Guidelines for online courses

I wrote this draft proposal for developing some criteria for online courses a few years back.

Guidelines for Online Courses


Words of wisdom from Bill Fenwick

In a meeting today, Bill Fenwick articulated a key point that was also deliberated at Campus 2010 retreat in Trinidad,

“Participation in society in the future requires computer literacy.

Almost all aspects of your life will be limited if you cannot access a computer. This could cause an explosion in the gap between the able bodied and people with disabilities.”

TipTap potential product line can be critical as a possible interface device, particularly for those with use of only one hand, as well as the visually impaired.

Excerpts from “Developing an Effective Online Course”

“There are five rules that make up good writing. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

—William K. Zinsser, author of On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

“I am not a teacher but an awakener.”
– Robert Frost, American poet


Choose the best way to communicate information

The goal of instruction is to close the gap between what people already know and what they need to know in order to perform the module objectives.

In “Making Instruction Work,” Robert F. Mager proposes the following formula for determining the content (in this case, the Instructor’s Notes):

What needs to be known

(minus) – What is already known
(equals) = What needs to be taught

Ask yourself:

  • What prevents the student from already practicing the objective?
  • Does the student need to know common errors to avoid?
  • Does the student need to know the procedure?
  • Are examples necessary?

Did I remember to:

  • Discuss the relevance of the module to the student?
  • Clarify how this module fits into the big picture?
  • Provide logical guidelines, or a clear model, for competent performance?
  • Describe or demonstrate “how to”?

Which Medium is Best?

The best way to communicate information depends on what you are communicating and why.
According to two folks at, Jakob Nielsen and Donald Norman:
”We believe that education comes first, technology second. We exploit the power of each specific medium: Books, lectures, videos, the Internet, and the computer.”

  • Texts: Best medium for communicating concepts
  • Lectures and Videos of Lectures: Best for motivation, engagement, and emotional/empathetic or visual content
  • The Internet: A powerful tool for knowledge management, for social interaction, research and current events
  • Simulations and interaction: A powerful tool for engagement and exploration

From the isle of Alameda to the island of Trinidad

I headed off to the Campus 2015 gathering in Trinidad. Campus 2015 to dialog about the agenda for educational technology for the next five years lead by Visionary, Lev Gonick, CIO at Case Western Reserve.

Molly served as graphic recorded of the three days the conference.

Campus 2015 at the Salybia Resort f=

Brother Keith Lake, Valerie Landau (me) and Keith's son Kurlan

Big take away from the conference:
Keep in mind…what gets measured is what gets done.

Engelbart Quote of the month

“I could picture people sitting in front of big cathode-ray tube screens with the computer. We could make symbolic arrays to develop new information forms in order to portray for ourselves the thinking that we were doing. And other people could be sitting at similar complexes associated in the same computer center collaborating.”

“I said, “Wow, tremendous possibilities! Okay, I’m going to go after that.” That was in the early spring of 1951. If a computer could punch cards or print on paper, I just knew it could draw or write on a screen, so we could be interacting with the computer and actually do interactive work. You could engage in collaborative work, with other people at work stations tied to the same computer systems. We could be working independently or collaboratively. I had intuitive certainty that this would work.”

Engelbart quote from “The Engelbart Hypothesis

Valerie Landau and Douglas Engelbart at Program for the Future 2010
Valerie Landau and Douglas Engelbart at "Program for the Future 2010"

Program for the Future Notes from the Lunatic Fringe

Ten Top Take-a-ways from The Program for the Future
The Program for the Future met March 3, 2010 for a CoLABoration.

Note: The tables at CoLAB had various affinity groups — education, government, health care, communications, business, technology — I asked to label a table “lunatic fringe.” Eileen Clegg describes it “as a popular if amorphous concept, and another table with the same name popped up. The focus turned out to be people doing leading edge work, often as sole proprietors or small businesses — thinking differently about traditional organizational assumptions.”

