Pioneer, Visionary, Author: Dr. Starr Roxanne Hiltz

 

Dr. Starr Roxanne Hiltz is an award-winning author and pioneer in the field of virtual learning. Just one of her many significant contributions was co-authoring the acclaimed book The Network Nation in 1978 with her husband Dr. Murray Turoff. The book was considered groundbreaking and visionary for the time in the field of Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) and the study of the social impacts of computer technology.

I chose to spotlight Dr. Hiltz because the early work she did in the field of virtual learning communities helped shape the Virtual Learning Communities and Learning Management Systems (LMS) of today. Dr. Hiltz was one of few women early in the field of education and technology and through her many career accomplishments provides inspiration to all the women coming after her. A detailed snapshot of her achievements and contributions can be seen here. Dr. Hiltz, a Sociologist, focused on the social impacts of virtual communities and presented a vision of inclusivity and accessibility for those outside of the privileged mainstream student of the times. In an endorsement for The Network Nation, author Teresa Carpenter captures Dr. Hiltz’s vision stating, “Minorities and women compete on equal terms with white males, and the elderly and handicapped are released from the confines of their infirmities to skim the electronic terrain as swiftly as anyone else” (Carpenter, n.d., para.1). As a society still facing many of these issues today, much can be learned from Dr.Hiltz’s early work.

While writing The Network Nation, she invented the idea of a virtual classroom within a CMC system. After several years of work to obtain the necessary support and funding she designed, implemented, and studied the first version of this in 1985 (Hiltz,1986). I find her forward-thinking vision fascinating and inspiring from a time when computers and the internet were largely out of reach for most. (check out her 1986 report)

Dr. Starr Roxanne Hiltz contributed greatly to the field of learning technology and her extensive works surrounding the social impacts of virtual communities and virtual learning can provide valuable lessons for what we are trying to accomplish today.

References

Carpenter, T. (n.d), [Book Endorsement]. MIT Press. https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/network-nation-revised-edition

Hiltz, S. R. (1986). The “virtual classroom”: Using computer-mediated communication for university teaching. Journal of communication36(2), 95-104. https://www.academia.edu/2911601/The_Virtual_Classroom_Using_Computer_Mediated_Communication_for_University_Teaching

 

Application of Ed Tech in Corporate Training

Through the lens of my corporate training development role, I have found significant relevance and some conflict between my experiences and the developing educational technologies discussed in Weller’s book. In this blog post, I will discuss the relevance and application of video technologies in corporate training and some conflict I found in the discussion surrounding e-learning and cost savings. For context, I am the Training Development Manager for a transportation corporation that operates four separate lines of business, each with its own in-house training department. I provide support for the development of online learning specifically.

The use of video in corporate training goes back many years, as you can see in this 1960’s era training video or this video produced by my company well over a decade ago. Videos have been an effective way to present information to learners in corporate training programs however prior to the evolution of personal recording devices and streaming services such as YouTube, their use was limited due to the expense and intensive work effort required to produce. These developments have mitigated the high cost of producing videos and made them a viable solution for training departments to use more often. Professional video productions took a long time to develop and quickly became outdated making them difficult to keep current and effective. Now, with the availability of publicly shared videos on YouTube, a video produced by a Manufacturer demonstrating a task such as using a certain wheelchair securement system can be embedded in e-learning or presented in a facilitated training course. When a company-specific training need is identified, trainers can use their smartphones to record videos. For example, our student transportation business line recently changed their school bus backing procedure and was able to promptly record a video of the new procedure to easily share with drivers. Using a smartphone, video quality may not be as impressive as what is produced by professional videographers however if presented appropriately, it can effectively support meeting the desired learning outcomes.

Weller (2020) states, “The arrival of e-learning, then, did not present a drastic reduction in the costs of higher education…” (p.47) In my experience, e-learning has provided drastic cost reduction in certain corporate training contexts. I will not claim that it always will, or always has but when used appropriately, it can. There are several reasons for corporate training needs including skills development, policy awareness, and compliance training. Some industries have heavily regulated training requirements, such as my previous experience in the oil and gas industry, and this creates high training costs. Employees are compensated for attending training, travel, meals, hotels, and then there are course material, venue, and instructor costs as well. In my experience, travel cost for employees and instructors has been a significant cost factor that is directly mitigated by e-learning. Also, those training costs are amplified by the high employee turnover rates in my previous and current industries.

With the arrival of e-learning, and even more impactful a few years later, the arrival of user-friendly e-learning development software, it has been my experience that in-house e-learning development has proven to have positive Return on Investment (ROI). If this was not the case I do not think I would have been gainfully employed for the past 8 years providing this service. However, a company has many factors to consider such as number of employees, specific training needs, and learner demographics to determine when e-learning is the best solution. I will not claim that e-learning should be considered the ‘end all be all’ for corporate training but it does have its benefits and cost is one of them. It is important that responsible assessment and analysis is carried out to ensure that e-learning is being used only when the content is suitable to an e-learning format. The potential cost savings of e-learning can be lost if courses are being created that are not effectively meeting the intended outcomes or training departments are not being conservative or realistic with production work effort and budgets.

References

 

Weller, M. (2020). 25 Years of Ed Tech. Athabasca University Press.

25 Years of Ed Tech by Martin Weller

In his book, Weller presents an informative history and timeline of significant developments in educational technology. Weller concedes that his choice to present the timeline by introducing one technology per year may result in some limitations and perhaps some personal bias based on his own experiences (2020). Focusing on the year that the technology provided significant contribution rather than the creation date of the technology provides a strong overview of how each technology shaped the field and further explains the impact of the technology for that period of time.

Weller chose to go back to 1994 to provide insight into the evolution of educational technology. I appreciate Weller’s suggestion that “Indeed, an alternative title for this book might be Educational Technology: The Internet Years” (Weller, 2020, p.5) as the focus of the book is the past 25 years which marks the beginnings of the mainstream adoption of the web in the field of education; not the beginnings of educational technology. If Weller was discussing the broader field of educational technology for all time, he would have had to have gone much further back in history to capture the earliest forms of educational technology. An interesting example of an earlier educational technology can be found looking back at this 1960’s era corporate training video.

After reading the first chapters in Weller’s book, I feel differently about the pressure to act on every technology trend in my role developing corporate training. Weller acknowledges the persistent narrative in educational technology that pushes a sense of urgency on us that if we do not hurry up and keep up with the technology of the day that we will be left behind (2020). Weller responds to criticism that universities will not keep up with modern students as the technology advances by stating that, “Such accounts both underestimate the degree to which universities have changed and are capable of change while also overestimating the digital natives-type account that all students want a university to be the equivalent of Instagram” (p.3). The same notions can be applied in corporate training where we should not assume that the learners (employees) need, expect, or want the latest technology trends driving their training experience.

Weller’s perspective serves as a reminder to stay grounded in sound educational theory and practices and use the technologies available to support the needs of students. In doing so, not allowing the technologies to command or hasten choices when designing educational experiences.

References

Weller, M. (2020). 25 Years of Ed Tech. Athabasca University Press.