December 2011 Archives

How to share your content with public

Do you have good content you want to share with public? Or do you want to create a podcast?

University of Minnesota provides members of the University a good podcasting tool with which they can share their content with public. That is University of Minnesota Public iTunes U.

If you are interested, please download and read a manual explaining the required process.

If you have any question on the process, please fill out the technical support request form.

Measuring the quality of learning: Use output rather than input


How should we measure the quality of online learning?

When talking about the quality of online learning, many people try to compare it to the quality of classroom learning. And the result of comparison has been repeatedly reported that the quality of online learning is similar to (or even slightly better than) that of classroom learning is similar. A 2010 report published by the U.S. Department of Education is one example of those reports.

In fact, how we deliver may not matter. Most of online learning have similar ways of delivering content (lectures, reading material, assignments, class discussions and so on). So it may not be so surprising to see the quality of online learning is similar to that of offline learning.

How, then, do we measure the quality of online learning? In terms of what?

A president of a nonprofit, online university raised good questions and provided some good examples regarding measuring quality of learning issue in a recent special report published by Chronicles of Higher Education.

In the article, he said that many accrediting organizations or ranking systems such as the U.S. News & World Report rankings are doing wrong things by looking at inputs-the degrees held by faculty members, faculty-student ratios, library resources, expenditures per student and so on.

Of course, many research universities are measured by the quality of their research. But most other colleges including online universities are not focusing on research. According to the president, those universities who has focus on teaching and learning should be measured by outputs rather than inputs.

Outputs can include the popular measures such as the dropout rates or graduation rates. But, output should be related to what students know and what they are able to do. That is why the president's university, Western Governors University tries to measure students' learning outcomes-they call it as 'competencies'. Again it is what students should know and be able to do.

In the university, in order to graduate, students must demonstrate they have mastered all competencies through many assessment tools (tests, performance tasks, projects, papers, etc.). Where possible, they utilize third-party assessments such as licensure exams for teachers and nurses, IT certification exams for IT students, the Society for Human Resource Management exam for HR students, and so on.

And in addition, they ask graduates and their employers whether their graduates have competencies required for their jobs, and how employers are satisfied with their graduates and so on as another way of evaluating their quality of teaching and learning.

After reading this article, I got to agree with this author. The quality of learning should be measured in terms of output rather than input. And the output should include what students know and be able to do after their classes, not just how high the graduation rate or the dropout rate would be.

I think academic administrators should carefully consider developing assessment tools and systems like Western Governors University, not just leaving the important tasks in the hands of instructors.

Your University? There Might Be an App For That.

This semester, campuses have been keeping up the trend of releasing mobile applications to increase the quality of student experience and better engage students. Whereas some previous attempts at harnessing mobile technology have focused on instructional technology or course management, these new apps focus firmly on student life. Particularly, both Ball State University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have rolled out new mobile apps to make things easier for students this fall, according to Campus Technology.

Ball State's new app, bConnected is an android-based application which provides a central location for "class schedules, grades, tutors, student organizations, on campus living, campus rideboard, financial aid awards and events." The app focuses on student-experience, rather than moving towards classroom content management software. An iPhone version is forthcoming. UWM's app also focuses on student life rather than serving as a strictly academic tool. Using the app, UWM Mobile, students can locate classes using GPS, check if the laundry room is free in their residential hall, and peruse university events. It can even help call professors.

The shift in mobile technology to student experience, in addition to classroom technology, represents exciting possibilities for incorporating technology more broadly as part of the university experience. It will be fascinating to see how universities continue to keep up as technology changes.

The Death of Why?

I am fascinated by learning analytics and what it can, and can't, answer for higher education. A key concern, for me, is asking questions of our data that lead to meaningful answers. I don't care about the average time on task for students interacting with an online module if it doesn't lead to a meaningful understanding of how students learn that topic or a meaningful intervention for students who are struggling. I am committed to understanding "why" and always want to know "what can I do now that I know this?"

