Andrew M. St. Laurent Understanding Open Source
and Free Software Licensing, 2004 O’Reilly. Reviewed
by Mike Fraser in issue 42, January 2005 Ariadne.
Education for a Digital World
E-learning Standards
Randy LaBonte
Education for a Digital World
17 – E-learning Standards
Learning outcomes
After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
• Identify the most prominent e-learning standards,
bodies and organizations.
• Determine e-learning standards that could apply to
your own e-learning situation.
• Apply standards in your organization.
• Look for more detailed information about standards
for e-learning.
Standards exist for many things, from safety standards
in home construction and manufactured goods to standards of professional practice. Implementing e-learning
requires that you adopt standards and specifications for
both the development and delivery of content. Standards
allow e-learning content, technological infrastructures,
educational technologies and learning systems to be
Because the gauge of railroad track was standardized,
locomotives led the way for the industrial economy.
Similarly, the Internet was born from the standardization of TCP/IP, HTTP, and HTML protocols for the
World Wide Web. Historically, standards emerge when
proprietary technology does not integrate with other
technologies. Users of the technology demand changes
that allow new products to work with existing ones (for
example, the Blue Ray—High Definition DVD battle
recently). This convergence provides the basis for a set
of standards that ensures the consumer of longevity and
For the purposes of this chapter, the term standard
refers to document descriptions containing technical
specifications and criteria to be used as rules and guidelines to ensure content materials, delivery processes, and
services meet their intended purpose.
Establishing e-learning standards began as part of a
shift away from local, site-only content or programs to
web-accessible ones. The migration away from proprietary systems and methods to common, shared ones,
built the foundation for the development of standards.
Today those standards form the basis on which elearning can continue to develop and evolve. The standards enable the exchange of learning objects (content)
and the technical integration of content, learning systems, and delivery platforms.
Education for a Digital World
Instructional design and
delivery considerations
Selecting content for use in any learning program,
whether online or face-to-face, is complex, and varies
according to learning environment, instructional approach,
learner’s needs and learning style, not to mention user
and institutional preference. Section 1 discusses some of
the more common issues and approaches in instructional design. General considerations include how content is presented to the learner, how interactivity is
created, how learning is measured, and how social context is reflected. The following points are particularly
relevant to an e-learning program, although they can be
applied to any learning program. The list is not intended
to be comprehensive, rather is included here to stimulate reflection on key elements for a learning program.
Learning materials should:
• Be relevant to the philosophy, goals, and learning
outcomes of the curriculum.
• Make use of a variety of media presentation modes.
• Be accurate, current, and where appropriate reflect a
diversity of learning approaches.
• Be suitable for online environments and accessible
from commonly used hardware and software.
• Be designed for ease of use, simplicity of layout, durability, and accessibility.
Learning materials should:
Favour activity over text or lecture.
Support group and individual learning.
Promote an applied approach to learning.
Activate the learner’s prior knowledge.
Encourage learners to develop critical-thinking skills.
Offer choice and flexibility as appropriate to meet
individual learning styles and interests.
• Promote attention and engage the learner.
• Provide adequate instructor direction and support.
Learning materials should:
• Provide continuous feedback to the learner
• Use formative and summative evaluation as appropriate.
17 – E-learning Standards
• Track achievements for both the learner and instructor.
Learning materials should:
• Reflect sensitivity to culture, gender and sexual orientation.
• Promote equality.
• Reflect sensitivity to the diversity of ethnic backgrounds, configurations, and values.
• Portray positive role models.
• Use language appropriate to the intended audience.
Quality first
Responsibility for e-learning often falls under an organization’s human resources department or education
authority, and typically personnel in these departments
are responsible for, and most comfortable with, traditional classroom-based learning approaches. An
e-learning environment’s characteristics are different
from those of a face-to-face classroom. Online instructors typically do not have visual feedback about learner
engagement and must devise new strategies to encourage and measure learner engagement and achievement.
Traditional classroom strategies do not necessarily
transfer into an e-learning environment.
Whether online or onsite, good instruction is driven
by a focus on quality to ensure continuous improvement
and organizational performance. Standards for quality
in academic settings typically centre on goals for
achievement in numeracy, literacy, and critical thinking.
In corporate training, standards describe goal achievement of specific skills and knowledge. In both settings,
the drive for quality provides a framework for improving retention and raising achievement. Standards for
quality learning set reasonable targets and expectations
for instructors and students. Quality standards do not
prescribe how instruction should be delivered, or how
learning should occur. Rather, they set clear, concise,
and measurable expectations that assist in selecting instructional strategies, assessment methods, and learning
materials that support improved learning and achievement.
