February 2010 Archives

The Quality Fair and some email advice, from UMNews

Adam Overland has some great gleanings from the U's Quality Fair, held in February 2010. Overland features one poster from Arthur Hill, the John and Nancy Lindahl Professor for Excellence in Business Education at the Carlson School of Management, who presented "Personal Operations Management: Lean Principles for Getting Good Things Done." The article describes some of Dr. Hill's advice about managing email and time. The three items I found most helpful were:


  • Abide by the two-minute rule--if it takes less than two minutes, do it now.
  • Write short emails with very concise and meaningful subject lines and do not cc unless absolutely necessary--very often, the cc is not necessary and is a waste of many people's time.

  • Reduce the number of emails you write to reduce the number you receive. Do not write a "thank you" email every time you receive a correspondence.

I just read the article today, so no word on how much more efficient I will be after following some of these tips. I do find the cc's difficult at times to track - generally it is better to have too much information. At the same time, there are times I spend more time trying to figure out why I was cc'd on something than I should be. I also do abide by the two minute rule for tasks at home, but never thought of applying the rule to email at work.

What is your favorite productivity tip?

Web-based proctoring service keeps online classes fully online

In a regular online-only course, there's no such thing as a closed-notes test (unless it's on the honor system). While this might be a bonus for students, professors feel that some classes warrant a traditional test format.

Enter exam proctors. Some courses are taken entirely online -- except for a final (and maybe a midterm) exam, which students must take on campus or in another location with a proctor who will ensure that students are following the rules of the test. But finding a proctor, traveling to his or her location and shouldering that extra cost can be a big inconvenience for students.

Now enter e-proctoring services. One company, ProctorU -- an online test-proctoring company that uses webcams, microphones, and human beings to monitor test-taking online -- is currently affiliated with a handful of institutions in the U.S. and abroad and plans to proctor 20,000 to 30,000 exams this year.

Students seem to appreciate the convenience and price tag of about $30. Other major players in this emerging market are Kryterion Corporation, and Acxiom which focuses on electronic identity verification. The University of Minnesota Digital Campus group has been working with several units at the U of M to determine interest in these type of services.

I wonder how professors feel about this option and whether there are any downsides to this method. If e-proctoring seems to be successful, I wouldn't be surprised if institutions started their own online proctoring services in the near future.

For-profit colleges a growing force in higher education

Two interesting articles were recently posted about for-profit higher education in the US. The first, from the Chronicle, discussed the rise of thirteen publicly traded higher education businesses that have experienced fast growth in enrollments in the past ten to twenty years. The article discussed the benefits for-profit education from a student's point of view: students can apply and enroll immediately, classes are rarely or never full, class times are offered when it is most convenient for students (including Saturdays, evenings, or online), and there is often a direct path to employment. Indeed, for-profit education specializes in programs that meet job demands, and students graduate from two-year programs at for-profit institutions at a greater rate than community colleges (60% vs. 26%).

While the Chronicle article implied the reason for the growth was student demand, Dean Dad at Confessions of a Community College Dean, analyzed the reasons a bit further. He writes that for-profit institutions "emerged to fill gaps in the nonprofit system. Their growth is a direct and predictable reflection of the existing system's failures." He draws connections to the hordes of would-be faculty graduating from research institutions with Ph.D.s and few job prospects to recent budget cuts that limit enrollments and cut popular programs, while raising tuition at many public institutions.

Higher education is facing enormous challenges in the coming years. The fault-lines of for-profit/nonprofit, online/on-campus, convenience/quality, are shifting. I don't think they are as dichotomous as we might think.

Be sure to read the comments at Confessions... They are well worth your time.

Textbooks take to the web -- for free

Textbooks can be prohibitively expensive for some students -- particularly those books used in science courses and others that frequently update information and come out with new editions. But some colleges and universities are experimenting with a system that would allow students free access to textbooks online.

North Carolina State University is one of these institutions -- they purchased a license for a commonly used physics textbook for $1,500, which allowed them to offer the book the book to students online, at no cost. Students can print out the pages freely, or they can head to the university's bookstore, where they can purchase a complete printed copy for about $45.

Is this the future of textbooks? Some seem to think so. It seems to be a good deal for students, who benefit from the cost and also the opportunity to print out only the pages they need, but the financial impact to the institution is unclear. How many $1,500 licenses can a college afford, and will they make their money back with bookstore copies? If so, we may me a lot more of these programs in the near future.

Chemistry 1015 Course Goes Online

driessen.jpg

During fall semester 2009, instructor Michelle Driessen taught an introductory chemistry course to 1200 students online. This feature story from U Relations explores online learning from both the instructor's and the students' perspective.

Free online courses: At what cost?

They're real online courses, from real universities, taught by real professors--and they're free. Some big-name institutions are offering free online courses for a number of reasons: to motivate students to head back to school, to help them piece together less expensive degrees from a handful of schools and more. And we're talking big names (think Yale and MIT).

But how universities pay for these no-cost classes is the problematic, probably unsustainable part. Most have outside, foundation funding that will inevitably dry up. And when it does, what happens to the students who have benefitted from the free courses, but can't afford the steep fees they'd need to pay to finish a degree?

This is a phenomenon to keep on the radar as the search for a sustainable business model rages on.

University of Minnesota faculty and P&A instructors can now apply for the 2010-2011 Office of Information Technology's Faculty Fellowship Program. According to the description: "This 18-month program fosters a multidisciplinary learning community that explores possibilities and best practices in technology-rich learning environments, produces scholarship in this area, generates organizational awareness, and advances faculty leadership around these issues." Deadline is 5:00 pm, Friday March 5, 2010.

Visit the OIT Fellowship web site for more information. You can download a PDF of the call for proposals, the application instructions, and the cover sheet. Questions about the
2010-11 Faculty Fellowship Program should be directed to Kim Wilcox, co-coordinator, at (612) 624-3528 or wilco001@umn.edu or Lauren Marsh, co-coordinator, at (612) 625-9348 or lauren@umn.edu.

Will the iPad revolutionize education?

Last week's announcement of the Apple iPad was met with excitement from people of all walks of life, from ├╝bergeeks to grandmas. But there's been a lot of talk about the impact the tablet may have on one group in particular: students.

Why?

Textbooks.
Apple has already secured partnerships with some big names in textbook publishing. Being able to download a textbook nearly instantly, at a fraction of the price (and negative environmental impact) of its paper counterpart, could open up access to many more students.

Mobility. Lots of college students have computers, many laptops, but few carry them everywhere on campus. The iPad could change that. It's light, it's thin and it's got a world of information in a tiny package. And it's impossible to forget your book!

Multiple media. More and more, classes are being supplemented with videos, audio, Web reading and more. This pulls all of these sources together for a student and could make it easier for a teacher to embrace the use of different media forms in teaching about a topic.

Accessibility.
Educators so far seem to like the iPad's price tag: starting at just $499. It's cheaper than a laptop, comparable in price to many eReaders and (almost) does the work of both. This may make providing tablets for students--or expecting students to have them--possible.

And of course not everyone's sure the iPad will have much impact on education at all.


What other game-changing potential does the iPad have in education?

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