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Innovation and Research

Both as a student at Athabasca University and through working at Thompson Rivers University, I have had many fantastic opportunities to work on some very interesting research projects with some very bright folks.  In this section, I’ve included some of my favorite bits from the following projects:

  1. Working on the Landing project to encourage collaboration among self-paced learners
  2. Writing papers on Universal Instructional Design principles that appeared as technical notes in IRRODL
  3. Researching the use of OERs in the development of open courses
  4. Participating in an MOOC and putting a paper online about learning analytics – I didn’t quite manage to get through the peer review process as life got in the way – but I was impressed that all of the reviewers had already read it online (in fact that was their biggest complaint) – Does it matter if you publish if there are other ways to get your ideas out there? I guess I’ll leave that question for another grad student…

In another section of this portfolio, I also speak about research, papers and presentation about using OERs t build open courses.

Special thanks to Terry Anderson, Cindy Ives, Griff Richards, Jon Baggley, Jon Dron and George Siemens for all of the phenomenal opportunities to participate in a vibrant research community.

I do promise to try to write at least one academic paper or present something somewhere at least once a year.  This was definitely my favorite part of my MEd journey are the part that I am missing the most.

Blog Post: Conference Chairs,Transactional Distance and Social Literacy

I’m a distance learner.  And I am studying to be a distance learning designer.  Almost everything I do and think about in terms of the field is then consequently governed by a couple of concerns:  access, flexibility and reducing transactional distance.

So coming to a conference always strikes me as a little strange.  It seems like an excellent opportunity to exchange, share, and connect.  I’ve carved out the time for this conference so flexibility this week is not an issues, I’m here so neither is access.  But what about transactional distance, hmmm…

Every session I’ve been in has had at least twice as many chairs as people.  The people sit far apart, on the edges, quietly waiting for the presentations to begin.  The speakers stand up front and speak to a set of slides (I give George Siemens alot of credit for speaking sans slides).  After the sessions, the experts, who presumably know each other talk to each other, people who know each meet and discuss amongst themselves. And the pattern repeats.

On two occassions yesterday though, something different happened.  At Grainne’s session, they told us to move the chairs into a circle and get closer.  At the graduate reception, we sat around little circle tables and talked.  It was, for me, by far the best day at the conference and I began to feel connected, at ease safe.

But it wasn’t us as attendees who made the decision to move those chairs, the structure of those events was imposed on us.  I’m wondering now how the atmosphere in every one of those sessions could have been improved by removing half the chairs and forcing people to sit closer together.

Having been in my own little bubble for so long, I had been fooled into believing that transactional distance was an issue only in distance education, that it is online learners who have trouble connecting, sharing and taking risks.  But those things have nothing to do with distance and everything to do with us.  In order to take risks, we need to feel both connected and safe.

I’m now wondering if that needs to be the goal of every classroom, whether virtual or real – to create an environment where learners feel safe and able to comfortably share.

At the ETUG Workshop last month Tony Bates told me (at a topic lunch) that dealing with technology is really more about dealing with people and, unfortunately, people do not change.  I agreed with him then, but even more so now.  We need to create environments that enable (or gently push) people to meet and connect with people they might not otherwise.

So after three days of talking about technology and the need for digital, cultural and media literacy, I’ve decided that it is really more about social literacy, understanding the real needs we all have and designing environments that encourage us to do something new.


The Landing Self-Paced Site

Blog Post: The Landing Works!

October 4, 2010 by Tanya Elias   Comments (6)

I was looking for information about an MDE e-portfolio meeting the other day.  Normally I would have used an email link from within Moodle to ask someone (probably Marguerite).  But the course I’m taking this semester isn’t using Moodle and my old favorites were all cleared out when I brought my computer into to get fixed.

So I thought I’d try a new approach and posted the question in a group in the Landing.  And within a day I got two responses with the details I needed.  And it was nice that they opted to respond to my post.  Maybe simple acts really do have the power to build community.

Writing these blog posts has also served as a great way to organize my thoughts, and the comments of others have challenged my to push some of my ideas a little forward.

I’ve now also used it to collect a series of bookmarks and connect with many great resources and people both within the Landing and out in larger web in a way that has extended my learning beyond the “traditional” Moodle “classroom.”  Again, it would seem a sense of belonging to a community emerges from a series of little acts.

Now I know none of this is particularly ground-breaking, and it likely even sounds cliche, but to me it is a real surprise.  At the end of June I described the Landing as disorienting, disconnected and disorganized.  It had no starting point, few rules, and no real purpose.

In early October, if someone asked, I’d say it’s a close-knit, supportive place: comfortable, maybe even cozy.  It has a thousand starting points and paths, many tools and endless possibilities;  the Landing hasn’t changed (much) bt my perspective sure has.

I’ve almost never been called a linear thinker and have often found myself in trouble for too many questions, but I realize now that my conceptualization of formal educational spaces (including those in DE) were rigid: a path, defined content, preestablished learning objectives, a class, a course.

And even though I’ve always beleived that the best learning occurs in the informal spaces that surround these formal spaces (think late-night study session, Skyping about an assignment, the hallways at a conference), I couldn’t really ever grasp the potential of moving the formal learning into those informal spaces.  Until now.