The drive for quality in e-learning is highlighted by
the development of quality measures described by several organizations. For example, the British Learning
Association’s (BLA) (
/qualitymark/index.htm) and QualitE-Learning Assurance’s eQCheck (
.html) both set quality measures and approve e-learning
content meeting them. The BLA's “Quality Mark” is
designed to improve the impact of learning interventions on performance across multiple sectors by setting
quality indicators for all aspects of learning materials
production and delivery. The focus of the eQCheck is
quality assurance through assessment and evaluation of
e-learning products and services for both consumers
and providers. The BLA and eQcheck quality marks are
used to give confidence to providers and consumers
much like a vintners’ “VQA” (vintners’ quality assurance) mark does for the selection of wine.
A quality-driven approach invites debate about what
constitutes effective learning, no matter the learning
environment, instructional approach, or technological
sophistication. However, a quality-driven approach can
• focus on learning, rather than instructional delivery;
• learning solutions that meet both organizational and
learner needs;
• learning policies consistent with organizational objectives;
• a relationship between learning and organizational
• a process for establishing continuous quality improvement;
• a recognized institutional commitment to quality.
Why standards for e-learning?
“The nicest thing about standards is that there are
so many of them to choose from”. – Andres S.
Tannenbaum (, 2007a)
Standards clarify roles and responsibilities for instructors, learners, and others responsible for the outcomes
of the learning. Standards also provide a framework to
assist in the selection of a course or program. For governments, educational institutions and corporate
authorities, standards inform policy and the allocation
of resources or funding. The development of standards
reduces risk for organizations making investments in
technologies and e-learning content. Standards compliance assures data systems will be able to work together
and that investment in intellectual capital is not lost.
At a minimum e-learning standards should ensure
content is interoperable on any learning system. Standards should make life simpler by building consistency
and predictability. Some would argue that in the world
of e-learning the opposite is true, as the drive for standards has increased complexity and created more confu-
Education for a Digital World
17 – E-learning Standards
sion. There are standards and specifications for learning
objects, metadata, learning architecture, and instructional design, which most end-users find far too technical for their needs. What e-learning standards do have in
common is the intention to assist both the development
and delivery of online learning that, in the end, supports
the end-user’s learning needs and the organization’s
requirement to account for that learning.
Standards seem to come in two flavours: complex
technical standards and specifications that define everything from minute details for multiple contingencies,
to more user-driven general standards that enable content to be adapted for local consumption and use. Standards should fit within current practice and support
learning—not promote a particular technical point of
view or approach. Adoption of SCORM (shareable
courseware object reference model) as a standard for
online courses could be counterproductive for some
organizations as it may conflict with instructional delivery methodology and approaches, whereas adoption of a
subset of SCORM might prove more appropriate. For
example, an institution or corporation may have invested
in an HR database or learning system that does not meet
all of the SCORM specifications for managing online
content. Does this mean that new systems are required?
To make matters more complex, SCORM is constantly
undergoing update. So which level of SCORM compliance should be the standard? Should the standard of
accessibility for all be required? If so, the adoption of this
standard could limit the use of engaging media that
would enhance learning for the majority of online learners.
The development of accredited standards reduces
risk for organizations making investments in
e-learning technologies and content. At a minimum the adoption of a set of standards should ensure that data systems work together and that
investment in time and intellectual capital in existing content is not lost. The standards any organization adopts should ensure that content is
interoperable on any learning system, enabling its
reuse and re-purposing.
No matter the motivation, the reasons for adopting
standards must be made clear to all, or the risk is to sign
up to someone else’s agenda. Standards that reflect current and emerging practice encourage development of
engaging online learning. Standards that limit or constrain creative use of technologies and media can stifle
effective e-learning. The best advice is to focus on
learning, involve those responsible for development and
Education for a Digital World
delivery of content, and engage instructors and learners
in the process. (See Chapters 10 to 13.) With the establishment of a clear set of goals and outcomes for developing an e-learning program, selecting content and
technology while applying standards becomes a less
daunting task.
Example from the field
In British Columbia standards for e-learning were developed in the context of existing practice and through
the direct involvement of online practitioners (see the
BC Ministry of Education’s “Standards for K–12 Distributed Learning in British Columbia” available at
standards.pdf). Standards from existing bodies were
adopted and adapted to reflect existing, sound practice
as well as to create a standards document that supported
and guided the evolution of improved practice in the K–
12 system for BC.
Common standards for
“Standards are always out of date. That’s what
makes them standards”. – Alan Bennett (Corliss,
While standards will vary from organization to organization, generally they address core aspects of e-learning
including data specification, format, security, and exchange between systems, as well as content structure,
cataloguing, and retrieval. Other standards attempt to
address accessibility, engagement with the learner, instructional design, etc.
The key to understanding standards is to determine
which apply to your instructional practice and support
learning. The point of having a standard is to support and
enhance practice, not to limit it. This is best captured by
a policy of the International Open Forum. (2004, p. 3)
which states:
Standardization is one of the essential building
blocks of the Information Society … The development and use of open, interoperable, nondiscriminatory and demand-driven standards that
take into account needs of users and consumers is
a basic element for the development and greater
diffusion of ICTs and more affordable access to
them, particularly in developing countries. International standards aim to create an environment
17 – E-learning Standards
where consumers can access services worldwide
regardless of underlying technology.
