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Online learning takes on a new identity

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By Lauren Mineau 


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Getting an education at the University at Albany no longer means always sitting in a classroom and taking notes. The University at Albany’s University Libraries and the Center for Distance Learning at SUNY Empire State College (ESC) have joined together to offer a new Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) in metaliteracy.


MOOCs are free and open to anyone around the world but UAlbany students who are enrolled in undergraduate courses UUNL300x, Literacies for Lifelong Learning and some sections of UUNL205x, Information Literacy will earn credits for participating in the MOOC.


The collaboration is led by Tom Mackey, dean of ESC’s Center for Distance Learning and SUNY Distinguished Librarian Trudi E. Jacobson, head of the Information Literacy Department at UAlbany.


As part of their course work, each student will create her or his own blog, which will be harvested by an RSS program, gRSShopper, and appear in theMetaliteracy MOOC newsletter, which will be sent to all registered participants. gRSShopper harvests a stream of blog posts under the hashtag, #metaliteracy, similar to a social media dashboard.


Flickr, YouTube and Instagram are examples of applications that may be embedded in blog posts, and participants will be encouraged to explore a variety of other Web-based applications.


Those working on a team project will have flexibility in determining which technologies will advance their work. By incorporating the MOOC into existing modes of study, students at both institutions will earn credit.


“Metaliteracy is like an updated information literacy, it incorporates more collaboration and because of social media people can be creators of information and not just consumers,” Jacobson said, adding that many students struggle to think of themselves as creators of information.


The MOOC promotes the many themes of metaliteracy and gives students a chance to not only interact with fellow students but people around the world. Jacobson said there are 15 UAlbany students enrolled but as many as 500 people look at and interact with the course.


There are two different types of MOOCs, one is more “Blackboard” style and it is contained to certain students but Jacbson’s MOOC is a “connectivist” style, she said.


“This MOOC allows them [students] to connect to which reading specifically they like and connect with the speakers, it’s a different model than the other commercial type of MOOC,” Jacobson said.


Jacobson said one of the only downsides she misses is seeing the students regularly during class meetings. The course meets in-person four times over the semester.


“One student was particularly excited about an exercise we did in class and used it for her other courses, you do lose some of that enthusiasm,” she said.


The course allows students to have a lot of freedom as far as finding information and seeing what they can do with it.


“It often sends them on a virtual scavenger hunt, it’s great to see what they can come back with,” said Ashley Smolinski, UAlbany graduate student and information science intern.


Online learning has taken a great risen to popularity in recent years and that continues to grow with two different types of online learning, traditional “for-credit” online courses and MOOCs.


“Currently one in three of all college students are enrolled in an online course,” said Peter Shea, associate professor of educational theory and practice at UAlbany.


“There’s a gigantic wave of interest towards online learning,” he said.


Adding that some courses have potential for great success but it depends on many factors including a lot of student participation, a proficient instructor and course content appropriate to be taught in an online setting.


There is also a lot of resistance from many universities to use MOOCs as a credit bearing course because of how they are designed, Shea said.


Online learning also allows many people access to college level learning that may not be able to enroll in school.


There will be a place for online learning in the higher education setting like with any innovation, Shea said.


“The new innovation will not displace the old one, just like television didn’t replace radio, they coexist,” he said.


The residential experience of going to college is not something that could be replaced by online courses. It’s an important part of college that many people go to college to experience, he said.


“But on the other hand, there are people who are not looking for that 18-22 year old college experience but they need the education to get ahead in life,” Shea said.


According to surveys conducted by Shea and his colleagues at the university, online learning has helped many people who aren’t able to dedicate the time to an institution. Online learning allows anyone who wants the opportunity to learn to do just that.


“People surveyed would say that online education allowed them to get a better job and provide for their families in a better way, and that’s the ultimate goal,” Shea said.


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