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Published September 27, 2010 | Multidisciplinary

Web 3.0 and the Inclusion of Choice

With continuous intake of students all year long and self-paced learning, Cégep@distance has certainly done its part in making education available to the masses. The organization that began as the Centre collégial de formation à distance will turn 20 next year, and the Ministère de l'Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport has asked the team to reflect upon the next phase of our mandate as Quebec's college-level distance education provider. Much like professors in classrooms who are faced with adapting their approaches to the needs of Generation C (the digital natives), Cégep@distance is also taking a thorough look at its approach to distance education from the ground up. he production model for our courses, the modes of delivery and our support services are all under the microscope. Any path that we choose depends upon an intimate understanding of the needs of our current learners and a healthy dose of clairvoyance for the needs of our future learners.

Know yourself

Educause's Horizon Report, "identifies and describes six areas of emerging technology likely to have a significant impact on teaching, learning, or creative expression in higher education within three adoption horizons: a year or less, two to three years, and four to five years." The 2010 edition identifies mobile computing and open learning content (ex. MIT OpenCourseWare, Wikiversity, iTunesU, etc.) as innovations that are likely to see wide-scale adoption within a one-year time frame. The inclusion of both of these areas is probably not a coincidence. The current generation of college students have instant access to information, shopping, and their peers 24/7 through the marvels of mobile tech, social networking, text messaging and the like. And why should their education be any different?

Enter Web 3.0, a.k.a. the semantic web. The dream for the next version of the web is to offer an experience that caters to the preferences of the user, versus the current paradigm of user specified queries. It will be the tailored shirt to today's one-size-fits-all framework. And if all goes well, it shouldn't just present you with options for a Saturday night on the town, or make tailored lists of which books you should be reading. It should also work for the immigrant looking for recognition of his education to enter the job market more quickly, or cater to the student that has a learning disability, or help the single parent trying to juggle his schedule - all by providing flexible learning options. Needless to say, Web 3.0 is not happening next week.

And yet, at Cégep@distance much of the raw material is there. The French sector has hundreds of courses that are designed to be self-contained. Our framework for Prior-learning assessment recognition is taking shape and whole programs are being designed using reusable learning objects that can be mixed and matched. We are using various media for our courses, and we have mechanisms for selecting sets of evaluations for different groups of learners. We collect information on new students during their registration to better understand their time management issues, and we are experimenting with social networking tools to create communities of learners. All of these point to interesting opportunities for significant enhancements to our existing model that factor in the specific needs of each student. It may take us a bit of time to connect the dots.

In the end, it will be the insistence of the current generation of learners that will create the tipping point that will force us to move forward. They are very liberal about sharing their interests and preferences with the world using the read/write tools of Web 2.0. In blogs, wikis, social networking, social bookmarking and other sites, the volume of intel on these individuals is rapidly taking shape, and will ultimately feed into the logic that will form the basis for Web 3.0. Many teachers are already using Web 2.0 tools hosted by Profweb. We should all pay close attention to what is working for our students - at least until the web starts to do it for us!

Are you using mobile technologies or open learning content in your current teaching practices? What are you using? How have your students responded?

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