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Thursday, October 31, 2013

It's Book Vs. Wiki for Chemistry Class

Let’s get ready to rumble—a wiki/textbook smackdown is coming to the University of California Davis for the spring 2014 term.

In one corner is the traditional print chemistry textbook, used by general chemistry classes for decades. It will face off against the online ChemWiki, an open collection of chemistry articles and resources, collected and vetted over the last five years by Professor Delmar Larsen and a host of student-editors. Researchers from the Center for Education and Evaluation Services at the UC Davis School of Education will decide the winner, according to a university press release.

The 200 students enrolled in general chemistry during the spring term will all attend the same lectures and take the same tests. But half will study from the regular textbook while the other half will use the free ChemWiki in lieu of a textbook. The head-to-head bout, supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, is intended to determine whether the wiki is good enough to knock the textbook out and save students money.

If so, additional grant monies will help expand the wiki. Plans are underway for a collaboration with UC Irvine’s OpenChem initiative, a series of free and open video-recorded lectures on chemistry.

Larsen and his colleagues are also creating wikis for other scientific fields—including physics, statistics, geology, biology, and mathematics—with the idea they may someday deliver a final blow to textbooks, at least those for undergraduate courses dealing with fundamental concepts that haven’t changed in years.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cities Take Libraries' Side on E-Books

Public libraries, unhappy over what they view as high prices and stringent terms for e-books to lend their patrons, picked up an ally in their ongoing battle with publishers: the National League of Cities (NLC), which represents some 19,000 cities and towns across the U.S.

The NLC recently issued a press release backing the efforts of public libraries to pressure publishers into making more e-books available for library loans, allowing libraries to purchase e-books outright rather than license them, and reducing prices charged to libraries, which are typically higher than consumer retail prices.

Library organizations, especially the American Library Association, have been waging a campaign to stir up grass-roots support for their ability to acquire and lend e-book titles. While the campaign mainly involves community libraries, academic libraries are watching the response. The league’s endorsement included kudos to several governmental bodies that passed legislation calling for investigations into publishers’ e-book policies for libraries.

“City officials can protect the library’s function to provide access to e-books and other materials by encouraging oversight on publishers’ licensing practices,” said the release. “That can mean adopting resolutions like that developed in Montgomery County, MD, or urging their state legislators, Congress, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Trade Commission to look into the unfair e-books policies.”

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Remedial Math Placement tool Launched

McGraw-Hill Education (MHE) launched a new remediation tool that places students in the college math course best suited to their abilities. The ALEKS Placement, Preparation, and Learning tool is the first original product to be produced from the MHE acquisition of ALEKS Corp., the web-based tutoring and assessment program.

“A majority of kids that go into community colleges drop out,” said Buzz Waterhouse, CEO of MHE, at the Educause 2013 conference in Anaheim, CA. “Most students that go into community college need remediation and there are studies that show the vast majority of them are placed in the wrong remedial classes, courses that are more advanced than they are ready for.”

A 2012 report from Complete College America found that just 22.3% of remedial students finish remediation classes and more than half the students in two-year colleges are placed in the wrong remedial courses.

ALEKS Placement is an online tool designed to help students move into credit math courses quickly through a personalized study plan. It uses open-response questions instead of multiple-choice to assess a student’s knowledge level and delivers targeted learning through a six-week module.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Surprise! Devices Are a Distraction

One criticism leveled at bring-your-own-device initiatives is the distraction they’re assumed to cause in the classroom. A professor from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, conducted a study showing the assumption is probably right.

The survey found more than 90% of the students admitted using their device in class for nonclass activities. Students said they used their devices for texting (86%), checking the time (79%), checking e-mails (68%), social networking (66%), and web surfing (38%). Eight percent even admitted to using their devices in class to play games.

“When college students multitask with digital devices in classrooms, research indicates it may hamper their ability to pay attention,” Barney McCoy, associate professor of broadcasting at UN-L,  wrote in his report. “This behavior, research suggests, has become more habitual, automatic, and distracting.”

