What I did last summer

What I did last summer

What I did last summer

Last summer I went to Madison, Wisconsin, to take part in a conference on .

The purpose of the trip was to learn about significant trends in the United States, in particular, and in other places in the world, in connection with online learning.

The conference was attended by professionals, educators, and specialists in the area of virtual learning from across the United States. It focused on various dilemmas surrounding the virtual learning mode, the various end-user devices and their advantages, practical tools for conducting online lessons, and so on. Particular emphasis was placed on the many possibilities that open up when online learning is intended for distance learning, that is, when the teacher and the students can be in totally separate locations, and yet participate in the lesson together.

A full session was devoted to learning through mobile devices. Mobile devices open up a whole new world of possibilities for learning, particularly in connection with learning outside the classroom. The combination of camera, GPS, size and weight, and availability (these devices are with us at all times), opens the way for a different learning experience. There are already a number of pilot projects aimed at adapting Learning Management Systems (LMS) to mobile phones (Moodle, Atlas Pro, Blackboard). One of the more interesting initiatives is , a no-cost, open platform for developing learning games for mobile devices. ARIS has developed interesting games that integrate augmented reality, for courses in history and science.

Dr. Brian Beatty, a lecturer at Stanford University, presented a model called HyFlex learning. This is a form of learning that presents a flexible course structure combining face to face classroom study and online learning from home. The students can choose to participate in one of three groups (or in any combination of them): (1) classroom; (2) online synchronous lessons; (3) online asynchronous lessons. The division among the groups is dynamic, and students can move between the groups. That is, a student can adapt the type of lesson to the mode of learning appropriate to him that day or week or semester. The dynamic grouping system has already proven itself, with many students changing their learning mode each week. Even those who initially expected to be able to attend all the lessons, or those who expected to do all their study online, have in fact (so Beatty says) frequently changed their participation modes during the course.

Apart from the American lecturers, there were a number of lecturers from developing countries (Brazil, Japan, Egypt, and others), who addressed the specific ways in which their education systems were being aided – mainly at university level – by the principle of distance learning, in order to make learning available to less advantaged populations located far from the major cities.

Here in Israel we also have similar ideas along those lines. Although Israel is a small country, and we don’t have isolated or far-flung areas such as exist in the United States, Canada, or Australia (which are justifiably the most advanced in the area of distance learning), nonetheless, Israel still has outlying or peripheral areas, with their own particular problems – limited availability of teachers, large classes, less schools offering mathematics and science courses at the higher levels (5 unit matriculation examinations), and so on. CET’s Virtual High School (a school for science and mathematics based solely on distance learning), launched this year, and the Nachshon Program (virtual tutoring in science subjects for Grade 10-12 students), which has been operating for 10 years, are two important initiatives that seek to bridge this gap somewhat, and their success shows that, in Israel too, distance learning is of great importance.


By: Tamar Haramati