October 2010 Archives

Happy World Usability Day!


You may have trouble finding a greeting card to mark the occasion, but the University of Minnesota Office of Information Technology (OIT) will help you celebrate World Usability Day on Thursday November 11th.

The goal is to raise awareness of the benefits of usability engineering and user-centered design.

Just what is "usability" anyway? Usability is defined as the study of how quickly a person can understand how to use a particular human-made object and how easily they can use it.

The OIT is inviting all U of M students, staff, faculty and the public to Walter Library for a day of free events and speakers. Here is a link to find out more.

Here is the schedule of events:

9:45-10:00 a.m. | 402 Walter Library
Program Introduction: "About World Usability Day"

• David Rosen, Usability Services Manager, OIT

10:00 - 10:45 a.m. | 402 Walter Library
Presentation: "User Centered Design Link Labeling Methods"

• Josh Carroll, Usability Consultant, OIT

11:00 - 11:45 a.m. | 402 Walter Library
Presentation: "Accessible and Usable Documents"

• Phil Kragnes, Computer Accommodations Specialist, OIT

Noon - 1:15 p.m. | B-26 Walter Library
Open House at the Usability Lab
The lab will be open for tours, and Usability Services staff will be available to answer questions.

1:30 - 2:15 p.m. | 402 Walter Library
Presentation: "Listening to Your Data"

• Chris Moellering, Technical Writer, OIT
• Ashley Piediscalzi, Graphic Designer, OIT

2:30 - 3:15 p.m. | 402 Walter Library
Presentation: "Search Engine Optimization (SEO)"

• Lee-Ann Kastman Breuch, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Writing Studies
• Stuart Blessman, Student, Scientific and Technical Communication

Gates Foundation Funds Learning Technology Initiative

Recently, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a 20-million dollar grant to fund new online learning technologies for higher education. The project is called Next Generation Learning Challenges and is being managed by the non-profit educational technology organization, Educause. The program is a response to low graduation rates in higher education, especially at community colleges and other two-year institutions. The Next Generation Learning Challenges web site frames the problem and project objectives this way:

"Today, too few students are ready for college: Only 70% of high school students will graduate, and of those 50% are ill-equipped for success in college. Of those that do attempt college only half will ever earn a degree. For low-income students, graduation rates are even lower, hovering at a mere 25%.

Recognizing the untapped potential of technology to drive dramatic gains in both college readiness and completion, Next Generation Learning Challenges will identify, improve, and scale solutions and will stimulate adoption of the many ways technology can deepen, accelerate, and support learning (Next Generation Learning Challenge: The Program)."

For now, the focus is on higher education but next year, Gates hopes to expand to the project to include K-12 initiatives. In a press release, the Gates foundation confirmed this grant would be a multi-year commitment. The Gates Foundation see the gift as "catalytic" and hopes it will inspire others to commit to improving education through technology.

According the Wall Street Journal, the project will dole out grants ranging from $250,000 to $750,000. The project opens for proposals on October 25th. More information can be found here.

Tips from online learners: Is online learning right for me?

Not sure if online learning is right for you? An online student lists the different resources offered by Digital Campus to help you make the right decision such as mini-assessments, tips, advice and guidance. You can also speak to a representative via email or live video/chat.

Learn how to incorporate social media in the classroom

web 2.0 state of mind.jpegThe question to ask students these days is no longer "if" they are on social media sites but rather "which" ones. As web 2.0 become more commonplace and integral into the lives and daily activities of students, can instructors afford not to keep up with the trends in the social media world? Can they afford not to speak the "language" of web 2.0? In order to engage students in the classroom and enhance their learning, the answer is a flat "no."

Yet many instructors, who grew up in the non-web 2.0 era find it hard, if not intimidating, to effectively harness the power of web 2.0 in their teaching. Dian Schaffhauser, in Campus Technology, shares a list of foolproof and unintimidating methods for incorporating social media applications into the classroom from using Facebook and Twitter to blogs and remote videoconferencing. Methods that Schaffhauser claims are guaranteed to work for even the most squeamish instructor. What I found most useful about the guide is the list of free alternatives to otherwise expensive engagement tools like the clicker or other content management systems.

