The Golden Spike
Donald G. Perrin
In 1869, the Golden Spike was driven to join the railroads from East Coast and West Coast of the United States. In a productive union, the result is much greater than the sum of the parts. In information technology, we continue to celebrate union of divergent and related technologies into a single application. We have seen integration of word processing, database, and spreadsheets into Office programs. These elements are seamlessly interwoven and add: dictionary, thesaurus, and grammar checker; graphics, PowerPoint, and MovieMaker; Internet, email, and HTML; scanning, touch screen, and voice input; and interpreters for print to voice, print to text file, voice-to-text, and a host of other features too numerous to mention. Artificial intelligence is just a few years away. The golden spike to integrate these functions has been driven thousands of times.
In this never ending advancement of innovative technologies, there is always more to be done. For educators, the new frontier is learning management systems that are ubiquitous and efficient. Currently we have included key functions in a single program, but like the TFX military airplane of the 1960’s, the technology is complex where it needs to be simple. Let me give you some examples. When I open up Moodle, Blackboard, or WebTycho (LMSs I happen to be familiar with) I have to search through dozens of “containers” for newly completed work. After scores of menu clicks, waiting for files and screens to load, I take time to analyze and comment on student work, enter grades, attach model answers, etc. Almost 50% of my time is spent locating materials and there is not sufficient time to solve in-depth learning problems and provide a detailed response. Instead, I send a copy of the answer sheet and invite the student to call me if he or she cannot work it out for themselves.
There should be a single display panel where I can see work not started, in progress, completed, and graded. If a student has to fix graded work, it returns to completed. Every item on the screen should be one click away – and accessible in a fraction of a second. A double click could select all students for that activity so they can be compared or corrected in the same time frame. Looking at the number of data points for my most recent classes, I see up to 30 students (rows) and up to 50 check points and scored items for my average 10 week course – that’s 1500 data points per course – 1500 items that need to be linked to the control panel.
I work mostly with mid-career professionals – busy people who travel a lot, have compelling work commitments, family emergencies, and other responsibilities. Distance learning gives them the flexibility to learn and to do well if given the opportunity. Arcane rules about attendance and late work are inappropriate for mid-career professionals. I believe education should serve the students and not the other way around. In my classes, each student controls his or her schedule and most finish on time at the end of the term. I offer tutorial assistance for student having difficulties with the subject matter, or catching up after an extended absence. Students can redo assignments or do additional work to maintain their grade. The latter makes sense because the course is criterion based and collaborative. Students must reach a level consistent with their professional goals and needs. This is why I need to access the whole course and have an instant display of progress. And this is why searching through all forums, assignments, projects, group and individual activities, tests, etc. and continually opening and closing files is unacceptable overhead and a waste of time.
Give me a 30 X 50 grid with labeled rows and columns and 1500 radio buttons in 4 colors hyperlinked to each specific item. If you have been in underground parking with a green LED over every parking space that turns red when occupied, you will know what I am talking about. Even with 1500 parking spaces, you can instantly find a green light to park your car.
|January 2011 Index|