November 2011 Archives

More Competition for Open Source Learning Management Software

For-profit learning management software (LMS) companies are entering the open-source arena previously occupied by companies like Moodle and Sakai. Insider Higher Ed reports reports BlackBoard and Pearson are have started hosting free versions of their LMS software. Last February, BlackBoard launched a hosted, light version of its software called CourseSites. Now, Pearson has launched OpenClass, also a cloud-based, light version of its LMS.

Both Pearson and BlackBoard see their offerings are a better bargain for universities looking for savings. As Inside Higher Ed notes, while products like Moodle allow universities to use the software's coding for free, the institution still bears the cost of hosting these sites. Pearson and BlackBoard's products offer cloud space free of charge. Of course, this complimentary server space has limits. For example, Blackboard's CourseSites only allows instructors to create up to five course sites.

It will be interesting to see the influence of these new learning management options on universities' instructional technology choices. Some universities have defected from proprietary software like BlackBoard's traditional offerings or Desire2Learn because of cost concerns. What will increased options for low-cost or free LMS mean for open-source developers like Moodle?

Read more about this story on Inside Higher Education here and here.

A Labor Department program intended to fund Open Educational Resources for community colleges may find its innovation greatly limited by restrictions proposed by the House of Representatives, according to Inside Higher Ed. Aimed at providing workforce development and job training, the Department of Labor program has allocated nearly 500 million dollars to community colleges nationwide seeking to explore new strategies. A list of award recipients can be found here.

The proposed constraint would forbid using grant money to develop publicly available educational materials if the potential product greatly resembles a commercially available option. According to Inside Higher Ed, this includes not only presently available products but also extends to products still in development. Essentially, the spirit of the legislation is to prevent public money from being used to compete with private, for-profit companies offering educational resources. Proponents of the measure claim using public money to develop existing software is inefficient and wasteful. Critics disagree, saying competition and enhancement are vital to continuing educational innovation.

The proposed limitation can be found in the proposed House of Representatives BudgetFiscal Year 2012 Budget, available here.

Cheating, Technology, and Teaching

Who would have thought that great advice to teachers for preventing cheating might come from Turnitin, the company that earns money buy selling its service to colleges and professors hoping to sniff out plagiarism?

This graphic from Turnitin shows the sources of students used when plagiarizing and, at the bottom, provides some tips on developing "plagiarism-proof assignments". There is no such thing; if someone really wants to cheat, they likely can find a way. However, the tip to break up assignments, with various due-dates, is a big deterrent to students purchasing papers. I have also heard of professors building toward major assignments and projects with smaller, discrete assignments. For example, assigning students to find sources on a topic or research question. Later, asking students to write an abstract of several articles they found for their source assignment. Another assignment might build on those assignments into a literature review. Again, organizing assignments like this will not prevent cheating in all cases, but it can help by making it much more difficult for students to cheat.

The Chronicle has a recent article about cheating as well. Two points really struck me - some students feel very uncertain in knowing when they have plagiarized and when they have not. I was surprised by this - wouldn't you know if you copied and pasted someone else's words into your paper and didn't cite them?

The other point was that students are not taught the more complex skill of engaging with texts and summarizing main points. The Chronicle article interviewed someone from the Citation Project , which studies how students cite sources in papers. The aim, their website says, is to help educators develop "best practices for formulating plagiarism policies and for teaching rhetorically effective and ethically responsible methods of writing from sources." From the studies of student papers done so far, they find that students often pull quotes from the first few pages of articles and don't engage deeply with the overall arguments. This is useful information in understanding how plagiarism happens and how to improve student writing.

Finally, in the comments on the Chronicle article, someone linked to this excellent resource (pdf) from the University of Wisconsin that describes the difference between quoting, paraphrasing, and citing sources.

Digitally Illiterate in a High Tech World

Daily use of high-tech gadgets and games does not make our students digitally literate or savvy, an article in The Chronicle notes.

The author, Ron Tanner, makes important distinctions about the ability to find entertainment online and the ability to write for the web, to use and submit content to databases, to understand electronic records, and in understanding how technology can impact students' chosen career.

The idea of digital literacy, especially for young people, has been around for a long time. I remember doing trainings for teens in digital literacy in 2000, noting that many didn't know how to write for the web, to write a clear email. What does it mean that so many people still don't have digital literacy skills? Are these skills as important as many of us think they are?

Read the full article here.

Higher Education in a Global Context

The New York Times reports that leaders in Arab and North African countries are meeting to discuss the future of higher education in the region, in part as a result of the protests and political upheavals commonly referred to as "Arab Spring".

The meeting includes 1200 leaders and educators, called together to discuss a study of higher education in the region. I tried to find a copy of the study online, but was unsuccessful. Comments in the article reflect issues found in higher education in other contexts as well: the role of the private sector, the role of governments in promoting education, and transferability and student mobility.

Read the entire article here:

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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