As listed in the article:
4 Itty-Bitty Content Tools
7 Lures to Hook Faculty into Training
5 Ploys for Going Viral
4 Simple Steps to Setting Up a Facebook Account for Teaching
5 Friendly Ways to Use Facebook in Your Teaching
6 Quick Responses-to-Faculty Questions<
1 FREE Alternative to Clickers
15 Twitter Tips

It is amazing how useful web 2.0 can be in increasing participation, collaboration, interaction and engagement. Instead of absorbing content passively, students can now share ideas and interact with one another. Though all the tips provided by Schaffhauser are useful depending, some sites and applications might work better than others depending on the instructor's goal and types of engagement. "6 quick responses-to-faculty questions" is incredibly useful for instructors who have a goal in mind but do not know which (free) sites to use.

For some instructors like Dr. Monica Rankin of the University of Texas at Dallas, who have been using Twitter in the classroom with much success, Schaffhauser's guide might come as old news. Dr. Rankin discovered that Twitter helped increase participation in the classroom because digital communication helps students overcome their shyness and fear of speaking in front of an audience. Other instructors who have incorporated Twitter in their teaching have also discovered that the benefits of Twitter go beyond the classroom. Prof David Parry at the University of Texas discovered that chatter during class spilled over into the students' free time outside of class. This means that Twitter, because it is a convenient platform (many can access it via their mobile phones), can help students remain engaged in the subject matter and conversation with fellow classmates well after class is no longer in session. For many instructors struggling to increase classroom participation and engagement beyond the classroom, Twitter might just be the answer.

Outsourcing Tutors


A new program to outsource math tutors in Britain is receiving mixed reviews. The London-based company BrightSpark Education is offering interactive online tutoring to help students in London get assistance from teachers in India.

The feedback from parents, students and the schools has been good so far, according to the New York Times. Students report they enjoy doing math problems on the computer and they find it helpful that their session is recorded so it can be replayed. Parents said they liked the fact that they didn't have to transport their children to tutoring sessions.

Teachers and their union representatives are criticizing the plan because they fear it could bring job cuts and there is a concern about the qualifications of teachers abroad.

The founder of BrightSpark, said teachers' unions were missing the point. "This is supplementary and in no way replacing teachers," Tom Hoooper said.

Hooper is quoted in the New York Times article as saying, "There is a huge thirst for support in the U.K. That combined with a huge pool of skilled and available academics in India--it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the potential."

BrightSpark charges £12 or about $19 per tutoring session. That compares with £20--or $31 per session for a private British math tutor. Hooper says his rate pays teachers £7 or $11 an hour more than the double minimum wage in Punjab, India.

Critics of the outsourcing tutoring plan say they are concerned about the impersonal nature of the Internet and question the quality of teaching.

Similar one-one-one online tutoring from India has been in the United State for at least 5 years. The chairman of Britain's National Outsourcing Association was quoted in the New York Times article as saying, "There is a social resistance (in Britain) because outsourcing here is always coupled with unemployment."

Tips from online learners: Schedule issues for online learners

Not sure how to fit online courses into your busy schedule? An online student describes how she managed to accommodate her online courses into her schedule without any hassle.

Unlocking the secrets of the "learning DNA"

driessen.jpgUniversity of Phoenix, in its effort to unlock the secrets of the "learning DNA", is building a new learning interface that aims to get to know each of its students personally, as reported in Inside Higher Ed. The goal of this learning platform is to deliver a customized learning experience for students by adapting to the idiosyncrasies of students' learning habits and style. Ambitiously dubbed the "Learning Genome Project," The University of Phoenix draws its inspiration from Facebook's ability to revolutionize web advertising through the use of web analytics.

Similar to Facebook, Phoenix's new learning platform will be designed to infer details about students from how they behave in the online classroom and adapt to the student's learning style. Lesson content will be delivered in a way that helps students learn best. If the student encounters a problem with his/her assignment, the platform can help connect the student to a fellow classmate who could be of assistance. In a way, this learning platform may well spell the end of the one-size-fits all model of education.

