As many of you are aware, annual funding for the government expires on Dec. 9. The Administration strongly believes that a lapse in funding should not occur. There is enough time for Congress to prevent a lapse in appropriations.
However, prudent management requires that we be prepared for all contingencies, including the possibility that a lapse could occur. As we saw in 2013, a lapse would mean that a number of government activities would cease due to a lack of appropriated funding, and that a number of employees would again be temporarily furloughed. To prepare for this possibility, we are working to update our contingency plans for executing an orderly shutdown of activities that would be affected by a lapse in appropriations. To that end, we are posting our shut down plan here.
This week we welcome Dr. Susan Aldridge, President of Drexel University Online, and Marci Powell, Chair Emerita of the U.S. Distance Learning Association, to discuss Drexel’s success in teaching and learning in virtual environments. Their story is not only “virtually inspired” and, in my opinion, just plain old inspiring as well! Thank you both for a great post,
Having spent the past two decades working in the online higher education space, I am proud of the progress we’ve made since the early days when course modules were little more than a series of hand-outs published and delivered online. Back then, virtual study was, for the most part, a lonely (and shall we say, somewhat boring) experience, due, in part, to the read-only, chat or talking head video formats. Still, for many, it was an acceptable tradeoff for the privilege of learning from anywhere, at any time.
Now fast forward 20 years and we find ourselves with an amazing array of interactive technologies at our disposal. Technologies that can further empower us to provide our students with what research over the years has proven to be an ideal learning experience – one that is engaging and customized, authentic and measurable. And when we succeed, our students win, because they leave us having cultivated the expert knowledge and complex skills requisite for their success.
Of course, we really need to share those success stories more often. Because as empowering as these technologies may be, they are constantly evolving; and unfortunately, we have yet to produce much in the way of a “how-to” guide for effectively implementing, much less optimizing, them. So in the spirit of collaborative investigation, Drexel University Online (DUO) – with my (Marci) help as an outside consultant – launched a rigorous research project, to uncover “pockets of innovation” in the technology-enhanced education arena.Pulling the research together
After conducting dozens of interviews with faculty, administrators, and training officers worldwide, DUO compiled more than 70 case studies that exemplify virtual success in using some of the latest and greatest technologies to support an ideal learning experience. But we didn’t stop there. We created a website we are calling Virtually Inspired. Our goal is to showcase some of the brightest minds and best practices in connected learning, and also building and sharing an evolving repository of replicable ideas.
Virtually Inspired features a series of high-quality videos that highlight some of the many ways educators are inventing the future of connected learning. Likewise, this website will incorporate interviews with online learning experts; a section for visitors to share their own leading-edge practices; and a space for reviewing published books and articles in the field – all of which is designed to encourage ongoing collaboration, as we explore the ever-expanding frontiers of our profession.
Here is a sneak preview of three especially promising technologies we identified in our research: virtual reality, holography, and robotic telepresence.Creating virtual worlds for real learning
For years, educators have touted the many educational benefits of authentic learning experiences like internships and apprenticeships, when it comes to mastering expert knowledge and complex skills. But with increasingly sophisticated skills to learn, these in-personal experiences no longer suffice on their own. That’s why instructional designers are embracing virtual reality (VR) to enhance and, in some cases, replace them altogether, with multi-level, sensory-rich simulations and videogames.
Put simply, these VR enhancements allow students to perfect mission-critical or even life-threatening skills, by immersing themselves in a safe, but challenging environment, where they apply relevant knowledge, while considering multiple perspectives and practicing different responses. Likewise, these virtual worlds generate a tremendous amount of data to use in assessing performance and customizing instruction. And because they usually incorporate some sort of immediate feedback or reward, they stimulate the release of dopamine in the brain, which, in turn promotes greater engagement and better knowledge recall, over time. Take Tina Jones, for example, an avatar developed by Shadow Health, that we use at Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions to help online nursing students sharpen their clinical practice skills from a distance. This 29-year-old virtual patient responds just like any real-life patient, offering a unique chance for students to perform high-stakes, full-system, patient assessments – over and over, if necessary. Their instructors observe the interaction online, using videoconferencing applications to provide face-to-face feedback around targeted areas for improvement.Adding new dimensions with holography
Holography offers yet another great opportunity to engage students in interactive learning experiences and environments that are authentic, measurable and customized. A hologram is essentially a three-dimensional, free-standing image, created with photographic projection and viewed with the help of special headsets or other wearable devices. And with a little imagination, this technology can be used to enhance all sorts of learning activities.
For instance, holography can take videoconferencing to a physical level, by facilitating remote collaboration among students, faculty, and experts worldwide, in what feels like face-to-face interaction. Students can also use holograms to conduct science experiments that are too dangerous, expensive, or complicated to perform in real life; or to complete a design project in three dimensions that can be reproduced on a 3D printer. Educators are also employing holography for hosting virtual field trips, enabling students to “visit” a national park or a natural history museum far from where they live.