However, the students also said they saw staying connected (70%), avoiding boredom (55%), and doing related classwork (49%) as an advantage to using their devices during class.

“I don’t think students necessarily think it’s problematic,” McCoy said in an article for eCampus News. “They think it’s part of their lives. It’s become automatic behavior on the part of so many people—they do it without even thinking about it.”

Just 9% of the students favored a ban on having their devices in the classroom and 54% said it was reasonable for the instructor to have a policy for their use. They just don’t want it strictly enforced: 65% said they felt a warning was sufficient for a first offense.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Faculty Use of Social Media Studied

A new study reported that faculty members are much more at ease with using social media, but remain suspicious of it in their classrooms. A survey of 8,000 faculty members, conducted by Babson Research Group and Pearson, found more than half of the respondents used social media sites in their professional lives, a 10% increase over 2012, and more than 70% used it for personal purposes.

At the same time, 60% said online and mobile technologies can enhance learning and more than 75% said communications with their students have increased through the use of social media. However, just 41% said they use it in their classroom.

The report also found that privacy and integrity of student submissions have been the top concerns since 2011, yet an increasing number of educators report they are finding more ways to use social technologies to engage their students.

“The concern with the barriers remains fairly high, but the faculty are figuring out ways they can get around those barriers,” Jeff Seaman, co-director of Babson Survey Research Group, said in a report in eCampus News. “Perhaps they are not using it as widely or universally as they might be without those concerns, but they are finding ways in which they can adapt it in particular slivers.”

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Malware Hits More Higher Ed Networks

Colleges and universities are losing the battle against malware, according to security firm OpenDNS, which reported that networks run by higher education institutions are three times more likely to be infected than government agencies or businesses.

The most common threat is Expiro, software that can replicate itself, steal disk space, and slow computer memory to a halt. The malware can also corrupt data, steal personal information, and erase hard drives.

“Our research shows that while higher education institutions face the same cyber-attacks as enterprises and government agencies, they tend to be compromised by malware and botnets at a much higher rate,” Dan Hubbard, chief technology officer at OpenDNS, told Campus Technology during the Educause 2013 conference. “Clearly, colleges and universities must operate more open networks and support an endless number of access devices, which puts them at higher risk.”

Hubbard suggested that “fundamental security best practices” can reduce infection rates, such as alerting users when spear-phishing appears, an e-mail fraud that seeks unauthorized access to confidential information. Institutions should also use analytics to block access to malvertising (online advertising that spreads malware) and watering holes (sites infected with malware).

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

School Lays Out BYOD Plan

While the idea of students bringing their own devices (BYOD) into the classroom is gaining traction, creating effective ways to support such programs remains a concern. A school district in a suburb of Cleveland, OH, decided to tackle the issue by creating a strategic plan to encourage student technology.

The Rocky River City Schools launched its BYOD program in tandem with the district’s plans to renovate its facilities. Because of the renovation project, the school was able to purchase the necessary technology, such as adequate bandwidth and secure Internet access. Then, it researched the best practices of schools from around the nation with experience in BYOD classrooms and consulted with legal counsel to be clear about what was expected of students bringing technology into the school.

Finally, the district proposed a policy that gave direction as to where and when personal devices could be used in school for both K-8 and 9-12 students. The proposal also included usage that was prohibited and stipulated that the care and security of all devices were the responsibility of each student and not the school.

“Access to the Internet is not difficult in a wireless environment, but the district needed to assure parents that access would be school-appropriate while not limiting student research abilities,” wrote School Superintendent Michael Shoaf and Dianna R. Foley, executive director of communications and technology for the district, in eSchool News

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

GWU Takes Different Approach to MOOCs

There’s been pushback on some campuses as to the development of massive open online courses (MOOCs). Faculty have banded together to block initiatives, faculty unions have raised concerns, and a new report from the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education criticizes corporate interests in driving MOOC adoption.

George Washington University in Washington, D.C., is taking a different approach. It’s working with faculty members from the start to develop a MOOC program.