The University of Phoenix is definitely not alone in its endeavor. Other institutions are also trying to incorporate some of the principles that have made Facebook and Netflix so successful in their own learning management systems. However, as rightfully pointed out in the article, there are still some concerns that need to be ironed out such as cost of producing and maintaining this system since it requires a lot of data collection and processing. Another issue that is perhaps more troubling is the issue of privacy.

Due to the recent media attention on cyber-bullying and privacy issues related to social networks, users of social networks are more cautious and careful about the type of information they put out online. Furthermore, as institutions become aware of online privacy concerns, many have taken steps to help students navigate social networks safely such as providing counseling on online privacy and some institutions even have a policy on student use of social media. Hence, the idea that a learning platform will monitor a students' behavior and habits in their virtual classroom as well as their interests will undoubtedly make some people feel uncomfortable.

Tips from online learners: Suggestions

Time management is everything for someone contemplating online learning. While online learning means flexibility and convenience, it also requires self-discipline. Hear what an online student has to say about the importance of time management.

Using e-textbooks in your class?

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ebook image.jpg

E-books are increasingly getting popular these days. Many people use Kindle, iPad or some other e-book readers to read their e-books. E-books are usually cheaper than printed books. They are light-weighted (of course, except the weight of a hardware) so that you can carry hundreds of e-books in one device. You can buy (download) and read it in a few minute without waiting several days for shipping or going to a bookstore. Oh, don't forget that you can easily search a term or topics and that you can, in some e-book readers, take notes and print them.

What about e-textbooks, then? What are the benefits of e-textbooks in addition to general benefits of e-books mentioned above? One benefit of e-textbook would be that e-textbook is easier for customization.

According to a news report of The Chronicle of Higher Education, many textbook publishers provide "build-a-book" option, which allows instructors to mix and match chapters of books, articles, and case studies into a customized e-textbook for their class. And it is expected the price of the customized e-textbook would be cheaper than a printed book with the same customized content.

One reason publishers like customization according to the news report is that customized books are difficult for students to sell as used copies, unless they sell to other students taking the same course from the same professor.

However, students may rent a customized e-textbooks in future at low prices without having to buy one. For example, a press release from CourseSmart, the world's largest e-textbook provider, says that CourseSmart's e-textbook rental program has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education for $1.1 Million. The e-textbook rental program, called STudent E-rent Pilot Project (STEPP), aims to improve low-cost access to higher education e-textbooks for all students, including those with print-related disabilities such as blindness or dyslexia.

So, in a few years, you may see that many students rent a e-textbook, which is customized just for the class. Will it really happen? I guess it depends. But for sure, technologies are changing education.

Students Still Prefer Paper in Digital Age

College students text, surf and download but in the digital age traditional paper textbooks still rule. A recent New York Times article looked into why students still prefer expensive, heavy textbooks.

The article quotes two recent studies--one by the National Association of College Stores and another by the Student Public Interest Research Groups, a national advocacy network. The studies found 75 percent of students surveyed still preferred traditional textbooks to a digital version. The surveys found many students are reluctant to give up the ability to quickly flip through paper books, write notes in the margins and use a highlighter to mark important passages.

The expense of college textbooks, according to the New York Times, is estimated to have risen four times the inflation rate in recent years.

According to the National Association of College Stores, digital books make up just under 3 percent of textbook sales. The association expects the number to grow as high as 15 percent by 2012.

Barnes and Noble College Booksellers is working hard to market its new software application, NOOKstudy. It allows students to navigate e-textbooks on Macs and PCs. The company's vice president said "The real hurdle is getting them (students) to try it."
The company is giving away "College Kick-Start Kits" to students who download NOOKstudy in the fall semester, with ramen noodle recipes and a dozen classic e-books like "The Canterbury Tales" and "The Scarlet Letter." CourseSmart, a consortium of major textbook publishers, is letting students try any e-textbook free for two weeks.

Things I learned about myself as an online student

Being an online student also means stepping outside one's comfort zone such as making changes to one's study habits and learning styles.