So I was taken aback by this article sent to me by a higher education colleague. The focus is on business but it touches on the same issues we have with big data in higher education. Big data is big, really big, and it takes considerable time and expertise to sort, understand, and find meaning. The author argues that it is possible to apply "analytics to massive, detailed data sources to identify what works without having to worry about why it worked." (emphasis in the original). Can this be true for higher education? Can we glean meaningful insight into what works without understanding how it works?

Higher education, unlike a point of sales transaction, has a long tail. Some of the why's we deal with when looking at success in college might have more to do with prior preparation, previous experience (or lack of experience) in the subject matter, etc etc. We can't change some of those factors, which is why this article has me thinking. If we can glean a best practice from data only, from seeing exactly what works (most of the time) and never understand why, does that matter? Is the "why" a distraction? I am not convinced it is - ultimately, for education policy, it is important to know what kinds of k-12 education experiences correlate to success in higher education, e.g. But maybe, in the medium term, it is okay to leave the "why" aside.

The Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disability (AIM Commission) issued a report this past Tuesday making recommendations for increased accessibility for students with different abilities. Over 150 pages long, the report's recommendations are broad and far-reaching but many of them pertain specifically to the ways instructional technology and design can be used to bolster greater educational outcomes and opportunities for students.

Campus Technology reports that, while advising against adopting a single resource repository or a single file format, the commission made recommendations on software, textbooks, and institutions. Some highlights include better search technology to locate materials, adoption and inclusion of a common set of accessibility-related metadata, and greater support for authoring technology tools. The commission also recommended greater faculty involvement. In addition to calling for more and better training, the commission also encouraged institutions develop means through which faculty can be engaged with the development, design, and creation of accessibility-related materials and services.

The full report can be found here.

Campus continue to deal with online piracy

Last week, official at the University of Alaska at Anchorage announced a plan to deter internet piracy in residence halls. Although the university has cooperated with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for previously, this is the first effort to alter service to prevent piracy. The university will slow the speed of internet connections available in dorm rooms in an effort to make piracy more difficult and, officials hope, less prevalent.

Unsurprisingly, many UAA students are unhappy about the service change, claiming it punishes all students, regardless of offense. Others voiced the concern the slowdown could prevent students from using legal resource-heavy sites such as Hulu or Netflix or hinder online academic research. The university feels confident the proposed speed will be generous enough to support all legal sites and academic purposes. The policy has yet to be enacted.

UAA's decision occurs against the backdrop of increased debate on digital copyrights and internet piracy as Congress continues to explore legislative solutions to such downloading. Recently, the heads of major technology companies such as Google, have spoken against the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act, saying it attacks the problem from the wrong angle.

The full text of the House of Representative's bill, Stop Online Piracy Act can be found here.

As K-12 Online Options Grow, So Does Education Debate

The spread of virtual k-12 education has triggered an increased debate on the compatibility of online education with classical school-based educational demands and systems. As a Virginia-based company, K12, has grown to be the largest provider in the country of online educational options for elementary, middle, and high school students, local school boards are expressing concerns about the functionality of online options.

The Washington Post reports the company's push to offer a statewide public education option in Massachusetts sparked a legal debate not about the pedagogy or merit of the education offered but about how a virtual school option, one which would not be tied to the physical location of students, could function in a public school system entrenched in local, property-tax based, funding mechanisms. Likewise, school experts and officials in Michigan worry school districts may not get adequate funding for online students because of outdated regulation which based per pupil funding on "seat time", that is, the amount of time the student actually shows up to their bricks and mortar classroom.

As it stands, new legislation in Massachusetts allowed K12 to open the Massachusetts Virtual Academy, which serves up to 500 students per year. Advocates of such schooling options point out traditional local school models do not work for all students, such as home-school children, those with unique physical or mental needs, and those who have become alienated from the school environment because of bullying or unchallenging curriculum. As critics and proponents continue to ponder how virtual options work in traditional school districts and how well these schools ultimately perform, it is clear the online education debate will persist.

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

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