August 2006


I know I told you I was going to reveal the free LMS tool in this post, but Channel News Asia’s screening of Classroom of My Time means it has to wait till my next post. Why? Because I have to give a quick shoutout to a teacher who was profiled in the show. 

If you are reading this Perrin, congratulations on finally getting your 15 minutes of fame. I don’t know what you promised your students for them to speak so fondly of you, but I know you truly deserve it anyways. Father would have been proud. And mother has finally something she can brag about to the neighbours.

It’s all good.

Distance Education 

At least I think so. We’re living in a technology-rich world. A world where borders are being torn down, especially where communication is concerned.

From the good old days where messengers were sent out on sometimes treacherous journeys to deliver messages from one town to another or one village to another, to the invention of the telephone and now the internet, communication technology has made possible what Alexander Graham Bell had only dreamt about; a future with no borders (there are those who believe that a borderless world is only an illusion; but there are two sides to every coin, isn’t there?).

And that’s why the term “distance education” or “distance learning” which is used as a catch-all phrase to mean online education; seems to send out the wrong message.

Digital technology has brought the world closer together. Thomas L. Friedman claims it has made the world flat. And this applies to education as well. The Internet has brought education into our bedrooms, or where ever it is you surf the Internet and extinguished all apprehension about physical localities. In fact today, you find “distance education” students who are living just across the actual school but prefer asynchronous communication to being physically present. Distance, is no longer a point of contention.

Fortunately, terms like “web-based learning”, “e-learning” and “online education” are being bandied around more often and more commonly than “distance learning”. A sign that end-users understand that these terms are not substitutable and do possess significant differences. eLearn magazine published an article that did a fine job of shedding some light on these definitions. I caught myself nodding in agreement with almost everything I read there.

As an educational professional, you might find my somewhat childish gripe almost trivial. And rightly so. For what is of greater importance, is that you know web-based education works. You know that web-based education is not a replacement for education in schools. In certain cases it is, i.e., courses for adults who are constrained by time. But in most cases, it is there to enrich learning activities in schools. An extension to aid in the learning process for your students.

And something that relates very significantly to web-based education is what you may already know as a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) or Learning Management System (LMS). Other similar terms being used are Course Management System (CMS), Managed Learning Environment (MLE) and Learning Platform (LP). Whatever you want to call it, its job function is the same. To facilitate education via computer-mediated communication. You may already be using such a system in your school.

One of the biggest providers in VLEs or LMSs is Blackboard, a US-based online learning provider.

Singapore Polytechnic and Nanyang Technological University are amongst the few educational institutions in Singapore using Blackboard. NTU even offers Blackboard-related courses for educators.

You may also be interested to know that Blackboard had recently been granted a patent for the Learning Management System. And this patent is already applicable in Singapore. This means that any e-learning programme being implemented has to take into account Blackboard’s patent to avoid any kind of infringement. To prove a point, Blackboard sued Canadian company Desire2Learn, a major competitor, on the very day it was awarded its patent.

Just thought you might find it interesting that education, a booming multi-billion dollar global business is not absolved from sparring in the courtrooms. Maybe, the very fact that education is a booming multi-billion dollar global business is evoking the litigious side of capitalistic companies and individuals.

Quite obviously, this patent has caused something of an uproar within the e-learning community. We’ll have to wait and see how much of an impact this patent has on e-learning but quite honestly, I don’t see this patent doing a lot of damage. Because every time something like this happens, someone else pops up with another brilliant innovation to supplant the previous one, or becomes a major competitor.

Fortunately though, e-learning is not dependent on VLEs or LMSs for its continued growth and success. Moreover, you have enough e-learning tools at your disposal to engage your students with and keep them enthralled. I will talk about one such tool in my next post.

It’s a LMS that allows anyone to use it, implement and benefit from. I’m sure you’ll find it extremely useful, if not, you’ll be quietly appreciative of the fact that you can use it anytime you find the need for it. Best of all, it’s free. You may already know which tool I’m talking about. If not, watch out for my post.

It’s not just educational institutions that gets to enjoy all the privileges.

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Now that you understand what a blog is, I think its time I introduce you to its engine, a turbocharged 12-cylinder 750 horsepower (but purrs like a pussycat) file format called, RSS. If the name is not menacing enough, well, it was not meant to be.  RSS Logo

Why would you be interested in getting to know RSS a little more intimately? After all, most of us rarely lift the bonnets of our Fords, Toyotas, BMWs, Hondas to understand how and why engines power our car the way they do. There’s just not enough time in a day and moreover, we just don’t want to get our hands dirty.

Well, RSS is a little more different than a car engine. Let me correct that; it’s a lot more different. If you’re planning to start a blog, paying attention to RSS will guide you towards increasing your reader base and potentially turn you into something of a cult figure in the eyes of your readers. Vice-versa, it will help you keep track of blogs you find interesting – without having to fire up each blog individually. This means, you don’t even have to visit the blog you plan to read at all.

How is this possible? By using something called an RSS feed reader, sometimes known more menacingly as ‘the aggregator’. But however its called, its job function is exactly the same.

If you’re a news junkie, then RSS is like a Godsend. With fresh news dripping into your RSS feed reader faster than the time it takes to decipher a Rumsfeld’s press statement – you’ll be taking your news addiction to a whole new level.

Take the time to read this short primer on RSS. If you’re pressed for time, then just watch this video. It will take about 4 minutes, but contains enough information to instill in you the confidence to take on RSS once and for all.

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