Changes I had to make as an online student

While online learning gives you more flexibility in managing your work-life-study commitments, it sometimes requires you to make certain changes in your habits/lifestyle. Hear what a student has to say about some of the changes he had to make to accommodate his online classes.

2 Many Msgs


The average teenager sends more than six text messages in every waking hour, according to Nielsen. The analysis appeared in a New York Times article. It goes on to report teenage girls averaged an incredible 4,050 text messages a month. That breaks down to eight text messages each waking hour.

Teenagers are making fewer voice calls according to Nielsen. Teenagers used fewer minutes than 18-to-54-year-olds.

"Teenagers growing up now don't even think the phone is primarily for voice. It's primarily for text," said Don Kellogg, a senior manager of research for Nielsen.

20 by 20: Pecha kucha events at the University

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The University of Minnesota is hosting another event in the pecha kucha series on November 10, 2010. Organized around the theme Collaborative Learning Environments, the event will be at the Whole Music Club, 2-4:30 pm. From the 20 by 20 website:

How does collaboration deepen learning, teaching and research? How do technologies create possibilities for collaboration in our work? Educational technologies at the University of Minnesota offer many opportunities for students, faculty and staff to work together: online or face-to-face, synchronously or asynchronously. Yet technologies are not inherently collaborative--they only have the potential to foster collaboration. The key is to understand the potential of the technology being used and to develop skills and good practices in working with others. For the next session of 20 by 20, presentations will focus on the ways in which technology-enhanced collaboration enriches teaching, learning, research and work at the University of Minnesota.

By now, you have probably heard of "pecha kucha", a presentation format that consists of twenty slides that auto-forward after twenty seconds, transforming boring slides and long-winded presenters into fast(er) paced slides and a (hopefully) scripted presentation. Popular pecha kucha events have included the Ignite series in different cities, like Ignite Minneapolis and Ignite Baltimore.

You can view the two previous University pecha kucha events,
Open UMN and Google@UMN. They are also available from the University of Minnesota iTunes U site.

The end of the academic calendar or the end of learning?

laptop and pencil.jpg

There is a new online program in town that lets students start class any day they want and finish at their own speed, as reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The open-format program, Learn Anytime, allows students to race through quizzes and writing assignments to complete the course in the shortest time (humanly) possible. No time is wasted on group projects and discussions with classmates.

Surprises about online learning

Online learning is all about working independently. Wrong, that's a myth. It also includes collaboration. An online student shares her experiences in an online course that she has little background in.

Video Chats: Not Just for the Jetsons Family


Almost 19% of U.S. Adults have tried video calling either online or via cell phones, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.

The survey of 3,001 adults found that 74% of American adults use the Internet, and among those Internet users, 23% have participated in video calls, chats or teleconferences.

The Pew survey found younger Internet users are more likely to conduct video calls. About 29% of Internet users ages 18-29 surveyed report they have participated in video calls, chats or teleconferences. That compares with 15% of Internet users age 65 or older.

Men are more likely than women to participate in online video calls. The survey found 26% of men and 20% of women surveyed participated in online video calls.

On a "typical day" 4% of Internet users participate in video calls, chats or teleconferences, according to the Pew survey. That is an increase from the Pew's 2009 survey when 2% of Internet users reported participating in online video calls.

The survey also found that 85% of American adults have cell phones and 7% have used their cellphones for video calls, chats or teleconferences.

Pew researchers conducted the survey between Aug. 9 and Sept. 13. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Tips from online learners: Wish I had known

Myth 1: Online learning takes up less time. Wrong, it does not. In fact, it takes up as much time if not more. Listen to what online students have to say about their experiences.

Government "Friends" Users in Vietnam


Government leaders in Vietnam are launching their own Communist-friendly social networking site that is similar to Facebook.

The site, go.vn, is state-owned and is a change in strategy for Vietnam's government. Previously Hanoi's Politburo members have typically shut down parts of the Internet that did not comply with or support the government's one-party dictatorship. Authorities have tried to block access to Facebook and have jailed dissident bloggers.

The go.vn site requires users to submit their full names and government-issued identity numbers before they can access the site, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article.

The article quotes Vietnam's Minister for Information and Communication, Le Doan Hop, as predicting the site will sign up more than 40 million people--about half the country's 85 million people by 2015.