I always knew that DE had the potential to transcend place, space, and time, that’s what has drawn me back time and time again.  And yet, I also always walked away feeling that something was missing; it was always the best choice given the barriers, the pratical thing to do, better than…

But now, somehow is starting to feel…..not perfect, but complete.  Thanks.

~ Excellent! We have a real and interesting challenge as we try to up the ante a bit over the next month or two and encourage more people to come on board. On the one hand it should be better – more eyes mean more answers, more connections, more flow. On the other hand, keeping the close-knit feeling will be more of a challenge so I hope you stay positive. I have a bunch of ideas and theories about that and we are getting some plugins built that might make a big difference to coziness scalability (facebook only just figured the need for groups so I reckon we are ahead already, but there’s a long way to go). Anyway, bear with us if things don’t change for the better in all aspects right away – they will in the end! – Jon Dron
~ Tanya – you’ve made my day with this post. Thanks!!  I took the liberty of forwarding the link to it to the AU President and VP. Hope that is OK. – Terry Anderson


~ Hi Tanya, “I’ve now also used it to collect a series of bookmarks and connect with many great resources and people both within the Landing and out in larger web in a way that has extended my learning beyond the “traditional” Moodle “classroom.”  Again, it would seem a sense of belonging to a community emerges from a series of little acts.”

We’ve (Terry, Jon, and I) grappled with the role of the Landing in the AU technology ecosystem…we frequently encounter questions about what the Landing adds to AU that can’t be achieved by existing tools such as moodle. The paragraph that I excerpted from your post communicates the Landing’s role succinctly: it’s about giving individuals the control to form a social network (community) through acts of content creation, sharing, and interaction, without the abrupt discontinuation that occurs when courses end. Thanks for reflections! – George Siemens

~ Tanya, I’m also very excited to find this informal learning space.  In fact, I’d argue that I can’t learn without it!  For me it’s always been the conversations with others that has made my learning meaningful.  I’m quite excited to watch and participate as this space grows.

George has really honed in on one of the big strengths of the Landing for me: “it’s about giving individuals the control to form a social network (community) through acts of content creation, sharing, and interaction, without the abrupt discontinuation that occurs when courses end.”

The professor and fellow students in a course are integral components to a learning experience.  Any opportunity to deepen and strengthen those connections, as well as move them beyond the classroom and into community translates into a complex integration of subject matter and continued learning.  When this works well, it becomes revolutionary. – onepercentyellow

~ This sure highlights questions I am becoming more and more interested in. What is that happens when a learner makes that transformation from disoriented initiate to comfortable participant in a social networked environment? What are the necessary ingredients? How can we best document this transormation? And, how can we help to facilitate its occurence? User reflections like Tanya’s are a great way to get a better understanding of these things. – John Hannah

Blog Post: LAK11 Moodle by the Numbers

John Fritz did an excellent job yesterday starting off the conversation about learning analytics.  One of the things he talked about was the need to better use existing LMS data and to share that data with others.

His talk prompted me to do some digging into the data currently available from the LAK11 Moodle site and to re-present it back to the larger group.  I found out that there are:

233 members of the Moodle course representing 42 countries.  The most heavily represented countries are the US, Canada and Australia.  There are also two participants from Iran and 1 from Guyana.

121 of the 233 registered members have visited the Week 1 Forums.  The most views by a single participant in that section? 54.  It also told me that there were more views by guests than logged in members.  53 people have posted to the Week 1 forum in the last day, and only 19 registered members didn’t post at least once to the introductions forum.

The overall activity thus far in the course looks like this:


Looks impressive doesn’t it?  It looks to me like there were over 3200 views on the site, and the number of views is continuing to climb.  That’s good right?  But if we take a look at the next one, the number of posts, it is starting to fall…Is that bad?  Are all types of activity created equal or is posting a “better” indicator of involvement?


The Moodle stats also showed me a pretty graph showing that I was really active on the site between 8 and 9 pm (while I was compiling these numbers).

It also told me that Dave Cormier has yet to view the Week 1 forums as a logged in user.

imageBut anyone who checks out Dave’s blog will quickly see that he has completed both the readings and the acitvities for week 1.  He either accessed the information another way, or as a Guest.  In this case, although the numbers make it appear that I’ve been more active, much of my time has been spent playing around while Dave has been interacting with both the content and other participants via his blog and email.

Although interesting, numbers (data) have their limits.  Figuring out how to interpret them and use them effectively, that’s where the fun stuff really begins.

Universal Instructional Design Principles

It seems crazy that something that occupied so much of my thoughts while in th MEd program is finding a hard time finding a home in the portfolio, but that simply speaks to how much I have done and learned. I’m glad to see increasing signs of adoption of Universal Instructional Design Principles – Improving access to learning, that’swhat it’s all about, right? 

Universal Instructional Design for Mobile Learning

Universal Instructional Design for Moodle

Terry Anderson

George Siemens

onepercentyellow T

Brian Stewart It makes intuitive sense that it takes time to understand how to successfully use a tool, particularly one that you wern’t looking for. Your description of your unfolding appreciation of the Landing is very revealing and I am sure willl reflect many other users experiencies. – Brian Stewart

John Hannah