Standards have been applied to the architecture of
learning management systems (LMS) and learning content management systems (LCMS), as well as the development and metadata tagging of learning objects for
presentation on these systems. Learning architecture
standards set specifications for exchanging data with
other learning systems and database programs (library
resources, demographic or records information systems), and providing an environment to locate, manage,
and deliver learning objects. Learning object standards
set specifications for metadata tagging (how to make
information about the learning object such as name,
publisher, learning objectives, description of the content, visible), and how to integrate with a learning system (track learning, set mastery level, assess, and report
on the learning that occurs using the learning objects).
The benefits of learning architecture and learning
object standards and specifications to date have been:
• the ability to use learning objects from any compliant
publisher or developer on multiple technological delivery platforms;
• data interoperability among different learning systems and database platforms; and
• the ability to use and manage learning objects as resources.
Common standards for e-learning include:
(1) Data specification
• What data must be available for exchange with
another system (items such as learner information, learner demographics, learning assignments,
• What each data item is to be called and what format it should be in (text, integer, decimal number, etc.).
(2) Data format
• How data is packaged for exchange (commaseparated data, spreadsheet data, XML).
• XML (a structured text format where every piece
of data is preceded by its name) is the format
most widely used.
(3) Message packaging
• Details the protocol for sending the data from one
system to another. (HTTP has become the standard).
• Transaction management
• Details the protocol for what the receiving system
is to do with the data (such as creating a new
learner, updating a learner record, creating a new
performance record).
(4) Security management
• Details how data is to be secured, and how to
authenticate the sender of the data to make sure
the sender has rights to send data and perform
the transaction indicated.
(5) Content container specification
• Details the environment that the learning management system will provide for the content it
launches. (The least complicated and least capable
container is a new browser window. More capable
containers are browser windows that get data
such as user identification information from the
learning management system, bookmarks and
sends data such as score and performance data).
(6) Cataloguing and metadata creation
• Refers to the process of creating structured descriptions that provide information about any aspect of a digital resource (the information may
include technical information about the digital
entity or describe the process of digitization).
• Types of specific process metadata may be administrative metadata, technical metadata and
preservation metadata.
Standards regulatory bodies
“Standards are industry’s way of codifying obsolescence”. – Anonymous
Technology changes rapidly. Accordingly, the development of standards for e-learning is like a moving target.
Many institutions and organizations first laid claim to
“the standard” for online content and delivery. Several
organizations have gained prominence in developing
e-learning standards including:
• Aviation Industry CBT Committee (AICC)
• Sharable Courseware Object Reference Model
• IMS Global Learning Consortium (IMS)
• Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers
Learning Technology Standards Committee (IEEE—
• Canadian Core Learning Resource Metadata Application Profile (CanCore).
While compliance to standards and membership in
any organization is voluntary, most major content developers and technology providers conform to some or
Education for a Digital World
17 – E-learning Standards
all of the standards recommended by these organizations. In many cases regulatory bodies reference a set or
sub-set of each other’s standards. Others list only specifications and guidelines rather than standards, as the
development and/or adoption of what will become a
standard will continue. The following provides a brief
background on each organization. The References section at the end of the chapter lists additional organizations and websites that may be of interest.
The Aviation Industry CBT Committee (AICC) is an
international association of technology-based training
professionals. The AICC develops guidelines for the
aviation industry in the development, delivery, and
evaluation of CBT and related training technologies.
The AICC has developed methods that allow learning
management systems to exchange information and track
the results of contents.
Although AICC primarily attends to the aviation
industry, their focus has led to very well developed
specifications for learning, and particularly for computer-managed instruction. As a result, a wide range of
learning consortiums and accredited standards groups
adapt the AICC guidelines to their suit their own industries. The main link for the AICC is
The Department of Defense and the White House Office
of Science and Technology Policy launched the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) initiative in 1997 to
develop an open architecture for online learning. Its
purpose was to support access to quality education and
training resources tailored to individual learner needs
and available as required.
The ADL Shareable Courseware Object Reference
Model (SCORM) specification provides a common
technical framework for computer and web-based
learning that attempts to foster the creation of reusable
learning content as "instructional objects". SCORM is
based on AICC and the IMS Global Learning Consortium specifications. The ADL provides interoperability
testing laboratories and intends to establish a certification program. The main website for SCORM is:
Education for a Digital World
The IMS Global Learning Consortium represents a
number of large and small educational institutions,
training organizations, government and software vendors interested in incorporating learning resource metadata into their software products. IMS is developing and
promoting open specifications for facilitating online
distributed learning activities such as locating and using
educational content, tracking learner progress, reporting
learner performance, and exchanging learner records
between administrative systems. The IMS Project is funded
solely by membership (the highest level of participation
is the contributing member, with an annual fee of
$50,000). The main link for IMS is http://www.ims
The Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC),
part of IEEE, is a formal standards body that produces
standards with legal standing. The formal standardization process is generally based on existing process; in the
case of the LTSC, the other organizations listed