The group engaged in a BRAINSTORMING activity about what was necessary to augment Collective IQ through collaboration.
Valerie’s Top Ten Questions for Innovation:

10. How do we orchestrate “Constructive Cacophony?” Taking a whole bunch of mismatched ideas and making them work together.

9. How can we separate message from the messenger so good ideas are taken seriously no matter who thought of them?

8. How do we create structures to include “people on the lunatic fringe” who love change but are usually so often rock the boat they they are thrown overboard?

7, How do we communicate that Architecture is important?

6. What can we learn about power sharing, structures and collaboration from old earth practices?

5. How do we keep a repository where we can tag and find “Reusable Ideas”?

4. How can we make World Cafe a “life style”? How can we engage in small diverse groups and mix them?

3. How do we create a culture where we build prototypes, then, throw every thing away and reuse only what we learned.

2. How do we design a structure where your failing and what you learned from it is rewarded?
Rewards for failures – how do we build systems that reward the sharing of failure? It is just not the failure but the process that led to failure. A major failure may be made up of hundreds of successes.

1. Why is scale important?

Don’t throw BF Skinner’s research out…along with his bath water

I posted two quotes from Skinner on Twitter and Facebook and am surprised at the response. Publicly and privately friends express their hatred of B.F. Skinner. Even Noam Chomsky spent pages (years ago) raging against Skinner.

However,  Skinner’s work may be more valuable today than ever.  He conducted many important studies, and pioneered the field of using machines (computers) as learning tools, so I believe it is worth while looking back with 20/20 hindsight to see what was valuable, insightful, or just his misinterpretation. The notion “consider the source” is a valid consideration, but too often we use our emotions to either glorify or vilify others.

Isn’t it time we begin judging the merit of a message on how well that particular message resonates  and begin to separate message from messenger?

Skinner, I know, has become a euphemism for, ok, an icon of, narrow-minded step-by-step instruction.

However, his big rPrincipal Skinnerevelations:

  • small immediate rewards shape behavior better than punishment,
  • random generous rewards can be a tremendous motivator (slot machines as a case in point)

Skinner had a lot of valid criticisms of modern capitalism and the excesses of over-consumption. He believed that television made representational democracy impossible as small bits of positive reinforcement (a solid hand shake, a positive outlook, a trust worthy expression )swayed voters more than effective policies or complicated solutions.

So, enough of my pro-Skinner ranting for now. I hope these videos of BF’s experiments make you reflect on your behavior half as much as they made me reflect on mine.

Skinner videos:

Pigeon Ping Pong (way better than cat juggling)

Making a pigeon dance

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Creating an Educational Networked Improvement Community

In the Fall of 2003 Dr. Douglas Engelbart invited a small group to his home for three days of meetings to plan the formation of an Educational Networked Improvement Community (EdNIC) dedicated to improving how we teach and learn. What followed was three years of innovative collaborative educational experiments and the formation of a prototype of an Educational Networked Improvement Community (EdNIC).

I formed an experimental class at California State University, Monterey Bay, in applying Engelbart’s framework for hypermedia design in . The class was based on a mix of classic constructivist principles and “applied Engelbart.” The class provided students with a rich array of resources to collaboratively construct their own meaning. Field trips, informational interviews, and group work were key elements. Each student acted as a member of our EdNIC. Dr. Jamie Dinkelacker joined in the experiment and brought a wealth of knowledge about Engelbart, communications, and the high tech industry. There were two class requirements. One was to collaborate with classmates and second was to design a multimedia prototype that incorporated Engelbart’s ideas including multiple views, high resolution addressability, scalability, and open source.

Professor Cookesy (Indiana University East) framed Engelbart as an Information Age philosopher who challenges the philosopher Immanuel Kant’s notion of time and place. By facilitating networked collaboration in a global community through both synchronous and asynchronous modes both notions of time and space come into questions. Engelbart’s work also challenges the traditional notion of “the human knowing system” and current epistemologies. Professor Cooksey integrated what she coined as “The Engelbart Hypothesis” into a traditional Philosophy class at Indiana University East (IUE).