Hop went on to say the site includes English tests and several state-approved videogames. The offerings include a violent multiplayer contest featuring a band of militants on a mission to stop the spread of global capitalism.

The Vietnamese government heavily censors television and newspapers. According to the Wall Street Journal article, the government in Vietnam is nervous about the speed at which Internet use is growing because, so far, it is more difficult for the government to control content on the web. Vietnam recorded 26 million Internet users in August. That number is up 18% from the same month last year and is one of the fastest growth rates in the developing world, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Facebook has more than a million users in Vietnam and the number has been growing steadily since Facebook added a Vietnamese language version of the site, according to an article in the UK news site The Independent.

Vietnam is, apparently, trying to increase control over blogging and social networks like its neighbor to the north--China. The People's Republic of China blocks websites at an Internet Service Provider (ISP) level. Vietnam blocks websites at the Domaine Name System (DNS).

An Internet expert quoted in the Global Post said the policy in Vietnam does not provide a strong block. He said you can just change the DNS. He explained that that the Vietnamese government tells service providers to redirect their servers away from sites as opposed to actually blocking the access as the Chinese government does. That means it is easier to circumnavigate Vietnam's firewall than it is in China. According to the Global Post an estimated 30,000 censors search for illicit content on the Internet in China.

Government officials in Vietnam have described their new social networking site as the country's biggest online investment to date. Officials will not say how much has been spent or how many people have logged in to the new go.vn network.

A Personal Take on iPads in the Classroom

My colleague, Greta Cunningham, asked me for a quote for her recent blog post on iPad's in the classroom, spurred by a recent article in the The Chronicle of Higher Education on iPad's developing role in the classroom. Greta's piece, as well as the article, got me thinking about how well my iPad does and doesn't perform in the classroom.

I'll admit my bias upfront: I love my iPad. It is among the most satisfying and convenient computing experiences I have ever had. Though I'm not a Mac person, the iPad resonates with me. I think that's because it's the piece of technology to which I feel entitled after years of science fiction movies and television. We live in the future.

That said, I expected an easier transition over to the iPad when I sold my laptop to finance it this summer. There is a lot the iPad can and cannot do for me.

Competing online learning: Local vs. National?

Many people, including myself, may think little about online learning in terms of business, especially business having to compete and survive in the market. According to a report from Inside Higher Ed, however, it may be possible that local online learning providers such as University of Minnesota will soon compete with some other national or even global learning institutions.

As we all know, one of the benefits of online learning is that it has no geographical limitations. In terms of learning, being able to study from home or wherever you are as long as you have an internet access is a great advantage.

Thinking the 'no-geographical limitation' benefit from the perspectives of business entrepreneurs, the geographical benefit can become an opportunity for for-profit education companies, such as the University of Phoenix or Kaplan University, to grow their business very large and make a lot of money.

The challenge here is that many institutions that until now have been able to draw students reliably from their local populations may face serious challenge and competition from other major educational institutions.

However, the good news for traditional institutions depending on local populations is that on-line learners like the tangibility of having a "real campus" nearby. A 2008 study by the Sloan Consortium noted that 85 percent of online students were taking courses through universities located within 50 miles of their homes.

There is also a matter of "hybrid education" -- online learning that has some face-to-face component. Taking a hybrid course means that students will have to choose an institution that has a nearby campus. Here too, local institutions could demonstrate their value.

The major for-profit institutions, meanwhile, have also recognized online students' preference for a nearby 'real' campus, and some have opened satellite campuses around the country (for example, Kaplan University has 80 campuses in US and University of Phoenix has more than 200 in North America).

So, providers and instructors of online learning in University of Minnesota, what should we do in order to maintain and grow our competitive advantage other than relying on local loyalty?

Richard Garrett, managing director of Eduventures, says in an interview with Inside Higher Ed, "In order to succeed online in the long term, institutions need to stake their value on something beyond the merely being online". Christian institutions have been able to work the faith angle. Similarly, regional universities can play up their ties to local employers that have hired their graduates for years, Garrett says.

