Sunday, March 11, 2007

Mike Zarro

link to screencast

Mike Zarro: Hi, everyone, I'm Mike Zarro. I am on the other side -- the flip side -- of the coin from most of you, where I'm using your products. And I'd just like to thank you for everything you're doing. I'm going to try to not be negative here. Obviously there are some issues in online education and digital technologies that we all know about. And we've heard some themes already today.

What I would just like to say is to keep doing what you're doing, please. I know we're pretty early on in the game. We can see there's some opportunities here for improvement, but also, let's not lose sight of the fact that just having online education can bring someone like myself in who maybe wouldn't have thought to go back to school after eight or nine years out from undergrad, to take that leap back into graduate education.

Whether or not I would have, I don't know, but having online education as a possibility really helped me make that decision and brought my dreams of more education to fruition. So, I'd just like to thank you all.

We heard a couple of themes already. One was the design, which we'll get into, which we brought up as a question earlier. But also the discussion boards, where the graduate students really... That's kind of where I live right now. So, we're going to see a bit of that. Unfortunately, maybe they're getting a little worse for the wear over the past couple of years.

I'm here at Drexel. I'm in the Library School, just a few blocks away. I don't know if there's anybody here from the Library School. One person? OK, great, great.

So, we're the high-techie people, supposedly. I don't know how many over there actually knew about this conference today. So, there are some issues there, maybe, to look into, outside of technology but actually with the people behind the technology.

And it's really funny, how -- even in online education -- digital education mimics what you have in real life. I still have issues with financial aid. I still have to track down my advisor and all that good stuff, a lot of it online. Luckily, I can get down here in person, so I have that opportunity. But I'm just wondering if somebody was totally online, and if you need to get in touch with financial aid, there could be some real issues there.

Baby steps, definitely, right now, but we're getting there. You can see that I've been doing development for quite a while, and e-learning. So, I kind of know the behind-the-scenes world. So, it can be doubly frustrating for me, because I can see the potential there. But we're not quite to that point yet.

Here are some successes. I'm able to interact with people from around the globe. One of my favorite professors is from Pittsburgh. There's no chance -- if this was a traditional environment -- that I would have the opportunity to have an adjunct professor from Pittsburgh travel to Philadelphia every day to teach me.

So, things like that, that's a success story that we can see in online education. So, all the frustrations we're going to get to in a minute, I'll just couch them right now.

You know, geographic barriers: I was able to travel when I was in school. And, actually, I was interrupted by John Waters in a coffee shop up in Provincetown one summer, while I was trying to do my online discussion board postings. So, it's kind of neat that you can pull all of these thing in and kind of do what you want as a person, as a professional -- which I was -- and still get your education. So, there are some real kinds of neat things you can do. I can be in Seattle today if I wanted to and still do my work.

Am I hip? I'll leave that for you to decide. I'm glad I don't have a clicker for that question today.

Woman: Can I just ask, does that mean the on-line things don't get graded?

Mike: Oh, no, they get graded. I'm sorry. What this means -- this slide -- is the career professional. You know, I'm older than some of my professors, and I have more technical skills than maybe some of them, and there's a lot of web work being done in the library field right now. So, do I want to be graded by somebody who potentially I have a better skill set than they do right now? So, that's kind of where that was coming from.

Blackboard, I think, 64% of the people are Blackboard. I feel your pain. But, it's not all about Blackboard. I had expected to fire up Blackboard on a daily basis, or every other day or so. And that was it. That was going to replace the building. On Blackboard, I could go there and see everything. The reality is, I spend maybe 60-70% of my time in Blackboard. But I'm also branching out to other places.

So, we have Blackboard here, going to the Drexel site. This is where I got a little fancy with PowerPoint. Sorry.

We see here, even the computing services, with the thumbs up. That's important. I need to know if I can't email a professor, if the service is down, or if it's something that I'm doing. Am I going to be responsible if my paper isn't turned in on time.

I use the U Penn Library, Banner -- that's the IST Library School website -- our library and then Web Now. All of these things come in. And this is just what I thought of off the top of my head. We can add Word, we can add PowerPoint, any number of other applications as well.

I do have the opportunity to collaborate with my classmates and professors. Again, you can see people from around the world, especially the Delaware Valley and the East Coast, it seems to be skewed that way. And I haven't been able to figure out, is it Delawareans or Delawareans or people from Delaware? Any help there?

We particularly used WebX, which is not sponsored by Drexel in any way. There is a Blackboard collaboration tool which I have used with some success. Luckily, as most of the professionals in the online group, somebody has access to WebX through their profession, through their career. We can come and piggyback on that a little bit. Is that an unfair advantage for certain groups over others? I don't know. I think it probably is. But we're all out there trying to make it. So, we'll grab WebX if we can, Yahoo! Groups as well. Not as successful as maybe it could have been, partially because we're students and we don't have time to really investigate like some professors do, what actually works and doesn't. So, we just grabbed Yahoo! Groups and it didn't really work out. So, then we moved onto something else.

How much of our time is being wasted by this? I don't know. I feel like it's too much. I feel like there's a lot of frustration there because we're going outside of Blackboard. I don't know if there's any Blackboard...

Woman: Why don't any of the faculty members use it?

Mike: I've seen that turned on. I've seen that maybe not turned on. Maybe that's me not seeing it or my group not seeing it or the professor didn't enable that function. In the one case for the group where it wasn't turned on -- I'm relatively new to Blackboard as a student -- and I didn't' even know there would be that option.

