03 February 2006

Online Learning Environment: History and Theory of Organization Development

Many of you know that I'm currently doing a Ph.D. at OISE/UT in the Adult Education Department, researching the future form of corporation that is consistent with our UCaPP environment. As part of my (master's) course work, I took a fabulous course taught by my supervisor, Marilyn Laiken: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on Organization Development.

For a long time, Marilyn had wanted to adapt this course for distance learning, making it available as an online course. The problem was, that she had neither taught, nor even participated in, an online course. So with my background in understanding the effects of UCaPP environments, our collaboration on this project seemed to be a match made in distance learning heaven. Except for one small matter. Like the Honda engineer who hated diesel engines, who was given the task of designing a new diesel engine (the ad is great, by the way), I absolutely hate most online, distance learning environments.

Most online courses are implemented using a form of threaded forums, harkening back to the old Usenet. Great for its time (1970s), but as antiquated today as one-room schoolhouses and students with their own slates and chalk. What's worse (and this is my main objection) is that their primary effect is to intensify didactic, content-focused instruction. Because of their linearity and threaded nature, they tend to narrow the scope of conversation, thinking and discourse. Additionally, they multiply the amount of reading time because of their strict, "drill-down" style of navigation. Yech!

But I was up for the challenge, and decided that the best way to implement a collaborative learning environment was to use a collaborative online environment, particularly suited for group authorship, namely a wiki. With no funding (the story of my life), I turned to a great hosted service, PBwiki, whose slogan is, "make a wiki as easy as making a peanut butter sandwich," hence the "PB." (Disclaimer: The good folks at PBwiki will double my free storage space in exchange for this mention.) I've used a number of free, hosted services over the years, and tend to stick with, and recommend, the ones that work for me, like Blogger.com and Bloglines, for instance. So far, PBwiki ranks right up there for ease-of-use right from the get-go, responsiveness, and continual investment in development and feature-expansion.

Although the actual course itself is available only to registered students at OISE/UT (for the time being, at least), I have created a public sample that can give you a taste of the style of the environment, the nature of the weekly collaborations in the class, an outline of the course content, and samples of the entry class, and the first "block." For more information on the course and/or the project, you can contact me, or Professor Marilyn Laiken.

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Harold Jarche said...

Had you used Elgg Learning Landscape, you would have had less hassle and been up and running with a wiki+++ in no time. But then of course, I'm biased ;-)

Mark Federman said...

Thanks Harold! Taking the tour at Elgg Learning Landscape, it looks like a great system that integrates blog and wiki. Perhaps for the next experiment.

Actually, I've had no hassle with PBwiki - it's time consuming because of the need to create the static (content) parts of the course. The other consideration that we discussed here was that the majority of our students would not be familiar with wikis, blogs or social networking environments of any sort, save possibly the threaded-forum style of courseware. This might present a challenge to some of our target students (most of whom are mid-career professionals) who could have a tough time getting their heads around the differences among wikis, blogs, tagging, and other whiz-bang gew-gaws of this fancy tech world.

Harold Jarche said...

I understand completely. The people/change component takes much more effort than the technology. We've found that Elgg is pretty good for our mature audience of healthcare workers in Quebec.

It's good to know that there are many technology options for these web 2.0 learning scenarios. I'll have to check out PBwiki and add it to my toolbox :-)

Anonymous said...

Mark -- I never knew you were persuing a PhD. I just read you rpost and have been looking at usinga Wiki on the new website I'm developing to replace this one.


Hope all is well -- Kathy

Anonymous said...

Mark - Thanks to Google for pulling this blog up in a search for Marilyn Laiken. (I did the Adult T&D Certificate with her 3 yrs ago)

I'm starting the MA (Learning and Technology) at Royal Roads and the pbWiki seems to be just the ticket. Of course, I'll have to check out the Elgg too...

Finding the McLuhanist dialogue rather interesting so far.