Module 6: Virtual Worlds: Implications for Teaching Children with Autism

The video for this project can be found at

I will come out and say from the start that this is not the video I envisioned. Physical limitations prevented me from shooting the video I wanted, and I could not seem to “get” how to make my video and audio sync properly. What you see here is the result of transforming PowerPoint into Camtasia, which admittedly does not meet the requirements of self-made video.

In spite of these shortcomings, I think the content expresses clearly what I wanted to say about using virtual world games, and particularly Minecraft, as a means of understanding how autistic children learn. It’s also an introduction to Stuart Duncan, one of my personal heroes. I’ll look forward to hearing from my classmates on this project.

I met online with Dorothy Kropf and Joy Avery, and we discussed our videos, the challenges as well as what we thought we did well, and why we chose the topics we did. I attempted to leave a comment on Dorothy’s blog, but for some reason, even though logged in to WordPress, it kept asking me to log in. I have commented on Joy’s video at  http://joyaveryedsp.wordpress. com, and on Stan’s video at:


Module 5: The Static-Dynamic Continuum

The proliferation of new ways for people to connect on the Internet offers today’s online instructors a wide world of possibilities. As educators, we need to be mindful that not all technologies reach students with the same impact and learning experience. Moller (2008) divides the available tools into static, center, and dynamic, based on how learning is presented and processed. Static material offers the information to be learned, but requires no learner interaction. Static technologies include podcasts, web pages, and video webcasts. In a more central realm are the tools that require some interaction on the part of the student, such as wikis and blogs. Online discussion boards also fit into this category.

At the dynamic end of the spectrum is any technology that requires students to become part of the learning, such as virtual worlds, simulations, and instructional games. These tools involve the student by requiring thought, evaluation, comparison, and hands-on responses. Instead of passively watching an instructor lecture, the student not only can, but must be integral to the learning process.

As a student I have had the opportunity to immerse myself in a virtual organization, working to solve its problems and develop new business opportunities. In their MBA program, the University of Phoenix houses a number of virtual businesses, complete with emails from the CEO, financial documents, company histories, and problems to be solved going forward (Wasley, 2008). Student assignments may range from developing a new product to a supply-chain evaluation and re-vamping. The experiences gained from such simulations served to reinforce the text-based lessons and online collaboration efforts of student groups. An example of this virtual environment is the following, a web page from the fictitious Kudler Fine Foods (Apollo Group, Inc., 2013).

Virtual Organization at University of Phoenix
Virtual Organization at University of Phoenix

As an instructor I am always surprised by other educators who refuse to move into the more interactive experiences that technology has to offer. I am excited by the possibilities, and while podcasts and web pages offer the necessary information for learning, I greatly prefer demonstrations of how the lessons learned can be applied in the real world. As noted by Kumar Snehansu (2013), the question is not whether technologies should be used, but how can they be used most effectively for making people smarter (italics mine). Long-time advocate of online learning Badrul Khan stated in an interview,

When we talk about ‘high-quality deliverables,’ we do not mean static recorded video lectures by star professors from prestigious universities…in reality, learners need [an] interactive, facilitative, and supportive learning environment in which the facilitator’s presences – either synchronously or asynchronously – make the environment motivating, engaging, and dynamic (Taylor, 2014).

Virtual history at the Texas Independence website
Virtual history at the Texas Independence website

The concept map below illustrates the various technologies available in both static and dynamic ends of the continuum. Clearly there is a wide difference between reading a blog and contributing to an interactive web activity where ideas are tried, evaluated, and discussed, whether in real time or student-by-student through contributions in virtual classrooms. The more dynamic a technology, the greater the opportunity for learning that is applied to real-world experiences. This is the direction for us to take; if you are an educator and have not yet participated in these dynamic processes, the time is now, because our students are already there. (The full-page PDF can be seen by clicking on the “concept map” link at the beginning of this paragraph).

Concept Map


 Apollo Group, Inc. (2013). Kudler Fine Foods. Retrieved from University of Phoenix:

Moller, L. (2008). Static and dynamic technological tools . [Unpublished Paper].