“We see MOOCs as a way of empowering faculty who are interested in reaching a very different audience than they’re used to,” Paul Schiff Berman, vice provost for online education and academic innovation at GWU, told eCampus News. “Our approach to MOOCs has not engendered any kind of faculty backlash, which I’m happy to say.”

The university has not partnered with any of the major MOOC platform providers. Berman has kept interested professors in the loop when it comes to the online platforms and has no plans to require instructors to participate.

GWU faculty members seem to appreciate the more cautious approach. Professors have expressed interest in working on courses, even though some remain unconvinced on the topic of MOOCs.

“In general, there’s an effort to move more organically and be a little skeptical of MOOCs,” said GWU English professor Margaret Soltan, who has taught a MOOC hosted by the Udemy platform. “It’s always good to be skeptical of all the rage.”

In addition to including faculty from the get-go, there has been no discussion about giving credit for MOOCs offered by GWU. Berman insists it will remain that way for the foreseeable future.

“We don’t see it as a way of replacing our in-person programs or something that would be credit-bearing,” he said. “There’s absolutely no move toward using these courses to generate revenue, nor will there be.”

Monday, October 21, 2013

Report Takes Aim at Online Ed Profits

The Campaign for the Future of Higher Education, a coalition of faculty groups, has released a report that claims the rhetoric behind online learning is more about making money than academic results.

“Promise” of Online Higher Education: Profits states that the expansion of online education in general and massive open online courses (MOOCs) in particular, is being driven by corporations at the expense of students or public interest. It also recommends that terms used to describe online formats should be re-examined to better help students and institutions make informed decisions on their usefulness, according to a report in Campus Technology.

“Increasingly, online higher education is big business with huge profits being made by many private companies,” the authors of the paper wrote. “We are told repeatedly that students will benefit from the rush toward online learning, but we must ask who’s benefiting more: Students? Or investors and companies?”

To illustrate, the report points to companies such as Coursera, which recently announced it had made $1 million in profits from its massive open online courses. There are a number of other firms generating “robust” profits from converting traditional degree programs into online versions.

The report “shines a light on how leaders in government and in our colleges and universities are being enticed by snappy slogans and slick sales pitches into making decisions that benefit investors and corporations instead of the students we’re supposed to serve,” said UCLA history Lillian Taiz. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Software Helps Flipped Classrooms

In a flipped classroom, students are asked to study course materials on their own and class time is devoted to one-on-one or small-group interactions with the teacher. One problem with the approach is students who don’t have at-home Internet access aren’t able to watch the assigned videos.

Software from aTube Catcher provides a solution, according to Shannon Holden, an ed-tech enthusiast and veteran teacher who created newteacherhelp.com, a web site dedicated to helping teachers make it through their first year in the classroom.

“It all happens thanks to a USB drive,” Holden told eSchool News. “The excuse of ‘our kids don’t have the Internet so we can’t flip the classroom’ is gone. If we get inventive enough, 100% of kids will be able to participate in the process.”

The aTube software provides instruction on how to download all kinds of videos from any number of sources to a USB drive. The student can then take the drive home to view the material. The software even works on many Blu-ray and DVD players, as well as most newer television sets and Xbox 360 and PlayStation consoles.

Holden created a YouTube video on the download process with advice on implementing flipped learning in the classroom and a preview of other professional development videos he’s working on.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Where Broadband's Slim, MOOCs Are Moot

In all the hubbub over whether MOOCs (massive open online courses) are the way of future higher education, much of the discussion has focused on things such as monetizing courses, verifying the identity of exam-takers, whether to offer degree credits, and low completion rates.

But, as Andrew Barbour, executive editor of Campus Technology, points out in a viewpoint piece, there’s another major aspect being overlooked: insufficient or nonexistent broadband Internet access. Millions of people live in remote areas or urban pockets where broadband connections are iffy at best.

These are the people who—by virtue of their geographic distance, work schedule, or family situation—cannot get themselves to a college or university campus in person. They’re the ones who might benefit most from online education, including MOOCs.