U of M iPad Pilot Project is Largest in the Nation


About 450 University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) students will get Apple iPads. The pilot project provides iPads for the entire freshman class in the college and is the largest program if its kind at a major research university. The cost of less than $216,000 is being funded entirely by private donations and will have no bearing on tuition, according to a U of M press release.

The CEHD freshmen will have access to digital textbooks via the iPads. U of M officials hope this will provide the students with significant cost savings. At the University of Minnesota, textbooks average about $1,000 per year for undergraduates, according to the U of M press release.

CEHD faculty, who study academic technologies and postsecondary education, will research how iPad use relates to student retention, engagement, and learning outcomes. A broad spectrum of first-year undergraduate courses in the Department of Postsecondary Teaching and Learning will incorporate the devices.

"We won't simply say, 'Here's an iPad,' and that's the end of it," said David Ernst, director of academic and information technology for CEHD in a Star Tribune article. "It will be part of a coordinated, focused research agenda."

Seton Hill University in New Jersey made headlines last spring when it announced that each full-time undergraduate would get an iPad and a Macbook laptop as part of a bigger technology project. "An iPad for Everyone," its website boasts.

"Mobile technology plays an increasing role in student life and student learning," CEHD Dean Jean Quam said in a U of M statement "CEHD faculty and students are eager to lead the way in exploring the potential of new technologies, like the iPad, in and outside of their classrooms. It's the kind of innovative research that is at the core of what we do in CEHD."

Students will receive their iPads in late October, giving them an opportunity to become familiar with the technology before using the devices regularly in spring semester classes, according to a U of M statement.

Social networking site keeps feelings of isolation at bay

lone girl with laptop on stairs.pngWhat is the image that comes to mind when you think of a researcher at a large University? A lone individual who spends countless hours tucked away in a quiet corner of the library or working tirelessly on an experiment in the lab located in the basement of the Science department? Though the image of the isolated researcher is largely a stereotype, there is unfortunately still some truth to it. With 23 campuses, The City University of New York can be a lonely place for faculty, staff and graduate students working independently on their research projects, detached from the larger university community. Ask any graduate student or faculty member and (s)he would tell you that research is usually a lonely endeavor but it does not always have to be this way, as seen in the example of CUNY. In an effort to foster camaraderie, academic discussion and connect the university's campuses, CUNY recently launched its new Academic Commons site, which is basically a social networking site.

As reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education, users can create and join groups, post messages, share files and collaborate on wikis. Instead of being a colossal waste of time, social networking in this case has helped many scholars connect with others who share similar research interests as well as connect with faculty members and fellow colleagues who they would have otherwise never met. As with any social networking site, groups that are created on Academic Commons are not always purely for academic or professional reasons. These groups range from open-source publishing to educational games and groups around favorite pizza joints and places to hang out. Though the CUNY network targets a decentralized academic audience and serves a different purpose from Facebook or LinkedIn, Academic Commons has definitely made researching at CUNY a lot less lonely.

mayo logo.jpg

The Mayo Clinic announced it's launching a global social media health network using tools such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to improve health care around the world.
"It will be a vehicle for us to share what we've learned about social media, including our training resources, and for others to join us in learning together and developing best practices," the medical director for the Mayo Clinic's Center for Social Media, Dr. Victor Montori, said in a statement on the center's website.

"Ultimately, we want to help health-related organizations of all sizes and types to harness these powerful communication tools to help patients and improve human health globally," Montori said.

Mayo, a non-profit research and hospital group, based in Rochester, Minnesota, created a social media center in July to train other hospitals to use social media tools. The new center will provide training, workshops, consulting services and hold conferences on how hospitals can better employ social media to achieve business goals, connect with patients and spread their message.

Mayo hopes to launch the website, www.socialmediahealthnetwork.org, by the end of October.

Mayo started its social media presence in 2005 with its first podcast. It later joined Facebook, then YouTube. In 2008 it launched a Twitter feed. Since then, it has attracted more than 20,000 followers on its Facebook page and more than 60,000 followers on its Twitter feed, according to the Mayo website.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from October 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

September 2010 is the previous archive.

November 2010 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.