Student Reflections on the Collaboration
The inter-university exchange affected the students on many levels. Students repeated three main themes in their reflections on the experience:
• The inter-college exchange made them feel like they were part of a historical movement.
• The notion of bootstrapping knowledge across disciplines and within the class was highly effective
• Exposure to different perspectives through different media was “mind expanding.”

Becoming Part of Social Movement
“We all felt a part of something much bigger than ourselves, a part of something that also made us bigger.” reflected Networking major Denise Gant. “There was a realization that our scholarship was part of a broad community. We weren’t just an isolated group of intellectuals…”

Paradigm Shifting
Our class discussed Engelbart’s notion of bootstrapping knowledge via well-organized Dynamic Knowledge Repositories but when we put it into practice with the IUE undergraduate students we saw the real power of inter-discipline exchange. The CSUMB students soaked up the philosophy student presentations and papers. Student Charles Spidell writes, “By reading the philosophy students’ posts, we are exposed to alternative ways of thinking and ultimately it affects the direction of my work in media.”

Many of the series students testified that the course provided them with sophisticated cognitive tools. CSUMB student Fredrick Josh Warren wrote, “I feel this class was the most influential for me as far as applying class work to real life. Because of this class, I know feel very confident about any problem I face.”

Gerardo Avila explained his experience as a paradigm shift that provides him a broader set of cognitive tools for problem solving.
“Paradigm shift defined: A complete change in thinking or belief systems that allows the creation of a new condition previously thought impossible or unacceptable…
“Paradigm Shift: In our own way each of us was attempting to apply Doug’s ideas to our interactions with each other… I no longer saw the class as a project to complete; rather I saw the class as a classroom where I could learn and expand my knowledge. I didn’t want a project plan, I wanted more ideas that could change the way I approached knowledge.”
“At school and at work, I looked for new ways to approach problems and solutions. Just like Doug could view data from different perspectives, I wanted to view situations from different perspectives…. I am now always looking in different directions and accepting different views.”

Unintended Consequences
What came out of the class was far beyond our expectations. Based on student testimony the results were that students:
• Developed a passion for Engelbart’s ideas and creative problem solving that continued well beyond the course
• Become filled with hope
• Changed perspectives
• Increased critical thinking
• Worked collaboratively
• Felt part of something bigger
• Developed projects beyond the scope of the class
• Engaged in holistic and meta-learning techniques

Several Engelbart scholars and members of the Bootstrap Alliance Board attended our final class presentation and offered their support of the project. The Bootstrap Alliance made a $12,000 donation to CSUMB to support the project in the Spring 2005.

Phase III
In Fall 2004 Engelbart attended the class’ final presentation. Moved by the student progress, he called for the Networked Improvement Community to scale up and include a broader number of universities.

Eight Engelbart scholars from around the world to participate in a series of recorded online dialogs to define and discuss Dynamic Knowledge Repositories and Networked Improvement Communities. The scholars included: Professor James Whitehead, UCSC, Dr. Jaime Dinkelacker, Carnegie Mellon University, West, Robert Duval, ARIADNE Belgium, Professor Brian Fisher, University of British Columbia, Dr. Robert Stephenson, Wayne State University. The students in the class served as observers and transcribers of the recorded dialogs and worked on their individual projects.

The practice of articulating thought, dialoging and reflecting on the dialog deepened our understanding of Engelbart’s writings and sparked other groups to dialog about Engelbart. All eight of the scholars want to continue the bi-weekly dialogs.
By studying and applying Engelbart’s work students can experience significant cognitive growth and expand their ability to consciously engage in meta-learning and meta-cognition.

The Future
The value to the students and to the professional development of the scholars was, by all accounts, valuable. All parties involved would like to continue but it would require more resources dedicated to creating a dynamic knowledge repository to house the collective knowledge product.