Yet, as Barbour notes, MOOCs typically use a lot of video and other broadband-dependent content. Students without broadband are effectively shut out of MOOCs, and often other courses with online components as well.

“And it threatens to leave large swaths of the country isolated, uneducated, and unemployed, because broadband is the 21st-century equivalent of the interstates and the railroads rolled into one,” he says.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Alternative MOOC Platform Launched

The ed-tech company Desire2Learn jumped into the massive open online course (MOOC) fray with its new Open Courses service. The product is an alternative MOOC delivery platform that allows institutions to retain the copyright on their talent and data, as well as an option to recognize students who complete the course.

Curriculum for the MOOCs is available from existing content and is managed through the firm’s new version of its Learning Suite. Open Courses is also available as a standalone cloud service, according to a report in Campus Technology.

The new version of Learning Suite includes course management and mobile tools, predictive analytics, adaptive learning, social sharing, and collaborative services, along with the ability to participate in MOOCs. In addition, Learning Suite is a free upgrade for Desire2 Learn cloud customers.

“If you’re a student today, you have to log into four or five—maybe as many as 20—different systems,” said John Baker, president and CEO of Desire2Learn. “What we’re trying to do is pull all that together into what we call an integrated learning platform.”

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Workshop Promotes Disability Awareness

Accessibility: It Is Important is a free online workshop from Atomic Learning in support of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which takes place in October.

The focus of the workshop is the basics of accessibility and using accessible learning materials. It also covers how to check materials for accessibility, creating material, how to caption movies, understanding different disabilities, and legal and ethical requirements for the learning materials.

The workshop is available through Dec. 15. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Women See Online Ed as More Attractive

A new study found that women see online education as a more achievable option than traditional forms of education because it’s more affordable and flexible.

The survey, released in September by Western International University, reported that nearly 80% of the women responding believed online universities had the programs to advance their careers. The majority felt traditional classroom education was too expensive and rigid in format.

“Women of all ages are incredibly motivated to earn a degree,” said Tracy Lorenz, president of Western International University. “However, many have been unable to find a program that is flexible, affordable, manageable, and that fits their lifestyle.”

The research polled 1,000 women, ages 22 to 50. The new information backs up an earlier study from the American Association of University Women Education Foundation, which found that 60% of online students are women.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Students Ready to Go Mobile in Class

The latest study from the Educause Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) found that while students bring plenty of Internet-capable devices to campus, few have the freedom to use them in class.

The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2013, reported that 58% of the students responding brought three or more devices to campus, but 74% said smartphone use was either discouraged or banned in the classroom and 30% said they were discouraged or banned from using their tablets. Just 3% of students were encouraged to use their smartphone and 15% to use their tablets.

The report found that students want to keep their academic and social lives separate and expect instructors to train them on using the technology required for coursework. They are ready to use their mobile devices for academics and are looking for encouragement from their instructors. Two-thirds reported that faculty use technology effectively in the classroom.

“It’s a little unclear what the students’ judgment is based on here: stuff not crashing? Faculty finding their comfort zone and sticking with it?” Jason B. Jones, director of educational technology, Trinity College, wrote in a blog post for The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Regardless, it is useful to know that students respect the faculty’s technology use.”

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Data-Mining of MOOCs Has Begun

Experts can debate the effectiveness of massive open online courses (MOOCs), but there’s no question about the amount of student information provided to register for the class. Now, colleges and universities are starting to work with technology vendors on ways to capture that data to use for marketing and recruitment.

“Showcasing the institution to capture prospective students is a rising reason [for offering MOOCs],” Katie Blot, president of the education services division at Blackboard, told University Business magazine. “There are more people talking about doing it than actually doing it.”

Institutions see MOOCs as a way to interact with students and spotlight the quality of their online classes. That leads to the question of whether to offer the courses for credit, with many only giving credit when the participant enrolls in a paid program, according to Blot. Administrators are also looking at the MOOC data to find out what assignments and discussions students participate in, when students stop participating, and why they stop.