Snehansu, K. (2013, June 28). Why teachers who use technology will replace teachers who don’t. Retrieved from EdTech Review:

Taylor, A. (2014, February). A look at Web-based Instruction today: An interview with Badrul Khan, Part 1. eLearn Magazine. Retrieved from

Wasley, P. (2008, August). University of Phoenix lets students find answers virtually. Chronicle of Higher Education, 54(48). Retrieved from

Photo Credits

“Kudler Fine Foods”

Texas Virtual History:

I have commented on my classmates’ blogs:

Module 3 – Online Collaboration and the Reluctant Contributor

group project

In today’s online learning environment, there are nearly always group activities, and giving grades to individuals working in those groups can be a complicated undertaking. There will often be situations in which some of the students do all the work, while others in the group provide minimal contributions, a condition known as “social loafing” (Conrad, 2009, p. 90). While some have suggested that a single group grade will create a group interdependency resulting in all members contributing (Cohen, cited in Conrad, 2009), this practice can disappoint students whose good grades depend on others. Trust is essential, and new groups take time to develop trusting relationships. Thus, the instructor is faced with the task of determining individual grades for a group product.

One method the instructor can use is peer assessment, where each member of the team rates the work of the other members. Research has indicated that from time to time this can result in students being more concerned with the peer review than with the actual learning experience (Weimer, 2012); however, the practice is used in online classes quite regularly. Often, these peer ratings occur at the end of a project. Weimer (2012) says that this does not allow for constructive feedback and improvement; she states, “Group members need to discuss rating criteria before they start working together” (italics mine). This will allow adjustments to the work, and set a stage for constructive feedback before all parts of the group project are completed.

Peer review can be one effective measuring tool, but there are others available through computer Learning Management Systems (LMSs) that provide a clearer insight into individual contributions. Metrics from the LMS can indicate, for example, how many times students log in, the time they spend online, and the time spent in group activities (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008g). Of course, if the work is not taking place in the LMS venue, such as when contributions are being made to an online wiki or a PowerPoint presentation, it can be difficult to measure the latter of these.

Siemens (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008g) says that assessment in group activities should be based on the stated outcomes, and also that it should be a measure of individual student growth. Thus, if one student has been reluctant to contribute and moves past this hesitation into a strong collaborative role, grading should reflect that improvement, since the goal of instruction is for learning to take place, not merely to produce a letter grade.

The means of dealing with reluctant members of a group are trickier in an online setting than in a physical group, since no one can force a person to even log on, much less contribute. A number of strategies can be employed. One task for the teacher is to set the expectations at the beginning of the course. If many of the students have no group experience, the instructor might conduct a role play, with strong examples of good group collaboration (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008i). Another method of building stronger learning communities is to begin with students getting to know one another, then working in pairs before moving into small groups (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011).

The group should also be encouraged to continue seeking input from the reluctant member. As Weimer (2012) points, out, “It’s difficult to be a silent member in a group if others regularly and directly ask for your opinion and input.” A clear division of tasks and firm deadlines will also help bring the non-performing student into the group work. It’s also important to realize that some people are naturally more introverted than others, and this is as much a physical fact as an emotional reaction (Cooper, 2013). Students who feel “safe” working on their own may feel threatened by group work, even though they cannot physically see their group members (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011).


Initial class activities should be constructed to build familiarity and encourage the uniqueness of individuals. One method frequently used is the “online café” or “lounge” where students introduce themselves online. Initial postings to this group are generally mandatory, but seldom go beyond the first post. One way to help students overcome their initial reluctance might be a regular requirement to interact and hold informal discussions, with participation receiving a pass/fail sort of assessment.

The key to effective group collaboration in online school projects is trust, and the reality of most classes is that there simply is not time to build long-term relationships in a 9- or 12-week course. However, the strategies for including the most reluctant members of a class in a group project can be used and improved over time to enhance the group’s overall performance, and the individual’s confidence and willingness to continue participating.



Conrad, R. (2009). Assessing collaborative learning. In P. Rogers, Encyclopedia of Distance Learning (Vol. 1, pp. 89-93). Hershey, PA: Idea Group, Inc. Retrieved from

Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. (2011). Engaging the Online Learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Cooper, B. (2013, August 21). Are you an introvert or an extrovert? What it means for your career. Retrieved from Fast Company:

Laureate Education, Inc. (2008g). Principles of distance education: Assessment of collaborative learning [Video]. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Laureate Education, Inc. (2008i). Principles of distance education: Learning communities [Video]. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Weimer, M. (2012, October 10). Peer assessment is not an elixir for all group work challenges. Retrieved from Faculty Focus: The Teaching Professor Blog:

Photo Credits

Puzzle group:

Group joining hands:

Introvert/extrovert brains:

Classmates’ blogs I responded to: (awaiting moderation): I said, “Stan, your comment that it is even harder to get students to accept the assessment is definitely true. I was in one class were 1 of our group members never appeared, or was always so late that we had already passed the deadline for submittals. Our means of correcting this, since it was a group grade, was to email the instructor as a group and let her know what was going on. We were working on a wiki, so we began labeling each section with the name of the contributor, and we would make a wiki page and leave it blank for the missing member’s work. We felt it was our only recourse, but it worked quite well, and the labeling portion is something I would recommend to student groups again.”

