Special issue of Innovate Online

The February/March issue of Innovate Online has a number of articles of interest for readers of this blog. To read these articles, you need to register, which takes about a minute. Then the full text is made available in a variety of formats.

Len Annetta, Marta Klesath, and Shawn Holmes describe how avatars in virtual learning environments (VLEs) can contribute to the learning experience by giving students a sense of social presence and investment in the learning community that may otherwise be difficult to access. VLEs have the potential to become the next generation of instructional tools for online learning. By allowing students to simulate the campus experience online, VLEs offer rich, flexible class environments without compromising their reach to diverse students desiring online courses. Describing studies carried out in the WolfDen VLE, Annetta, Klesath, and Holmes examine how gaming and avatars are engaging online students and the role personality may play in a student’s selection of an avatars.

In this study, Pu-Shih Chen, Robert Gonyea, and George Kuh compare the engagement of distance learners in educationally effective activities with that of their campus-based counterparts and compare the engagement of older distance learners relative to younger online students. Although distance learning is the fastest growing segment of postsecondary education, questions remain about the quality of distance education; a key unresolved issue is the degree to which online learners are engaged in effective educational practices. These results indicate that distance learners are generally as engaged and often more engaged than other students in most educational practices, with the exception of active and collaborative learning activities. Older distance learners report greater gains and are more likely to use higher-order mental processes (e.g., analysis and synthesis) than younger distance learners. Chen, Gonyea, and Kuh discuss the implications of these results for colleges and universities and indicate directions for future work.
Lydia Arnold explores how work-based learners can embrace technology-enabled ways of learning. The case study of the BA (Honours) Learning Technology Research (BA LTR) program at Anglia Ruskin University, United Kingdom , shows how a unique learning blend that combines online social learning, work-based learning, inquiry-led learning, and high degrees of personalization can be used to enable and empower learners. Additionally, Arnold illustrates the unique characteristics of the BA LTR program and the role that these play in enabling work-based learners to participate fully in learning. The article explores the role of the work-based context as both a source of motivation and an authentic learning environment for BA LTR learners.