“As long as MOOC courses are still dabbling in the credit process, accrediting bodies don’t feel the need to get into the mix,” said Rick Tomlinson, manager of academic solutions for Jenzabar, a provider of software and services for higher ed. “But I think that will change significantly once this whole process becomes more disruptive and we get into that credit-bearing mode.”

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Tablets May Not Be Killing Off Laptops

The Case of the Dwindling Laptop Sales is still an open mystery. It turns out tablets may not be the culprit after all, at least according to a new survey of tablet owners by market research firm IDC.

Many technology-watchers, noting that tablet sales were rising at about the same pace as laptop sales were falling, assumed there was a direct correlation between the two. The IDC study, conducted last April, contradicts that. Just 8.7% of survey respondents said they bought a new tablet as a laptop replacement while 58.5% specifically purchased the tablet to use in combination with their laptop.

The survey sample wasn’t all that large—only 299 adults—but it shows that consumers buy different devices for different reasons, and don’t want to ditch any of them yet. “A huge percentage of people still see a lot of value in a laptop for one kind of app or service they use on it. Would they want to do their taxes on a tablet? They haven’t quite made the leap to being comfortable with a mobile device like a tablet,” IDC analyst Tom Mainelli told Computerworld.

College students probably fit into that category. A tablet is easier to tote around campus for checking course updates in the learning management system in between classes, for example. A laptop is better for working on papers and projects.

That still leaves the mystery of why laptop sales are down. It’s possible tablets do share some of the blame. After buying the latest tablet, purchasers may not feel the need to upgrade their laptops to a new model. Also, those who use their tablets on the go, such as students, may find their laptops last longer parked at home where there’s reduced risk of theft or breakage.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Site Allows Teachers to Review Apps

Common Sense Media has developed Graphite, a free platform that collects and rates educational apps, games, and web sites. The site provides a way to sort through the thousands of educational apps being created each year with reviews from K-12 educators based on engagement, pedagogy, and support. Reviews also include information on how well the apps work in their classrooms.

An important additional feature is that instructors can make suggestions for improvements. While many apps encourage memorization, Graphite reviews should help developers gain a better understanding of what teachers need.

“Whether it’s a local school group of teachers or a large-scale platform like Graphite, educators are looking to find the best apps as quickly as possible,” wrote Tanya Roscorla, of the Center for Digital Education, in a blog post for teacherswithapps.com. “And when teachers uncover quality apps that engage students, they’ll help solve today’s problems of too many gems being buried in the dirt.”

Monday, October 7, 2013

MOOCs and Corporate Learning

Since 2000, massive open online courses (MOOCs) have gone from wine-tasting classes to instruction from prestigious institutions such as Harvard, Stanford, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The technology behind MOOCs has gone mobile. Investment over the same period has risen from around $800 million to $1.2 billion so far in 2013.

Corporate learning lags, but that could change, according to Josh Bersin in his blog post for Chief Learning Officer.

“Our learning environments are pretty far behind,” he wrote. “We’re still using LMS platforms developed 10 years ago, e-learning courses that look more like cartoons or audio-enabled flash cards, and we still don’t have enough mobile learning environments. Yes, there are many exciting new programs out there, but most corporate learning systems aren’t nearly as compelling as YouTube.”

Bersin says he believes change will come because corporations are willing and able to invest in the platforms, while the creators of those tools, to monetize their products, will look to corporations for capital. Coursera and edX already have corporate development teams working on potential partnerships.

In addition, MOOCs can be used as accredited learning for corporations that are used to spending millions on core-skills training.

“According to the Gates Foundation, in 2012 more than 170 startups in this area were funded for a total capital investment of more than $1.2 billion,” Bersin wrote. “We in the $130 billion corporate learning market are going to see great benefits from all these new ideas, so stay tuned.”

Friday, October 4, 2013

Pros, Cons of Cloud Computing

In a June report, Educause ranked cloud computing third on its list of the top IT issues facing higher education. Yet, a Gartner report predicts that 30% of organizations using software as a service, such as for e-mail, will switch back from the cloud to on-premises systems in the next year.