Module 4, Online Instruction Strategies and Practices: Moving Away from Sage on the Stage

Figure 1: Traditional teaching model
Figure 1: Traditional teaching model

Best practices for online learning have been discussed and researched extensively as an increasing number of schools add Web-based courses to their programs. Some focus on the environment of the virtual classroom, such as Anderson’s “Community of Inquiry” model, which calls for social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence (Anderson, 2008). Others put the responsibility for the environment on the instructor, with the idea that students can learn best when guided with minimal structure (Siemens, 2008). Some discussions blend environment, educator practices, and content structure to build a comprehensive method of online instruction (Darrington, Berryhill, & Swafford, 2006). All of these studies and recommendations have value, and in combination they offer solid foundations for effective instruction in an online environment.

The graphic at the beginning of this post illustrates the traditional classroom idea, which some call “the sage on the stage” (King, 1993), and this is precisely the model we do not want to emulate in online classrooms. Rather than having the instructor lecture while the students listen and take notes, the best online classes place the teacher as “guide on the side,” a knowledgeable leader who conducts exploration into the material to be learned. The teacher in this case serves a number of roles: as a social guide, introducing students to one another and to the material; as a provider of structure, building cooperation among students; as a facilitator, helping students learn together; and as a member of the learning community, challenging students to explore further and to build learning networks for future learning (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011).

The teacher as a guide serves not only to direct what should be learned, but also to clarify concepts and to prevent miscues. Students left to their own devices may believe they have understood a concept, but they may be creating “private universe” scenarios in which they interpret information incorrectly (Anderson, 2008). Teachers can correct these misconceptions. They can also act as the “concierge” of the information, guiding students to find the right answers and offering new ideas the students had not considered before.

The following graphic illustrates these roles for the instructor, and for the students.

Figure 2: Four phases of online course activity, based on Conrad & Donaldson (2011)
Figure 2: Four phases of online course activity, based on Conrad & Donaldson (2011)

Conrad and Donaldson (2011) divide the learning process in online courses into four “phases,” as the students move from newcomers and strangers to collaborators and partners. In the first phase, students meet each other, and activities are designed to help students become more familiar. Course assignments are on an individual basis at this point, but asynchronous class discussions are geared toward becoming familiar with one another.

In the second phase, the teacher pairs off the students, and activities are built around these dyads. Possible activities for this stage include peer evaluations of assignments, discussing various questions together and then sharing the results with the class, or finding websites on the given topic and sharing with each other.

Phase 3 is a group undertaking, with the class divided into groups of 3 or 4, working together on such projects as a group presentation, a wiki, or a topic-driven Internet scavenger hunt where students work together to seek valuable resources to share with the entire class.

By the time Phase 4 arrives, students are familiar with one another, and should be able to self-direct in activities of pairs, small groups, or individuals. Students might choose together what the next activity will entail, or they might lead activities by turns.

Each of these phases can be accomplished with simple technologies available today. Students should be encouraged to:

  • privately email one another or instant message,
  • use chat rooms and discussion boards,
  • hold small discussion on Skype or GoToMeeting synchronously, if possible, and to
  • participate in their pairs or groups as often as they can to build the relationships into a community working together.

As online learning develops into its own model of education, these strategies for guiding students will facilitate independent exploration of knowledge, critical thinking skills, and group problem solving, all essentials for working in today’s world. As educators, we will be the tour guides and stewards of our disciplines, sharing our knowledge and encouraging our students to do likewise.


Anderson, T. (2008). Teaching in an online learning context. In T. Anderson (Ed.), The Theory and Practice of Online Learning (2nd ed., pp. 343-365). Edmonton, AB, Canada: Athabasca University Press.

Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. (2011). Engaging the Online Learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Darrington, V., Berryhill, A., & Swafford, J. (2006). Strategies for enhancing student interactivity in an online environment. College Teaching, 54(1), 190-193. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

King, A. (1993, Winter). From sage on the stage to guide on the side. College Teaching, 41(1), 30-35. Retrieved from Walden Library database.

Siemens, G. (2008). Learning and knowing in networks: Changing roles for educators and designers. ITForum. Retrieved from

Photo Credits

Online classroom:!our-classroom/c1bcg

Module 3: Storyboard Time

As part of this module’s assignments, we are presenting storyboards of our individual projects. Mine is about virtual worlds, and more specifically, it concerns the use of Minecraft, a game of digging, fabricating, and building personal places. Minecraft is very popular among autistic children, who have a server dedicated to supporting their efforts and closed to anyone who would exploit their weaknesses. The video embedded here is a PowerPoint storyboard outlining the plan for an eventual video, which will be shot with a video camera rather than created in PowerPoint. It should give you a good idea of what the final project will look like.