Nobody knew this existed. It was the first class we took. Later I did see it and I wondered why it wasn't turned on in the first class. There was no opportunity to see what Blackboard fully had to offer. Maybe it's out there somewhere. I could have read the documentation.

Woman: But it sounds like the faculty weren't getting trained in it. The faculty...

Mike: Correct, yeah.

Woman: So that he or she could facilitate more as a teacher.

Mike: Yeah. And again, that mimics real life or classroom education, where maybe a professor is able to use all the tools in the classroom and maybe not. You know, it's really surprising how much it does mimic that.

I used my cell phone and got walloped with a $160 bill because I guess my plan isn't as good as some others. So there are some hidden costs there maybe. Sunday night, with the discussion boards, it's required most classes, if it's not required, nobody posted, it's a ghost town. Most classes it's required, at least one posting. Some professors don't have a required number.

So maybe you post once and the professor doesn't like that and maybe gives you a slightly lower grade than you thought you should get. Others say you have to post and also respond to somebody. So I try and post early on in the week and do some responses later.

Luckily, I'm not working right now, so I can do this all week and be one of those annoying kids in class, the teacher's pet. When I was working, Sunday and Sunday nights especially, that's almost like when the class meets. And that's when everybody posts on the blackboard, and you really start to see the thread develop at that time.

It's a little unfortunate that it happens that late in the class. But realistically, for a professional to do the reading and really digest the materials through the course of the week, Sunday night is when this is going to happen. Even now I reserve Sundays to be a classroom day, I would consider. Which is especially frustrating when email or the server goes down on Sunday, and who knows if their sysadmins, I'm sure they're working on it, there's probably not the same coverage we would get during the workweek. It's kind of interesting. Sunday night is the classroom sessions.

Here's my discussion experience. When I come in to blackboard, I've already chosen my class and I see this announcement, which there's never really anything there, so it's kind of fun. This is all framed space in 2007, so that's kind of fun too. Now I'm in the discussion board, we can see this search feature at the top, which I've never been able to get it to work, I don't know how this works.

I think everyone's probably upgraded their blackboard installations, as well. I think I'm a good computer user. I've been online for many years. I can't get the search to do what I wanted to do, and I've given up trying essentially. Which is really frustrating because there is an opportunity for me that is pasted, and it takes up a significant amount of real estate.

And now I scroll through and find week six or seven we're in now, and now we have our postings. Everything is great, and I want to see what I'm going to do next and I look here to posts websites to a discussion board. And that's the amount of this real estate of the screen and I want to use right now. I don't have the option to do anything else. What would you consider that? 20% of the screen, if that? And there's no text there, it's essentially useless at this point.

[inaudible question]

Below here, the highlighted part is where I would type in or read somebody's posting. The rest of the screen shows the thread or search for it.

[inaudible question]

There's a discussion going on, about how to address this because there are a lot of people in the same boat. And this word blackboard.com, we don't have a direct sysadmin here that I know of, who can fix this, or do anything with it, blackboard hosts it for us. Again I can still learn, obviously, I enjoy it enough to stop working to go full time. This is something where every day, I have to scroll again. The repetitive nature starts to wear you out.

You brought up a design point, this is an opportunity lost really. I'm taking a web design class right now and if I did this, the professor would give me F. That's just space lost. So again, an opportunity lost. It's particularly galling at Drexel in the Information Sciences to see this. But, blackboard enabled me to get in the online education to start, so I am kind of conflicted. I know behind the scenes, how impossible it is to make of this stuff work. It better work perfectly every time for me, as a student. But as the webmaster before me, I know how hard it is, so I can see both sides.

So outside of blackboard, were talking about multimedia resources, iTunes, podcasting and all this great stuff. So far in my classes, I haven't really had experience with that. I think I've used QuickTime once and one time, real time chat with a professor. And I think we use a phone conferencing thing. UC Berkeley does some things, youtube, wikiversity is out there. There are some other opportunities for professors to post. Within blackboard..a as part of a school or maybe on their own, people could have some opportunities to do multimedia that work.

Now whether or not that would actually prove my education, I don't know. It might be cool. I might love it. And I might think I'm the hottest thing going, because my professor is online in QuickTime window. But I'm learning really well right now, I'm getting the material. So maybe this would just be a distraction, I don't know. So when you're thinking about podcasting, that sort of thing. What we have now is pretty good.

[inaudible question]

One thing would be, if I posted something that was particularly interesting and I went away for a bit. I wouldn't have an opportunity to respond and nobody's ever going to go back to week five now. But again, if you're in a classroom and your three hours are up, maybe you continue it later and maybe you don't.

Here we are with some final thoughts. We can see the numbers, if this is correct, I'm surprised that I read this, there are more online students than actual on-campus students. We can see the growth here. Maybe some of the issues I've brought up, any school that is growing as quickly is going to have, some sort of issues serving their students. That's just the way the nature of the beast is here.

Generally, I feel when I was only online, I can take classes in person as well. I felt like a student, I felt part of the school. IST has done a great job with that. There are some opportunities you don't have as an online student. There are one or two classes I think, that offered where you really need to be in person. You need to have those books that are falling apart, raining dust and mold all over you, you need to have that experience in person. I think there are a couple fellowships or some sort of scholarship study, you wouldn't have an opportunity to get if you are online only.

And then of course the networking and kind of schmoozing with your classmates and professors. You don't have as great an opportunity but you still do get to know some people online.

[inaudible question]

We can see obviously, online education is extremely popular right now. And I expect this trend to continue going up. And hopefully more evangelists will be out there like us sharing are good stories, and not complain too much. So keep doing what you're doing and I thank you for it. Can I answer any questions?

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