In an article for Information Week, David Crain, assistant provost and chief information officer at Southern Illinois University, explained some of the reasons why his institution is headed back to on-premises service, at least for e-mail.

The university has been using cloud services for the last two years, but Crain found that discounts the institution receives on most technology made cloud services far more expensive than alternatives. He noted that the downtime in cloud service has been “consistently and significantly higher than we experienced with the on-premises solution.” Cloud security issues and the amount of bandwidth consumed are also concerns.

Crain said schools looking into cloud services should investigate private and community cloud offerings, costs, and the complexities of integrating services. He also advised against signing a long-term contract or using a cloud service without a strong service agreement.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Testing Student Verification with Webcams

The importance of making sure that the student who signed up for an online class is actually the one taking it has been magnified by the emergence of massive open online courses (MOOCs).  Solutions range from keystroke software to webcams to programs that shut down web browsers during an exam.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology started using webcams with the MITx XSeries sequences for some of its courses that began this fall and plans to expand the program next year. It takes between six months to two years to complete each of the sequences, which use content from two to four traditional classroom courses. MIT is testing webcam photos of students to confirm their identity for the sequences. edX is also testing the ID-verification process with three of its MOOCs from MIT and the University of California at Berkeley.

While there is a cost to using webcam verification, it should add just a few hundred dollars to the cost, according to a report in eCampus News. A free “Honor Code Certificate of Achievement” option is also available to students, but credit is not.

“This is all an experiment,” said Steve Carson, external relations director at MIT OpenCourseWare. “We’re trying different things and looking at what learners are interested in—what kinds of certificates do they want, what kind of programs are they pursuing.”

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Digital Textbooks Cheaper But Not Easy

It’s a given, many in the education world say, that almost all textbooks and other course materials will go digital within a few years. Paper texts will be as dead as the trees from which they’re made.

That seems likely if you consider indicators such as the financial statements from major publishers. Pearson, the largest of the textbook producers, reported a few weeks ago that digital publishing and services now make up half of its income—a first for the company. Other textbook publishers are also experiencing rises in digital sales.

Yet, college students aren’t all that crazy about digital textbooks, even though they prefer digital formats for personal communications and entertainment. A commentary in Carnegie Mellon University’s campus newspaper, written by a CMU student who first experienced online course materials in high school, describes how the negatives of digital textbooks ultimately cancel out the positives.

In short, the student writer says, it’s simply harder to study course materials on a digital screen. Even homework is often online now, he notes, and some multiple-choice exercises can be gamed, undermining retention of concepts.

If sales of digital course materials are growing, it’s probably because they frequently cost less, a persuasive factor. The Educause/Internet2 e-textbook pilot conducted during the 2012-13 academic year found that lower prices was the biggest incentive for using digital materials for both students and faculty members. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

New Way to Keep Students Engaged

Daydreaming and passing notes are so old-school when it comes to classroom distractions these days. Now, students can pass time on their mobile devices, browsing all sorts of web sites instead of paying attention in class.

Ronald Yaros, an assistant professor at the Phillip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, has found a solution with what he calls a “MEEC” (manageable educational environment of collaboration).

“MEECs are a large, multifaceted approach to a collaborative environment,” Yaros told eCampus News. “You must have a set of elements that engage students for an entire class, so there is no deviation whatsoever.”

The MEEC is a mobile app with content specific to Yaros’ journalism course, part of a collection of experimental courses at Maryland that try to challenge students in unconventional ways. The app keeps students busy with relevant course material, such as polls, blog posts, quizzes, and videos, delivered to their iPads throughout the lecture. Students are simply too occupied with their classwork to surf the web.

“The interactivity is a little overwhelming the first week for students,” Yaros said, “and some of them have to adjust. Some of them don’t like it. Some look up at the end of the period and can’t believe it’s a 70-minute class.”

He is still working on the best content to engage students and the best time to introduce it during the class.

“It’s thinking every 10 minutes about what you are doing,” he said. “What could you be doing to maximize how people psychologically engage with information? In my opinion, if you don’t do that, these devices, they are a distraction.”