I commented on the following storyboard posts:

Module 2: Collaboration

George Siemens, as an advocate of online learning, notes that distance education has developed its own distinct personality apart from traditional classrooms. He lists global diversity, communication, and collaborative interaction as elements that distinguish distance education from face-to-face instruction (Laureate Education, 2008a).


I believe that the most relevant of these elements as an improvement over the traditional classroom is the ability to interact and collaborate on learning projects. Where it was once necessary for groups to work together in a room, web-centered projects allow people from all over the world to contribute, suggest changes, edit documents, and work together as a virtual team. Today’s online applications make this a simple process, and as technology improves, collaboration becomes easier every year.

Two methods of collaboration are live online meetings with voice and video, and cloud-based document editing. For business professionals as well as for learning groups, meetings are made feasible by applications such as GoToMeeting (Citrix, 2014). This allows participants to sign in online and participate in group phone calls or group video conferences. Simple meeting set-ups are free, and institutions needing more features or greater capacity can purchase a “pro” version. GoToWebinar is another product by the same company, allowing for greater presentation abilities where instruction can take place in a virtual classroom. For less formal, impromptu collaborative discussions, Google Plus offers “Hangouts,” a place for text, voice, or video chats (Google, 2014a).

GoToMeeting Screenshot
GoToMeeting Screenshot

Document creation, which includes spreadsheets and presentations as well as ordinary documents, is made possible by online editing processes such as Google Docs (Google, 2014b). Microsoft’s Office suite also has an online presence (Microsoft, 2014) where users can give permission to collaborators to make changes on any of the available online document types. Using these web-based capabilities, users from diverse locations can work together on individual documents. The work stays “in the cloud,” eliminating the problems caused by multiple versions of the same document.


Online collaboration is one of the great strengths of distance education over the traditional classroom. Students can use these applications and others to enhance their learning, exchanging ideas and gathering the best ideas from each member of a group a comprehensive package of work. Parker (2008b) noted that quality is one of the essential elements required in distance education. Using the web to collaborate in learning is one way that online courses can produce a high quality of instruction.


 Citrix, Inc. (2014). GoToMeeting. Retrieved from

Google. (2014b). Google Docs. Retrieved from

Google. (2014a). Hangouts. Retrieved from

Laureate Education, Inc. (2008a). Principles of distance education: The future of distance education [Video].

Microsoft. (2014). Collaborate with Office Online. Retrieved from

Parker, N. (2008b). The quality dilemma in online education revisited. In T. Anderson (Ed.). In The Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Edmonton, AB, Canada: AU Press.

Photo Credits

 Collaboration illustration.

GoToMeeting Screenshot.

Google Docs illustration.

Thoughts on the Next Generation of Distance Learning – Module 1

The future of distance education will rely on a number of factors, such as accessibility to technology, infrastructure improvement, and affordability of both providing and receiving instruction. More important than those elements, however, will be the development of solid and effective instructional materials and experiences. As Simonson (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008b) points out, distance education reaches out to learners in different places, with different backgrounds and varying technological resources. In order to meet the needs of those diverse learners, distance education must provide instruction that is equivalent, rather than identical, to the classroom learning experience. This means that distance education must consist of more than simply a recording of an instructor in front of a classroom. As this mode of instruction at the K-12 level evolves, online schools are beginning to include online learning experiences such as:

In the area of K-12 education, virtual schooling is now available nationwide, and in many states is presented as a charter school connected to a physical school district. Many programs provide a computer for student use at home. For many families, this answers the problems of affordability and accessibility that separated students from these opportunities just a short time ago (Huett, Moller, Foshay, & Coleman, 2008).

The world of distance education is continually growing. Simonson (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008a) noted the growth from 1 million to over 6 million online students in higher education at the time his video was created. As online-only schools continue to appear, and with the addition of online-only K-12 schools, the numbers of students can only increase. This means that academia is faced with questions of how to develop online distance education to reach its full potential.



Connections Academy. (2014). High tech student [Image]. Retrieved from

Huett, J., Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Coleman, C. (2008, September/October). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the Web (Part 3: K12). TechTrends, 52(5), 63-67. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Laureate Education, Inc. (2008a). Principles of distance education: Distance education: The next generation. [Video]. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Laureate Education, Inc. (2008b). Principles of distance education: Equivalency theory. [Video]. Baltimore, MD: Author.

The American Academy. (2014). Navajo Language. Retrieved from