With the help of a Microsoft Hololens headset, professors at Case Western Reserve University are transforming how students learn about the human body, a hands-on academic exercise that has always required physical labs and human cadavers. But using three-dimensional holograms, they can now cut into a virtual human body to explore, experience and understand the intricacies of and connections among all of its systems – organ and skeletal, vascular and nervous – something that is much harder to teach without this digital enhancement.Connecting students through robotic telepresence
Although videoconferencing has long been the “go-to” for connected learning experiences among students, faculty, and outside experts, robotic telepresence offers an even more effective way to personalize the interaction – particularly from a social or collaborative learning perspective.
In fact, independently mobile telebots (as telepresence robots are often called) add that all-important in-person dimension to hands-on learning activities that would normally require a physical or onsite presence. Just ask the Duke University’s School of Nursing, where these amazing digital devices are paving the way for students in the fully online MS in Nursing program to work remotely with students in the campus-based Accelerated BS in Nursing program, as they engage in high fidelity, life-like clinical simulations.
Using their tablets, computers, or smartphones to remotely control the robot, online graduate student preceptors can maneuver it around the room, while panning or tilting the iPad screen in basically any direction, to provide clinical guidance – from a distance – to onsite undergraduate students. Equally important, they are all mastering the art of telemedicine, as they practice furnishing remote healthcare without losing that essential face-to-face patient connection.Looking Ahead
Given the lightning speed with which technologies such as these are moving into the mainstream of academia, there is no doubt that the future of connected learning is well within our collective power to invent. And in joining forces to create that future, we hope you will help us make Virtually Inspired both an ongoing source of ideas and a nexus for collaboration.
You may reach us at email@example.com.
Dr. Susan Aldridge,
President, Drexel University Online
Marci M. Powell,
Chair Emerita and Past President, U.S. Distance Learning Association
We tell small children that it is okay to make mistakes. We are told to forgive and forget. But our country doesn’t hold to these adages for those convicted of a crime. The revolving door of incarceration and juvenile justice has ensnared many of my students. It’s a hamster wheel that proves very hard to get off of. Poverty, crime, and violence are inextricably linked in the worlds of my students. In the county-wide consortium high school program where I currently teach, the students are all considered 100% at-risk in a multitude of categories – high-poverty, homeless, court-involved, frequently absent, working moms at 17, pregnant, expelled, etc. To address our students’ intense needs, our high school uses intentional strategies rooted in improving social-emotional learning to provide a better foundation for student success. We use trust, relationships, and character-building to provide stability and support for these students who have suffered trauma and often turn to crime to cope or survive.
Luke’s story is but one example. He was abused and neglected by his drug-addicted parents who lost custody of him, and he had a spotty attendance record beginning in elementary school. When he started our program six years ago, he was already a drug addict. After a stint in jail, Luke was able to get clean, but he was kicked out of his grandparents’ house because of his poor decision-making while on probation. We started to make headway together using trauma-informed approaches, and last year he earned more school credit than he had earned in the previous four years of high school. But just how far he had to go felt daunting to him; he was constantly in his own head telling himself he was stupid. He also had to balance school with working full-time. This past summer he almost decided to drop out.
As Luke’s advisor I am responsible for being his biggest advocate and helping him find solutions not only to academic problems, but to challenges that impede his progress towards post-secondary success. Because the structure of our program allows for home visits, I visited Luke’s residence and workplace frequently. I spent a lot of time establishing a consistent positive relationship with him. I offered Luke empathy for the trauma he had suffered, provided support for the mistakes he made, and gave frank reminders of what he needed to do for school. I also provided opportunities for him to develop social-emotional skills by asking him to share his life story with others and modeled how to engage in productive conversations with adults. We also continued to work on how to make curriculum engaging for him. His interests became woven into project-based learning assignments.
Our advising meetings use motivational interviewing techniques and provide both of us with a consistent frame for his decision-making. Motivational interviewing centers around therapeutic techniques and allows students to discover what motivates them to take the actions they do.
Luke knows that I am not letting him off the hook with finishing school. I am proud to report that he has less than three credits to go. My entire career has been spent with high-needs, at-risk students. Rather than burning me out, my program’s approach with students has had the opposite effect – it reenergizes me every day. My students have many obstacles, they commit major mistakes, but they deserve to be forgiven, to have a second chance, and to contribute positively to their world.
Sarah Giddings is a National Board Certified teacher in social studies and history. She is currently an advisor, multi-subject instructor in Big History, social studies, and ELA, and curriculum coordinator for the WAVE Program with the Washtenaw Educational Options Consortium high school programs in Ypsilanti, MI. Currently she is a National Hope Street Group fellow, a Teacher Champion with the Collaborative for Student Success, and a Teacher-Powered Ambassador with the Center for Teaching Quality. She is also a post-residential America Achieves MI Fellow. Sarah has a B.A. from James Madison College at Michigan State University in Social Relations with a minor in English. She has a master’s in K-12 Education Administration and a professional certificate in Educational Technology, also from Michigan State University.